If I was superstitious (my husband thinks I am), I would say that the omens at the start of this holiday were worrying. First, we couldn’t check in on-line, whereas the friends we were travelling with had no such problem. American Airlines put it down to a technical glitch in the end, but unconvincingly took a while to reach that conclusion. They then couldn’t confirm our seats on the connecting flight, which they said was overbooked, and when we arrived in Dallas, we were directed by Ground Staff to gate D22 instead the correct gate A33. Thankfully, from all our travelling experience, we’ve learnt to verify any information we’re told for ourselves before accepting and acting on it, so we made it on the plane. Sadly our luggage didn’t. They had to be sent on the next flight to Cancun, and we received them at the hotel the following morning, so were only inconvenienced for one night. None of this was a huge problem in the grand scheme of things, but it’s far more complication that we experienced in the ten months we spent backpacking in 2010/2011.
Tip: To save time on arrival in Mexico, we found it helpful to complete the mandatory immigration form prior to departure on National Institute of Migration website
The next day was beautiful. We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, about an hour south of Cancun, on an all inclusive package. Still on London time, we all woke up before the sunrise and had a full buffet breakfast, then spent most the day eating and drinking by the wading pool on the Hacienda (family) side of the resort, where the kids could play freely. In the afternoon, we took the children down to the man-made lagoon, where we were able to take some reef floats into the water to see some fish, and made sand castles on the beach. That set the tone for the majority of the trip.
The resort has been designed effectively as two connecting hotels. To the North is Heaven, the adult only section, colour coded with it’s blue buildings. Heaven has it’s own pool, section of beach, a yoga temple, restaurants, bars and a night club. As a family group, we stayed in the red Hacienda. This side is more tailored for children, from the design of the pool, to the age specific kids’ clubs. As we were visiting in their peak season, half way through our stay, Heaven opened up to families, allowing us to dine in the normally adult only restaurants too.
The first night we ate dinner in Frida, one of the hotel’s Mexican restaurants which felt appropriate. During the course of our stay, we also ate at Zen (Japanese), Toro (steak), Ciao! (Italian), Le Petit Cochin (French), Ipanema (Brazilian), and when we needed to, opted for the Market Grill Buffet.
Over the ten days, we made full use of the facilities, which also included kayaking, an obstacle course, access to the water park and live evening entertainment shows. Aside from these free activities, our booking included US$4000 worth of resort credit per family of four. We used ours on a dolphin swim, spa treatments and massages, and a round of golf. The resort credit subsidised the costs of these, leaving us to pay only 20%.
This was my second time swimming with dolphins, but on this occasion I shared the experience with my eldest daughter, and chose a package which included a ‘boogie surf dolphin ride’. I was a little worried she might have been scared, but she exceeded my expectations, and absolutely loved it. Although participation in this activity involves interacting with dolphins outside their natural habitat, I did get a sense that the company have a strong focus on conservation, and it gave me a chance to to teach my daughter to respect, care for and be inspired by wild animals.
We certainly maximised the value we got out of coming on a resort based holiday such as this, but the real reason for choosing this destination, was a chance to see a bit of México itself. We knew, that unlike our last visit to Latin America, we weren’t going to be able to travel extensively round the country, so hoped that what we did see, really counted as something special. The Mayans, did not disappoint.
We planned it on such a way that we had two days fully out of the hotel. For the first, we independently used a private tour company, Entertainment Plus.
Leaving at 7am, we made a three and half hour journey with stops to Chichen Itza. With one of the seven wonders of the world, Kukalcán’s pyramid, at it’s centre, this collection of Mayan ruins was as awe inspiring as anything I’ve seen in the world. Being present here revived a bit of the sense of adventure that I love most about travelling. Seeing our children equally curious about these magnificent structures, despite the intense heat, made it all the more worthwhile. (It was incidentally also drawn to our attention that I have now seen all the official New Seven Wonders of the World, although I’m not sure I agree with the list).
After Chichen Itza, we stopped at Cenote Ik Kil (pronounced se-not-ai), for a dip in the 150ft deep natural fresh water well, and a much needed buffet lunch. From there we made our way to more ruins at Coba, but the difference here being that we were able to climb on them, giving us an entirely different type of experience.
The second time we left the hotel, we took a private taxi to Tulum. Some of the tour companies we’d made enquires with prior to this holiday, had suggested we could miss out this site if we wanted. We’re glad we didn’t. Although some may view them simply more archeological ruins, what makes them special for me, is their location on the coast. There are Iguanas and Coatis roaming freely, and going early meant the crowds were minimal. From the ruins, we drove 5 minutes into Tulum town, to stop for some tacos at the local street food restaurant, Taqueria Honorio. It was highly recommended by a friend, and it did not disappoint. Between us, we ate 18 tacos, with soft drinks, for less than £20. They only have a limited amount of meat per day, and once it runs out, that’s it!
Despite 11 nights on this holiday, I can now still only claim to have seen a tiny sliver of this country. What we did see and do was fantastic, but I know there is a lot more, and so… we’ll be back.