Photography by Yuri Krasov
It’s no secret that Cancun, the most popular tourist destination in Mexico, has breathtaking sandy beaches and the clearest water in the Caribbean. It’s also no secret that recently renovated Hotel Zone can accommodate any request and satisfy any wish of the leisurely crowd.
At Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort (www.westin.com) where my husband and I spent our short glorious vacation, the beach was sugary-white and empty, and the sea was shining with all shades of blue and green thanks to coral residue at the bottom that emits no dust and filters the water clean.
Open only a couple years ago, Westin Lagunamar has it all – spacious guest villas with full kitchens and balconies, gorgeous campus, two gigantic swimming pools, a poolside bar Viento, a grocery and convenience store Tierra, and an upscale restaurant Oceano with abundant breakfast buffet and romantic themed dinners.
I could’ve spent all five days on premises, just lounging on a beach bed under a grass umbrella, and sipping cocktails at 2-for-1 happy hour…However, only a step away, a short ride downtown, a bus trip off the hotel strip there were things to discover about Cancun – just a few of its many wonders.
In the middle of our recreation, the weather changed and a light but persistent rain chased us out of water. Sun tanning was no longer possible, but it was nice to walk around.
The first of our discoveries was practically on the hotel property. Beyond the main building, we walked up to a historical ruin of a Mayan temple, Yamil-Lu’um. This name means “hilly land” and is given to the temple tentatively, since no one knows for sure its exact dedication. Some say, it is one of the similar seaside temples of Mayan civilization, dedicated to the god of dawn Zama, but when the ruin was first discovered in 1842, a scorpion statue found inside gave it its other name, Templo del Alacran (temple of scorpion).
The temple is located on the highest point along the seashore and presents the remnants of an impressive stone structure built between the 12th and 15th centuries. It is now protected by the government and beautifully lit at night.
Another discovery we made by driving to downtown Cancun, where we found Labna (www.labna.com) one of the best restaurants in the area serving traditional local cuisine – Autentica Cocina Yucateca. Pumpkin seed sauce sikil-pak; red onions marinated in lime juice with cilantro and chili; chaya leaves used along with rum, anise, and lemon juice for a refreshing green drink were all new to me, although I thought I knew Yucatan food… Labna’s testing menu called Yucatecan Tour included papadzules with hard boiled eggs and sikil-pak in house made tortillas; panuchos with pibil pork, slowly baked in banana leaves; and salgute with chicken, onion, tomato, and avocado season with Mayan spices.
A thin slice of tender pork poc chuc was served grilled with sour Yucatan oranges, chili and tomato sauce, and black beans. Even water served with dinner was special, and we tried three kinds of it – hibiscus, tamarind, and horchata (rice juice). Labna also has great traditional desserts, like Maya blanco (coconut custard) and dried papaya with Mayan honey and cheese. No wonder this place has been discovered before us by countless diners from all over the world.
Our third discovery was in the realm of nature, so delightfully rich and diverse in the blessed Mexican state of Quintana Roo. We took a tour to Rio Secreto caves in the Riviera Maya (www.riosecretomexico.com). Rio Secreto is a recently discovered underground river with fantastical caves framed by stalactites and stalagmites of amazing beauty. Dressed in wet suits, water shoes, and helmets with flashlights, we embarked on an unforgettable journey into the real underworld. I was glad I didn’t know what to expect before our tour. The thing was I always had some apprehension toward those wet suits that make a normal flabby human being look like Martian Manhunter. I thought I would just suffocate in one of them before entering a body of water. Secondly, I despise helmets for causing helmet hair. I had to submit to both, since our guide explained that his concern was not so much about our heads and bodies as about the fragility of the cave sediments, accumulated over thousands of years and easily destroyed by close encounters with human skin and hair.
While in the cave, it was relatively easy to navigate the narrow trails mostly covered with water. Due to the absence of sunlight, no moss or lichens grow on the rocks, so they are not slippery. In some places, the calm dark water was deep enough for us to take a short swim between the trails.
At some point, our guide encouraged us to sit down along the cave wall, turn off our flash lights and meditate for a minute in complete darkness and silence, enhanced by the absence of drafts underground. He said the time flow was impossible to detect under these circumstances. Not a big fan of meditation, I was glad when we continued our journey among the stunning crystalline rock growths, and soon returned to the sunlit surface of the earth. The weather went back to being its usual Cancun-great, sunny and breezy, and we spent the rest of our vacation lounging on the beach and jumping up and down in salty stormy waves. On our way home we made a couple more discoveries. First, the Cancun International Airportwas was named Latin America’s best airport for the second year in a row by the Airports Council International for its customer care and quality of services.
Secondly, we felt well-rested and relaxed while flying back, mostly thanks to the new Virgin America airplane with wider seats and more leg room, and due to the fact that our flight went non-stop to San Francisco – one of the advantages of this young (launched 2007) California-based airline (www.virginamerica.com).
For more information, visit the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau website at:www.cancun.travel.