July, 2010 Laurie Heifetz / New York Post
Stunning flora. Sanctuaries of pink flamingos and crocodiles strolling about in their natural setting. There’s nothing quite like the Mayan jungles of Mexico. Sitting right in the middle of it is the Grand Mayan, a deluxe hotel on the Yucatan peninsula along the country’s east coast.
You’re probably more familiar with Cancun, just to the north, but traveling 20 minutes down the coast from its busy airport is worth the car rental. At the Grand Mayan resort, vacationers enjoy high-end dining such as Gong restaurant, which serves up langostino tail cooked over volcanic stone at your table. Sushi, too. Or the Tramonto, a combination Italian restaurant and American steakhouse, where diners can enjoy Chateaubriand and pasta specialties. Service was impeccable, even more so than the usual friendliness for which Mexicans are famous.
The Ocean Breeze Hotel, just a short, shuttle-bus ride away, is also one of the properties owned and operated by Grupo Vidanta. Chef Alejandro prepared delicious chicken fajitas for us poolside at the cafe, La Terraza. The pretty, 98-room boutique hotel, popular with honeymooners and others seeking quiet, opened in March.
Pink flamingos peered closely at tourists visiting Xcaret (pronounced “Eeshcaret”) park, with colorful birds calling and spider monkeys moving about nearby. The animals were not in the wild, but in natural habitats without cages called sanctuarios. Some people posed for photos with red or green macaws.
The best part of going to Aktun Chen natural park was a cave, where we walked around columns and saw stalactites, stalagmites and fossilized coral and shells. And then, all of a sudden, we came upon a giant sinkhole, called a cenote, with green subterranean water.
The highlight of Alltournative’s Maya Encounter was meeting with a shaman (shown above) whose role is to connect humans with divine forces. Although we didn’t end up rappelling into a cenote afterwards, the Mayans believe that, because it is a sacred place, people must first ask permission of their gods in order to enter. The personable shaman performed a ceremony getting us in touch with the four elements (or gods) in the Mayan religion: earth, water, air and fire. He told us that his religion is Mother Nature.
Earlier in the day at Coba, an archaeological site, we climbed some of the 120 steps of the Nohoch Muul temple, the tallest pyramid in the state.
On another day, we swam with the dolphins and played with the manatees at Dolphin Discovery, a place of aquatic adventure. The highlights were the “dorsal tow,” holding onto the fins of two dolphins while swimming. Then there was the “foot-push” — when I held my arms up high in the air, the dolphins conveyed me across the water as they applied pressure to the bottom of my feet.
We later traveled to the breathtaking Xpu-Ha Beach (pronounced “Sh-pu-hah”). Located on a bay, its clear, turquoise water made it seem as if you were in a tranquil pool, with sparkling, white sand under your feet. I swam laps until the blue sky became gray, threatening rain. My companion and I ducked into the Al Cielo beach restaurant, which translates as “to the sky,” where we witnessed a small twister on the horizon for a few minutes. That didn’t scare us away from the mouth-watering New Zealand lamb chops and a beautifully-presented salad.
This setting, the site of the famous Corona beer commercials, was just about as opposite from crowded Manhattan as a place can be.