Meet in Cancun
Published: 28/09/2012 - Filed under: Archive » 2012 » October 2012 » Destinations » Features » Features » Meetings » Features » Destinations » Archive » 2012 » October 2012 » Features » Destinations » The Americas »
The Mayan Riviera offers thrilling activities and exotic venues, all set against the turquoise backdrop of the Caribbean, says Jenny Southan.
The emerging trend for experiential travel makes Cancun an alluring destination for corporate event organisers, who can not only take advantage of the facilities in its 64 five-star hotels but also combine work with memorable activities. Be it swimming with whale sharks or toasting marshmallows in fire pits on the beach, this modern Caribbean resort on the eastern tip of Mexico is well set up for groups looking for something special.
Jesus Almaguer Salazar, general director of the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau, says: “Cancun has been enjoying great visitor growth – more than 84,000 Brits came in 2011, 89 per cent up on 2010, and this year’s figures look just as healthy, with 272,000 tourists in January. The MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] market is also seeing growth – we have more than 39,000 hotel rooms, meeting space for 8,000 people [in the convention centre, cancuncenter.com], and incentives such as golf, water sports and eco-archaeological tours.”
UK business has been boosted by direct flights with British Airways (two per week) and Virgin Atlantic – the latter began twice-weekly services in July, and is expecting to up these to three a week next May. Although the journey from London is longer than some companies may usually plump for – between eight and nine hours – on arrival, the tropical climate promises more than 240 days of sunshine and temperatures between 20ºC and 33ºC. Not to mention great margaritas.
But it’s not all schmoozing at swim-up bars. A number of prestigious events have been held here, from the UN Climate Change Conference in 2010 to the annual Latin American Food Show. A handful of hotels can host large-scale gatherings – the Moon Palace accommodates 5,000 delegates in its ballroom, and the Hilton holds up to 2,000 – while others are ideal for small- to mid-size functions. What’s more, groups don’t have to pay tax. A 601-room Hard Rock Café property and the 495-room Secrets the Vine both opened in the summer.
A lot has changed since the resort’s humble beginnings only 40 years ago. Almaguer Salazar says: “Four decades ago, Cancun was a deserted island and few knew of its existence. Strategic plans were put into place in 1970 to build three elements – a tourism zone, which today forms the hotel zone and Puerto Morelos, a residential zone, and the international airport [20km south of the city]. The first hotels opened in 1974, the same year as the airport. Since 1989, Cancun has been the country’s largest tourism resort.” Here is a selection of venues and activities to feed your imagination.
LE BLANC SPA RESORT
This polished, adults-only property is at the northern end of the beachfront hotel zone about 15 minutes from downtown, on a strip of land that divides the Nichupte Lagoon from the Caribbean. Its 260 stylish rooms and suites feature double spa baths and balconies, and five restaurants showcase French, Italian and Asian cuisine. Delegates could also be provided with a wristband allowing them free food and drink for a set period at the stunning poolside Blanc terrace – chefs work at al fresco grills serving up suckling pig and roasted vegetables, with other options including wood oven-baked pizzas.
Steps lead down to a larger terrace with a bigger infinity pool and a swim-up bar, where revellers can sip frozen daiquiris or munch slices of watermelon. Another set of steps descends to the vast sandy stretch of the Yucatan Peninsula. Le Blanc has two ballrooms, which can be divided into nine breakout spaces, and an open-air patio for 200 people. Themes such as “Viva Mexico” and “Under the Sea” can be created, and service is top class. There are two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses nearby.
- Boulevard Kukulkan KM10, Zona Hotelera; tel +52 998 8814 740; leblancsparesort.com
Nestled in about 650 hectares of mangroves by a mile-long strip of beach, 63km south of Cancun, this ultra-modern property is a magical place for parties. Upon arrival, guests are handed margaritas before being led to a pontoon from where boats take them along winding waterways, past secluded apartments on stilts. Many of the 128 suites look on to emerald lagoons.
Event spaces include a 150-capacity meeting venue, a 120-seat restaurant, a private dining room and wine cellar, and a sushi bar and tequila library. But the outdoor venues are the most enticing – choose from cocktails in tropical gardens, or dinner at the Palapa tiki lounge facing the beach, where extravagant barbecues can be set up for 250 people. On the shore, guests can toast giant marshmallows in campfires. Cooking classes, tequila tasting, spa treatments and golf on its Greg Norman-designed PGA championship course can also be arranged.
