Less than an hour from Cancun’s airport, in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, there is a jungle inside the all-inclusive Occidental Grand Xcaret resort. Quite frankly, the mid-section of this resort was purposely undeveloped to offer guests the chance to stroll along flora and fauna known to the Yucatan peninsula. An “ecological footpath” is what the signage states --- with caution to those who walk through; enter at your own risk.
With careful footing, a walk along the eco-path offers a quiet, meditative moment enveloping you within nature’s surroundings. This may include sounds of rustling above, as Howler monkeys hover above in the tree tops. Don’t be surprised if a monkey begins to follow you from above, jumping from one tree branch to the next, overseeing the patch of jungle that remains free to roam (there is a cage with 2 monkeys for those who want guaranteed sightings). All at once, you – the tourist – become the object of inspection – a role reversal that leads one to wonder why we can’t all live together care free.
The stage is set, and each morning, the screeching sounds of Howler monkeys may be heard once the doors of your First Club suite are opened.
First Club is part of a timeshare Vacation Club. And, simply put, vacation clubs have privileges. There’s a lot to be said for the all-inclusive (food & drink) timeshare resort. Aside from discounts on tours, spa services and car rentals, members of the Occidental Vacation Club are considered VIPs and get specialty restaurant reservations and flight boarding pass printouts, access to the VIP buffet area, breakfast and snacks in the First Club Lounge, newspapers, Internet access and Wi-Fi in the Lounge and more.
You may just want to succumb to the sun and take a lounge chair or day bed at the First Club area near the pool, or you may want to head to the quiet cove (tops optional) marked “Adults Only,” just past the Beach Club, one of 11 restaurants within the resort. Oh, and there are 10 bars.
The day goes like this: sun, adventure, cocktails at First Club, dinner of your choice, followed by a night show on property and a sound sleep. That could be your first evening at Occidental Grand Xcaret, and it could be every day during your visit.
While in Xcaret, a day spent at Xel-Ha is worth leaving the resort. This ecological attraction once again connects man to nature seamlessly via inlets, lagoons, cenotes and caves. Don’t be surprised if strange creatures walk across your path that leads from the shaky footbridge to the dare-to-jump cliff, or near the stinger-less Mayan bee hives. It is sure to happen, but these creatures are friendly (and well fed thanks to an easily maneuverable pellet dispenser). And if you want a break from the rainforest of more than 100 species of birds, 230 species of plants, flowers and trees, there’s enough Caribbean Sea mixed with fresh springs and the longest rising underground river waters in the world to snorkel (90 marine species) or tube your way lazily to the other side, where lunch and tequila shots await. Visit www.xelha.com for more information.
A short sight-seeing stop away is to the metal structure called the Pyramid of Positive Thinking in Tulum, before or after a stop at the seaside ruins. This is a pyramid filled halfway with emptied plastic bottles and a covering of soil that plants grow from. Every visitor gets a piece of paper and pencil to jot down a positive intention or wish that gets sent to the universe. You then stuff the paper in the bottle and climb a ladder to throw it into the pile. The goal is to fill the top of the pyramid with bottles stuffed with positive intentions (~700,000 will fit), and once this is complete, mirrors will reflect the sun’s rays to remind us that positive thoughts are working.
A more tangible wellness experience is perhaps the most perplexing. A pedicure within the popular hot spot of downtown Playa del Carmen is inside a souvenir shop, where you can drop your feet in fish tanks and allow little ravenous fish to dine on your dry skin – an eco-conscious exfoliation, perhaps?
Back at the First Club, it is difficult to depart once you’ve tasted the multicultural atmosphere. But if you have a timeshare, you can return year after year, and are not restricted to the Occidental Grand Xcaret. In fact, the only increase in price to roam from one resort to the next is in the all-inclusive segment. You can switch locations quite easily to delve in luxury somewhere like the Royal Hideaway in nearby Playacar. Think romance with dining on the beach, a concierge for each unit, waterfalls and fountains, private villas and luxury unplugged.
Visit www.OccidentalHotels.com for more information on timesharing and vacation stays in Mexico, Costa Rica, Aruba, Dominican Republic and Colombia.