Anyone who’s been to Cancun (and even some people who haven’t) will tell you that there are a lot of reasons to love Cancun and a lot of reasons to hate Cancun. We couldn’t agree more, from a pleasing new crop of resorts to police shakedowns.
What to love and what to hate in Cancun, Mexico
You have to love the beach, which is one of the most spectacular stretches of white sand snuggling up to impossibly blue water that you’ll find anywhere in the world, especially after this year’s completion of a US$71 million beach rehab.
You’d be forgiven for hating the fast food franchises and cheap souvenier shops that litter the place (we’re talking to you Señor Frog), the spring breakers (though they’re increasingly confined to low-rent resorts) and the town’s tourist-targeting transitos (more on them later).
Cancun resorts to love
Cancun was created (literally) to provide affordable, respectable resort vacations which it did for years. These days Cancun seems to be going through changes that are moving the destination away from its original mandate–resorts for everyone!–toward a more polarized range of resorts.
More and more high-end options are opening up (or expanding) while what used to be decent resorts are slipping into dumpdom. Luxe travelers and el cheapo spring breakers win, but we worry about anyone looking for amid-range option.
Here are some noteworthy resorts to love among the general homogeneous and hateful mediocrity that jostles for space along the water’s edge.
Yes, there’s a Ritz-Carlton in Cancun and it was one of the first truly high-end resorts to be built there. Your room at the Ritz-Carlton is essentially the same anywhere in the world: a kind of elegant mash up of stuffy style and full-service business, as if they designed the rooms for a British grandmother who happens to run Microsoft.
Ditto the signature Ritz-Carlton service. We know it’s a little bit dorky, but we love that the staff at every Ritz-Carlton is perfectly trained and referred to as “the ladies and gentlemen” of the Ritz-Carlton. It’s all so proper.
The Ritz-Carlton in Cancun delivers that signature room and signature service on a magnificent stretch of beach. We went through a kind of personality adjustment every time we transitioned from inside our room (grandmotherly tycoon) out onto our ocean-view balcony (sun-kissed hedonist).
The five diamond Ritz-Carlton, Cancun also delivers not one but two five diamond restaurants, prompting the staff–sorry, the ladies and gentlemen–to refer to the hotel as Cancun’s only 15 diamond property. Look for the hotel to accumulate a few more diamonds with the recent hiring of a new executive chef. To celebrate, the Ritz is putting on a pretty good special package to mark the new chef’s arrival. Be aware that one of their top restaurants is closed for the month of August.
Okay. So you expect to love the Ritz-Carlton. It’s the Ritz-Carlton for God’s sake. A Cancun newcomer with a funny name like the Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun is another story. But a good one.
Live Aqua is flashy (two white Rolls Royces out front) and hip (Paris Hilton slept here) and has eight of the prettiest pools in Cancun, each one a different shade of aqua. Oh, and you get a hand massage during check in.
Live Aqua also serves up the most beautiful, most bountiful, and most delicious breakfast buffet we’ve ever had at any hotel anywhere. And that’s just at their workhorse restaurant.
Live Aqua’s gourmet restaurant, MB (the initials of acclaimed chef Michelle Bernstein), is chic and sophisticated with dishes (and martinis) to match. Rumor has it a new Live Aqua will open in Mexico City in 2011.
The JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa has great rooms and great views and a great beach but it also has a 35,000 square foot three-level spa with a mind-bogglingly long list of treatments, some featuring hand made products using traditional Mayan ingredients. There’s also a gorgeous workout room that gives sunrise and sunset views and an adults-only pools.
Add in the resort’s sophisticated 911 club level (with snacks, cocktails, a pillow menu and more) and you’ve got one decidedly grown-up take on Cancun. Get more details in our full profile of the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa for iTraveliShop.
Something else we loved in Cancun was Tacos Rigo which served up good everyday food (tacos, great breakfasts, etc) at good everyday prices.
Classic Cancun cop shakedowns
Something we hated? Being pulled over not once but twice by bribe-seeking transit cops (transitos). The first guy who pulled us over in Cancun was actually a city cop who was staking out a totally stealth red light which we were forced to run to avoid slamming on our brakes and being rear-ended. This guy was calm, reasonable. He was even ready to let us go. Then, as he was handing back copies of our paperwork (NEVER give anyone your originals), he dropped the bomb. He was going to let us go, he said, and if we wanted to we could give him a tip…
Maybe it was wrong, but we gave him 50 pesos (about US$4) for the sheer ballsiness of the ask.
The second transito that pulled us over was ballsy too. He claimed we were speeding. Meanwhile, we were going slow enough to force other traffic to fly around us as we prepared to make a turn. He wasn’t giving up on his ridiculous allegations, however, and we were forced to employ extreme evasive action. It goes like this: Karen picks up her little digital camera, puts on her ditziest smile and starts taking pictures of the cop like it’s some sort of exciting vacation moment she’s dying to share with her friends back home.
The transitos, of course, want none of this since shakedowns are officially illegal in Mexico and they get plenty mad. But then they have no choice but to let us go.
Why were were we in Cancun in the first place? Get the answer in our next post. Hint: it involves mojitos, Cuba travel, and the Treasury Department…