- Ctra Federal Cancun, Playa del Carmen; tel +52 984 8758 000; rosewoodhotels.com
ROYAL HIDEAWAY PLAYACAR
Part of Occidental Hotels and Resorts, the gated Royal Hideaway is 45 minutes’ drive from Cancun International airport (73km south of Cancun). It has 200 rooms and suites in low-rise Mexican colonial-style villas connected by sweeping pathways. Walk among the palms, lawns and pools and you may spy giant lizards basking on rocks; at night, soft, glowing lights illuminate everything. There are three bars and six restaurants serving cuisine ranging from Caribbean to Pan-Asian. Club Royale also combines four-course dinners with weekly shows, and can be hired in the day for conferences of up to 250 delegates theatre-style.
If you are coming all the way to the Mayan Riviera, it is best to kick off your shoes and get down to the beach. The hotel can set up parties with a band, buffet stations packed with delicious dishes, bars serving pina coladas and ice-cold beers, and even fire dancers. There is also a pool and plenty of loungers by the sea, and tennis lessons, water sports and deep-sea fishing can all be laid on. Note that the beauty salon and spa is being renovated between January and March so treatments will take place at other locations throughout the resort.
- Lote Hotelero 6 Fracc, Playacar, Playa del Carmen; tel +52 984 8734 500; royalhideaway.com
By day, this vast eco theme park (64km south of the airport) is a lure for tourists who flock to experience its attractions, ranging from a coral reef aquarium, butterfly pavilion, bird sanctuary and museum of orchids, to jungle trails, beaches, lagoons, archaeological sites, a Mexican cemetery and island of jaguars. There is also the chance to come face-to-face with giant manatees, spider monkeys, turtles, macaws, bats and long-nosed tapirs. Underground wine tasting, spa treatments, swimming with dolphins and Mayan rituals in a pre-Hispanic sweat lodge are also available.
By night, Xcaret turns into a cultural extravaganza, with shows put on by more than 300 artists, musicians and dancers in traditional costume. Corporates could start with a lavish drinks reception on an open-air lawn, serenaded by a mariachi band, before being led along candlelit pathways to the haunting sound of a conch shell being blown in the darkness. Mayan warriors decorated in body paint, feathers and bones stand illuminated by fires, pointing the way towards an Indiana Jones-style cave complex. Inside, there are glowing turquoise pools and a vast hall with a stage where shots of tequila are proffered, a band can play, and a palm reader is in situ to tell people’s fortunes. Catering can be provided, but there are also 16 bars and eateries in the park.
- Open 8.30am-9.30pm (unless for a private event, when it will stay open later). Chetumal-Puerto Juarez Federal Highway, KM 282, Solidaridad; tel +52 998 2516 560; xcaret.com
Located next to Xcaret, Xplor adventure park provides high-adrenalin experiences for groups, who will need to take on the 59 hectares of jungle trails, caves and rivers with a good dose of bravery. Once teams have been equipped with helmets and life-jackets, they race off to zoom at 30km per hour above the trees on zip wires. Those with a driving licence will then get behind the wheel of amphibious vehicles, bashing their way over muddy tracks and through forests and subterranean caverns, before leading their teammates on to rafts to paddle and swim through underground rivers beneath ancient overhanging stalactites. A restaurant serves an “energy-boosting” buffet.
- Open Mon-Sat 9am-5pm. Carretera Chetumal KM282, Puerto Juarez, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Solidaridad; xplor.travel
Boasting the second-largest coral reef in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef), there are plenty of opportunities to snorkel and dive off the coast of Cancun, but the most exciting involves swimming with whale sharks. These enormous creatures are the biggest fish in the sea, at up to 12 metres long – roughly the equivalent of a double-decker bus. Getting into the ocean with them can be scary, as even though their gaping mouths are teeth-free (they feed mainly on plankton) there is always the fear that you might get sucked in. They are, nevertheless, naturally gentle and shy, and sometimes even let you hitch a ride (although touching marine life is generally discouraged). The best time to see them is between June and September.
Cancun may be known for its modern hotels and party atmosphere, but getting a glimpse into its fascinating Mayan history is feasible even on a short trip. About 90 minutes away by car are the ruins of Tulum. Set atop cliffs on the Yucatan Peninsula, what’s left of the walled city dates back to the 13th century, with three main buildings (two temples and the Castillo) still standing – look out for traces of Mayan decorative carvings on the exteriors. There is also access to a paradise cove where you can swim in the former harbour – it is thought that Tulum was once a major trading hub for ceramics, obsidian, jade, copper jewellery and flint.
About 200km from Cancun is impressive archaeological site of Chichen Itza – a former Mayan city that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A fun option for large groups is chartering a catamaran, which can comfortably host 100 people, with tanned crew on-hand to serve drinks, hoist the sails and organise fishing. There is plenty of sunbathing space on the roof of the cabin, as well as an indoor area with shady spots to relax with a cold beer. Groups can schedule stops for snorkelling and swimming, and excursions can be tailored to your needs.
- Catamaya Sailing Cruises; tel +52 984 8034 008; catamaya.com
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