Riviera Maya: An Azure Heaven on Earth
The water surrounding me is "childhood bath-time" temperate and exquisitely turquoise. A school of fish shines silvery, a few feet from my torso. As I float under a vast blue expanse of sky, the only thing on my mind is "margarita or Corona?" to be ordered from a beachside waiter, naturally.
Miles and miles of postcard-worthy coastline, extraordinary weather year round and just enough exoticism trekking south of the border to coin a resort escape "adventurous," the Mexican Riviera has become a go-to spot for those looking for pampering and luxury on vacation. Riviera Maya’s tagline reads: "Paradise is forever." Yep... that’s pretty much it.
The ultra modern Cancun airport with its swift customs entry makes it convenient for tourists, and a highway (with obligatory speed bumps) stretching from Cancun to Tulum offers 55 miles of shoulder-to-shoulder resorts at every level of decadence.
I stayed at the Grand Mayan Riviera Maya in a Grand Master Room -- a 603-square-foot paradise offering everything you need for a comfy, lux vacation including king size bed, sleeper sofa, marble shower, Jacuzzi bathtub, double sink vanity, LCD television and balcony.
"Enter a world that revolves around your desires and relaxation and leave behind worries, stress, and anxiety in a world of pure luxury and ultimate happiness," writes Grupo Vidanta of its resort. There are dozen of places to relax in the shade or sun amid the sprawling grounds and endless array of pools. The décor is upscale-elegance inspired by Mexican tradition, with epic, dramatic lobbies and pristine walkways. Imagine straw-thatched huts with daybeds and towering wooden totem poles.
I’ve been to the Riviera Maya several times and the Grand Mayan offers the most attentive service I have experienced... perhaps anywhere. The moment you are finished with a dish at any of their eight restaurants, your plate is whisked away before the blink of an eye. And sheer heaven to not have to worry about cash. As with most resorts in the area, it’s all-inclusive.
Whether one wants to spend the day at the par-54 Nicklaus Design masterpiece El Manglar Golf Course, indulging in the signature Tequila massage at Brio spa or cozying up at a pool bar, there are endless choices for relaxation and entertainment.
By the fall of 2014, the new Cirque du Soleil spectacle JOYÀ will be housed next to the resort, sure to attract visitors from all over the Riviera and neighboring Cancun.
Choose Your Own Adventure
One could easily visit the Mexican Riviera and languidly never leave your resort. For those willing to venture for external excitement, choices abound.
Pedestrian friendly Playa del Carmen sits right in the heart of the Riviera Maya and is without question the place to be if you are searching for something muy caliente. Devoid of judgment, each person I asked seemed to agree that LGBT travelers were welcome at any resort or establishment. I overheard a vacationer telling another, "Playa was amazing. There were men and men and women and women walking, holding hands. It was wonderful!"
Check out Playa 69, a gay dance club open until 4 a.m., with all the lights, sweatiness, lack of clothing and serious house beats one could crave or extend your trip by a night before flying out of Cancun for a visit to the the legendary gay nightclub Karamba, open since the 1980s.
If you’re looking for a bit of history to balance out any decadence, a must stop is the Mayan Ruins in Tulum. The archaeological site is spectacularly set on the beach and dates back to the Classic period, when the city of Tulum reached it’s heyday of commerce between the 13th and 15th century.
For a more off-the-grid hipster vacation, Tulum is perhaps enjoying its second renaissance, in a string of tiny beachfront hotels. Most are ultra-light on the amenities but seriously tapped into wellness for a more immersive experience of direct beach access, rustic seaside cafes, perhaps some yoga and not much else.
Paradise is available to those looking for experiences at any budget, leaving no excuse not to add the region to your bucket list.
Where to Stay
The Grand Mayan Riviera Maya is available to all those who enroll in a vacation club membership through Grupo Vidanta, or through well-respected worldwide exchange companies including RCI and Interval International, among others. Price varies.
Head to the tiny off-the-map island of Isla Mujeres. Gay owner of the six-room hotel Casa Sirena Steven Broin says, "GLBT visitors invariably fall in love with the island; they are usually experienced travelers seeking something more authentic than circuit parties, discos or golf tournaments." From $120/night, two-night minimum.
Excellence Riviera Cancun is all-inclusive (adults only,) with suite-like rooms, top shelf liquor and truly "excellent" restaurant cuisine and service. $166 per person in off season, up to $300+ per person in high season.
The Royan Suites by Yucatan: An intimate, adults-only hideaway tucked away within an exciting five-star resort complex. Be pampered by butler service, bask in a beachside cabana, indulge the senses in the spa, and dine elegantly in the private restaurant with menus prepared by some of the world’s leading chefs. $200 per person, prices vary throughout season.
For those looking for an all-natural experience, Azulik is a small eco-friendly cluster of 21 rustic beachside cabanas without electricity or telephones. Only the sound of the birds that wake you up in the morning and the murmur of the sea waves to lull you to sleep at night. Clothing optional. Gay friendly. Rates from $138/night.