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by Nicole Pensiero | CNBNewsnet
I'd heard plenty about Cancún before I visited, but somehow it was still hard for me to visualize the place.
Yet once I'd settled into my ninth-floor, ocean-front room in the heart of the Zona Hotelera (hotel zone), I got a good look at the sweeping beauty of this Mexican paradise. Suddenly, I "got" what everyone had been talking about - how beautiful a place it is and how much it has to offer those in search of sun and fun.
Located in what was once a remote area of the Caribbean, Cancún was pretty much an uninhabited barrier island at the start of the 1970s. The first hotel opened in 1974 and growth hasn't slowed since. Today, there are more than 32,000 hotel rooms and 723,000 residents (up from about 165,000 25 years ago) in Cancún, which is located not far from the famed Maya Riveria, another popular Caribbean hot-spot. With dozens of resorts and 14 miles of beautiful sandy white beaches, Cancún, in fact, is now Mexico's 2nd most popular vacation destination (after Mexico City).
Enjoying four nights at the elegant JW Marriott Cancún Resort & Spa, proved the perfect early winter getaway, made even more enjoyable because of the U.S. dollar's current strength.This 500-room property, only 20 minutes from the airport by taxi, is absolutely lovely and seemed more-than-welcoming to all kinds of travelers, including parents with young kids (though there is an adults-only pool for those seeking a total escape).
The "JW," as it often called, has three free-form swimming pools, including an infinity pool, as well as a wide beach (with a lifeguard on duty) fronting the blazingly blue sea. There are poolside dining and two indoor restaurants, too, as well as a pizza parlor/coffee shop, a shopping arcade, and a lobby bar. We especially loved the yummy breakfast buffet at the hotel's indoor-and-outdoor Sedona Grill.
On our first day, I splurged on a facial and massage at the luxurious hotel spa, which offers everything from traditional Mexican beauty treatments to more "mainstream" options. It was the ultimate in relaxation.
For meals, we took advantage of the both the JW Marriott and its adjoining Marriott property, CasaMagna, during our stay, where we especially savored the creative drinks and appetizers at its outdoor Thai restaurant and bar, Sasi Thai.
There was time for one side-trip during our stay, so we opted for a snorkeling excursion to nearby Isla Mujeres, a small island reachable in about 20 minutes via high-speed boat (the Ultramar costs $19 round trip) or less expensive ferry options.
Isla Mujeres (“Island of Women”) is only four miles long and about a mile wide, but it has everything you'd want for a day-trip: snorkeling options, jam-packed souvenir shops and even some great little restaurants (we loved Café Mango --- an ideal, laid-back spot for a cold drink and a tasty bite after a morning in the water.
Aside from our half-day jaunt to Isla Mujeres, and a dinner our last night at nearby Porfirio's -- an authentic, elegant Mexican restaurant, complete with strolling mariachi musicians -- we kept the focus pretty much on sticking "close to home," meaning our hotel. Our last day, in fact, was spent lounging on a Cabana-covered Bali Bed, which for about $100, provided a breathtaking beachfront view, but also special amenities (including bottle waters, and salsa/guacamole (or fruit).
Only a three-hour-20-minute flight from Philadelphia - yet a total "world away," I cannot wait to go back to this Mexican paradise.
For more information about Cancún, visit: http://cancun.travel/en/.
Nicole Pensiero is a South Jersey-based freelance travel writer and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association.