January 23, 2009

A Fun Riviera Maya Family Vacation

Iguanas and geckos and lizards, oh my!

That’s what my kids were saying on our vacation to the Riviera Maya. Of course they raved about the pool, and the waterslide, and the cool bathroom with the glass wall. But the biggest reaction came from seeing geckos hanging out (literally) on the patio, or huge iguanas sunning themselves on the roofs or in the middle of the sidewalk. My kids were in lizard heaven. But what else would one expect when vacationing in the middle of a jungle?

Extending almost 90 miles down the coast south of Cancun, the Riviera Maya is one of the hottest family vacation destinations right now. The tropical climate draws visitors year round, as daytime temperatures stay in the upper 80’s, evenings rarely dip below 70 degrees. And as word spreads of the amazing natural beauty, gorgeous beaches, and large variety of kid-friendly activities, it’s been growing in popularity with families.

The hotel industry has responded by building dozens of new resorts, both family-oriented all-inclusive chains like Palace, Dreams, Barcelo, and Iberostar, as well as luxury resorts with state-of-the-art spas and exceptional dining. In fact there are several Virtuoso properties in the Riviera Maya, including the Fairmont Mayakoba, Mandarin Oriental, Rosewood Mayakoba, Hotel Esencia, Maroma, Tides Rivera Maya, and Royal Hideaway Playacar. All offer exclusive amenities such as private airport transfers, champagne, spa treatments, or complimentary breakfast when guests book through a Virtuoso agent such as me.

My family has what I call an “eclectic” travel style – we enjoy everything from backpacking and camping to sipping drinks poolside at a five star luxury resort. So when planning this vacation, I was torn between trying out one these resorts, or staying at a small, laid-back property with local flavor. We managed to have it all by dividing our time between a boutique hotel in Akumal, and the Fairmont Mayakoba near Playa del Carmen.

Our first four nights were spent at Hotel Akumal Caribe, a small property with hotel rooms on the beach, and bungalows set back in the garden. The rooms were simple, the beds a bit hard, but the location could not be beat. We were steps from one of the most beautiful bays in the Riviera Maya, a place where the locals and many tour boats would come to snorkel because it is a nesting site for sea turtles. We snorkeled daily, and every trip in the water we were sure to see turtles and stingrays, and even an occasional barracuda.

Staying in the southern end of the Riviera Maya was convenient for sightseeing, as most of the archeological and natural sights are located nearby. Tulum is the most well-known of the ruins in that area, but easily reachable in the same day is Coba, less excavated and thus more natural (and less crowded), than Tulum or Chichen Itza. While my husband and I were fascinated with the Mayan history, my kids were more enamored, again, with the hundreds of iguanas that currently reside there. Obviously the environment suited them, as these guys were 3 or 4 times the size of the ones at our hotel!

Xel-Ha water park was only minutes away from Tulum, and we spent a full day snorkeling in the huge lagoon. This is a great spot for teaching young children to snorkel, as they provide life vests, there are no waves, and there are numerous platforms around the lagoon where swimmers can exit. The admission includes food, drinks, and snorkeling gear, and for an additional fee guests can swim with dolphins or walk underwater with Sea Trek, a “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” style experience.

Atkun Chen was another hit with the whole family. Even the kids enjoyed an hour long guided tour into a beautiful cave with a pristine cenote, which remains so because it is off-limits to swimmers. We unfortunately we unable to fit in Xcaret, another eco-park, so hopefully we can plan a trip back soon. Their focus is more on educating guests on the Mayan culture through exhibits and shows, but they also have dolphins, snorkeling lagoons, and a fun float on an underground river.

But our favorite part of Akumal had to be the food. We had an amazing seafood dinner at the tiny restaurant next to the marina one night, with the fattest, sweetest shrimp I have ever tasted. And the tiny little food counter attached to the grocery store wasn’t much to look at, but we frequently reminisce about the wonderful taco platters they served.

Though we were sad to leave Akumal, we were excited about our home for the next six nights, the new Fairmont Mayakoba luxury resort, just north of Playa del Carmen. When we checked in, we were handed a drink and a cool towel, and told that our butler would be with us shortly. Our butler?! Unbeknownst to me, we had been upgraded to a Signature Casita in the exclusive beachfront section of the resort. While at first I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with a butler, it turned out to be a wonderful perk that is becoming increasingly common at luxury resorts, and even on cruise ships.

The butler was basically our personal concierge, ready to do anything from unpacking our suitcases and ironing our clothes, to giving advice on where to park in Playa del Carmen, and reserving our chairs on the beach. And he made sure we were introduced to the other butlers, so wherever we went we were greeted with a wave and a friendly “Hola, Mack Family!” I’ll be posting more details about the Fairmont Mayakoba in a separate blog.

For more information about family vacations in the Riviera Maya, contact Suzette Mack, a Virtuoso Family Travel Advisor at suzette@family-treks.com.

1 comment:

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