I’ve travelled extensively within the Caribbean, but this was my first visit to Mexico, so I was excited to see how this combination of the Caribbean Sea with a completely different culture would compare with what I know and love.
My starting point was NIZUC Resort & Spa, a convenient ten-minute drive from Cancun’s airport and enjoying a prime location set just far enough from the main hotel zone of Cancun, helping the hotel feel private but close enough for venturing out to sample restaurants and nightlife. Blending Eastern and Mayan influences to create a chilled and zen environment, and welcoming families and couples equally well, this was an impressive start to my trip.
Several boutique jungle hideaways on the Yucatán coast offer privacy and quiet relaxation. I stayed at the adult-only Viceroy Riviera Maya where most of the 41 rooms and suites are set within dense foliage, affording you complete privacy to sit on your deck, take a dip in your plunge pool and enjoy getting back to nature – maybe even spotting spider monkeys! The Mayan experience starts with your welcome to the resort, and after a long day of hotel visits I really felt that the traditional ritual was an instant de-stress.
Next was the slightly larger Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa, ideal if your main “must” for a holiday is being steps from a wonderful beach. It’s still a jungle setting though, and the Kinan Spa truly invites nature in; my massage melted away all tension. As with all Belmond resorts, the culinary offering is spectacular, and my dinner in the farm-to-table El Sol restaurant certainly lived up to its reputation – it was my personal favourite of many superb Mexican dining experiences… and not just because it ended with a divine chocolate mousse! I was also able to indulge my inner chocaholic by selecting special Mexican hot chocolate as my complimentary morning delivery (tea and coffee also available) – just one of many thoughtful touches.
For something a little livelier and on a larger scale, this area’s choice of all-inclusive resorts really does tick all the boxes. Some are adult-only, and some are family-friendly. Some evoke traditional Mexican culture through décor, while others are contemporary in style. Some focus on wellness while others emphasise watersports. All offer multi-faceted dining options, with the majority of their restaurants being á la carte, and please, nobody mention the word “wristband”! The luxury all-inclusive property has truly come of age in Mexico, and the only way you know you’re staying all-inclusive is because you’re not continually checking menu prices before you order and worrying about holiday budgeting. My eyes have definitely been opened to the possibilities of this type of holiday in Mexico, whether for weddings, honeymoons, families or groups of friends.
A morning visit to Tulum showed off another aspect of Mexico. Here, boutique properties combine with the many al fresco restaurants, cafés and bars along the narrow main street (where cycling is the preferred mode of transport) to create a totally unique, boho-chic vibe.
Even if you’re not staying in Tulum, the Mayan ruins provide a great reason to visit. For my own slice of Mexican history and culture, I took an escorted day tour further inland to Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the “new” Seven Wonders of the World. It’s a good couple of hours drive each way, but completely worth it. My top tip is to go on a small group tour with a knowledgeable guide. You can wander around the ruins on your own if you wish, but it’s a totally different experience learning from your guide about Mayan culture and understanding why they built these structures, what the carvings mean and what rituals would have taken place. On such a tour, the little niceties of cold towels and water are always at hand – not to mention umbrellas for shade, which I was very glad of as the mercury hit 41 degrees centigrade on my first day! I also took the opportunity to cool off by taking a swim in a cenote (sink hole) on the way back – a “first” for me.
My last stop was the Mayakoba resort, which features three of our most popular resorts in the region – Rosewood, Fairmont and Banyan Tree. Each offers accommodation within the mangroves and at the beachfront, and between all the resorts there’s a plethora of dining options, easily travelled to via the private car transfers provided for travelling the short distances between them.
Should you have time, during the day you can take a leisurely cruise through the mangroves between the resorts by utilising the regular boat schedule. Each resort also offers its own version of an eco-tour; well worth doing as the wildlife here is both varied and plentiful.
So overall, how does Mexico compare with my beloved Caribbean? Well, if your ideal holiday features sun, sea and relaxation, you’ll find just as much in the Riviera Maya as you will in the Caribbean. The friendly and welcoming people are another similarity but, if you have the time and inclination to explore a little deeper you’ll find a culture and history that’s unique to this region of Mexico.
So, when you’re deciding where to visit for your next “Caribbean” holiday, my recommendation is simple – give Mexico a go!
Inspired to follow in Helen’s footsteps and visit Mexico? Browse our full collection of hotels online or give our team a call for personal insight and recommendations.