hidden gem hotels

Cool ‘Hidden Gem’ Hotels in Cancun

Cancun is widely regarded as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico and for good reason. It has gained worldwide fame thanks to its breathtaking white beaches, strategic position, exquisite hotels and the energy and warmth that the inhabitants possess.

As such, zeroing in on the best hotels can be quite difficult especially during the popular season when tourist droves throng into the hotel zone area. Fortunately, there are more than 150 hotels in and around Cancun that you can choose from. Below are some of the hidden gem hotels in Cancun where you can have a quieter and serene time.

1. HOTEL PLAZA KOKAI

The Hotel Plaza Kokai is 13 km from Interactive Aquarium Cancun and is situated in a casual and unassuming complex in one of the most important residential areas in Cancun. It is among the best places to stay if you want to conveniently explore downtown Cancun. It is just 3 km from the nearest beach.

This hotel has a range of large serviced rooms including 2 bedroom suites with extra bathrooms. Hotel Plaza Kokai also boasts of a casual bar and restaurant where regular karaoke and live performances are hosted. Other amenities include free Wi-Fi and cable TV, laundry services, large outdoor pool, sundeck and a beach club access.

http://hotel-plaza-kokai-cancun.com/

2. HOTEL AND SPA XBALAMQUE

The Mayan-inspired Xbalamque resort and spa in downtown Cancun is located about 3 km from Playa Las Perlas. It is a kid-friendly 3-star hotel that features both indoor and outdoor pools (and spa) as well as a basement nightclub where you can enjoy live music and an Italian bistro. Feel free to try out the exotic cuisine at the serene Mexican restaurant.

It bears large terracotta tiled rooms and suites where the friendly staff offers complimentary room and laundry service. Additional amenities include free Wi-Fi, complimentary parking, shuttle services, spacious garden, beauty salon, terrace with cafe and a live performance theater.

http://www.xbalamque.com/english

3. THE CARIBBEAN PRINCESS RESORT

The Caribbean Princess Resort is among the hotels in the Cancun hotel zone that have the best rates. This 4-star hotel borders a lagoon and is separated from the sea by one road. In terms of location, the Caribbean Princess hotel is the best value for your money in Cancun yet it is often overlooked by many tourists.

Just 4 km away is the center of Cancun while Cancun International Airport is about 30 km from the resort. You can have a great time at The La Boom nightclub situated only 200 meters from The Caribbean Princess. This resort boasts of two swimming pools, a Jacuzzi, a spa complete with treatments, climate controlled restaurant, bar, and a poolside snack bar.

You can engage in several sporting activities the resort offers including volleyball, canoeing, and table tennis. The hotel also organizes a golf program at the nearby Pok Ta Pok golf course. Additional amenities and facilities include medical facilities, free Wi-Fi and cable TV, room and laundry services, conference rooms, coffee shop/cafe, in-room safes and phone services.

http://the-caribbean-princess.cancun-hotels.org/en/

4. HOTEL CANCUN HANDALL

Hotel Cancun Handall is a 3-star hotel located relatively close to the center of Cancun (30 minutes’ walk) where you can conveniently enjoy Cancun’s best amenities. The Cancun International airport is 20 minutes’ drive from this budget gem. Hotel Cancun offers more than 40 rooms each bearing laundry services and climate control to ensure you experience the most pleasant time in Cancun.

It has a large outdoor pool and a children’s swimming pool with a poolside snack bar. Other amenities include a rooftop terrace, free Wi-Fi, cable TV and parking, safety deposit box, conference room, shuttle services and designated smoking areas.

http://www.hotelcancunhandall.com/

5. MANSION GIAHN

If you are looking for a low-key accommodation option away from the busy city life at the best rates then Mansion Giahn Bed and Breakfast is the place for you. It is located in Cancun suburb 10 minutes’ drive from Cancun center and 15 minutes’ drive from the beach. Mansion Giahn houses 11 rooms with private bathrooms and modern interior design.

You can enjoy a walk in its tropical garden and its two outdoor swimming pools. Also, there are local restaurants and a convenience store in close proximity to the hotel. Additional amenities include valet parking, shuttle services, free Wi-Fi, laundry service, babysitting service, salon and designated smoking areas.

http://www.mansiongiahnbedandbreakfast.com/

6. HOTEL ANTILLANO

Antillano hotel is located about a quarter of a mile from downtown Cancun, 15 minutes’ drive from Cancun International Airport and around 3 km from the beautiful white sand of Playa Las Perlas. This 3-star hotel is surprisingly laid back with 48 leisurely air-conditioned and serviced rooms and suites at very affordable rates.

