By Eric Rosen | November 6, 2015 | Lifestyle
Puerto Vallarta is yesterday's news. Angelenos are suddenly going East—and nonstop!—to the "new" Cancun.
Water world: With a pool and Jacuzzi complex that stretches the length of the property, as well as swim-in suites, Generations Riviera Maya’s ocean-front paradise lives on the water.
Cancún. The very name conjures up spring breakers doing body shots at the thumping nightclubs along Boulevard Kukulcán. But if you haven’t been to the Riviera Maya lately, what you’d find there these days would probably surprise you. With its white-sand beaches, turquoise Caribbean waters, a plethora of adrenaline-fueled activities, and an ever-expanding collection of luxury properties catering to travelers of all stripes, this former coconut plantation has become one of North America’s (and SoCal’s) premier vacay destinations.
Between the airport and the city lies one of Cancún’s newest luxury resorts, Nizuc Resort & Spa (Blvd. Kukulkán Mz 59 Lote 1-01 Km. 21.26, Punta Nizuc, 855- 696-49820). It takes pride of place on a pristine lagoon, along a sliver of land that was once a presidential retreat for world leaders. This self-contained sanctuary now features 274 suites, many with their own private gardens or decks, and plunge pools. The resort’s palatial ESPA offers signature treatments, like a soothing Mayan cacao-oil massage, while five pools, six restaurants, and the Havana Lounge bar, which specializes in mojitos and cigars, guarantee that, once you settle in, you might not want to leave. However, there is plenty to entice beyond its walls.
Nizuc boasts its own pristine, private lagoon.
You don’t need to venture too far afield to find a touch of authenticity. Downtown Cancún has had a bit of a facelift lately, including its main street, Avenida Tulum, which now has wide sidewalks perfect for a leisurely stroll as you look into small souvenir shops and markets. And on Saturday nights, Parque de las Palapas usually presents an opportunity to hear live music and watch other performances along streets that are chockablock with locals.
For visitors who want to stay close to the action without sacrificing luxury, The Ritz-Carlton, Cancún (Calle Retorno del Rey No. 36, Zona Hotelera, 52-998- 881-0808) is right in the heart of the city’s Zona Hotelera, or “hotel zone,” on its own sandy stretch of private beach. Its 365 rooms and suites all offer ocean views, while its seven restaurants, two rambling pools, and luxurious spa treatments, like the Mayan-inspired Mother Earth body wrap with volcanic red clay and medicinal herbs at its Kayantá Spa, all mean your time here will certainly be relaxing. Another bonus? If you run out of resort garb, you can always stock up at La Perla and Escada, two on-property boutiques.
Even in the midst of Cancún’s bustling “hotel zone,” guests can find sanctuary on The Ritz-Carlton’s private beach.
Just a few minutes north, the towering, all-inclusive Live Aqua Cancún (Blvd. Kukulcán Km. 12.5, Zona Hotelera, 52-998-881-7600) offers a youthful but adults-only alternative to the area’s other resorts. Couples and solo travelers alike looking for a more mature, contemporary getaway will enjoy the sleek, sea-facing rooms and the creative, chef-driven menus of Executive Chef César Germain at mb Restaurant. After a day lounging at the massive infinity pool or on the hotel’s beach, the Lights of Morocco argan-oil massage at the Aqua spa will be just what your skin craves before another day of fun in the sun.
If you’re heading to Cancún, chances are you’re looking for pristine white sand and clear water. Two of the area’s most beloved beaches, Playacar and Mamitas, are actually near the upscale town of Playa del Carmen, an easy 45-minute drive south of the city. After a day of sunning and swimming, take a stroll down the town’s main drag, La Quinta Avenida, and peruse the fashion boutiques. Then stop for a bite at one of the high-end restaurants, such as Yaxche Maya Cuisine (5ta Avenida Esquina con Calle 22, Colonia Centro, Playa del Carmen, 52-984- 873-3011), which is known for its classic Mayan dishes, such as Queso Relleno (baked Edam cheese stuffed with pork, olives, capers, tomatoes, and raisins) and Kay Kool, a filet of fish cooked in black Maya mole sauce with banana purée and local vegetables.
Beyond the beaches, visitors flock to Cancún for the glorious marine life just off the coast along one of North America’s largest coral reefs. Whale sharks come here to feed from May through September, so you could take a boat out for the day to swim with these gentle giants and marvel at their matchless majesty.
There is plenty to explore back on land as well. The once-sleepy beach town of Tulum is now famous as a detox destination known for New Age retreats, replete with low-impact resorts and yoga studios, but there are also family-oriented properties like Karisma Hotels’s Generations Riviera Maya by Karisma (Carretera Cancún - Tulum Km. 45, Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, 52-998-872-8030). With just 144 suites, as well as an array of amenities and activities for every age, the sprawling oceanfront hideaway retains an intimate feel. Younger kids can play the day away at the enormous beachfront pool complex while teenagers and adults can indulge in scuba diving and deep-sea fishing. When the time comes to really chill, the resort offers private yoga sessions… and a full-service spa. While the grown-ups enjoy a leisurely lunch of cracked lobster risotto at the beachside grill, one of the on-staff nannies can tuck the tykes in for their naps.
At the secluded Generations Riviera Maya, it’s a perfect ocean view — from the in-suite pools.
Tulum is also home to the only seaside Mayan ruins, but real history buffs should make the two-hour trip to Chichén Itzá, one of the most important pre-Columbian sites in Mexico. Hire a guide at the front gate and spend a few hours marveling at the technical prowess of this now-vanished civilization.
On your way back to town, be sure to stop at a cenote—an underground, water-filled limestone cave created by an ancient sea. The Maya believed cenotes were portals to the underworld, and many are in remote locations, making the journey to them even more mystical. Finding a secluded cenote in the jungle and exploring its hidden depths—just one more way to discover Cancún’s hidden treasures.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF KARISMA; CoUrtESy oF NIZUC (KayaKINg); CoUrtESy oF thE rItZ-CarLtoN CaNCÚN (taBLE); CoUrtESy oF KarISMa (pooL)