by Marcia Simon, CTA
Fully vaccinated and ready to travel. The world is opening up and people are dusting off their traveling shoes... or flip flops as the case may be.
If you want a quick, inexpensive nonstop flight from NY - or Connecticut's Bradley International Airport - you can easily get to Cancun, the gateway to the Yucatan Peninsula. Riviera Maya is south of Cancun on the Caribbean Sea. This popular destination is lined with beachfront resorts, many all-inclusive, at various levels.
Taking the plunge back into travel mode, it's important to stay at a place you trust for COVID-safety standards, where you can get your mandated COVID-test onsite before returning to the United States, and where you can obviously enjoy great food, a huge pool with ample availability of loungers, an endless view of the sea and horizon, and a long list of optional daily activities that you can pursue or blow off depending on your state of mind.
Cancun has a reputation as Party Central, but it's not necessary to be part of that culture. Locations outside of the popular hotel zone are quieter, with options for everyone from understated luxury to multigenerational family fun.
I visited two properties, both part of the AM Resorts collection, on a recent trip to Puerto Morelos about a half hour south of Cancun. This is considered the northern tip of the Riviera Maya region.
A two-night stay at the luxury Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita (the pretty paradise) was the perfect transition from COVID-homebody to comfortable traveler.
The name Zoëtry is loosely translated to capture a philosophy centered around "the art of life." The Zoëtry brand, found in Mexico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and St. Martin, is about serenity and wellness. This 5-Diamond AAA-rated resort does a very good job at remaining unpretentious while delivering a high standard of client care and service. As an example, on the second day of the trip I misplaced my sunglasses. It happens. Asking if there was lost and found, Omar, who was at the lobby's front desk, made a call and happily reported that the glasses were secure and would be dropped off at the office in about 15 minutes. What a pleasant surprise to have butler service deliver the missing specs to my table while lazily sipping morning coffee and pondering the breakfast menu, which included fresh fruit, yogurt, "green juice" and traditional bacon and eggs, along with authentic Mexican dishes with local flavors.
A local artist uses natural pigments to paint colorful birds and scenes for interior spaces, while exterior surfaces are painted in reddish and gold hues, true to Mayan culture. Another way the resort shares the history of the area is through a one-hour spiritual Temazcal ceremony led by a healer. You'll also find daily yoga, alternating days of Tai Chi and sound meditation, with aqua exercise and stretching in the saltwater pool. The larger freshwater pool overlooks the ocean and guests get very attentive drink (and food) service. Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita has an onsite "marina" at the end of the dock that includes a catamaran and a dive boat for snorkeling, sightseeing and trips to the nearby reef.
Zoëtry is ideal for couples; children are welcome with families, but we didn't see many; solo travelers would also feel comfortable here.
Also in the AM Resorts collection is Now Sapphire, where I spent three nights and plenty of time in the pools. The main pool is close to the open air lounge and offers a swim-up bar and plenty of loungers both in and out of the water. There's also a quieter, and quite lovely, adult-only pool, with bar, for guests in the Preferred category of rooms.
The Now brand is well suited for multigenerational families, and there were plenty of grandparents with their adult kids and favorite little ones. There's a children's Explorers Club with a small water park and supervised outdoor, shaded activity center. It's also affordable for groups of friends, and certainly for couples. Now Sapphire and Now Jade, both in Riviera Maya, are in the process of transitioning to be Dreams resorts, which are also part of the AM Resorts collection. HOT TIP: Book a future trip at one of these Now resorts, and the price will be honored at the higher-priced Dreams. The transition should be complete this summer for Now/Dreams Jade, and October for Now/Dreams Sapphire.
Now is for people who want a livelier atmosphere, and has more than 400 rooms and suites; Zoëtry, with fewer than 100 suites, is for those who want serene reflection and a calming experience. These were two very different experiences.
One common thread is that both Zoëtry and Now are operating at limited capacity. Vaccines are not yet as readily available in Mexico since the vaccines are not produced inside the country. Although adults over 40 and all teachers and front line workers have been offered the vaccine, many of the younger hotel staff are not yet eligible as of this writing in June 2021. For this reason, it's a great sign of respect for visiting travelers to wear masks in accordance with signage prominently displayed for indoor spaces. The resorts both showed that they are very serious about safety, sanitizing, and keeping everyone healthy.
As is the trend, both Zoëtry and Now Sapphire used their down time, when rooms were closed to tourists, to add plunge pools and first-floor swim-out suites to several accommodations. These, plus the beautiful, clean pools, made it very easy to forgive the fact that sargassum (a type of seaweed) still plagues much of Mexico's east coast during parts of the year. Believed to be caused by warming oceans and changing currents as a result of climate change, and fueled by landscape fertilizers that find their way into the ocean, this sargassum is now washing onto beaches at several Caribbean islands that never experienced it before. It's also making itself known in Florida. Hotels are doing all they can during sargassum months, but Mother Nature rules the sea.
Get out. Experience life. Travel more, stay safe, and see the world in a new light.
Marcia Simon, a Connecticut-based travel writer, is owner of Friendly Group Travel, specializing in trip planning throughout North America, Europe and the Caribbean. Connect on Instagram @friendlygrouptravel, Facebook @friendlygrouptravel, Twitter @friendsgotravel, or drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Simon, CTA, APR, has been exploring new places since she was 17 years old and traveled around Europe on a Eurailpass with her best friend. Decades later, she still considers travel the best investment of time and money she's ever made for herself and her family.