Former guests are often quick to praise the friendly and professional staff you will interact with at Antillano hotel. It features a fully stocked lobby bar and large outdoor swimming pool. Other amenities at this hotel include free Wi-Fi and cable TV, complementary private parking and laundry services.

http://www.hotelantillano.com/esp/

7. HOTEL BATAB

Hotel Batab in located in downtown Cancun some 20 km from Cancun International Airport and 14 km from Interactive Aquarium Cancun. The hotel is Arab inspired and while it is a 3-star hotel, it boasts of some of the best amenities in the area. It houses a low profile bar and a beautiful outdoor restaurant.

It is perfectly suitable for family events and offers very affordable rates. Some of the amenities include free Wi-Fi, free cable TV, complementary double parking, room service and an airport shuttle.

http://hotelbatab.com/

8. HOTEL TANKAH

This traditional and modest hotel is conveniently situated in the heart of Cancun (Supermanzana district) yet it is quite easy to miss. It is situated in the midst of residential and commercial properties and is among the most affordable hotels in the district. It is a little over 4 km away from the Playa Las Perlas beach.

The rooms and suites have a laid back look and feel to them with simple but beautiful interior design. It features a swimming pool, air conditioning, private parking, free Wi-Fi, free cable TV, safety deposit box, room service and laundry service.

There are many other cool hidden gem hotels in Cancun including but not limited to Hotel Casa Maya, Hotel Plaza Caribe, Suites El Patio, Hotel Imperial Las Perlas, The Iberostar Paraiso Lindo and The Paraiso de la Bonita Resort. It is important to note that you should make prior reservations before travelling to Cancun.

http://www.hoteltankah.com/

Tulum in Mexico

The setting of Tulum is perfect. It is something out of a James Bond movie. The dramatic Mayan ruins of Tulum stand on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean sea.

To visitors, Tulum can mean several things. First, it’s one of the most picturesque of all the ancient Maya sites, poised on fifteen-metre-high cliffs above the impossibly turquoise Caribbean. Tulum also refers to a stretch of broad, white beach that’s the finest in the Riviera Maya, dotted with lodging options that range from bare-bones to ultra-swank; many of them, as well as many ultra-casual beach bars, still show their backpacker-friendly roots in style, if no longer in price. Finally, it’s a booming town (often called Tulum Pueblo to distinguish it from the beach) that has evolved from roadside waystation to real population centre, where visitors can arrange tours into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, among other things.
tulum mexico
Tulum was an important port and trading center for the Yucatan’s east coast Maya. Within the walls of the city lies a series of platforms and buildings, including ruined palaces and elevated temples. The most impressive structure is “El Castillo”. The temple of the Frescos is also interesting. It has murals that are similar to the designs of the Paris Codex, one of the few surviving Mayan books.

Go early to Tulum, no later than 9:00 a.m. to avoid the bus loads from Cancun. This area has heavy tourist traffic. Large market, bargaining is expected. The pueblo has Money exchanges at good rates.

The little town of Tulum is slowly developing to offer various services (like an Internet Cafe for example) phone service, and more. There are several very good local restaurants and a few on the beach in the various properties in the hotel area on the beach that are absolutely wonderful and still very cost effective.

Accommodation:

Although Tulum’s beach is an obvious draw, you may want to stay in town if you arrive late in the day, have a limited amount of time (and money) or prefer hot water round-the-clock. Hotels in the zona hotelera along the beach road do not connect to the electric grid, relying instead on varying combinations of solar panels, windmills and diesel generators; most have power for only about six hours in the evening. Depending on your point of view, the candle-lit ambience is rustic charm or expensive primitivism, and the thatched palapa roofs on most places can be a liability in the rain. Basic sand- or cement-floor cabañas made this area famous with hippie backpackers, but they’re in short supply now (and are plagued with reports of theft), as ritzier places, with prices to match, have sprung up. There are now very few mid-range beds on the beach, and, as in Playa del Carmen, most hotels also charge high-season rates in the European holiday period of July and August.

