The Mexican Mayan Riviera by Ron Kapon

The Mexican Mayan Riviera- what a public relation dream of a name. One might think of the French or Italian Riviera, but here it is all about the beach, sun and water. Let’s get the geography lesson out of the way; Quintana Roo is a state in Southeastern Mexico on the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula with a population of 1,135,000 million. The Caribbean Sea is to the east and the nation of Belize is to the south. If the name Quintana Roo is not familiar, look at some of the cities contained within the state; Cancun, Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel. Plus there are the Mayan Ruins at Tulum, Ichpaatan, Xcaret and world famous Chichen Itza.
In the late 1960’s the Mexican government built the city of Cancun from a small fishing village to attract more American tourists to the area. Recent figures showed over 4 million visitors. On October 23rd 2005 a Category 5 hurricane named Wilma made landfall on the island of Cozumel. It sat stationery over the area for several days with winds as high as 125 MPH. For five days in May of 2007 I traveled to Cancun and Playa del Carmen to see how the area has responded. Most of the hotels were remodeled and reopened within a year and new construction was everywhere.

The hotel zone in Cancun (28,000 rooms- the largest number in Mexico) has condos and resorts on every inch of space facing the Caribbean, plus over 2,000 stores. On the island side is Laguna Nichupte with marinas, restaurants, shopping malls, two golf courses (there are 8 in the Cancun area, plus 5 more under construction) and a few islands. There is only one road, so you can’t get lost. Southbound heads to the airport which is the 2nd busiest in Mexico, after Mexico City (Continental, Delta, American, Jet Blue, ATA, US Airway, Northwest and Aero Mexico all fly from New York City). The Hotel Zone spans approximately 16 miles. Northbound heads to downtown. The “Party Zone” is half-way between the Hotel Zone and downtown and it is filled with nightclubs and discos. You can opt for a taxi from your hotel, but the buses cost only 55 cents and seem to run every minute. There are several smaller flea markets and large shopping malls within a mile of the Hotel Zone, but everyone seems to carry the same things with similar prices. I couldn’t find a single thing to buy. After all, how ,many t-shirts or sombreros can one wear?
Visualize the condos and hotels of Miami Beach or San Juan. Picture perfect weather, but consider skipping the peak of the hurricane season, which is September into November. You can book tours to Mayan ruins, golf, swimming with dolphins, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, etc. through Best Day Tours. They picked me up at the airport, took me to my hotel, and brought me to Aqua World, where I spent an hour on the Yellow Submarine (viewing coral and fish underwater) along Palancar Reef, the 2nd largest coral reef in the world. They also drove me to my hotel in Playa del Carmen in less than an hour; arranged a tour there and returned me to the Cancun airport for my flight home. I found them very reliable and as an aside the company is owned by the same people who own the Real Resorts where I stayed.

Fernando Garcia Zalvidea started Best Day Tours in 1984 and in 1989 bought an old hotel that started his empire. I stayed at The Royal in Cancun that opened in February 2007 and The Royal in Playa del Carmen that opened October 2005. Both are super deluxe, all suite, all adult and all inclusive. The Royal properties do not accept children under 16 while the Gran Caribe andGran Porto allows children of any age. I noticed that half The Royal guests seem to be honeymooners or young couples while the other half are in my category of senior citizen. My Royal Junior Suite, like 80% of the 285 The Royal in Cancun rooms, faced the Caribbean and had a double Jacuzzi tub. The Royal in Playa del Carmen has 459 junior suites, and this time I faced the pool area. The rum, vodka, tequila soft drinks and snacks in the mini-bar are included. Three gourmet meals with vintage house wines and all services charges and taxes are included. I used the fitness center, sauna, Jacuzzis and steam room in the Spa which also is part of the all-inclusive, as are theme nights, live shows and non-motorized water sports.

If you want a Mayan inspired spa treatment or wines from their 127 selection wine and champagne list there is an extra charge. Also in the 5 Star categories are his Gran Caribe Real in Cancun and the Gran Porto Real in Playa. After Hurricane Wilma Fernando used part of his next door Grand Caribe Real land to build an all new The Royal in Cancun. The Gran property in Playa is across the street. There is also a 4 Star Real Playa property nearby. I did eat in one restaurant on the Gran Caribe property, which is not part of the all-inclusive and that is called Salute. The first Salute opened in Mexico City 5 years ago and it opened in Cancun in December 2006. You must try their Mango Margarita; the food is also fabuloso. I had a choice of restaurants at the Royal where I could partake of my three meals; Japanese, French-Mexican, coffee shop, poolside restaurant or a 24 hour lounge with a pool table, table tennis, snacks, several TV’s and a selection of drinks. Depending on season, my Royal Junior Suite rack rate would be between $240 and $350 per person, all inclusive. There are all sorts of incentive pricing available.
Less than an hour south of Cancun and I found the Mexican Mayan Riviera. Playa (del Carmen) was established by Europeans from Germany, Switzerland and especially Italy. The lifestyle is slower with beaches, surf, coral reefs, scuba, jet skiing, windsurfing and a pedestrian street named Fifth Avenue (Quinta Avenida) with a mixture of shops, bars and restaurants. With a population of 60,000 there are fewer large hotels and the atmosphere is definitely more laid back. The island of Cozumel can be reached from the ferry dock in Playa in less than 45 minutes. That same 45 minutes will take you to Talum and Coha, which reflect the Mayan period of 1200-1520AD. They draw over 2 million visitors a year (the most visited of Mexico’s archaeological sites) after having been rediscovered in 1842 by archeologists. Hurricane Emily hit Playa in July 2005 and while doing considerable damage did not destroy the whole city, as in Cancun. I spent an afternoon and evening at Xcaret which was about 15 minutes from my hotel. For $60 one gets an all day pass or it is $43 if you only want to see the two hour evening extravaganza (the history of Mexico with over 200 performers). I spent 3 hours walking through Mayan Village, along the jungle trail, through wildlife, underground rivers, through an Aquarium and several other shows. If you want to go snorkeling, scuba diving, or swim with dolphins that will cost you extra.