Plenty of direct airlift from the U.S. and a surge of new luxury hotels have made Cancun and the Riviera Maya a jetsetter’s paradise. Beautiful beaches bordering the bluest of seas set the scene for a “Zen-cation,” while nightclubs, restaurants and water activities provide options for a sophisticated, active getaway.
For a glamorous day on the water, book a private yacht through Journey Mexico to Isla Contoy or Isla Mujeres. The 60-foot vessel has three cabins and three bathrooms, plus an air-conditioned living room area. Ideal for those who want a swanky snorkeling option, the nine-hour excursion includes transfers to a private marina in Cancun and has a full crew to wait on passengers all day. Journey Mexico also has access to private beaches and cenotes as well as programs via private plane to Merida to see Uxmal, the famous archaeological site.
Contact Gerardo Tovar ([email protected]) in Journey Mexico’s tour planning department for special insider attention.
Do you love Mexico for its ocean life? Global Vision International (GVI) just launched the GVI Dive Academy in partnership with PADI, with programs that allow students to participate in marine conservation projects as they’re working on their PADI Dive Open Water Scuba Instructor or Master Scuba Diver Trainer qualifications. The core programs are 24 and 30 weeks, but we hear there’s a four-week Divemaster training session for those short on time. Contact Laura Dix ([email protected]; [email protected]; 888-653-6028) for the scoop on how to apply.
Programs explore the wildlife found along Mexico’s Mesoamerican Barrier reef. Nice Touch: Participants live in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere reserve just outside of Tulum where they can experience a new culture, food and way of life—think snorkeling in cenotes, searching the beach at night for turtles laying eggs and joining fun-dives.
For a glorified respite, try out the new Grand Residences Riviera Maya, one of the area’s newest luxury offerings. When we stayed earlier this year, we fell in love with Master Suite No. 128. And why not? It’s completely oceanfront and by that we mean when you step outside the floor-to-ceiling living room glass doors and gaze past the huge terrace with three separate seating areas, the step-down Jacuzzi and the personal infinity pool, all you can see is sand and waves crashing on shore from the emerald blue sea. So impactful is the combination, our traveling companion commented suspiciously that the waves, the sea and the piercingly blue sky were so beautiful that it felt “really like heaven might be.”
Suite No. 128 connects to a Junior Suite to create a two-bedroom enclave. Suite No. 129 next door, also oceanfront, adjoins to two Junior Suites. Both have ultra-modern kitchens chockfull of amenities (a Nespresso machine comes with an unlimited supply of coffee pods), a laundry room with washer/dryer, a guest bathroom, dining area and a huge living room. The master bath has his-and-her sinks and the dressing area has his-and-her closets. If space is luxury, you’ve hit Nirvana at the Grand Residences.
The all-suite resort, a member of the posh Leading Hotels of the World group, has a four-bedroom Penthouse Presidential Suite (No. 522) to house 13 guests. It’s divided into two Master Suites and two Junior Suites, each with a private entrance. A private roof garden with views of the Caribbean provides a private swimming pool, Jacuzzi and a bar and grill (think continuous party with your 12 closest friends).
One- to three-bedroom Penthouses have similar amenities. The reservations manager, Angelica Cervantes ([email protected]; 011-52-998-872-8130, Ext. 67422) can walk you through which suite category will work for you.
Families take note: The accommodations here were purpose-built for multigenerational travel so if you’re traveling with a baby, let management know up front; they’ll automatically supply a crib, diaper genies, baby bottles and sanitizers free of charge. Older kids get sand castle building kits and cookies inscribed with their names. Good to know: All suites have bathrooms with double sinks and separate tubs and showers.
Fun Stuff: We love that the huge pool area is a beautiful shade of azure blue and that the first level, complete with swim-up bar, is for adults only; the second level is for families. We thought that the pool concierge saving your coveted spot for you for the next day was a thoughtful perk. He’s also in charge of dispensing Evian water spritzes and fresh fruit throughout the day. Nearby is the resort’s “Heaven Beach Bar” right above the beach, which runs daily happy hours. On Thursdays, a family film is projected on the adjacent wall of the bar so kids can catch a movie under the stars; it can also be used for viewing any major sporting event.
