View from the Balcony of Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Resort and Spa, a good place to recall a wonderful trip

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

Up the pyramid of Copa in the Mayan Yucatan, two hours from Cancun resorts
Lisa TE Sonne

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.

cancun trip

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.

Ziplining in the Yucatan, Photo by Lisa TE Sonne

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.

“The Ice Room,” a cooling complement to the steam room, part of the alternating cold and hot offerings of the Hydrotherapy journey at the Gem Spa, the largest in Cancun. Photo provided by Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Resort and Spa.

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

The Underwater Sculpture Museum
Photo by (c) Lisa TE Sonne

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

 Photos by Lisa TE Sonne, unless otherwise credited. @ExploreTraveler

Enjoy the prequel to this article

View from Le Blanc room in Cancun

“Muchas Gracias!” I kept repeating with a big smile, and “June Boutique,” which is what “thank you” sounds like to me in the Mayan dialect near the Coban pyramid.

My four full days based in the resort mecca of Cancun, Mexico were remarkable and relaxing, and filled with pleasures big and small — from snorkeling with giant, 40–foot-long, polka-dotted fish (called whale sharks) that won’t eat you, to soaking with little, one-inch, imported fish (called Garra rufa) that will eat you, munching on your dead skin cells for the latest in organic defoliation and spa treatments.

From climbing the tallest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan amidst lagoons to helping release just-hatched baby sea turtles, I enjoyed the huge and tiny even more because my big-name resorts had top food and spas, and paid attention to the little details that make for true pampering.

My sweet memories were forged in two varieties of hotel suite plans: First, a world-class, luxury, all-inclusive, Le Blanc Spa Resort; then, at the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach, with the largest spa in Cancun and its highly-regarded “European Plan,” with the Club Plan for extra luxury.

Kudos to each for their execution of a panoply of pampering for well being!

All-Inclusive Leaves Nothing to be Desired

Major Domo Luis Ruiz

Major Domo Luis Ruiz brings chocolates and specially selected aromatherapy bath salts as he prepares the jacuzzi, part of the “all inclusive” Le Blanc services

Le Blanc (the White) Spa Resort is the first all-inclusive, adults-only resort in Cancun. From the start, you enjoy the little details of this big-vision site that has earned a five-diamond AAA designation and inclusion on many top lists of all-inclusive beach resorts.

The sensual sojourn begins with private check-in, featuring a savory white coconut drink and white flowers. Your Major Domo (butler) greets you by name near the elevator of your suite and asks you to choose from the room’s “Comfort Menu” with options of pillow type, aromatherapy scent for the room, and special blends of bath salts for the double Jacuzzi in your room.

Lumiere, the romantic French restaurant, is part of Le Blanc’s “all inclusive”, but make reservations to secure a table.

The all-inclusive package offers great room service for every meal if you want, or swim-up pool bars with a nearby, outdoor pizza oven, or very fine dining at the romantic French Lumiere. I loved the Lumiere’s 7-course taster special meal, which changes frequently. Culinary options also include the Blanc Italia, which shares good food and la dulce vita, a superb and peaceful Asian restaurant, and a bright intercontinental restaurant with seaside views and luscious buffets.

Daily class offerings of a wellness theme include a 7am yoga session for mind, spirit, and body. The Spa also offers a range of hydrotherapy options and soothing treatments (outside the all-inclusive package).

I melted during a “Mayan-inspired massage” called the KuKulkan. Two masseuses worked synchronously for 80 minutes in one of the most relaxing treatments I have ever enjoyed on any continent.

Before they started, they asked me to think of a memory I wanted to eliminate. They burned some copal resin and fanned smoke made from burning sage, rosemary, and basil to help “purify my energies.”

Then, in an effort to “balance” my spirit, mind, and body, the four hands of this skillful duo imitated the motions of the animals that represent the Mayan kingdoms – the eagle of the upper kingdom, the snake of the middle kingdom, and the jaguar of the underworld.

Do you remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion are all coifed, groomed, primped, patched, and polished to meet the Wizard? I felt as if I had was being beautifully, lovingly prepped to meet the next morning with the wizards of the sea – the whale sharks.

Polka-Dotted Sharks


A snorkeler’s view of a whale shark filter feeding on plankton. Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet. A remora fish has suction cupped onto the polka dotted shark to hitchhike. (c) Lisa TE Sonne

Seeing eye-to-eye with a polka-dotted shark and having one come at you with its mouth wide open both rank high in great underwater memories I want to keep! These gentle behemoth beauties, which can grow to 60 feet long, are actually the largest fish in the ocean. They are filter feeders and dine seasonally on the nutrient rich plankton near the surface waters off Isla Mujeres, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea.

Yours truly snorkeling with whale sharks in Cancun. Photo by Danny Heilprin Photography. His wonderful video is at Thanks to Gabriel the guide and Gabriel the boat driver of Solo Buceo for the memorable experiences.

Some whale sharks seem to tolerate curious snorkelers, approaching with their long bodies undulating, swishing in sinewy curves through the sea, carving the liquid gracefully. From May to mid-September the whale sharks have become a major attraction for Cancun visitors. Some days, as many as 200 can be seen swimming and eating within a half-hour boat ride from Cancun. We were in one of only two boats on the scene when we arrived, but almost 20 boats had gathered by the time we left.

After nearly two hours of underwater enthrallment, whale sharks had certainly made a joyful impact on me, but I found myself wondering about the

Whale Shark, Sonne

Snorkeler’s view of Whale Shark’s eye and closed mouth (c) Lisa TE Sonne

impact so many of us humans might be having on these gentle giants. I wanted an opportunity to contribute to the conservation of the region’s magnificent underwater habitat.

That night, Le Blanc had a turtle release. One of the clutches of eggs rescued weeks earlier had hatchlings. I took a two-inch, green sea turtle baby – its limbs flapping like wings – and put him on the sand to return to the sea. Le Blanc is part of the Palace Resorts, and according to its Foundation report, “Every year, over 120,000 baby endangered sea turtles are released as part of one of the Palace Foundation [programs].”

I walked on the powdery white sand under the stars toward my Le Blanc suite, where I would immerse in a Jacuzzi bubble sea, thinking how wondrous a single day can be!

Cancun Boat dock, launch area for boat trips to the Whale Sharks

Cancun Boat dock, launch area for boat trips to the Whale Sharks

And my short trip was only half over.  It was hard to leave the nurturing tranquility and wonderful staff and services of Le Blanc, and so tempting to go out and watch whale sharks again. Yet ahead still lies the fantastic Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Resort, with its 40,000 square foot Gem Spa, including water features and “fish therapy,” the world’s largest underwater museum, the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan, a Mayan shaman, yellow frogs,  jungle zip-lining, rappelling into a cenote, a fresh water “Mayan portal to the underworld,” monkeys in trees, and blue butterflies.

Muchas Gracias and “June Boutique” for large and small delights!

Lisa TE Sonne for

© Photos by Lisa TE Sonne .