A Girls' Getaway to the Riviera Maya

A Girls' Getaway to the Riviera Maya
In lieu of gifts this year, my sister-in-law Cathy and I decide to vacation with our daughters (both 23, an age when the benefits of traveling with mom are again apparent). In a careful review of the all-inclusive resorts around Cancun, the Paradisus Riviera Cancun Resort (a member of The Leading Hotels of the World) emerges as an enticing alternative to the busy Cancun-strip properties. Located in Puerto Morelos along the Riviera Maya, the Paradisus is closer to the airport and the Mayan ruins we plan to visit, and it offers a full complement of activities and restaurants. Cathy and I exchange emails. The girls post messages on each other's Facebook "walls." And we are ready to go!

There is no dramatic entrance at the Paradisus. We briefly wonder if our taxi driver plans to deposit us at the service entrance when we round a bend and see we have arrived. Neighboring hotels funnel their guests immediately toward the beach, but here the plan is different. Whitewashed walls and an open-air lobby cooled by lazy ceiling fans await us. Porticoed hallways lead past fountained pools and strategically placed mini gardens. This is a tropical retreat that promises to sooth after travel, excursions, or simply the heat of a day on the beach.

Cathy has stayed at the Paradisus in Cuba (a prerogative of her Canadian citizenship). Its layout is identical to the Cancun property—right down to the room design—so she guides us around unaided. We make reservations at a different on-site restaurant for each night of our stay and settle in to peruse the schedule of activities. I discover a Jacuzzi on our balcony, which overlooks the beach, and I watch the last rays of sun fade on water crafts nestled into the sand.

Relaxation, decompression, time with family, we agree, will fill our days. "Work" as in "work on my tan" is the only use of the word permitted. But we are by nature an active quartet. The beach is meticulously raked each morning, leaving behind talc sand. Soon I join the beach walkers and joggers who delight in waves chasing through toes. I return to find the rest of my family playing beach volleyball — which I learn will be followed by water aerobics in the main pool. To join...or not, of course, is the beauty of an all-inclusive resort.

Excursions are also on our agenda. My niece and I are eager to "swim with dolphins," and the tour desk helps us sort through options. We settle on Delphinus, which was once part of Xcaret, the area's colossal, man-made water park. Now, in response to tourist demand, it has been expanded and transformed into a separate domain. We are picked up by van from the Paradisus and, after stops at two other hotels, make the hour-long drive. The next 45 minutes are spent in preparation and orientation. Locker rooms for changing, lockers for valuables (including rings that must be shed to prevent scratching), and towels are provided. We learn proper dolphin etiquette — don't touch blowholes or hang onto fins — and then it's time!

We are divided into groups of five or six to work with a trainer/dolphin team. We learn the proper feeding technique in hopes of making a good first impression. Then one by one we slip into the lagoon, eager but uncertain guests. For 45 minutes the dolphins play with and around us, graciously allowing a contact I wonder if we deserve. It is hard to imagine anyone leaving Delphinus without a renewed sense of wonder and respect for these animals.

The next day all four of us climb into the van for a visit to the Mayan ruins of Tulum and an afternoon of adventure activities. Tulum was a ceremonial center built by the sea. It was once a "gated community" and only Mayan elite were allowed inside its walls. Our guide shares his knowledge of ancient lore and assures us that, although 2012 marks the end of the current Mayan calendar, another cycle will begin immediately and we need not fear current end of days predictions!

From the ruins we are driven about half an hour to the adventure center where we will have lunch, ride a zip line through the forest canopy, rappel down a 70-foot tower, and snorkel in an underground cenote (cave). Luckily, this will be our final activity since we mistakenly believed towels would be provided and so came without. The zip line requires an initial five-story climb to the top of a tower. The payoff is three adrenaline-inducing rides between towers of descending heights. The same harness and hardhat are used for rappelling, an activity which requires a bit more instruction. Our guide is excellent, and the emphasis is on safety and fun.

Last is a swim in the subterranean network of caves called cenotes. We are supplied with masks and snorkels and make the short descent via wooden stairs into the Mayan sacred world. The water is cool, but it is the exquisite limestone formations that take one's breath away. We float suspended above stalagmites—sometimes no more than inches from the stalagtites that descend from the cave ceiling. It is a reminder that the human hand can never hope to rival the miracle of nature.

All too soon our trip ends. The girls never check out the nightlife in Cancun — maybe next time? Instead, to our delight, they linger over dinner with us. We all agree that this area of Mexico offers an ideal combination of warm weather and cooling breezes. It's as perfect for families as partiers. Flights to Mexico and vacation properties are once again filling, and we can confirm that it's time to go back!