Riviera Maya has something for all ages
By Christopher Ludgate
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
I am willing to wager that no matter where you stand on the issues of today’s ugly and contentious political climate, you’ve become pretty sick of it.
Either you’re really quick with the mute button when the dizzying spin starts or your systolic numbers have been on the rise to resist. Staying informed is like a full-time job with really crappy benefits and overtime. The diligence is compulsory but mentally exhausting. It’s toxic.
For the good of all things, including our well-being, our collective consciousness needs a political detox. Stat!
My colleague, Bill, and I agreed before boarding the plane to Riviera Maya, Mexico; no mentions of, no reading of, no watching of, or even joking of it. It was time to tune out so we could tune in, as we resurrected our spirits while immersed in a restorative beautiful adventure and a stay at UNICO 20°N 87°W.
La Isla Bonita
Our catamaran sailed along the variegated turquoise waters above the gallery of reefs in the sun-drenched Bahia de Mujeres. Bill strapped on his goggles and vest as did I for his first foray into snorkeling. Some friends back home would later say, ‘Bill? Snorkeling …in Mexico? No.’
Yet, within a minute, after spotting the sunlit Mayan statue reefs at the surface below through the schools of bright neon fish he popped his head up out of the water, exclaiming, “This is the best thing ever!”
Back on board and further along, our steward, Juan, served us icy tequila cocktails and lunch with fresh local ingredients before pulling in and anchoring amongst the perched white sails at remote and picturesque Playa Norte on the tip of Isla Mujeres, a four-mile island about eight miles off of the Yucatan Peninsula.
No sooner were Bill and Lisa (one of our new friends made aboard) joyfully jumping-ship off the white sandy shore – into the sun-glistened crystal blueness.
The bliss continued when we disembarked onto the island where Bill and I cruised around the entire span of it, exploring the views and immersing ourselves in culture in our rented golf cart. …Freedom.
We meandered the intriguing artisan craft shops on the tiny roads beyond the on the island’s main strip that teemed with local fare. We embarked as the sun began to set, sailing into the breathtaking horizon away from the lovely, unique Island of Women.
Apropos, Jimmy Buffet’s famous song, ‘Margaritaville’ echoed over the sound system as Juan replenished our drinks.
A ferry is also available to access the island. But, Mario, our personal host at the resort scheduled the delightful experience for us.
Remedy at Our Fingertips
Our oceanfront room in Riviera Maya was readied with customized preferences such as soothing aromatherapy musk and pre-selected cocktails before we were welcomed by Mario.
It was a breeze to schedule therapeutic stress-reducing activities like water-yoga or aqua-spinning or hydro-pilates. The ritualistic ice and steam rotation hydrotherapy treatments at the on-site Esencia Spa washed all kinds of tension away, too.
The app also came in handy to view the schedule of events whether we preferred some chill-out time by the quieter swim-up pool or some cool off time at the relaxing ‘Wine & Paint’ class. The resort is adults-only, which also earned it big points in my book (sorry kids).
Custom Made Experience
The app made it very convenient to make the most out our stay with a host of features and menus. It was like a personal concierge.
I was admittedly giddy about some features like ordering from six different pillow choices. That’s some cushy over-the-top pampering. This app was like a revolution that could conceivably make a hotel stay into a whole other level of a customized experience. Ah, the power of choice.
Another feature allowed for personal requests using GPS. We wasted no time taking to lounging beneath the palm trees at this wellness paradise located at 20°N 87°W – which, if you know your coordinates, is Akumal – about an hour and a half south of Cancun.
We sampled the ceviche which we later took a cooking class to learn how to prepare. The poolside menu embraced local food and drinks in healthy choices for all and plenty of diversity.
We did inadvertently wind up double fisting poolside margaritas we ordered from the app once, but it wasn’t hard to remedy such problems.
So close to Tulum on such a gorgeous day, Bill and I consulted Beatrice, our host from our paint class the previous day about a visit.
During our buffet feast inside the main beachfront restaurant, Bill and I discussed the idea of not joining the offered tour in lieu of saving time by simply taking a cab or UBER at our leisure.
There were some evening activities that we wanted to attend. Beatrice guided us to a more adventurous idea.
We packed our day bags and soon found ourselves waiting by an unofficial station outside the resort to flag down a small Volkswagen mini-bus with a non-descript blue sticker on the front and a hanging yellow smiley on the rearview, as Beatrice described.
Surveying the small group already on board, we hopped in and took the two seats in the back for two pesos.
Twenty minutes due south, we hopped out in the center of Tulum for some authentic flavor and continued our random conversation with passengers from various walks of Central and South America.
We chatted for a while exchanging tales about our travels and discovered many things in common hanging out in some random spot in town.
As they went off to the Cenote, we waved down a ride to Paradise Beach and the ruins of Tulum where we meandered. I finally got some of those classic shots I wanted with my new wide-angle lens. With spontaneity comes unexpected rewards and great liberation.
“What is the one thing you should never, ever forget to do when mixing your cocktail?” Our bartender, Luis, asked our small group in mixology class in the Palmera Lounge after we finished our sushi at Mura House.
“Shake it,” Nope.
“SMILE!” Luis corrected us all. Ah, so simple!
After enjoying our Amazon Cocktails at Palmera Lounge, we mixed a new seasonal twist on the Margarita. I don’t remember how to make the drink, but it was a good way to start siesta and make good memories.
Later, in the vibrant club atmosphere of Palmera Lounge, Bill and I joined a game of Loteria, also known as Mexican BINGO. The big game boards were animated with colorful and sometimes amusingly provocative depictions of Mexican culture which the emcee and contestants had fun with.
I sunk comfortably into the deep couch watching as Bill hovered over his game suddenly exclaiming, “Loteria! Loteria!” and scurried up to the stage to accept his prize to applause. So cathartic are the simple things that bring happiness.
Levity with a Closer Look
Watching as affiliates of Mexico’s Institute of Astronomy methodically began to assemble their instruments in the center of the vast resort grounds, guests gathered for an evening of ‘Wine & Astronomy.’
“We welcomed the idea to bring the two things together. The harmonious blend of wine and wonderment of the universe,” Magdela, one of the instructors at the institute explained to me as we all gathered to focus in on the telescope
“One day, UNICO’s coordinates will change as the earth shifts, in fact,” she mused as we readied for our breathtaking celestial close-up.
The Mayan culture is well-known for their emphasis on stargazing, illustrating the established human need to ponder where we are, honor the indispensable things around us, and maybe realize what’s truly important.
We are not unlike those astronomy-enthusiasts, we travelers, citizens of the world also seeking some harmony, a connection, and perspective.
Senior Travel Writer Christopher Ludgate is a travel & culture journalist based out of his native New York City. Chris combines his multi-faceted professions and is ever drawn to adventure and creative outlets. His travel writing pursuits have lead to working with publications such as Passport Magazine, LAX in-flight, AIR Chicago, FLY Washington, and, of course, GoNOMAD.com. Chris is an award-winning filmmaker with films in distribution and screenings around the globe.