Spring break is over, so summer is the time to pounce on the 24,000 hotel rooms up for grabs and be one of the lucky ones who get to be in Cancun during whale-shark season.
In the air
Every day, from 100 to 121 nonstop flights from the U.S. and Canada touch down at Cancun’s airport, including those hailing from West Coast and Midwest spots like Los Angeles and Minneapolis. Summer travel perk? Short immigration lines. Find the shortest on Mondays and Wednesdays.
On the ground
Walk or take the bus most anywhere, but rent a car to see the ruins. Most hotels rent cars; Royal Playa del Carmen rents fun, zippy ones.
Into a Room
Royal Playa del Carmen
Sure, there are water-level chaises, balcony hammocks and Jacuzzis at this hideaway just 45 minutes from Cancun’s airport. But what stands out is its magic box: a cubby where room service delivers at any hour, then flicks on a light — so I never have to don a robe to open the door. All-inclusive, from $251 a person a night.
Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach
The ribbon of land holding Cancun’s hotels juts from the mainland like the corner of a kite. At the eastern tip, a half-hour from the airport, this resort’s beach is heavenly, but it’s the spa and its 10-step hydrotherapy where I find nirvana. From $239 a night.
It’s always quieter here than Cancun, but in summer I can hear crickets, so being 80 minutes from the high-rises is OK. With no music at the pool and signs asking for indoor voices, now I’ll rest. All-inclusive, from $334 a night.
Within Easy Reach
On the sand
It’s a tradition of mine to spend the first day of any tropical trip entirely on the sand. The Royal Playa del Carmen gets me. A beach butler, or “beachtler,” as his cart reads, arranges for that next pina colada, a sunglass cleaning or a foot massage. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go swimming.
Swim with giants
Hundreds of these 40-foot plankton munchers congregate off Isla Mujeres, a satellite island off Cancun. Ceviche Tours is my go-to operator, with shuttles from any hotel to the dock where boats depart for pretty Isla Mujeres. From Isla, pangas motor out to the last known location of these gentle giants; kicking alongside anywhere from five to 50 of these beauties requires about as much effort for snorkelers as speed-walking.
Did You Know? Ekab, “black earth,” was Cancun’s first name. “Cancun” sounds better, despite meaning “snake nest.”