South of Cancun, along Mexico’s Route 307 is the Riviera Maya. This destination is home to many small beach towns, Mayan ruins and lagoons. It was also home to the location of our winter mini-break of 2004 - Akumal.
Planted between the tourist hot spots of Xcaret and Tulum, Akumal boasts a protected coral reef and pristine beaches. My wife and I had both been to the Yucatan Peninsula (Melissa to Cancun and I to Cozumel), but were both surprised as to the seclusion and romanticism that this area brought.
After a 3-hour direct flight from Charlotte, we were driven another hour to the Oasis Akumal Resort, passing Playa del Carmen. This resort sits along the reef, where light waves crash and bring a delightful ocean breeze.
Marco Rodriguez, the jubilant and multi-lingual (he speaks 5 languages) jefe, gave us a property tour upon our arrival, which included four property pools, four restaurants and five bars. Along the largest pool, Marco proudly pointed out the resort’s expansion of more than 80 rooms and an addition to the main pool (including a waterfall).
Following the introduction, we were led to our room, a 1-bedroom condominium along the ocean. Formerly a private residence (40% of the condos are still privately owned, primarily by Americans who spend the winter here), the condo offered cozy double beds, air-conditioning, cable TV and a patio only a few feet from the beach.
Tired from our journey, our first evening was very relaxed, leading us to an early morning, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not only because we had more sunlight, but also because we were able to snag a fantastic spot for our relaxation. And oddly enough, at this resort, the other guests respect your beach spot as yours, for the remainder of your stay.
After a breakfast of made-to-order omelet’s and syrup-covered plantains over pancakes, we were ready to hit the beach. On this vacation, my wife and I vowed to do nothing but kick up our feet, lay back and enjoy the rays. As an extremely active person, I was doubtful that I could handle it for four days.
Fortunately, as boredom began to set in, Sergio, one of the activity directors, walked around with a volleyball. His persuasiveness was unmatched and more than fifteen people were gathered up for a game of beach volleyball. And then snorkeling, where schools of tropical fish were sighted as well as a gorgeous array of coral.
Throughout the course of the four days, other fantastic activities were offered and well organized, such as beach soccer, kayaking, stretching and cooking or dancing lessons. It was the ultimate way to relax for someone who has adult ADD.
The activities also brought us into contact with the other guests of the resort. Many of whom were traveling with Veraclub, part of Veratour, the Italian-run tour operator that brought young Italians to the Yucatan. This was also very exotic to Melissa and me as we all counted the beach volleyball score in Italian first, then Spanish, English and German. For a moment, we felt like we were traveling along a different Riviera.
While we played games, occasionally swam or laid out in the sun on lounge chairs under small thatched huts, we were also excited about the limitless drinks and the availability of food. After breakfast, a snack bar opens with hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries and it stays open until after 6. In addition to the lunch buffet in the afternoon, buffet dinner is served beginning at 7:30.
Unfortunately, the meals were average at best and although the water is filtered, it would probably be best to avoid it. Montezuma’s revenge can come with the slightest intake or excess fruit consumption (the fruit is grown in Mexico and watered by Mexican water).
Our options for dinner were slightly limited as one of the four restaurants was under construction. Since early December is off-peak season, they were upgrading in preparation for the busy season, when they will also open a fifth restaurant (an Italian restaurant). Two of the four currently available, an International and a Mexican restaurant require reservations the morning before (with Marco) and are only available for those staying at least four nights.
In the evenings, the activities don’t stop. Though the party scene is much tamer than its infamous “spring break” neighbor, Cancun, the resort continued the fun each night with live music and dancing or a Casino night. And the parties were not reserved to the activities centers or the lobby bar. One evening, my wife and I were invited to one of the condos, where we drank tequila shots with some of the lucky owners staying here for months.
On our last day, we decided to venture off of the property to truly engulf ourselves in the romanticism of the Mayan culture. Being only fifteen kilometers from Tulum made it easy for a journey into the past to the ancient Mayan civilization. We used the very accessible and very cheap public transportation ($1.50 each vs. a taxi for $15-20) for the 15-minute ride.
When we arrived at Tulum, we obtained a map from the Information desk where they also provided suggestions for the best picture spot. Passing shops where one could buy sombreros, T-shirts or picture books, we jumped on the trolley to the ruins ($2 round-trip per person for the ¾ mile trip). After paying the $4 entry fee per person, we entered through the north wall of the Mayan village.
The castillo was evident from all angles of the land and other gray stone structures scattered the property. Some were small temples for worship, others much smaller, believed to be shrines where offerings to the gods were deposited. Guided tours were available for approximately $20 (per group) and if a history of the ancient town is what you desire, the 45-minute tour is probably worth it as there are minimal signs to describe the sights.
Tulum sits along a cliff that extends out to the Caribbean Sea. The crystal clear, coral-filled waters and cloudless midday sky offered a tremendous backdrop for pictures. We were not alone in having this epiphany as other tourists snapped away at the famous ruins.
After returning to the resort, we enjoyed archery, a windsurfing lesson (though attempts in the water resulted only in wipe-outs) and a spectacularly clear sky for stargazing. Over dinner of tequila-flavored fish filet and chicken parmesan (at the International restaurant), we sadly realized that we would have to leave the next day. Reminded of the cold and busy winter ahead, we decided to get up early and enjoy one last morning in paradise.