The lyrical lapping sounds of the Caribbean Sea below are my happy hour soundtrack as I sit on my balcony, overlooking the rich, dark blues of the interconnecting lagoon-like pools of the Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun Resort and Spa and the tiffany and turquoise blues of the sea beyond.
Sitting now feels like a satisfied sigh for my whole body, after a full day that included rappelling into a cenote; ziplining over lakes; canoe-ing in a lagoon; hiking in the jungle with a big black monkey, blue butterflies, and yellow frogs; riding a bike to the main Mayan temple of Coba: and then taking the 120 steep steps up the Yucatan’s highest Mayan pyramid — and down again. I am definitely ready to rest and bask in the memories
I shared the two-hour each-way drive from resort-filled Cancun to the jungle Yucatan Mayan area with eight buff 20-somethings who had travelled from parts of the US and Russia. We were on the AllTourNative ‘s “Mayan Encounter Adventure,” which included 63 copas (speed bumps) on mostly good roads with comedic narrative provided by a guide who kept the activity pace moving whenever we piled out of the air conditioned van.
AllTourNative aims to support the local cultures, economies, and environments by taking
visitors on memorable day trips that intertwine different degrees of culture, nature, and activity and opportunies to buy local souveners or photos by a local person. Originally, I had wanted their Tulum package, which includes a dramatic Mayan archeological site on the coast, visiting Mayan families and snorkeling in the fantastic-sounding underground river and caves, but it wasn’t offered on the only day I had left in Cancun. So then I intended to be on the Cultural tour of the Coba Mayan ruins, which includes visiting Mayan villages.
Instead I was on the Adventure trip, which falls somewhere between Disneyland rides and true exploration. The bats and tarantula were not holograms or animatronic creations. The winds on the zipline were real, not piped in. But our itinerary was partially a fast line up of quick doses of active things that many people had done before us. Call it designer adventure or an Indiana Jones appetizer menu or channel surfing mini-experiences- rushing to get a rush.
Now, back in my room, I am feeling no aches, pains, or strains. I am enjoying the post glow of cardio vascular endorphins, pseudo-survival smiles, and some decent photos of new sites and experiences. I think a large reason was the lovely balance of nurturing relaxation and activity that I had enjoyed at Le Blanc during the first part of my trip, and my soothing visit to the Gem spa the night before this busy day.
The spa connoisseur has many choices here in Cancun, a X kilometer region that evolved solely for beach resort tourism. The Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Resort and Spa boasts the largest spa of the almost 200 hotels.
The staff at the 40,000-square-foot Gem spa made me feel like only my two feet (and the body they are attached to) were important. Ixchel (a beautiful Mayan name) introduced me to the hydrotherapy pleasures of the alternating hot and cold treatments route. I had heard some people take five hours to really unfurl their knots and anxieties, but with a departure time of 7am the next morning, I “settled” for shorter immersions.
I already felt more relaxed thinking about what I had read on the website: It is the only spa in Cancun and Latin America that provides a complete 10-step hydrotherapy program. You can start in the enormous Sensations Pool, with an amazing view of the Nichupte Lagoon. It caresses the body with thousands of bubbles. Afterwards, you head to an aromatherapy steam, a vigorous shower, clay steam room, ice room, sauna, rain shower, Jacuzzi, polar pool and foot bath.
Ixchel tended to me as if I were royalty, waiting with dry towels and beverages after each water treatment. For the steam room, she offered chocolate mud to pull out the toxins. The ice room was refreshing. Walking on rocks in hot and cold pools prepared my feet for the next treat.
The Gem spa offers various gemstone therapies, but I was looking forward to continuing the water theme of my Cancun trip, going from the biggest fish in the sea (whale sharks) to little fish that nibble off dead cells.
The Garra Rufa are small fish imported from Turkey that eat your upper layers of dead skin cells instead of having them sloughed or scrubbed away. Supposedly they also can help circulation. My husband and I had tried the little guys in Singapore several years before and had actually researched how we might bring them into the United States. They were so funny, novel, and seemingly effective! We could laugh and get smooth skin at the same time. Regulatory mazes in the U.S. were beyond our enthusiasm, though, so it was wonderful to see that top spas in Mexico were offering them as an option.
While I was sitting with my feet in the water, providing a banquet for the little ones, Xchmel started rolling her palms over my scalp. Her massage continued on my arms and hands. Instead of laughing at the nibblers, I closed my eyes and relaxed. My thoughts floated. All of me had been floating earlier that day when I was scuba diving in the world’s second-largest reef. Brightly colored tropical fish still meandered through my mind.
I had also scuba dove around poignant sculptures by Jason de Caires Taylor in the largest underwater museum in the world. Hundreds of human
shapes based on real people were beginning to form an artificial reef that would provide meals for future sea creatures. And even as I was sitting on a pillowed throne, offering my feet and calves to the garra rufa, those artful underwater human forms were becoming fish food.
Xchmel gently brought me back to the present and showed me seven different gems lined up. She asked me to select the one that spoke to me. She then told me how each gem corresponded to a different energy chakra and held a different guiding message for the well-being of the person who chose it.
I slept very well that night, and the next morning, dawn did her finger painting on the sky over the lapping waves as I gathered my stuff for a road trip to the jungle and Mayan ruins. The early AM staff at the hotel desk changed money so I could be ready for shopping and tips, and the maitre d’ at the bountiful breakfast buffet (free for Fiesta guests) helped me pack up foods and coffee to make the long drive more enjoyable. In both cases the staff ended our encounter saying, “It is my pleasure” with a cultural sincerity.
Every day I had heard “it is my pleasure” from people who had done something to add to my pleasure. With the exception of one negative dive master, service was very professional and also genuinely warm. People seemed to want to add to the happiness of those around them.
Sitting on the balcony, now, recalling all the vignettes that fed my spirit on this day, my stomach starts to rumble. The Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Resort and Spa offers Isla Conroy, a seafood restaurant, La Joya, for local delectables with Mariachi music, or I could indulge in culinary delights at the five diamond Le Basilic — all for an extra fee at this family-welcome resort that is EP (European Plan or Extra pay for lunch and dinner and certain added services).
On arrival, however, I had been enrolled in what one staff member called the “Double Upper” – the Grand Club plan. I went up the marble stairs to the quiet, private Club lounge with deluxe service, where an artfully laid out array of fresh appetizers and sushi and an open bar always waited with wonderful views of the coast. Well-fed and back in my room, packing for the trip home, I realize I am happily sated this trip, but not done with Cancun. It won’t be Cancun’s 13 signature golf courses, five shopping malls with luxury shops, or dynamic nightlife that would lure me back. It would be cultural roots — the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and seaside Tulum and lesser known archeological sites, the unique way “The Day of the Dead” is celebrated in Mexico, the new curiosity-invoking Positive Pyramid and other events being developed to end one Mayan era and begin a new one
Another magnet for return for me would be the opportunities of staying at wonderful resorts and spas as luxurious rejuvenating home bases to explore nature— from the underwater ocean wonders, to the jungle canopies, to getting to snorkel in the underworld’s vast system of rivers and cenotes.
And of course there is the warmth of the Mexican personality. I kept hearing and experiencing“ “It’s my pleasure!”
And for me the trip was “con mucho gusto” (with much pleasure.) .
So Muchas Gracias and hasta la vista, Cancun!
Lisa TE Sonne for LuxuryTravelMavens.com
Photos by Lisa TE Sonne, unless otherwise credited. @ExploreTraveler