Playa Del Carmen in Mexico

Once a soporific fishing village where travellers camped out en route to Cozumel, Playa del Carmen (often called simply Playa) has mushroomed in recent years to become a trendy place touted as the next Miami Beach – and, from a local’s perspective, a goldmine of employment in construction. Not only do Mexico City’s elite pop in, but so do day-trippers from Cancún and passengers from cruise ships. As a result, the town’s main centre of activity, Avenida 5 (also called La Quinta), a long, pedestrianized strip one block back from the sea, is often packed to capacity with tourists rapidly emptying their wallets in pavement cafés, souvenir outlets and designer-clothes shops.

playa del carmen
Nonetheless, the low-rise development and numerous European-owned businesses make it, compared with Cancún, seem positively cosmopolitan and calm. The nightlife in particular has a hip edge, and you will also find sophisticated cuisine, hotels for most budgets and diverse shops. Everywhere visitors will want to go is compact and pedestrianfriendly – even a walk to the Playa Norte, the better beach on the north side of town, is an easy one.
Playa, as the locals call it, is a beach-side city located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. You generally fly into Cancun airport then transfer to Playa, which is an hour’s drive.

Playa del Carmen stretches from the beach west to highway 307 and beyond, however the tourist zone is the area along the coast. Most tourist buses pull into Playa turning off the highway at Benito Juarez Avenue and drive to the downtown bus station which is located right on 5th Avenue. The ferry docks to Cozumel are located close to the bus station as well. This is the busiest spot in all of Playa.

5th Avenue [Quinto Avenida] is the main street that runs parallel to the ocean. It’s around 500 meters from the water. In between the water and 5th are hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, Inns, Rentals, Timeshares, and restaurants. It is commonly referred to as, “Playa del Carmen’s Pedestrian Walkway”.
Along 5th Avenue you will find numerous stores selling interesting items as well as restaurants and hotels. There are clothing stores selling the latest trends from Europe as well as Cuban Cigar and Rum stores. It is a vibrant atmosphere reminiscent of a carnival. We have seen live lions, fire breathers, giant boa constrictors and a cavalcade of characters parading down 5th.
There are also lots of bars along 5th making it a good place to party. The after hour clubs swing into action after 12:00. These clubs are located on the beach away from the majority of hotels and resorts because of the noise level.
Intersecting with 5th are streets that all lead to the beach. Along many of these streets are dive-shops, convenience stores, hotels, tour operators, Internet cafes, currency exchanges, and restaurants. All the beaches in Playa are open to the public.
Playa’s beaches are nice. Along 5th, in the tourist zone the beaches are all clean white sand, not white powder. There is some coral but not much. The seaweed and other garbage is cleaned up every day. Within a short walk to almost any point on the Playa main beach is a bar/restaurant. There are also a number of snorkeling, dive and fishing boats ready to take you out.
The beaches closest to the ferry docks are the busiest and you have to walk either north or south to find seclusion. Outside the tourist zone the beaches are lined with jungle.
The restaurants along 5th are mostly Italian but there are American restaurants and Mexican restaurants that cook American style food with some Mexican dishes. Off 5th on any of the intersecting streets that head away from the beach you will start to find Mexican restaurants as well as numerous Italian cafes.
The farther away from 5th Avenue you go the cheaper things get. You also will find the best Mexican restaurants not far from 5th on 30th, which puts you in Mexican territory, out of the tourista zona. In fact, in-between 5th and 30th are all kinds of interesting stores selling everything you can think of, from live chickens to computers.
If you’re there during the summer and have kids then this is the perfect place to get your school clothing. You will find all the latest trends here. The Mexicans are right on top of fashion.
There are lots of Europeans in Playa, mostly from Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Americans have always been going to Playa. More Canadians would go but for the outrageous airfares.
At night 5th Avenue comes alive. Couples, all dressed up, head out for dinner. The young girls are decked out in their new acquisitions, hair braided. International bohemians walk the strip, many know each other, and it’s a friendly place.
Many Mexicans visit Playa for their vacations as well. Don’t be surprised if the family across the hall are Mexicans. Just say Hola and you will have new friends.
There are banks, money exchanges, pharmacies all over the place. Playa is not that big and everything the vacationer might need is within the tourist zone. You can walk up 5th Avenue in about 45 minutes but the main strip is only around a kilometer long. After the main strip there are still hotels and stores but they are not as plentiful, however the area north of Constytiones is under development.
Accommodation

Hotels are being built all the time in Playa, so you will have no difficulty finding a room. Competition keeps prices relatively low, but it’s still virtually impossible to get a room for less than M$400 in high season – which here includes the European vacation months of July and August, as well as mid-December to April. In general, the further from the water, the cheaper the accommodation; the central beach is somewhat eroded, so seafront hotels are generally not good value. Hotels on Avenida 5 can be noisy due to the bars.

