CANCUN HAS COME A LONG WAY IN THE LAST DECADE, transcending its reputation as just a spring break destination to reposition itself as a luxury getaway for romantics and an exciting vacation spot for families. Cancun was able to accomplish this in part due to the development and marketing of surrounding areas.
Let us introduce you to Cancun's latest helping hand: Puerto Morelos, just down the coast. It could be considered the entry point of the Riviera Maya, as it's the first place you hit coming from the Cancun airport, only about 15 minutes away.
Puerto Morelos is suitable for a wide variety of clients. It has plenty for the eco-friendly, adventure-seeking traveler, and also has its share of selling points for the upscale vacationer looking to relax in the sun.
"A lot of people traveling to Mexico want to do the eco-tours, they want to see the ruins, and all of this is available in the Riviera Maya and Puerto Morelos," says Lisa Kehl of Shelter Travel in Columbia, MO. "[It] is right at the entrance, meaning you don't have to use much ground transportation. There are a lot of opportunities for agents here, because you have your adventure opportunities but also great luxury products."
Puerto Morelos sits between Cancun, to the north, and Playa del Carmen, and combines extensive beachfront with small-town charm.
Named for independence leader José María Morelos, the fishing village has been a main port between the island of Cozumel and the Yucatan mainland. At its center, within a block of the beach, the town square is lined with restaurants and shops, including a grocery where people often buy vanilla—like tobacco, a local product.
The town is small enough that you can walk it all, though taxis are available. Public buses to Cancun or Playa del Carmen (fare is about $1.25) run to and from a stop on the highway about a mile and a half outside Puerto Morelos; taxis will take you into town from the bus.
For the Eco-Traveler
As for the natural attractions in this destination, Puerto Morelos Coral Reef National Park, located just over 300 feet from shore, protects the Great Mesoamerican Reef, the largest reef in the Western Hemisphere. Snorkelers and scuba divers will discover great underwater views of coral and sea life in the area.
Puerto Morelos, as well as Cancun, is surrounded by an area that the Mexican government has designated La Ruta de los Cenotes, or the Route of the Cenotes, which are natural wells found in the Yucatan. The caves and limestone scenery are outstanding.
Visitors can see plants of the area plus monkeys, birds and other native animals at the Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marín Botanical Garden of Puerto Morelos.. It is run by ECOSUR, a local college whose Spanish-only web site for the garden is www.ecosur-qroo.mx/jardin.htm. Within the botanical garden's 140 acres are an old Mayan home and a re-creation of a chiclero camp, where chewing gum was produced. The Crococun Zoo (www.crococunzoo.com, 011-52-998-850-3719) is also nearby, with its resident collection of reptiles and mammals indigenous to the region.
Selvatica (www.selvatica.com.mx), a top Yucatan adventure tour company, is headquartered in Puerto Morelos. Its trips include a Canopy Tour through the jungle where guests go ziplining, mountain biking and swimming in a cenote. Other excursions involve snorkeling, driving through the jungle in an open-air Corona buggy or nighttime ziplining capped off with a gourmet meal served in the starlit jungle.
Agents can call Guido Benassino, general manager of Selvatica, for more information on Puerto Morelos tours and packages (011-52-998-847-4581).
Perhaps Puerto Morelos' most luxurious property is Paraíso de la Bonita(www.paraisodelabonita.com), an adults-only resort on 14 acres that belongs to the Leading Small Hotels of the World and has received AAA's five-diamond award. All 90 of its rooms feature oversized marble bathrooms and oceanview terraces. Some one-bedrooms suites have their own plunge pool.
The top accommodation at the resort is the Presidential Suite, a private villa with plunge pool, wraparound terrace and two master bedrooms, each with its own bathroom with sunken bath, glass shower and handcrafted sink. Adjoining the bedrooms is a large living room area with a TV, CD/DVD player and minibar. The suite also contains a kitchen and a dining room that can seat 10 people. Nightly rates start at $3,500.
