When unpredictable East Coast weather suddenly becomes an expected forecast of freezing weekends and early darkness, you know it’s about time for a winter getaway to somewhere a little sunnier and more carefree. What originally began as a potential ski weekend to Montreal with friends over New Years’ Eve turned into a long-weekend vacation to Cancun, Mexico for a late birthday celebration with my boyfriend, Blake! I actually have been to Cancun before, back in August of 2015 with my family right before I left for Vienna for my semester abroad. I didn’t think I would be back so soon, but it’s always nice to experience visiting somewhere twice because each vacation is always different and you can always find new things to do so it doesn't feel like déjà vu.
JW Marriott Resort & Spa – Marriott Cancun Club Resort
The first time I came to Cancun, my family and I stayed at an all-inclusive resort outside of the Hotel Zone (Zona Hoteleria) and we spent our time visiting Chitchen Itza (or as some like to call it, Chicken Pizza), hanging out at the Dolphin Discovery, and lounging it up at our resort, making sure to try out all of the buffets! This time around, I chose a non all-inclusive resort because I knew we would be spending a decent amount of our time outside of the hotel, and didn’t think it would be worth it to splurge on that option if we wouldn’t be able to utilize an all-inclusive fully. We actually stayed at both the JW Marriott Resort and it’s neighbor, Marriott Cancun Club Resort during our visit and had very positive experiences at both! Since they are both located in the middle of the Hotel Zone, we had the most beautiful beach right in our backyards and rooms with views on views that we woke up to every morning. There’s nothing quite like the gentle waves crashing against the shore as a wake-up call, and I’m really going to miss it when it’s replaced by my iPhone alarm clock again in gloomy NYC.
Both of these hotels have beautiful pools and hot tubs, so if you’re bored of the beach, you can switch up the views with a drink while soaking instead. I’ve always been the type to want to do things and be very active on vacation, but I have definitely come to appreciate taking days slowly, and doing nothing but lounging around, enjoying the amenities that come with room, and de-stressing a bit.
JW Marriot Cancun Resort & Spa
Marriot Cancun Resort
Cancun is famous for its beaches, but their nightlife is also what attracts millions of visitors every year. Spend your afternoons brunching and pool lounging at the resort, but make sure you rest enough during the day to have enough energy to party it up downtown on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. Dance at a few of this city's most famous clubs (Mandala, The City, Palzzao, and of course, Coco Bongo)! Since our time was pretty limited and we are more early risers than night owls, we spent only 2 days heading downtown to check out the scene. Our first night started off with a bang since it was the night we decided visit to Coco Bongo. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it was so much fun! The best way I could describe it is an alcohol-flowing bar/club with intermittent Broadway-eque shows and cirque du soleil acts. It's definitely one of the most unique venues I've ever been to. Open bar tickets are $85/pp or you can purchase 3 drink tickets and admission for $50 (they accept credit card!). You'll have no trouble trying to get tickets since promoters are littered on the whole street and you will definitely get asked if you want to purchase tickets! I highly recommend checking out Coco Bongo if you had to choose 1 place to party during your visit :)
When visiting Cancun, a day-trip to Isla Mujeres is a must if you have some extra time on your hands. You can catch the Ultramar ferry from 1 of 3 terminals in Cancun (El Embarcadero has the most frequent departure times) and take the 22-minute ride to the island, where you will be dropped off at the Northern part of Isla Mujeres (Puerto Juarez), where El Centro is located. While we were on the boat, we were offered the option to rent a golf cart for the day, which we were already planning to do anyway. We paid $40USD to rent a cart from Gomar II, which is where we headed after hopping off the ferry to pick it up. The rental process was pretty simple since they only keep one license as collateral and give you a brief orientation of how to navigate the golf cart and where you can park it on the island. After the quick check-in, we were off to lunch! I had bookmarked restaurants in the town center on my maps before the trip since I knew we would be hungry and wouldn’t want to be scrambling around trying to find a viable option for lunch. We spotted one of the places on the list right away and filled up with ceviche, shrimp tacos, pizza, and of course, a giant pina colada before we continued our journey of exploring the island. It only takes about 25-30 minutes driving at normal speeds to reach from one end to the island to the other, so you should be able to see everything, make frequent stops along the way and snap a bunch of pictures in just a few hours time.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE ISLAND
Shell House (Casa Caracol)
This famous property and architectural masterpiece was one of the places I really sought out during our drive on the island since I had bookmarked it for weeks during my trip planning. After we looped around Playa Sur, I finally spotted it on our drive back to the North end of the island, and promptly made us pull over to check it out. Unfortunately, the property is gated, so I couldn't get the best look at it since I am short (always an issue), but we were able to snap some photos before continuing along. You can actually rent the home through Airbnb, which I found out later after doing some more research. If you're coming with a group of around, it's actually very affordable at $75 per person per night, especially for such a famous property.
