Cancún. The name alone conjures up images of sandy, white beaches, frosty margaritas and dancing till dawn. But Cancún and the surrounding areas are far more than just a party town. A few days of exploring all that the region has to offer might just make that time on the beach even more enjoyable. Well-established nearby tourist destinations such as Chichen Itza and Cozumel are still a great day out, but there are some great new options and hidden gems just waiting to be discovered.
And 2012 is just the right time to visit Cancún. The Mayan calendar ends and everyone’s wondering about what it means. A new publicity campaign ties in to these Mayan myths surrounding next year and is titled 2012, A New Beginning. Mexico is looking to 2012 as a rebirth. The eyes of the world will be on the Mayans next year and Cancún is hoping that people will want to experience 2012 right in the heart of Maya country. Many events are planned, including the first annual Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival, March 15th – 18th. A full schedule of events has yet to be announced but there are many events currently being planned.
Updates will be available on the Cancun Convention and Visitors Center website.
Isla Contoy is a little slice of nature just 45 minutes from the hotel strip. The tiny undeveloped island is a bird sanctuary with no full-time human inhabitants. There’s a winding trail that takes you through the sea grapes and natural beauty, the short way across the island. You can also go up inside a man-made tower for a better view of the frigate bird nesting areas. There’s a small museum with more information about the flora and fauna found on the island. After exploring, you can find a strip of beach and swim and watch the birds circle and swoop overhead. The number of visitors to the island is tightly controlled and only a few tour companies are allowed access. One is Kolumbus Tours, which offers passage on replica historical wooden ships, with lunch included.
Isla Mujeres, or Island of the Women, is a quick (and beautiful) 30-minute boat ride from Cancún. The island is roughly four and a half miles long. While walkable, mopeds and golf carts are available for rent. On the southern tip of the island there is a former Mayan temple, now occupied by a sculpture garden as well as a government-sponsored sea turtle farm. Further north is the village of Dolores, full of small shops and local restaurants. Aquaworld, operating out of Albatros Marina, offers a full day trip including buffet lunch and unlimited drinks, plus a snorkeling excursion to the Underwater Museum.
Museo Subacuatico de Arte/Underwater Art Museum
Just north of Isla Mujeres is Cancún’s latest and possibly most interesting attraction: the Underwater Museum. Hundreds of life-size human sculptures have been placed in strategic locations along the sea floor. As sea life grows in and around the statues, new protective barrier reefs are formed. Coral is constantly growing, causing the sculptures to change and evolve, creating an amazing habitat in which to snorkel or dive. It also encourages divers and snorkelers to spread out from the traditional dive sites and so helps protect the existing, fragile coral reef. There are currently 415 sculptures and more are being placed all the time. The eventual goal is to have almost 1500, creating an undersea world unrivalled in the Caribbean. In 2012 there will also be the addition of two new visitors centers with more information for tourists. A $4 million publicity campaign is in the works, in co-operation with the Mexican government.
Where to Stay
Starwood has expanded the Westin brand in Cancún with its latest hotel, the Westin Lagunamar. (Westin is already represented in Cancún with the Westin Resort & Spa, which just received the MLT Vacations 2011 Quality Assurance Award.) At the Westin Lagunamar there are only suites (studios and one bedrooms with connecting rooms available) all of which have ocean views. Their “Sunsational Savings” deal offers 4th night free, a $200 credit on food and beverage, and upgrade when available.
The Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Cancún Resort & Spa is one of the hotel jewels of Cancún. Movie stars and presidents stay here when in Cancún. It has won the prestigious Five Diamond Award more times than any other luxury resort in Cancún and garnered accolades from Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler as one of Mexico’s best resorts. It boasts a 40,000 sq. ft. spa, six restaurants and, of course, the beautiful beach. Destination weddings are their specialty.
Le Meridien Cancun Beach Resort & Spa is another great option. It’s been designed with “residential” in mind, so guests feel at home. It’s also one of the few hotels that allows dogs to stay. The hotel has had some upgrades over the past year including new dining options and newly renovated lobby. There is a three-tiered cascading infinity pool with luxurious new cabanas and its Spa del Mar was named as one of the top spas in “North America, Caribbean and at Sea” by Condé Nast Traveler. There’s even a Penguin Club for kids with fun and educational things to do. The hotel is also a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest® program and a kids’ all-inclusive dining package is available.
The Ritz-Carlton Cancún: The brand Ritz-Carlton has always been synonymous with elegance and luxury, and their Cancún property is no exception. They’ve received all the major awards the hospitality industry and consumer organizations can bestow. The Ritz-Carlton Cancún offers many spa and resort options including a tennis center, two award winning Restaurants, Fantino and The Club Grill, and of course not the least of which is the breath-taking view of the Caribbean from each room’s private balcony. They’re also more affordable than your clients might think, especially with the stay-four-nights-pay-for-only-three promotion that runs through December 21st, 2011. Multiple packages are available, including spa and tequila tastings, with room starting at $379 USD per night.
The Ritz Cancún also maintains a Culinary Center, designed by Viking® Range and run by chef Rory Dunaway. It offers cooking classes as well as a “Dine with the Chef” night when up to twelve guests can enjoy a delicious four-course meal with wine pairings prepared by Chef Dunaway tailored to the occasion. They might even get to help out a little too.
2012 and Beyond
As the Mayan calendar draws to a close, the whole world is watching and talking about what’s to come in 2012. Is it the end of the world, some ask? Absolutely not, says Cancún, it’s the start of a new beginning for the North American traveler and the Cancún region.