All Inclusive in Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen
Our guest post comes from Howard Hian who was recently awarded a Gold Medal/First Place Award from the North American Travel Journalists Association’s annual international writing contest. His prize winning story, Houseboating with My Pirate Pals, was in the Intergenerational Travel category. In 2010 he also received a second place award in the Cancun International writers competition for his feature, Quintessential Quintana Roo. Hian was recently named as the San Diego Hotel Motel Association’s “Allied Member of the Year” for 2011 for his ongoing contributions to the city’s tourism industry through his travel writing.
Cruising is more popular than ever. Its package approach takes a lot of guesswork out of a vacation. Meals and activities are onboard while at sea and, in port, tours are available. If this model works aboard a ship, why not on land? In fact, the all inclusive approach is being offered by more and more of Mexico’s top resorts. On a recent trip, my wife and I were able to experience the trend at three different locales.
Our first destination was Cancun’s four-star Fiesta Americana Condesa, located on the beach in the “Hotel Zone.” It’s a lushly landscaped resort with a dramatic lobby entrance leading to stunning Caribbean Sea views. Their restaurants include Kalmia, our go-to spot for a sumptuous buffet breakfast, Mexicano featuring traditional Mexican cooking with a gourmet slant, Rosato serving classical Italian fare, the open-air Kambu and the Tapas Bar. One idyllic day we read, swam and then lunched on shrimp cocktails, fish tacos and beer at Cevicheria under poolside palapas. The Fiesta Condesa had attentive, friendly personnel, excellent accommodations and a knockout location.
We kept busy with a wide variety of outings. We snorkeled at the Cancun Underwater Museum, languidly floating over life-sized sculptures that will eventually form a reef which, in turn, will attract and support sea-life. We stopped at an old favorite, Mocambo. There may be no better ocean view in Cancun; and the fresh seafood is served with surprising twists. At the new Herradura Tequila Museum, we learned more about the brand and its history, as well as sampling the product at their tasting bar.
Our itinerary included a voyage to Contoy Island (a nature preserve) on Kolumbus Tours’ ship, the Pinta. On the way, we anchored for a short snorkel. At Contoy we hiked to its lagoon, which is a bird sanctuary, climbed the watch tower for a panoramic view and then, for the highlight of the day, snorkeled with a friendly sting ray and its sidekick, a parrotfish. The return trip was beer fueled and raucous.
Reluctantly, we departed Cancun for a quick and comfortable ferry ride to Cozumel for our stay at the adults-only Sabor Resort & Spa, which boasts the largest beach on the island. We surveyed our new location and discovered four restaurants and five bars. Our spacious room had a wading area off the patio leading to a slide down to a large pool with a swim-up bar.
After unpacking, we headed to Chankanaab National Park. It’s a natural preserve where one can dive, snorkel or swim with dolphins, sea lions and manatees. After encouragement from one of the trainers, I jumped into the manatee pool and fed three of these gentle creatures. Heads of romaine lettuce disappeared quickly as the trio gobbled the greens. If I spent a bit more time feeding the smaller ones (about 300 pounds each), the largest, weighing 800 pounds, gently tapped my thigh, a polite reminder that it was waiting patiently. The manatee encounter was one of my favorite travel experiences ever.
The next day, we explored San Gervasio, the largest and most significant ruin in Cozumel. It dates from the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, 300-400 AD. Note: for a better understanding of its cultural and archeological significance, consider hiring one of the guides available at the site. From there, we drove to the Celarain Lighthouse at the southernmost point of Cozumel. Our sightseeing included Discover Mexico where one walks through a park like setting to view dozens of models depicting Pre-Hispanic, Colonial and modern Mexican government buildings, churches and ruins. There is also an fascinating museum displaying award winning Mexican arts and crafts. On another outing to Chankanaab National Park, we boarded the Atlantis Submarine for a 40 minute dive, reaching a depth of 100’, taking us past reef formations, schools of fish and an occasional diver. It’s easy to understand why Cozumel is world famous for its scuba diving and snorkeling.
Too soon, we were on our return ferry ride to Playa del Carmen and our stay at the all-suite, five-star, ocean front RIU Palace Hotel. The resort has six restaurants, five bars, a pool and a magnificent stretch of white sandy beach. For pampering, RIU’s Renova Spa offers massages and various treatments in its soothing surroundings. We started the day with a sumptuous buffet breakfast in the open-air restaurant, Don Julian. We also enjoyed Butafoga, a Brazilian Steak House, on the terrace at the oceanfront Grill and Steakhouse, and the elegant, intimate Krystal restaurant. Nightfall found us at RIU’s plaza where we sat, listened to music, people watched and finished most evenings with a nightcap. Our suite was beautiful and the Riu Palace lived up to its five star rating; we were delighted with the cuisine, staff, and ambiance.
Our days in the region were filled with soft adventure activities. We went to Xplor, the area’s newest attraction. There are four venues; multiple ziplines, jeep trails, underground rafting and trekking through a subterranean river. Note: a buffet lunch is included in the entrance fee, so plan on a full day to experience the park. Rio Secreto was the final excursion of our trip. After we donned a wetsuit, life vest, special shoes and a hardhat with headlamp, our guide led us through an astonishing subterranean river. We waded and swam through a maze of eons old stalactites and stalagmites; it’s eco-tourism at its best. In fact, Rio Secreto won the World Travel Award for the Americas as the best “expedition” or “green attraction.”
Bottom line – we decided that Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen were ideal locales and our trip was enhanced by the convenience of the all inclusive concept. Can’t decide between a land or sea vacation? Perhaps the answer is to cruise, choose an intriguing port and then return for an in depth stay at an all inclusive resort.