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On Playa Norte, we enjoyed the condos at Nautibeach (from US$90 in low season; map), which combine a degree of independent apartment living—kitchens, living room, terrace—with those essential resort amenities of pristine swimming pool, private slice of gorgeous beach (with chairs and umbrellas), and a beach bar within easy reach. Staff can help arrange everything from providing a travel crib to booking a golf cart or a snorkeling trip, and you’re within walking distance of many places to eat.
In the quieter northeast part of the island, try the 32-room Rocamar (from $65 in low season; Calle Nicolas Bravo & Entre Abasolo, map), celebrated for its sunrise views over the Caribbean. It’s not fancy, but hammocks hang on porches, there’s a nice pool, and you can hear the waves from the front rooms. It’s an easy walk to the Cancún ferry, lots of restaurants, and Playa Norte (there’s no proper beach by the hotel).
In Tulum, you have an all-important decision to make: Do you stay downtown in Tulum pueblo or along the stunning coast about two miles away? We found that downtown—a stretch of the word, really, since the area is quite small; a strip of businesses and restaurants along the main drag and a few radiating down side streets—affords the best local-eating opportunities, as the beach area is really built up from the jungle, all for the benefit of visitors. And it’s still quite easy to reach the beach, by car or by bike, in just a few minutes; once there, you can hang out at a beach club like Ziggy’s for the cost of a meal or a few drinks. However, if you’re primarily going for a beach vacation, it makes sense to reverse this—stay by the sea and go into town for the express reason of eating really good tacos.
Downtown, we liked Villas Geminis (corner Geminis Sur & Andromeda Oriente, map), a condo-hotel with a few sleek one- and two-bedrooms, plus a penthouse unit, situated around a lush little swimming pool; it’s particularly nice for families or a small group traveling together. Bikes are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, and one-bedrooms start at $130 per night for two people. Also in town, a bit more budget-friendly, we’ve heard good things about The Secret Garden Hotel (Sagitario Poniente 54, map), where cute, clean rooms and a tranquil shared garden start at $45 in low season; there’s also a house that sleeps three for rent.
Along the beach, there are, of course, countless places to stay, one seemingly more gorgeous than the next. Coco Tulum (Carretera Tulum Boca Paila km. 8, map) aims to take you off the grid with its painfully pretty cabanas, which look rather luxurious but boast concrete floors, silky mosquito nets, no A/C, and shared bathrooms/outdoor showers (from about $75 in low season). There’s also a fairy-tale-like beach tower, offering three romantic, panoramic rooms with huge terraces and private bathrooms (from $135 in low season). Lots of hammocks and wooden deck chairs abound on the beachfront property, plus an Italian restaurant and a “Zen Zone” offering yoga and spa treatments.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN
We haven’t personally stayed in PDC in several years, now finding the touristy areas almost unbearably crowded and Palm Beach-ified, but we did recently confirm that our favorite hotel in the area, Riviera del Sol (standard rooms from $138; Calle 30 Norte at 1st Av. Norte, map), is still alive and well. On the (once-quieter) northern end of town, it has 23 cleanly styled rooms, each with a terrace or patio; a peaceful little pool area; friendly staff; and is a three-minute walk to the sea, where beach clubs abound. (Note: If you stay in Playa, be sure to visit El Faisan y El Venado, an excellent Yucatecan restaurant, for such delicious dishes as this escabeche de pavo.)
Want to avoid the scene-y zona hotelera and get closer to the heart of “real” Cancún? Stay downtown, at a clean, budget-friendly place like Hotel Los Girasoles (from about $40; Piña 20 SM 25, map), five minutes from the ADO bus station, or upgrade a bit to the 192-room Hotel B2B Malecón Plaza (from about $70; Av. Sayil SM 4-07, map), with a big rooftop pool, nice downtown or water views, and a location convenient (by cab/bus) to the beach, downtown, the airport, and the Isla Mujeres ferry.
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