See A Different Side Of This Tropical Playground With A Stay At Canopy By Hilton Cancun La Isla

The lifestyle brand’s first Mexican property trades oceanfront views for sitting on a deck by the bay.

I'm lucky to travel frequently to Cancun and Riviera Maya, but I always stay at a hotel or resort situated squarely by the sea. So, when my transport pulled into the driveway of the Canopy by Hilton Cancun La Isla, I couldn't help but feel just a little FOMO for the guests at the properties across the street located mere steps from the sand. However, over the next few days I discovered that I was able to get a whole different view of the city during my stay by the bay.

Canopy by Hilton Cancun La Isla is located 20 minutes from the airport in the city's Hotel Zone. It is adjacent to the La Isla shopping and entertainment complex, which houses local and international shops, restaurants, museums, and a multiplex movie theater. The hotel is a block from the oceanfront—though the walk to the closest public beach is a bit longer—and flanked on the other side by Nichupté Bay. (In case you're wondering, swimming is off limits here because of crocodiles, and the lagoon is surrounded by a metal fence.) 

If you are exploring the area on foot and can't find your way back to the hotel, just look for the Sky Wheel, the giant Ferris wheel that's right next door.

Canopy by Hilton Cancun lobby
From the moment they enter, guests will experience a design and concept that is deeply rooted in local culture. | Canopy by Hilton Cancun La Isla

Hilton's Canopy brand encourages guests to experience a destination like a local. To that end, properties are designed to feel like an extension of the neighborhood, with local elements and a sophisticated, trend-forward yet approachable vibe. This Cancun property was designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates using scenes created by local muralists and textile artisans. The sprawling lobby spans the entire depth of the hotel, spilling into Azulinda Café & Bar, one of two dining concepts, with a striking lobby bar on the right-side stocking Mexican and international spirits. 

The high ceiling is adorned with a wooden trellis from which hang brightly colored corded poms, tables and chairs join more cozy, conversational couch seating with textured pillows, and rotating pieces from local artists (available for purchase) are displayed on easels and shelves.

Because Canopy properties are meant to be a bit modern and unexpected, the front desk has been rebranded to "Canopy Central." Up a level, the Transfer Lounge is a thoughtful touch for travelers arriving before their rooms are ready or those who want to stay and play after check-out, with showers, changing areas, bathrooms, and lockers. A comfortable co-working area has the digital nomad in mind, and there is a boardroom for meetings and a stylish private event space that opens onto a terrace. You'll find touches of Canopy's signature bright orange hue throughout.

Canopy room
The rooms are ideal for many types of travelers, from solo adventurers to professionals on workation. | Canopy by Hilton Cancun La Isla

The 174 rooms total include 153 deluxe rooms and 5 suites with better water views. All rooms will have a view of the rising sun over the Caribbean Sea or the setting sun over the bay. I stayed in a Panoramic View One Bedroom King Suite overlooking the Sky Wheel and the bay, with a glimpse of the east sun from the living room. 

That space is outfitted with a sectional sofa, 50-inch HDTV, and four-person dining table; there is also a powder room in case guests entertain. The main bathroom has a huge walk-in shower with pocket doors separating it from the rest of the room, double sinks and vanities and ample closet storage. The king-size bed is topped with a wooden canopy—a nod to the name and brand slogan of "we got you covered." A cute sofa nook by the windows in the bedroom is perfect for reading or working. 

I also swayed in the hanging hammock chair while keeping watch for the hourly performers partaking in the Danza de los Voladores. In this ancient Mesoamerican ritual, five or so participants climb a 98-foot pole (with the aid of ropes) and play the flute and drum before jumping off and swinging around like a human merry-go-round. It's quite the scene.

Wander offers great food and cocktails, as well as some of the best views in the region. | Canopy by Hilton Cancun La Isla

Wander, the Canopy's rooftop pool and bar, is truly the focal point of this property—and where you'll find guests lounging in the afternoon soaking in the sun and the pumping beat of the resident DJ. Overlooking the bay, the space has a long narrow infinity pool and jacuzzi, along with table and patio seating both on the main deck and half a level down directly in front of the water. You can also rent shaded upholstered Thai beds for more room to spread out for that midafternoon siesta. 

Open from 10 am until 11 pm for drinks and all-day dining, Wander specializes in refreshing agave spirit tipples. Try the Baal Chi' Ibal, with mezcal, agave, cucumber, pineapple, lime, and mineral water, or the Sáastal, with Tequila, chili liqueur, tamarind, and orange juice. If you're more of a gin fan like me, the Yalk'u combines it with agave liqueur, lime, coconut, and pineapple. This is also the perfect place to catch the sunset, so make sure to charge your phone.

The property's mixologists will not only make a delicious cocktail, like the ancho chile margarita (left), but they'll also teach guests how to make their own. | Kelly Magyarics

In addition to drinks at Wander, there is a selection of tostadas with octopus, shrimp, fish, or portobello mushrooms, as well as grilled entrees including flank steak, chicken, and an Angus burger. A can't-miss combo for a light, fresh dinner is meaty grilled shrimp with a huge platter of grilled peppers, onions, and zucchini. 

