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cancun hotelLong thought of as the ultimate getaway for college spring breakers, Cancún, Mexico, actually has much more to offer than Coronas and sun-kissed bikini bodies. Based on the Mayan pronunciation, the name “Cancún” translates to “nest of snakes” and also the less accepted, “place of the golden snake.” Luckily, my friends and I only had one “golden snake” encounter, a large, yellow, pet boa curling around the neck of a local that I was sure to stay as far away from as possible. In addition to exotic wildlife and scenery, Cancún is also rich with ancient culture and thrilling outdoor adventure, and it is, of course, host to some amazing parties.cancun hotel lobby

Iberostar Cancún Hotel was the 5-star all-inclusive destination for me and my “tres amigas” (three friends) for four days. Upon arrival, we were offered the awesome opportunity of a free room upgrade to a large villa overlooking the Caribbean, as the room we had booked online was not yet ready. We were also surprised to learn that the resort had been recently renovated,balcony so we took full advantage of the beautiful grounds, modern décor and excellent service. Also, all stress was alleviated during our stay; we enjoyed massages on the beach, strawberry daiquiris at the pool bar, live music and cancun hoteldancing at night.

 

 

 

Its spectacular location right on the Caribbean beach is but one of its many appeals. There’s also more than 100,000 square feet of outdoor space, where you can choose among no less than seven infinity pools (like the one in the picture above), perfectly integrated into the surrounding tropical gardens. Sports lovers will get a “kick” out of the professional soccer field, two tennis courts, gym, and a golf course overlooking the sea (how cool is that?). In fact, this golf course is one of the reasons why Iberostar Cancún is truly one-of-a-kind in Cancún, as it’s the only resorts that has both a golf course and spa on premises.

cancun hotel spa

Take note! Forming good relationships with the hotel staff is beneficial in two ways; first, finding out where to have the most fun and still feel safe, and the additional plus of making cute, foreign friends. 

One of Cancún’s offerings that I was most anxious to indulge in was the cuisine. Part of the all-inclusive deal with the hotel was a 24-hour room service menu, and extensive buffets for breakfast and lunch. Both were a food lover’s dream, including irresistible assortments of hot dishes and desserts, and plates of fresh buffettvegetables and fruits not found in the U.S., such as the Peruvian fruit called, oddly enough, Tuna. 

As though this was not enough, we also had the choice of any one of five superb restaurants located on the grounds for dinner. The first night, we devoured gourmet Mexican cuisine at Maguey, which featured a lovely view of the sea, and were entertained by a lively tableside Mariachi band that took requests. Another night, we savored delicious hibachi at Naga Hibachi Japanese restaurant, and enjoyed a feast of sushi, fried rice, miso soup, a variety of well-sedessertasoned meats and a choice of two desserts, or both, in our case. Thanks to one talented bartender, our signature drink became the sapo loco” or “crazy toad,” a fruity concoction that consists of vodka, green apple liquor and orange liquor. This delicious concoction can be served as a drink but is best enjoyed as a shot, which we made sure to do each night before going out. 

If you’ve found you have under-packed (which is quite the opposite of what usually happens to me), or if shopping is part of the vacation ritual for you (as it most definitely is with me), La Isla Shopping Village has over 100 vendors selling, among other things, foreign jewelry, swimwear, lingerie and local clothing brands, as well as familiar names like Calvin Klein, Coach, Zara, Lacoste and Hugo Boss. If you’re searching for more authenticity, there are also markets and outlet stores that sell Mexican crafts, clothing and other souvenirs. hotel bar

There are a couple of truths about these markets that are helpful to know before visiting them. First, expect to be bombarded by shopkeepers who will say anything they can think of to get you into their store. Secondly, it is much better to pay for anything you might want to purchase in Mexican pesos, as vendors will round out the price if they know you plan to pay with U.S. dollars. It is definitely wise to have a calculator at the ready to do the conversion math. Finally, if all you remember from Spanish class is “¿Cómo estás?” and “¿Donde está el baño?”, it is in your favor to have a Spanish-fluent friend do the bargaining shoppingfor you. They are more likely to get a better deal than you can. For example, with the help of a Colombian comrade, I took home several colorful, hand-painted Day of the Dead skulls, and a handbag with pretty embroidery and beaded floral designs, for only $40.  

