With Mexico in such close proximity to the U.S., I decided it was the perfect spot to take a last-minute four-day trip. My goal was to enjoy a quick yet exotic vacation over a long weekend. While Mexico does perfectly fit the bill for both quick and exotic, the treasures of the Riviera Maya left me wanting more than just a quickie! Needless to say, before I even left, I was already planning my return trip.
How to get there -- Numerous airlines fly down to Cancun on a daily basis. Both U.S. Airways and United offer plenty of flight options from numerous cities. Plus, if you're a Star Alliance member like me you can rack up some points towards that next frequent flyer ticket!
Where to Stay -- If you're going to go, then go in style! Grand Velas Riviera Maya offers gorgeous rooms situated within the jungle or on the beach. The resort is all-inclusive, which I will admit worried me at first, but the food like the facilities, was first class. They have been rated one of Mexico's top resorts by Conde Nast Traveler and were awarded five diamonds by AAA. Upon my arrival it was clear why.
As I arrived I was greeted with a cool towel and a refreshing glass of sweet hibiscus tea. The well-manicured grounds include a forest of mangrove trees, several cenotes (more on this later) and a pristine beach lined with palm trees. There is plenty to explore and see just within the hotel grounds. They received permission from the Mexican government to build a breakwater, which breaks up the waves in front of the beach. The result of the breakwater and special care given to their beach is evident. The sand is softer and smoother, the beach much more spacious than surrounding resorts, and the water more conducive to swimming. Part of their all-inclusive packet includes kayaking and snorkeling at a nearby reef. The all-inclusive packet also offers paddle boarding and a variety of other activities that you should be sure to try!
My suggestions for the perfect and relaxing Grand Velas experience is to wake up and head to Azul for breakfast next to the beach. Order some fresh papaya juice and enjoy a light buffet breakfast that includes tropical fruits, poached eggs in a smokey chipotle sauce, and a selection of Mexican pastries.
Hit the beach for a nice swim and some snorkeling. In the afternoon refuel at Chaka. Be sure to try their classic Mojito and some of their lime-bathed ceviche made with fresh shrimp, sweet tomatoes, and cilantro. Enjoy the view of the Caribbean Sea as you munch on freshly fried tortilla chips and debate the merits of lying in the sun next to the pool, or underneath a cabana on the beach. Yes, life is difficult at Grand Velas.
After you have soaked up enough sun, and preferably before the need for aloe vera arises, pull yourself away from the beach and head to the incredible Grand Velas spa.
In my opinion the spa alone is worth the stay. It has been ranked as one of the top spas in the world by The Leading Spas of the World, and the best spa in the world by Virtuoso. I personally agree with Virtuoso, and would put the spa at #1. I love going to the spa and almost always get a massage. This time I decided to try their water journey, which was something created by them, and described to me as a "unique experience." As an avid swimmer and lover of all things water, this treatment sounded to me like the "perfect Marisa experience."
The treatment played not only upon the use of water on the body for healing, but also the use of hot and cold to promote circulation.
Upon arrival at the spa you are provided with your personal therapist who will escort you through each stage of the water journey, bringing you drinks, your robe, whatever you may need during the treatment.
The journey begins with a refreshing drink and 10 minutes of warmth in their sauna. To ensure you don't overheat, times can be adjusted and cooling cloths are provided. After the sauna comes the ice room. The room is cool and sparkling blue, with buckets of ice glimmering like cold diamonds. The therapist has you sit in this room for two minutes while resting an ice filled cloth on your neck. Next comes the steam room. The Grand Velas spa steam room was designed to make you feel as if you are lying up in the heavens, floating among the stars.
Dozens of twinkling lights shimmer on the ceiling as the steam relaxes and opens up your pores. After the steam room came the "car wash." They call it a shower, but I fondly called it a car wash and was transported back to childhood. If you ever delighted in going through the drive thru car wash as a kid, giggling with delight as water squirted the windshield and sudsed up the car then imagine this stage of the treatment as you being the car. Hot water gently pours from the top of the shower as side streams of cold water intermittently shoot out. From here you move to the clay room, where a "top coat" of clay is applied to the body. Next, aloe is smoothed on the neck and face and conditioner is applied to your hair, all protecting the body against the effects of too much beach time. Once the clay, conditioner, and aloe have been rinsed off, you head to the palatial pool. Before entering the pool you must walk through two corridors of water, one filled with warm water, and the other with cold water. Finally, you plunge into the warm waters of a pool built for the Mayan gods. Fountains of water shoot into the pool and massage your body. Swim to the nearby "pool beds" that froth up like a pot of boiling water. Relax on the beds like a lethargic lobster, as hundreds of jets and bubbles massage every inch of your sun-kissed body.
Eventually it's time to leave the spa. The only thing that will make you feel better about this is knowing that a dinner at Frida is awaiting you.
Dinner at the award winning Frida will allow you to enjoy the contemporary riffs on classic Mexican cuisine created by Chef José Manuel Gordián, a Jaliscan native. Start with the mango margarita served in a glass rimmed with habanero sugar. If for any reason the mango margarita doesn't tickle your fancy, no worries! Their roving mixologist will be happy bring over the margarita trolley and whip up a special concoction for you. After drinks have been handled, order the cappuccino de frijole negro, aka black bean soup. A bowl will come to the table looking like an exotic plant, with dainty sprigs of green shooting out of a creamy white foam.
It's not until they pour the fragrant black beans over the little greens and cotija cheese foam, that it transforms into the most delicious and flavorful soup. Enjoy some of their homemade jalapeño bread with chipotle butter, using it to wipe up the remnants of the soup when no one is looking. Last but not least, try the salmon al pastor. For those of you unfamiliar, al pastor is a dish developed in Central Mexico. It's typically made with pork, but after tasting it with salmon at Frida I'm a convert! The meat is marinated for 1-2 days in a mixture of dried chilies and then slow cooked. At Frida, the salmon al pastor is seasoned with annatto, and served with caramelized onion and a coriander salad. The mixture is sublime.
While it will be hard to pull yourself away from the impressive Grand Velas, the cenotes and Mayan ruins in the area may prove alluring enough to tempt you away for the afternoon.
For my list of places to visit in the area, stay tuned for part 2 of my blog Riviera Maya in a Weekend. In the meantime, whip up this amazing Mezcal Hot Pineapple cocktail, featured on the menu at Frida, and start planning your trip!
- 2 oz. Mezcal Reposado
- 4 oz. Pineapple Juice
- 1/4 oz. fresh lime juice
- chunks of pineapple
- Tajin Chili Powder
Combine the above ingredients (except the ice), shake. Pour the mixture over ice, garnish with extra chili powder (if desired) and a wedge of pineapple.
Special thanks to Grand Velas for the recipe and for letting me use their pictures of the hotel and spa.