Does Cancun Still Have That Famous Sizzle?
Ah Cancun. The mere mention of the name conjures thoughts of an exotic place with magical sunsets and cocktails under an umbrella on the beach. A place the over-40 crowd goes to unwind and relax. Where college spring breakers go to imbibe tequila, tacos, all types of electronica music, and then wake up the next morning with no shoes on a beach somewhere with some chica named Isabella. But I digress…
In the past several years other places in Mexico have dramatically increased in popularity. Yet when you look at Mexico’s top vacation rankings, Cancun still remains as the faithful flagship at the top of the heap. And for good reason.
Location and Background
Cancun is on the very tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, jutting out into the Caribbean Sea. The location is perfect for fantastic weather and beachfront entertainment. Isn’t it incredible that a civilization thousands of years ago settled there and remained to this day? Well, that’s not what happened. Cancun is about as “naturally occurring” as that plastic on the device you’re using right now.
The Mayans resided there for centuries and the Spanish after that. But everyone pretty much left by the 15th century. The Mayans called the area “Kan Kun” which translates to the not-so-inviting “den of snakes”. The area was basically a swamp of uninhabitable jungle, impassable mangroves, and wild beaches. But in 1968 the Mexican government had an epiphany – What if we cleaned it up and made it a vacation destination? The rest is history.
So Cancun in it’s present form is only about 50 years old. But it has progressed rapidly. You can find the best resorts in the Caribbean here as well as some of the best food. Entertainment? Dance clubs abound. There are Mayan ruins for the history/hiking buffs and snorkeling and scuba diving as well. Everything you would want in a beach location you can find here.
Cancun is what you make it. For us, give us a pool by the ocean, a cocktail in hand, and some sun and we’re happy. Cancun delivers that time and again and that’s why it’s one of our favorites and why we return each year.
Cancun International Airport is one of the easiest you will encounter when it comes to entering Mexico. There are several attendants at the initial passport check gates which allows for an efficient process. You then go to baggage claim, claim your luggage, and then proceed through the final customs area. Then the real fun begins as you start to leave the airport.
You will pass numerous tour stands, timeshare stands, and pretty much everything else you can think of travel-wise that could be sold to you. If you stop you will be there forever. Best to put your head down and get on outside the airport…which is where the real chaos begins.
You will be set upon like lions to the kill by every manner of human trying to give you a ride to anywhere between the airport and the moon. They will show you official looking placards, they will promise cervezas, they will show you their shiny, clean cars. My advice is to always arrange your transportation to and from the airport in advance. Many resorts will offer this to you, albeit at the most expensive rates. I’ve had great success going online and finding the services that are rated high by Google and have good reviews from travelers. These have been reliable, clean and with welcoming drivers. You can usually book roundtrip so you don’t have to worry about your return ride from the resort.
My favorite place to stay in Cancun is at the Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort. We are owners there and the property, service, and quality of the condos can’t be beat. You do not have to be an owner to stay there and it can be booked via the Marriott Bonvoy website. There are two large pools and both have full service swim-up bars/grills.
The Westin Lagunamar is located on a long strip of land called the Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone). As you can guess, it is where most of the resorts in Cancun are located. Here you will find all the majors: JW Marriott, Westin (2 properties), Ritz Carlton, Hyatt, Hilton, and on and on. There are many reasons to stay on this strip, including that it’s located near the best shopping and restaurants in the city. It is also not far from downtown Cancun. The day we left was gorgeous and I was able to get some great pics of the Zona Hotelera as well as Isla Mujeres.
La Isla Shopping Village
La Isla Shopping Village is right across the street from the Westin Lagunamar and has shopping for any and all budgets, from souvenirs all the way up to Louis Vuitton and Prada. You can’t miss it. Look for the large ferris wheel and you’re there. The La Isla website seems to be down at the time of writing this so here is a link to the TripAdvisor information for La Isla Shopping Village.