For more helpful information regarding directions and pricing for the Ultramar ferry, make sure to check out the link provided.
Brunch at the Ritz Carlton
A couple that we met on our Tulum tour had talked about having brunch at the Ritz later in the week, and we quickly warmed up to the idea of doing Sunday brunch ourselves the next day. We started off our early morning by sitting out on the beach while the sun greeted us for a short half hour before walking along the shore a few hotels down for some yummy food. It actually wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be at all, and we were seated right away. The service here is absolutely top-notch as you would expect the Ritz to be. If you’re looking for an incredible brunch buffet, look no further because this is exactly what you’ve been looking for! There is a station for all of your brunch needs – tacos al pastor, fancy cheese, pastries, exotic fruits, traditional Mexican meats like barbacao and carnitas, and of course mimosas, peach bellinis, and bloody Mary’s! And don’t forget dessert – warm churros with chocolate, fresh cinnamon buns, and Abuela’s chocolates (grandma’s hot chocolate). For $35 per person, this seriously is a steal for the ambiance, food and incredibly attentive service. Brunch is served every Sunday, although I am told that they also do a breakfast buffet every day (minus the special food station). I highly recommend this as a lazy Sunday, boozy brunch activity. I wish I was here another week just to go again!
While we were in the spa at the JW Marriott, we spotted Fred’s across the street through the window and decided to check it out for dinner after reading many great reviews on Yelp. We had a light pre-dinner snack at Club 91 at the JW and a few drinks from the open bar before heading to Fred’s across the street. Honestly, we didn’t have many expectations, but were pleasantly surprised by the delicious food. We ordered seafood ceviche, fish tacos, and coconut shrimp, which was flambéed and served tableside. My favorite part was the dessert where they brought out a cheesecake with a sparkling candle for my birthday!!
-Sea bass-Tuna tartare-Garlic shrimp-Pistachio ice cream bomb
After our early morning wake-up call and long day in Tulum (read my full Tulum post here), we wanted a quick, late night dinner without having to travel very far. Blue Gecko is a small shack at the end of a small strip of stores about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. They serve up some fantastic guac, giant, delicious tacos and also some fun and yummy drinks (I tried one with fresh banana, Kahlua, coconut, and chocolate). Our favorite two tacos by far were the fish and steak, and we were both stuffed after splitting 3 tacos.
La Palapa (Paradiso Hotel)
Nothing really beats having fancy brunch at the Ritz, but we chose a spot at a nearby hotel for our last meal in Cancun since it was right on the beach. It actually was in the backyard of the Paradiso Hotel, which is an all-inclusive resort. We ordered off of their regular menu, since they didn't have a separate a la carte menu for those who didn't stay at the hotel. We were pleasantly surprised by the yummy chilaquiles, eggs benedict, and french toast and more so, how cheap everything was at the end. We also happened to be the only ones dining on the patio that morning since it was drizzling a bit earlier, so it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. We spend the next hour exploring the beautiful interior of the hotel before lounging out on the beach for our last few hours!
Thank you so much for following along my trip to Cancun! My last few weeks have been extra heavy on the travel, and it's not going to slow down for at least the next month and a half. I'm going somewhere new and very exciting soon, which has taken months to plan (and we're still not done) and I can't wait to share that with you guys!