Cancun, Mexico: For All Sorts of Reasons, A Perfect Paradise

dolphin swim
Swimming with the dolphins

Cancun, Mexico: For All Sorts of Reasons, A Perfect Paradise

Egret next to a snorkler on the beach in Cancun, Mexico. photos by Cindy Bigras.
Egret next to a snorkler on the beach in Cancun, Mexico. photos by Cindy Bigras

By Cindy Bigras

What can I say about Cancun that hasn’t already been said? It’s known for spring break when throngs of American college students hit the beaches for the sort of partying that Mom and Dad don’t ever hear about. But once they go back to campus, this tropical Paradise returns to being a fantastic destination for travelers of all types. You want romance, family fun, ecotourism, historical tours – Cancun has it all! It’s a terrific destination any time of year.

My friend, Melody, and I wanted a getaway to the tropics for relaxation and a chance to do nothing at all! No men, kids, or work – just two women friends of a certain age. As the northeast was getting pounded by the white stuff, we planned to yak, nap, and swim. OK, there was also mention of wanting to spend some time at a swim up bar!

Our criteria were simple – since we’d be arriving from different airports, we wanted direct flights from Denver and Hartford; reliably fantastic weather was a must, and no rental car required. WE also didn’t want to be afraid of what some in the US fear about our friendly neighbor to the South. Cancun fit the bill on all counts!

All Inclusives Make it Easy

The Hotel and tourism zone of Cancun is shaped like the number 7.
The Hotel and tourism zone of Cancun is shaped like the number 7.

There are hundreds of all inclusive resorts along the Boulevard Kukulan, the main route running through the Hotel Zone which is shaped like the number “7”. Shops, bars, souvenir shops, and restaurants are aplenty, too. Dreams Cancun Resort, located at the northernmost tip of the zone, has the best location because it is surrounded by ocean and beautiful white sand beaches on all sides….even the internal part of the resort has a water view of the lagoon and dolphin area.

It’s a great spot for families because of the entertainment and organized activities, and the prices are reasonable. The rooms were clean and the staff very friendly, but this is not a luxurious hotel. The facility is old and would benefit from some updating. There are steep ramps leading to the elevators which made it difficult to assist my friend who at times requires a wheel chair.

There are five on-site restaurants; the Seaside Grill and the Himitsu Japanese restaurant soon became our favorites. Virtually everyone speaks English, prices are quoted in US dollars and most of the guests are American or Canadian. Many guests are repeat visitors – always a good sign.

Bird Sanctuary

After a few days of doing our version of “nothing”, and a stop or two at that swim up bar, we got restless and sought out a sea adventure to experience the area’s natural environment. There are numerous tours to Isla Mujeres but not as many to the more distant Isla Contoy. For something a little unusual, Kolumbus Tours offers eco-historical adventures aboard reproductions of historical ships.

La Pinta is slightly smaller than the original, which brought Columbus to the new world, but it’s virtually identical in design, and built of local hardwood. It’s small enough that you’ll know all the passengers by the end of the day; it’s also small enough that you’ll get tossed around and wet so rain gear is essential!

Frigate male with red chest tries to impress a prospective mate on Isla Contoy, near Cancun, Mexico.
Frigate male with red chest tries to impress a prospective mate on Isla Contoy, near Cancun, Mexico.

Someone gets seasick each time out – fortunately it wasn’t either one of us, but for the two women who were ill it was distressing to watch. The crew cannot dispense medication so consider taking something before departure if you suffer from motion sickness. It’s a couple of hours to reach Isla Contoy and the waves can be rough.

Once there, you’ll find a practically deserted island with wide beaches and crystal clear water. There’s a small museum and research center hosting the biologists who are there for short research stints.

Along the trails you’ll see iguanas but they scamper off once they realize you’ve paused to watch. Marine turtles arrive in the summer to lay eggs and you may get a chance to see them on the beach.

It’s worth climbing to the top of the observatory tower next to the museum. The view is fantastic and you’ll realize this is a bird paradise. Flocks of large and small birds seem to hover over the forest and fill the sky everywhere you look.

All aboard the Pinta, a replica of Columbus' ship.
All aboard the Pinta, a replica of Columbus’ ship.

More than a hundred fifty species reside or migrate through – crown pelicans, frigates, and cormorants are common sightings.

There’s a thatched hut on the water from which you can watch the birds close up without disturbing them. It’s fascinating, but don’t forget to look down into the water to see the fish. If bird watching is your primary interest, talk with Kolumbus Tours about a custom designed trip.

Snorkel gear is provided. There wasn’t much to observe when we were there…one big starfish and dozens of friendly stingrays approaching while we stood in the water. After your explorations, return to the ship for al fresco dining of grilled fish and vegetables prepared by the crew.

