Languishing in the land of scenic beaches and luxury resorts, Glass explores Mexico’s popular holiday hotspot
Picture the scene: I’m in the middle of the ocean just off Isla Mujeres in Quintana Roo, Mexico, bobbing grumpily next to my boat, my face an unbecoming shade of green. My companions on the boat suddenly start pointing and excitedly instruct me to go underwater. I bewilderedly obey and find myself face-to-face with a dapple-grey creature of the sea – slightly odd-looking with a flat square-shaped head and incredibly tiny eyes, when compared to the rest of its body. It’s known as a whale shark, and is the biggest fish in the world.
The sunlight, filtered through the sea, is reflected off its back to a stunning effect, and as it glides past, I temporarily forget my nausea and suddenly feel very small in comparison. Swimming with these majestic animals is just one of the many attractions a trip to Cancun has to offer – and it’s on the whole a truly magical experience (despite my learning the hard way, that anti-seasickness pills should be taken beforehand …)
Although a word that usually connotes paradise and 5* luxury, “Cancun” is actually Mayan for snakes nest. Snakes for the Mayans symbolised life and fertility – and a life-affirming experience (and possibly in some cases boosted fertility) is certainly what so many visitors flock here for each year.
We were here to celebrate Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight to Cancun, which kicks off in rather comic style. Virgin’s famous group founder Sir Richard Branson is balancing on the wing of the plane, lifting up British singer Alexandra Burke in his arms while two air hostesses – exuding 80s glamour in red lips and red lacquered heels – wave British and Mexican flags either side of him. On the tarmac below, numerous photographers snap away in delight, while a Mariachi band plays next to them them, as polite but flustered members of staff try and stop journalists wandering off and getting taken out by incoming planes.
The Virgin circus has indeed come to town, and the atmosphere is electric. “I am delighted to be here to celebrate Virgin Atlantic’s new route to Cancun,” Branson later commented. “Mexico holds a special place in my heart and it is great to be here with all my family and friends. Cancun is one of the top five long-haul leisure destinations for UK travellers, and as a market leader in this area, we are pleased to be able to add this route to our network.”
Our accommodation was provided by The Royal Hideaway Hotel, an adults-only all-inclusive resort situated on the Riviera Maya, and the ideal place for some serious rest and relaxation. The guest quarters are spaced around the picturesque complex and connected by charming little walkways and water gardens surrounded by lush greenery. With two swimming pools, including an infinity pool, the hotel is based on a gorgeous stretch of beach, and to take a swim in its calm sapphire waters is a truly healing experience from the inside out.
A truly indulgent option is to relax by the pool and let a waiter bring you grilled calamari or a cocktail directly to your sun lounger. But if you’re feeling more civilised, you can dine beachside on The Deck or keep cool inside the stately Spices Restaurant. The hotel offers a wide range of cuisines, but sadly not as much authentic Mexican food as we might have liked. Yet we enjoy tucking into fresh tricolore salads, succulent cheeseburgers and sweet potato chips, washed down with a margarita from the hotel’s cocktail bar.
The level of service here is second-to-none, the staff are extremely attentive, obliging and indefatigably cheerful (something many European resorts could learn a thing or two from). Even when we leave our hotel, the helpful attitudes of our Mexican hosts don’t wane. During my embarrassing bout of nausea on the boat trip as the other passengers keep a safe distance away, the captain’s kind assistant does all he can to assuage my misery, which includes pouring cold water down the back of my neck as I hurl over the side of the boat - a task not for the faint of heart ...
Once I’m thankfully back on dry land, and my brain has stopped swaying to and fro, we pay a visit to Rosewood Mayakoba, a popular celebrity haunt south of Cancun. The hotel has a number of standalone cabins, complete with their own private butler, which are situated by a lagoon surrounded by a dense expanse of forest. Taking a romantic river taxi ride across the candlelit lagoon at night is an unforgettable experience and idea for honeymooners and couples celebrating a special anniversary. We eventually arrive in the hotel’s Palapa Lounge, an open air dining venue, with performance area and a dance floor which leads out onto the white Caribbean sands, where a lavish barbeque buffet (two words that send shivers down my spine) is being served – truly heaven on earth.
If you can manage to tear yourself away from your luxury hotel, the nearby Ancient Mayan city of Tolum is definitely a must-see when you visit Cancun, especially the walled city at Sian Ka’an – which was once a site of worship, with several Mayan temples to admire and explore. The site is located high up on a cliff looking over the second largest reef in the world, and the views are truly breath-taking. The Ancient Mayans were keen mathematicians, artists, linguists and astronomers (they famously predicted that the world is due to end this year) and guided tours around Sian Ka’an are available to learn more about their way of life and their legacy.
Slightly further away is Chichén Itzá, another Ancient Mayan city and a UNESCO world heritage city. Famous monuments include the Temple of Kukulcan, popular with visitors during the spring equinox, where the light hits it at a particular angle so that the shadow of the Mayan serpent god can be seen “crawling” down one side in spectacular fashion.
Cancun is truly an eye-opening experience – with its rich history, exquisite beaches and stunning natural wildlife. At the end of our trip I was trying figure out how I could accidentally-on-purpose miss my flight home. However to sweeten the pill, I found myself tucked up in my very own pod in Virgin’s spacious Upper Class cabin, with seats which stretch out into beds, my own entertainment station and on-board bar. All of which more than made up for returning from paradise to rain-soaked England.
by Viola Levy
Virgin Atlantic flies twice weekly from London Gatwick to Cancun. For more information visit virginatlantic.com Seven nights in Cancun with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Cancun, accommodation at 5V Royal Hideaway Playacar on an all-inclusive basis with transfers included starts from £1,395 based on two adults sharing. For more information visit
Day trips to Tulum and Chichen Itza, as well as the whale shark swim experience can be booked in advance through Virgin Holidays.
Accommodation at The Rosewood Mayakoba starts from $400 a night from May 1 to December 19, and $700 a night from January 3 to April 30. For more information visit Rosewoodhotels