Cancun is a polarizing place to say the least.
It contains a stark contrast between its unimaginable beauty and the heavy flow of tourists that make their way to the Yucatán Peninsula each year. As one of Mexico’s most popular vacation destinations, its reputation has experienced a roller coaster of ups and downs. From MTV’s spring breakers to luxury resort clientele, Cancun draws to its clear waters a plethora of visitors who are looking for relaxation, hospitality and adventure.
Delivering all three in spades, anyone who has touched down in Cancun can confirm how special a place it is. Notoriety aside, the history and stunning natural beauty of this Caribbean paradise overpower any of its frivolous downsides. As the ancestral home to the Maya people, evidence of their culture is everywhere, both linguistically and in the historical sites scattered throughout the region. Fortunately, many of the local tours take great care in honoring their history and the wildlife that live in Cancun’s jungles and waters.
From delicious food to underground adventure, we break down where to stay and what to do in one of the world’s most spectacular destinations.
Cancun has every imaginable lodging situation, from small bed and breakfasts to large-scale hotels. If you want to enjoy all that Cancun has to offer without worrying about the details, then The Grand at Moon Palace is the place to be. The luxury all-inclusive resort has every amenity covered. Ocean views, multiple pools, a golf course, pristine accommodations, entertainment, fine dining — the list goes on. Only a ten-minute ride from the airport, The Grand at Moon Palace is best for those looking for a stress-free vacation and five-star service.
Speaking of fine dining, The Grand at Moon Palace offers its guests a true culinary trip around the world, from Brazil to France, Italy, Japan and Lebanon. Whatever global flavors your palate is craving, there is a restaurant that will no doubt, fulfill your taste buds’ needs. For the chronic sweet tooth in the family, there’s a Boulangerie that provides fresh-baked pastries and deserts twenty-four hours a day. It is seriously dangerous to offer such a thing. Really, there is no limit across time or space with the food options, but our dinner pick has to be JC Steakhouse. While you may be wondering why we’d suggest getting classic American fare in the heart of Mexico, we couldn’t help but sample the mouth-watering steak cuts that chef José Baltazar Briceño Pacheco cooks to absolute perfection. Pair that with a Manhattan, and you have the perfect date night meal.
Explore an Underground River
Right in the heart of the jungle of Playa del Carmen lies one of the world’s most stunning geological formations. The Rio Secreto tour guides you through an underground river that weaves through an extensive series of caves and cenotes. Eight miles long and with fifteen natural outlets, it is the longest semi-sunken cave system in the Yucatan. Only just discovered in 2004 (thanks to an iguana!) the truly magical feature of this tour is the incredible stalagmites and stalactites that line the interior. With expert guides that provide information and facts along the way, this is truly an experience of a lifetime. But before anyone gets suited up for the excursion (wetsuit, helmet and headlamp in tow), a Mayan shaman cleanses each person and asks the gods of the underworld permission for you to enter their domain. So take great care and leave the formations exactly as you found them!
Swim with Whale Sharks
The Yucatan coast features some truly wondrous creatures, but perhaps its most famous resident is the whale shark. With one of the largest annual gatherings of whale sharks in the world, divers flock to Cancun to swim with these gentle giants. As slow-moving filter-feeders, they pose no threat to humans. If anything, we are the greatest threat to these beautiful animals. Considered endangered due to impacts of fisheries and vessel strikes, it is an incredible honor just to swim alongside the Whale Shark. Eco Travel Mexico offers tours that include conservation education and mindful instruction on how to swim with these animals. Afterwards, enjoy fresh ceviche off the coast of Isla de Mujeres, made directly onboard by the captain.
ATV through the Jungle — At Night!
If you’ve got a need for speed, then a stop at Emotions Native Park is a must. Start off with a series of zipline rides through the jungle canopy to enjoy high up views of the surrounding area. Next, whip through the air on an ATV as your leader guides you along trails and over bridges. With only your headlights and the stars guiding you, it is a thrilling and totally unique way to experience the landscape. Along the way, you’ll partake in a traditional Maya ceremony to prepare for a dip in Cenote Ixhel. Whatever adrenaline rush you’re craving, Emotions has it all.
Recover with a Spa Day
After a week of intense activity, there’s nothing better than some much needed pampering at the spa. Almost palatial in size, the spa at The Grand has over 70,000 square feet to indulge in a veritable smorgasbord of treatments. Massages, hydrotherapy, salon services — whatever your most luxurious self wants, it gets. So lay back, relax and relish in a spa that is a world unto itself.
Enjoy a Gondola Dinner Party
To say nobody parties like they do in Mexico is an understatement. Good food, good music, lots of laughs — the Mexican people have it down to a tequila fueled science. At Xoximilco, you can enjoy traditional music and cuisine on board a colorful Mexican Gondola. Dance the night away to norteño, ranchero, marimba, trio and of course mariachi music as you glide among the mangroves.