There’s a huge gathering called the Inception Music Festival that invades Cancun every spring. The event has absolutely nothing to do with movie director Christopher Nolan yet everything to do with preconceived images of the Mexico resort town that Hollywood has planted in your head. During the fest, major EDM acts and DJs like Diplo and Tigerlily light up beaches and clubs filled with thousands of young adults. It’s a crazy scene. But if you’re old enough for a mortgage, you probably want no part of it.
Though Inception, MTV and your own hazy college memories might say otherwise, Cancun isn’t merely a party zone. Just beyond the massive stages is a host of elegant hotels and restaurants that cater more to the well-heeled set than the flip-flop-wearing one. Just down Highway 307 in Riviera Maya, things are even more laid-back. This fall, we’re taking advantage of these quieter beaches and thinner crowds by making our way down to the Yucatan. And if you’re interested in some sand, seclusion and even a Cirque du Soleil show, we suggest packing your bags and joining us down there.
Between the 60 or so miles separating Cancun and Riviera Maya, you’ll find a roster of accommodations that run the gambit from economic lodging for a party of five to luxurious, Five-Star-worthy hotels. Some places cater to families while others specifically seek out couples in need of some alone time. One resort that we’ve had our eye on, Vidanta Riviera Maya, has a pretty good feel for both. Consisting of loft residences and spacious rooms for vacationers, the massive property balances familiar touches (championship golf, a newly renovated spa) with enough we-sure-don’t-have-that-back-home amenities (alligator, flamingo and turtle sanctuaries) to please the savviest of travelers. Five different onsite hotels — Mayan Palace, The Bliss, The Grand Mayan, The Grand Bliss and the super-refined Grand Luxxe — are connected by a labyrinth of golf-cart-friendly roads and jungle-enveloped walkways. Surrounding them are 17 restaurants and bars, 15 pools and more plant species than you’ll find archived with the Botanical Society of America.
Back on Cancun’s bustling hotel zone, The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun shines. One of the brand’s first entries outside of the U.S., this location has had time to figure out a way to spark romance without alienating five-year-olds from running around. Most guests will appreciate all of the physical enhancements — everything from guest rooms and casitas to elevators were upgraded over the past year; a million-dollar Lobby Lounge renovation will be completed in late October — that have been done to the place. Couples might find the Culinary Center, a sleek Viking-appliance-filled epicurean palace, to be the perfect spot for bonding over Tuscan cooking lessons. Smaller visitors will love the day camp’s activity-filled itinerary and a baby turtle release program that goes from June to November.
Cirque du Soleil’s Joyà
Anyone who’s ever seen a Cirque du Soleil show knows that no two interpretations are the same. With Joyà (pronounced “Ho-yah”), you’re left with even less of a frame of reference, seeing as how this production is the first of its kind in the world to combine fine cuisines and theatrics. Housed in a custom-built, 600-seat venue on a man-made island in the heart of the Riviera Maya jungle (but right across the road from Vidanta), Joyà is able to do what Quidam, Zarkana and other Cirque shows simply cannot — fully immerse you in a fantasy world with sight, smell and, uniquely, taste. For this dinner-and-a-dazzling-show, the region’s mysterious history serves as a backdrop for an alchemist and his rebellious granddaughter who are seeking the meaning of life. Smokey pre-show cocktails at Nektar, corn-drizzled short ribs at your seat and fire twirlers just outside the exits only add to the wonderment. Even the menu is edible.
Of course, cuisine here goes well beyond cool theatrical stunts. While the aforementioned hotels have can’t-miss food options — Vidanta Riviera Maya’s new French bistro Azur and The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun’s Mediterranean-tinged Fantino heartily earned our praises — the good tastes aren’t limited to those two addresses. Roughly 12 minutes from The Ritz sits Nizuc Resort & Spa, a world-class hotel in its own right. And when it comes to high-end dining near crystal-clear waters, its Asian-fused Indochine and traditional Mexican eatery Ramona are two of our favorite options. The latter, in fact, even made adventurous gourmand Andrew Zimmern pause and properly applaud chef Bladimir Garcia’s ingenuity on his website. Another restaurant that’s making it extremely difficult for the region’s reputation for poor dining to hold up is Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa’s El Restaurante. Positioned nicely between white, sandy beaches and thick foliage, the hotel’s signature dining establishment wins not only with crispy duck tacos but also with an impressively diverse tequila roster we’d put up against most resorts throughout the country.