Bliss Begins Here

Gem Spa in Cancun...let's get this treatment started, girl! photo by Cindy Bigras.
Gem Spa in Cancun…let’s get this treatment started, girl!

Poll any group of women about what they enjoy with close friends and a spa day is at the top of the list. GEM Spa is located at the ultra luxurious Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach resort. Within a few seconds of walking through the door you’ll feel like a princess. At 40,000 square feet it is large, but judging by the individual attention you’ll receive, it feels small and intimate.

After donning elegant robes you’ll be led through a series steps to cleanse, purify and stimulate. Time stops and silence embraces you in the wood scented sauna. Just when reality is a distant memory your guide arrives to take you to the rain shower. Next up is the eucalyptus scented steam room.

After another refreshing shower, you’ll willingly shiver in the ice room to open your pores, take another invigorating shower and finally, slide into a sparkling pool, totally relaxed. The tile work surrounding you is, quite simply, beyond exquisite. Each color and surface contributes to your state of mind and body. The ice room’s greenish tiles and curved ceiling gives the impression of being in an Arctic igloo.

Now, after this two hour introduction, it’s time for your treatment! I felt like Dorothy as she was being scrubbed and dolled up to meet the wizard! For the next 90 minutes my body was massaged, and my mind was soothed to soft violin, piano, and flute. I relaxed into the soft scents in the air. Oh, sweet bliss! The experience at this luxurious facility was amazing. I’d like to take my mother for Mother’s Day, my sister for her birthday, and my best friends for any day!

Kissed by Nuk

Playful dolphins at Delfinus, near Cancun.
Playful dolphins at Delfinus, near Cancun.

If you were a kid in the 1960s you must have spent time lying in front of the TV each week watching everyone’s favorite Dolphin. I met Flipper in Cancun.

No, not the actual dolphins that were used for the series, but several bottlenose dolphins at the Delphinus facility within the Dreams resort. They were just as playful and affectionate as the TV Flipper.

I jumped into the water and moved to the middle of the pool, just as the trainer instructed. Soon two beady eyes approached. I braced myself for something….unsure what…. and was thrilled when the dolphin rose out of the water and planted a kiss on my cheek. My newest friend, Nuk, is a ten year old bottlenose dolphin. His name means “big” in the Mayan language. When you go to Cancun…. swimming with the dolphins is a must!

You’ll learn some hand signals to invite them to spin, flip, and jump. You might even be able to hold one, stroking his skin, observing him up close. He’ll shake his tail at you, swim by and around you and, finally, allow you to grab on for a thrilling ride across the pool.

Humans Trained by the Dolphins

Dolphins are extremely intelligent and scientists have researched them for years. They clearly communicate with each other and are able to learn visual and auditory messages. Luisa, a Delphinus trainer told me it is the dolphins who train her rather than the other way around. A love of the animals is a must and a strong trust develops between each trainer and the dolphin she works with.

Kissing Nuk in Cancun.
Kissing Nuk in Cancun.

Most of these dolphins were born in captivity, the result of a very successful breeding program at Delphinus. The company has been recognized for their medical research and record number of live dolphin births. Like humans, the baby dolphin emerges from the mother’s womb. Unlike humans, however, the baby immediately has complete mobility! Look at the Delphinus website for an impressive video of a close up, live dolphin birth.

More than tacos and tortillas

Our last evening in Cancun we wanted Mexican cuisine. Mocambo was recommended by so many people that we called and made a reservation.

You don’t always need to do that in Cancun, but if you’re going someplace special it’s a good idea. It’s tucked away in a little alley in the hotel district. Only upon entering did I realize what a gorgeous spot it has on the water!

Our table would have been ideal for honeymooners. It’s an open air restaurant and the ambience is magnificent. The attentive staff treated us as if we were the only diners, yet the place was busy and festive with tourists and plenty of locals.

We sampled tequila and mescal from shot glasses as Manager Carlos Cruz explained how they differ and are made. They looked similar in their impressive bottles. Mezcal is made from roasted agave plant, and often has a smoky flavor. Tequila, the liquor used in margaritas, is only made from steamed blue agave plant.

Like anything else, there are many variations and factors that impact quality and flavor. On that note, he brought us margaritas and a variety of appetizers before the main courses. The Shrimp in Pineapple Sauce was beautifully presented and the flavors made for the tastiest dish I had all week. The small lobster won lots of kudos from Melody.

Now it’s May, 2011 and I’m in New England with Spring in the air but I’m dreaming of Cancun. Each morning I see their daily post on Facebook. Today’s, accompanied by an inviting photo, says ”I think I know what you need.” Yes, Cancun, you do!

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