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Cancun: A Perfect Balance of Relaxation & Adventure

Even though Cancun is one of the most heavily visited regions on the Yucatan Peninsula, plenty of opportunities await for cultural immersion and outdoor adventure to complement your requisite R&R.  Lounging poolside with a margarita in hand as turquoise waves crash on the beach is as much a part of the experience as visiting Mayan ruins, snorkeling, or hitting the local markets in town.

Restful Poolside

Where you choose to stay makes a huge impact on your overall experience.  I recommend an all inclusive that lets you focus on good times rather than on where to have your next meal.  Being right on the beach along with a pool is expected but not all hotels simultaneously accommodate partiers as well as families seeking a more restful ambiance paired with fine dining.

Cancun Caribe Park Royal Grand

The Cancun Caribe Park Royal Grand gets the formula right with their two lavish pools.  One is an activities oriented DJ-hosted pool with a walkup bar where efficient tenders gregariously churn out the margaritas and rum and cokes.  Poolside bingo, chicken dances, and water games flow freely where poolside loungers are rarely idle.  Here the spring break crowd predominates with nonstop volleyball pickup games an arm’s length away on the beach.  Walk up around the corner on a stone path surrounded by palm trees and lush tropical vegetation and you’ll reach a second more sublime pool area flanked by cushy lounger beds and a swim up bar designed for lingering as your kids play in the 3 inch deep shallows.

When it’s time to eat, the Cancun Caribe Park Royal Grand goes beyond successful,  offering both grab and go and sophisticated sit down dining.  They also tastefully incorporate regional ingredients and flavors into their dishes.  Start with the extensive buffet breakfast at Cocay where one side of the spread features the familiar waffles, fresh toast, cereals, and a “cook-to-order” omelet station.  Walk to the other side and feast on platters loaded with fresh slices of ripe mango, papaya, orange, and several varieties of melon.  Woven baskets bulging with assortments of fresh baked Mexican sweet rolls sit along side bowls of dried tropical fruits, nuts, granola, and shredded coconut… the perfect

Mexican Sweet Rolls

ingredients for a healthy muesli when mixed with a helping of yogurt.

Only finger food will do at noon as you’re immersed in fun-in-the sun escapades.  On the main pool deck area, Snack El Jardin grills up burgers with all the fixings including several varieties of hot pepper condiments along with their authentic fresh made nachos.  You can top these with the classic melted cheese from the dispenser or sprinkle with finely grated jalepeno and pimiento powder.  My favorite was the later giving the chips a flavorful bite.  At Pizza Corner, dough is kneaded by hand right in front of you before being baked into personal sizes, sliced, and served for the taking.

As evening approaches, dinner along with spectacular sunsets emerge on the horizon.  Shed your bathing suit and flip flops for long pants, shirts, and dresses and sit down to elegant menu offerings paired with extensive wine lists and top shelf mixed drinks.  My favorite was the El Oriental Restaurant serving Asian classics along with a wide selection of sushi.  I paired a sushi sampler with a Vinos Demeco Blanc 2008 from Baja California.  Of course no dinner here would be complete without Xtabentun, a regional after dinner aperitif made with anise liqueur and honey syrup based on an original Mayan recipe.

Beyond the Resort

Local Crafts at Plaza 23

Even though it’s tempting to eat onsite during your entire stay and not venture out, I recommend exploring where local families (hotel staff) as well as restaurants source their fresh produce and other seasonal ingredients.  Skip the taxis, head down the front drive to the bus stop next to the main entrance, and wait for the Route 1 Express.  Hand over your 7 pesos and ask the driver when to get off for Plaza 23 in downtown Cancun.  It helps to brush up on your Spanish, bring a stack of pesos, and be ready to bargain.  There isn’t any clear signage marking this vast public market so once you get off the bus, immediately cross Tulum Boulevard and walk up one of the side streets which lead right into the activity.  In return for your intrepid spirit, you’ll be rewarded with tons of authentic Mexican crafts, papayas the size of your thigh, fresh made corn tortillas, and spices you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere.  Just be sure to visit mornings when all the stalls are open for business.

You’ll find the beach fronting Cancun Caribe Park Royal Grand perfect for soaking up some rays and the surf just right

Snorkeling at Xel Ha

for wading in to cool off.  But caution is advised when swimming due to notoriously swift ocean currents.   For calm shallows, scenic tubing, and spectacular snorkeling, Xel ha, approximately an hour drive south on Route 307, is a must-do destination.  A true Shangri-la within the jungle surrounding a cove leading to the wide open ocean, a long pathway encircles all that this water park has to offer. Instead of attractions like waterslides and wave pools, everything is in its natural state.  Swim with the dolphins, get up close to the manatees, spot loads of colorful tropical fish while snorkeling along the many rock formations, sit back in a tube and loll away the afternoon, or be a dare devil and jump off the cliffs overhanging the water.  Hammocks and beach chairs abound, sporadically tucked away in small sandy beach heads along the main walking path.  And food here runs the gamut from comfort food to Mexican specialties served buffet style.  No waiting in long lines for overpriced heat lamped hot dogs and french fries here!

Disclosure: Author experienced the above destination and activities while taking part in a sponsored trip.  Photos courtesy of Steve Mirsky

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