Dining – La Isla Shopping Village
In addition to the great shopping, there is great dining located in the village as well. As you walk across the street you can’t help but notice the Cambalache Argentinian Steak House. Inside, the decor is classic mahogany-walled steakhouse complete with smartly dressed staff. The traditional open wood fire grill is on full display as you walk to your table. The food is excellent and if South American beef is something you are interested in then you will not go wrong here.
Another popular food spot in La Isla Shopping Village is the simply named Thai. It’s located behind the aquarium at the back of the village and is known for its open air dining over the water. The Thai food there is good and if the temperature outside is not too hot it’s an excellent spot for a romantic dinner. Be sure and look for the resident crocodile that makes his way through the small waterway around the restaurant.
Dining – Cenacolo and Rosa Negra
We’ve tried several places to eat in Cancun and have narrowed down our favorites. A new spot for us that will now be on the rotation is Cenacolo. Our good friends from New York turned us on to this classic Italian eatery and we are glad they did. Hey, if New Yawkers are telling you it’s good Italian then that’s good enough for me. Fuggedaboutit! Everything we tried was excellent, including the stuffed squid appetizer which was fresh and full of flavor. Many of the pasta dishes are prepared tableside in a parmigian0-reggiano wheel. Add in that Cenacolo is only a short walk from the Westin Lagunamar and this one is a no-brainer. Be sure to get a reservation.
Rosa Negra will always be on the list for us as well. It’s website boasts “A tribute to Latin American culture” and while this is certainly true, I always think of fresh seafood when I think of this place. It also has open air seating and the sunset views are fantastic. You’ll want to get a table outside on an evening that’s not so hot so you can enjoy the view. The food here is outstanding and you will have some of the best service anywhere in Cancun. Its located too far to walk from the Westin Lagunamar so you’ll want to get an Uber or taxi.
We always spend a day in Isla Mujeres. It’s a quaint island a few miles off the coast of Cancun and offers a nice excursion for the day. Many people actually stay on Isla, preferring a slower pace than the nearby mainland. There are ferries that run all day back and forth. The best one is Ultramar and the best dock to use to board in Cancun is the Playa Tortugas area. Some other ports/docks charge additional docking fees. Additionaly, Playa Tortugas offers longer hours for return trips back to the Cancun.
A popular thing to do, and that I recommend, is renting a golf cart and traveling around the island. The “downtown” area can be a bit touristy so it’s nice to get out of there and to some places that are more local. The main road runs an entire loop around the island so its easy to find your way around. The water is a mixture of brilliant shades of blue and green. There are all kinds of taco huts, grills and places to have a cocktail or beer along the way. Its a nice way to spend a leisurely day.
Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm
Tortugas!!! You’ll hear this word quite a bit as tortugas (“turtles”) are very popular in Cancun. They come on the beaches and lay their eggs in the middle of the night and return to the sea. Cancun and Isla Mujeres have an excellent program for helping these little guys get back to the ocean once they hatch. Isla has a small turtle farm that allows you to get up close and personal with them. At 30 pesos (about $1.50) it’s worth checking out, especially if you have kiddos in tow.
Capitan Dulche Beach Club
If you’re spending the day in Isla then you’ll want to find a place to park the golf cart and relax for awhile. Capitan Dulche Beach Club is a great choice. There are palm thatched umbrellas with chairs on the beach as well as cabanas and chairs at the pool, complete with a swim-up bar. The food is good as well. Great place to relax and fuel up before you head back out.
As you wind your way back towards downtown you have to make a stop at Guadalupe Chapel. This small catholic church might be the most perfect little chapel you ever see. Floor to ceiling glass windows back the altar and provide an absolutely stunning view. Want a cocktail or beer? Go to the parish hall right outside the chapel and there is an open air sitting area complete with a bar. You can watch the waves slowly roll in and have a beverage in relative peace. We’ve never encountered more than one or two people there so it’s a bit of a hidden gem. This is always our last stop before we go back downtown and catch the ferry.
Each year we go to Cancun in August, partly because that is our anniversary month. On our last night I arranged a surprise for my wife, with the help of the Westin Lagunamar. Be sure and ask them about private beach dining when you go.
So until next time Cancun we say adios. Can’t wait to get back there!