There’s much included in this EP-style resort, such as private airport transfers in luxury SUVs from Cancun International (half an hour away), yoga and tennis lessons three times a week, Spanish lessons and a Kid’s Club. Rackets and golf clubs are also gladly loaned to those who need them.
The chief concierge, Jose Alberto Monzon ([email protected]; 011-52-998-881-0100, Ext. 67106), can arrange private helicopter tours of the area, private mixology classes and a sunset catamaran cruise, complete with dinner and Cristal.
Couples can also ask for a candlelight dinner on the beach with a classical music trio to set the ambiance. He can also arrange golf at a nearby course and a Chef’s Dinner Table at El Faro Grill, the resort’s restaurant where meals are prepared à la minute and accompanied by wine pairings. The resort’s cuisine scene is run by French Executive Chef Yann Michel Cozic, who was classically trained in top kitchens in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Paris, and is now melding that aesthetic into Mexican culinary presentations. The seafood here is spectacular for its simplicity; our fresh fish was perfectly seasoned and grilled, and the service was delightfully pampering by an extremely naturally friendly staff.
The main lobby building has a club feel to it; check-in happens in the suites but the front desk morphs into a long row of delicate glass sculptures and we loved the sophisticated bar nearly hidden to the side where we sampled some rich, soft Cuban rums. If you don’t want to sit at the bar (and who wouldn’t, really?), an outdoor terrace with plush seating areas does the trick, all the better to feel the sultry evening sea breezes.
Note: A large spa is still in build-out phase. There’s a temporary small facility available. Contact the spa director, Fernando Reyes ([email protected]; 011-52-998-872-8130, Ext. 67990), to arrange treatments at least one day ahead of time or to request an in-room couple’s massage. Children may receive treatments as long as they are accompanied by an adult.
The Grand Residences is in the lap of luxury but it’s also in Puerto Morelos, an authentic fishing village filled with coffee shops, oceanfront bars and a flea market that runs daily in the town’s main plaza. Shop here for local handicrafts, jewelry, hammocks and Mayan traditional clothing.
The Jade Suites at Club Med Cancun Yucatan opened in 2009 as a “five-trident” space. Our first-floor suite opened to a garden area with a cozy lounge to read in and lawn that spilled right down to the beach. Inside, the bathrooms have walk-in rain showers and large soaking tubs; our large desk had a desktop PC. We loved the space and the privacy it provided; just steps from our suite was a private infinity pool and bar where we laid out and caught some much-needed Vitamin D. Cabanas and a private beach make the area even more exclusive; it’s also near a serene restaurant with a dazzling array of buffet options available. (Think local fish, freshly baked breads and fruit options like papaya, mango and pineapple). Note: Children are allowed in the Jade area, but the facilities are so spacious there’s plenty of room for everyone to enjoy their activities in peace. Club Med recommends e-mailing its Special Services Department ([email protected]) if you have specific requests.
We asked Matteo Luthi, general manager of Journey Mexico, for tips on how to enjoy the nightlife in Cancun and on the Riviera Maya.
“Cancun nightlife is more for younger visitors, as the music is loud and in most of the clubs you can listen to the same modern music. The area is located in the Hotel Zone, and each of the clubs are within walking distance from each other.”
Coco Bongo: “The show is designed for all ages as they play every kind of music. We can assist with VIP access and tickets so that your guests get the best seating.”
The City: “This is one of the largest clubs in Latin America where artists from all over the world perform.”
Luthi also recommends Palazzo, Mandala and Daddy O as fun clubs to visit.
Playa del Carmen has similar club offerings, says Luthi, but he notes that the scene has a bit of an international flair, thanks to a mix of European tourists and locals.
“In Cancun, the Hotel Zone is almost exclusive to tourists; locals tend to stay in downtown Cancun where the prices are cheaper. Playa del Carmen is a little more inviting as it combines great restaurants with great bars where you can mingle with the locals. A very popular place to go late night is La Santanera.
“New in the area is the Cirque du Soleil show JOYÀ—located approximately 35 minutes from Cancun and 20 minutes from Playa del Carmen.”
Luthi says that for any of these options, Journey Mexico can offer VIP access as well as luxury transportation.