Downstairs, Azulinda Café & Bar is also open all day, starting with a breakfast buffet. Choose from a variety of freshly baked goods including flaky and addictive chocolate croissants, as well as fresh fruits and juices and American and Mexican dishes. You can also make your own chilaquiles, with freshly made tortilla chips, cotija, red onions, and salsa roja or verde; tote your plate to the omelet station to be topped with two over-easy eggs.

Like many hotels these days, both Azulinda and Wander have the same menu options for lunch, dinner, or that mid-afternoon nosh to tide you over. Bar snacks like guacamole (in traditional and vegan formats with vegan cheese) and hummus are joined by soups, burgers, tacos, pizza, and entrees. The lime soup with roasted chicken, tomato, smoked pepper, and roasted onion is a zesty, tangy surprise, and staff did well to recommend the skirt steak tacos, which are sauteed with pepper and onion and topped with pico de gallo and pickled onions. Wine and beer selections include those from local producers, and cocktails are a bit more classic and technique-driven then those on the rooftop. Save room for tres leches cake with coconut cream or a cajeta-stuffed crepe. 

During my stay, I sampled some of the dishes that the culinary team is currently developing for a menu refresh, including a sushi menu at Wander that will be rolled out soon. In the meantime, guests can enjoy sushi at the weekly Dominical Brunch that takes place every Sunday at Azulinda.

Canopy Hotel interior
The current offerings and amenities are just the beginning for this creative hotel. | Canopy by Hilton Cancun La Isla

The hotel plans to expand some of the programming previously only offered to groups. During a DIY sushi class, we made tuna-topped rolls and salmon-stuffed rice balls under the watchful eye of a resort chef, then tucked into our creations. Seated on a stool at a cocktail class at Azulinda's handsome lobby bar, I sampled a Bacon Old Fashioned and a libation using the ubiquitous-in-Mexico Licor 43. For the third round, I circled my favorite fruit and herbal ingredients on a bingo card, from citrus and cucumber to basil and rosemary, which were incorporated into a gin and tonic using my choice of gin and garnishes.

The hotel hopes to open a dedicated spa with several treatment rooms and a relaxation area. Right now, guests can book a massage that takes place in a repurposed hotel suite. You can also request one in your own room.

In addition to the daily DJ at the rooftop pool, the hotel frequently invites local comedians for weekend evening shows. (The acts are obviously in Spanish, a good opportunity to brush up on your language skills.) During the new weekly wine and cheese night in the lobby, staff sets out an impressive display of cheeses, toasted bread, olive oil, nuts, and dried fruit. Make a platter, order a glass of El Cielo Chardonnay from Baja California or Vino Tinto from Valle de Guadalupe, and listen to a set from the acoustic guitarist.

As mentioned, the beach is not accessible directly from this hotel. Since the oceanfront properties in this area are gated, you'll need to walk about 10 to 15 minutes south to find the beach access. (You can borrow towels at the front desk.) While the stretch of beach is pretty, with white sand and none of the sargassum seaweed that plagues other Mexican beaches, there is major construction happening at one or two resorts, so you might need to walk a bit farther to find a quieter spot.

If you want to go off-property but not too far, you can stroll the designer boutiques and shops of La Isla. Consider a ride on the Ferris wheel, especially during the day, as it offers a killer view of the area. You can purchase a ticket for just the wheel or bundle it with admission to other attractions including Ripley's Believe It or Not museum and wax museum, maze, chocolate factory, and tequila museum. (These are a bit cheesy, so manage your expectations.) You can also borrow one of the bright orange bikes set up in front of the hotel which are free for guests to use, and there is a fitness center on the rooftop.

One thing to note about this location is that it might be difficult to find nightlife within walking distance. Amma Club is very close and is one of the best clubs in the city, but it's only open on Friday evenings. Walking around on a Saturday evening, a friend and I were hard-pressed to find a place to grab a drink. If you want to hit the clubs, you'll need to take a taxi to the center of the Hotel Zone where there is a concentration of bars and nightclubs. 

Canopy pool
Sometimes you just want to drop everything and head to a great pool. | Canopy by Hilton Cancun La Isla

Throughout my stay I kept trying to figure out for what kind of traveler this Canopy is best suited. Staff told me that visitors who had been staying at an all-inclusive hotel come here for a night or two on the back end of their trip to see a different side of the city. That makes sense, since you aren't beholden to a place where you've already prepaid for drinks and meals and have the option to dine on property, offsite, or both. It also lends more of a laidback vibe that can feel refreshing after the fight-for-a-lounge-chair-by-the-pool challenge of an AI. 

The hotel welcomes children, but since the pool is more appropriate for standing and chatting with a Margarita in hand than splashing and frolicking, and there is no kids club or designated activities, it is a more fitting destination for couples and groups of friends. In general, this hotel caters to those who like a pretty poolscape to while away the day rather than those who prefer to sit with their toes in the sand.

During my stay I noticed several groups of flight crews from different airlines checking in and out, which I interpreted as a good sign. After all, if these savvy, in-the-know travel professionals who have seen it all decide this is a comfortable, convivial place for a Cancun layover, that's a testament to the Canopy's overarching philosophy of providing an "energizing experience with a positive stay."