Deluxe options that don't cost quite that much include an Ocean View Suite with plunge pool, which starts at $900. The Lovers Suite, featuring an outside shower and terrace with a plunge pool, starts around $1,000 a night.
Onsite at Paraíso de la Bonita is a 24,000-square-foot spa that offers yoga, fitness and indigenous therapies like thalasso (using seawater) and temazcal (a type of steam bath). The hotel also provides private sailings on its 48-foot luxury catamaran, La Bonita, which has four deluxe cabins.
For more information and bookings, agents can call Don Mackinnon, sales manager, at 011-52-998-872-8300.
Ceiba del Mar (www.ceibadelmar.com) features 45 rooms and Junior Suites, 36 Master Suites with separate bedroom and living areas and seven one-bedroom Penthouses with terraces that feature whirlpools and ocean views. The Penthouses start at $1,000 per night.
In addition to an eight-treatment-room spa, a fitness center and two meeting rooms, Ceiba del Mar has two restaurants: the beachfront Creative Cuisine, featuring grill and wood-fired-oven specialties, and Terrace Lounge, which serves both Mexican and Asian cuisine. Call Christian Rodriguez, sales manager, at 011-52-998-872-8060.
Puerto Morelos does have an all-inclusive, the Azul Beach Resort (www.karismahotels.com/azul). Every one of its 96 guest rooms is mere steps from the beach. Rates cover such watersports as snorkeling, kayaking and paddleboating. Scuba clinics are held in the resort's pool, at no extra charge to guests. Actual dives, however, carry an additional fee.
Agents can contact Alexia Murald, the property's sales manager, at 011-52-998-872-8080 or [email protected] Azul Beach offers an array of wedding and honeymoon packages if you have clients in those markets.
Other hotels worth pitching to clients who are considering a vacation in Puerto Morelos include Desire Resort & Spa (www.desireresortandspa.com) and Marina El Cid Riviera Maya (www.elcid.com). Desire is a couples-only, clothing-optional resort with 118 units ranging from garden view rooms to the Passion Suite. Marina El Cid has 200 suites, in categories from junior to three-bedroom, and a 100-slip marina.
Nightlife in Puerto Morelos consists of casual dining on traditional cuisine, live music and sometimes karaoke. Restaurants specialize in fresh seafood and Mexican dishes unique to the Yucatan, along with American, European and Asian fare. Here are a few options:
Posada Amor (011-52-998-871-0033) is the place for seafood and Yucatecan cuisine. One of the oldest restaurants in Puerto Morelos, it has a popular Sunday brunch buffet.
El Viejo Pescador (011-52-998-871-0037) also serves seafood and Mexican dishes, and has a great view overlooking the town square from its location above a supermarket.
L'Oazis Restaurant and Grill, in front of the town square, serves international cuisine. It opens for breakfast and stays open only until 5 p.m. during the week but till 9:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Call 011-52-998-871-0556 or e-mail [email protected]
Pepe Restaurant and Bar (011-52-998-871-0208) offers Mexican, Spanish and international dishes. It also has karaoke and, on some nights, bands performing.
Porto Bello Ristorante Bar Bistro & Pizzeria is noted for its pizzas, salads and Italian dishes, as well as its bar. It is open from 1 to 11 p.m. Call 011-52-998-125-7349.
"There are so many great restaurants in Puerto Morelos and Mexico in general that I usually don't recommend staying at the all-inclusives," says Lisa Kehl of Shelter Travel in Columbia, MO. "There are some great luxury products in Puerto Morelos that you have to see. And a lot of people don't realize that Puerto Morelos offers a lot of the same things as Playa del Carmen [which is farther from Cancun], such as eco-tours and Mayan ruins."
A FAVORITE ATTRACTION IN PUERTO MORELOS is the open-air Handicraft Market (pictured) and adjacent workshops, where local artisans gather daily one block south of the town square. Visitors can watch the artists at work and purchase handmade blankets, hammocks, hats, clothing, baskets, jewelry, Mayan carvings, shells, ceramics and natural stones.