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Cancun, Mexico: More Than a Springbreak Destination

  • Submitted by: Susan Cava, United States
  • Submission Date: 19th Feb 2007

My friend and I needed a break from life and didn’t have much time or money. But we needed sun, exquisite beaches and crystal clear water…and no honking horns a la our hometown of New York City. After much research we found that Cancun, Mexico – at the tip of the Yucatan peninsula - was our most inexpensive option but were nervous that at age thirty perhaps it was more suitable for us ten years ago as a Spring Break vacation. However, Cancun was a short flight, had pristine beaches, inexpensive accommodations for a June travel date and if the foreseen teens partying in our hotel were too loud we’d use earplugs.

As mentioned, one of Cancun’s great allures is the quick and easy flight from most major American cities; four hours from the bustle of New York found us in Cancun’s small, friendly airport (Cancun International Airport). A quick shuttle brought us to the “Hotel Zone”, a fourteen mile long strip shaped like the number seven, of magnificent hotels all trying to outdo the other…feels a bit like Las Vegas minus the casinos and plus the beaches. Our hotel, the Gran Melia, was nestled in the middle of the zone on Kukulcan Boulevard, with architecture inspired by the Chichen Itza pyramids, and with the feeling of a full-time resort.

The Gran Melia has a tropical feeling the instant you enter and see the lobby’s indoor rainforest. The hotel was overbooked which resulted in us being upgraded to the VIP portion of the hotel, the Royal Service section, where there was availability. Frankly speaking, the difference between the two sections is tangible; while the common part of the hotel is humid and busy, the Royal Service section is air-conditioned, fragrant with incense and quiet.

Our ocean view room was plenty large enough for two women with plenty of bags. The sun had us putting on our bikinis in no time and after a mere thirty second stroll from the lobby to the beach we were soaking up the sun on the famous white sands with New York just a faint memory. Cancun’s ocean water is a perfect aquamarine and relatively free of fish or seaweed.

There are multiple daily excursions including trips to the Mayan Ruins or the natural water park Xelha, however we just lounged on the beach and occasionally ate or drank one of the enormous pina colada’s that come served in a real coconut. It’s hard to want to do much else given that June’s weather was delightfully hot (ninety degrees daily) with only the last day seeing clouds during the afternoon. There are daily evening thunderstorms but they don’t last long…nor reduce the nighttime humidity whatsoever.

While the Gran Melia does offer what looked to be fine food we chose to eat in the city center or downtown area for all our meals for a change of scenery. The city center is completely westernized – chains of American eateries or bars line the area with loads of underage drinkers. We avoided that and enjoyed the Downtown area of Cancun which is true Mexicana housing multiple outdoor flea markets selling Meixcan jewelry, vases, tiles, etc and is a thirty minute bus ride from most hotels in the zone (exit at Tulum Avenue). On Yaxchilan Avenue the atmosphere was wonderful – less tourists and more locals – and there were multiple seafood and Mexican restaurants to choose from where the food and margaritas were both authentic and delicious.

When returning to the hotel zone, a word to the wise, take a cab and not a bus at night. It’s certainly not because the Mexican’s are dangerous, it’s because the Americans who board the bus at Hard Rock Café, Senor Frogs, Mango Tango and other bars of that ilk are drunk, belligerent, ill-mannered kids who often turn the ride into an out of control frat party.

Cancun certainly caters to the high school/college party crowd but you can go and basically avoid that entire atmosphere and have a more sophisticated, cultured experience if you choose to. Hotels like Le Meridien, the Ritz Carlton or Gran Melia (and many others) seem far more concerned with providing first class service than providing a party atmosphere for teens. I did not witness any college students at our hotel – it was mostly adults vacationing.

People are surprised when I tell them that I vacationed in Cancun and didn’t party every night but instead soaked up some of Mexico’s downtown culture. It’s a shame that Cancun is stuck with the “spring break” label when that is only one small part of what it offers.