In case you did not know this, Cancún is super famous for its night life, which is really on a different level than you might imagine. Along with the usual downtown hangouts like Hooters and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Cancún has an incredible collection of unique clubs for the experienced partier. You can expect to pay around $30-$40 for cover alone to the nicest and most entertaining clubs, but the preferred way to party is to fork out $60-$70 for an open bar bracelet, which gives you both entry to the club and all you can drink, all night. An important coco bongothing to know about Cancún is that most shop owners and ticket sellers for the clubs will be ready to haggle and lower the price; and usually the larger your group is, the better the deal you can get.

Perhaps the most popular club and a Cancún tourist favorite is Coco Bongo, which is famous for its nightly shows and entertainment. You could also easily find mandala nightclubyourself rocking out at a KISS concert, dancing along to rhythmic samba performances, or witnessing a Spiderman vs. Villain battle royale, with costumed acrobats swinging high overhead. Another hot spot is The City, the largest club in Latin America, with a capacity of over 5,000 party-goers, and featuring 9 bars on 3 different levels. 

Don’t miss Mandala Nightclub a very cool spot with a very unique atmosphere. Before you even enter, you can enjoy a view of the striking Asian-style décor, which features a stylized staircase leading up to the main bar. mandalaBeyond is a huge and dramatic Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva statue looking over the scene, emphasized by red spotlights. The club is open to full view from the street, which allows all passersby to see and hear the fun they should be having. Plus, an unroofed bar on each side of the entrance allows for outside smoking areas, and a perfect spot for people watching. 

One very Cancún attraction that we did not get to experience was a trip to one of the extraordinary parks that the city has to offer.  Xcaret is an eco-park in Riviera Maya, Cancun that has more than 40 natural and cultural attractions such as the Butterfly Pavilion, Coral Reef Aquarium, and an authentic Mexican cemetery with seven levels and 365 different tombs. You can also swim with dolphins and sharks (separately), explore the Tropical Jungle Trail  featuring native wildlife and over 100 speparkscies of plants, attend live performances showcasing traditional Mayan culture, and even watch an exact replica of a Mayan Ball Game. The park is open 365 days a year from 8:30am to 9:30pm. Tickets are $109 USD for adults and $54.50 USD for children. Visit http://www.xcaret.com/ for more information.

For action-adventure enthusiasts, there are plenty of water sports available, including a new style of water recreation called flyboarding, invented by a French jet ski champion. Participants can fly like a bird and swim like a dolphin, with the help of a jet pack that sends a person soaring through the air or diving into the water. Without practice tparkhis might seem daunting, but do a quick YouTube search of “flyboarding” and you’ll see an impressive display of aerial tricks and expert dives.  Check out watersportsincancun.com for more info on flyboardingthis extreme sport. A must-see that was suggested to me by several friends was the cenotes (sacred caverns); these fascinating underwater caves are only found in a few locations on earth, and Yucatán Peninsula just happens to be the world capital of these natural wonders. They are formed when rainwater and run-off precipitation from surrounding jungles fill natural sink holes, flooding the miles of caves in the region. You can view a list of available cenotes tours at www.docancun.com/cenotes.html.

After a few days full of great food, parties, sun, sand, and friends both new and old, our vacation was coming to an end all too soon. We decided to  waste no time, and after pulling an all-nighter, we stood on the seashore and watched the sunrise, appreciating nature’s brilliance and our precious moments together. As we walked back to our room, we discovered a small forest of hammocks and we all quickly claimed ownership of one, for an early morning nap before breakfast.

The last night in Cancún was bittersweet, as all of us wanted to have a good time but were dreading our flight back to the States the next day. After hours of dancing followed by late night snacking at a taquería, we returned to the hotel and took our last walk on the beach. We lay on the beach beds looking up at the stars, the only sound being the waves crashing against the sandy, vacant shore. We left the next morning, vowing that we would return one day soon.

If you find yourself planning a trip to Cancún, I suggest you allow yourself much more than the four days we had to explore all the city has to offer. You will thank me, I promise!

To find a great deal for your trip to Cancun or another vacation paradise, visit www.cheapcaribbean.com

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 175 - September 2018
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