Merida in Mexico

Even if practically every road didn’t lead to Mérida, it would still be an inevitable stop. Nicknamed “La Ciudad Blanca” after its white limestone buildings (now covered in peeling layers of gem-coloured paint), the capital of Yucatán state is in every sense the leading city of the peninsula, with a population of some 1.6 million. But within its historic core, there’s a sense of small-town graciousness coupled with an extremely lively and sometimes avant-garde cultural scene.
Also known as “White City” because of the large use of white limestone and white paint this traditional city depicts much of the splendor of Colonial Mexico. This is by no means to say that Merida still exists in a time warp and the contrary could be said. There is old and new exhibited in everything from fashion to architecture.
The Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo founded present day Merida in 1542. An insight into the horrendous pain and suffering of the people who were brutalized by the conquering conquistadors exists in magnificent paintings that are on display in the Governor’s Palace located in downtown Merida. Left in seclusion for many years because of the difficulty of traveling to Merida the people of this region have cultivated a distinct contemporary society that is unique in Mexico.
Merida is a safe place to visit and the people are warm and friendly. Being such a close-knit society I took it to mean that violent acts of crime are simply not committed here that often because they are more or less one big family. It draws thousands of visitors, both Mexican and foreign, and has seen a rash of expat investment in the last decade. But even as the buzz increases, the city retains its grace and manners: every street in the centre boasts a well-maintained colonial church or museum, and locals still ride in little horse-drawn taxis, which gather by the plaza in the evenings. Not only can you live well here, but you can also find good beaches nearby, and it’s a great base for excursions to the Maya sites of Uxmal and Chichén Itzá.
There is lots of traffic in Merida, especially downtown. Taking the local bus can be tricky if you do not speak Spanish. The majority of streets are one-way and the bus routes wind all over the place and if you are not on top of things you can end walking more than you expected. If you are in relatively good shape and don’t mind the heat (it’s hot in the summer) then you can walk to almost every attraction if you stay near the downtown main plaza. This is a great way to get to know the city and once you figure out the street numbering system, getting lost is unlikely.
The biggest problem you will encounter in Merida is finding a hotel with a swimming pool that fits into your budget. You may want to inquire if the pool is indeed in operation before you make your booking if you feel you need to have the use of a pool, especially in the summer months.
Merida is nothing like Cancun or Playa del Carmen and if you want to experience Mexican culture while staying relatively close to the Caribbean Sea then Merida is a great place to go. There are lots of interesting shops to browse in, if you seek some familiarity, the Merida WalMart is well stocked and also has a food-court.
Outstanding regional dishes and traditional music and dances local to this region can be found in restaurants, theatres and shops housed both near the main plaza and in palatial mansions along Paseo de Montejo – a boulevard fashioned after Paris’ Champs Elysée. Progreso, Merida’s port city, is 30 kilometers north and is an interesting area to visit to see the salt-flats and flamingos.
Being centrally located, Merida is a practical hub to explore numerous ruin sites and ecological wonders. Many charters fly into Merida or you can take a four-hour bus ride from Cancun. There are also two highways connecting Cancun and Merida plus many roads winding their way through the jungle from Tulum.
Eating and drinking

Good restaurants are plentiful in the centre of Mérida, though the best (and some of the least expensive) are open only for lunch. At dinner, many restaurants are a bit overpriced and cater largely to foreigners; locals tend to frequent the snack stalls on Plaza Santa Ana (Calle 60 at Calle 47) and Parque de Santiago (Calle 59 between calles 70 and 72) for panuchos, salbutes and sopa de lima.
There are also sidewalk cafés on the Parque Hidalgo, along Calle 60 between calles 61 and 59. Juice bars – notably Jugos California, on the southwest corner of the plaza – serve all the regular juices, as well as home-made root beer, and La Parroquia (Calle 62 between calles 65 and 67) is a lechería, serving cinnamon-laced chocolate milk, fruit plates and yogurt. The bakery Pan Montejo, at the corner of calles 62 and 63, also makes a good breakfast.
Accommodation

Although Mérida can get crowded at peak times, you should always be able to find a good, reasonably priced hotel room. Unless you have a very early bus to catch, there’s not much point in staying in the grimier area near the main bus stations, nor in the generic upmarket hotels along Paseo de Montejo; the far more desirable options are all within a few blocks of the central plaza – which is still just a long walk or a short cab ride from the furthest transport and sights. In addition to the usual hotels, Mérida has excellent B&Bs, smaller inns and even hostels, all housed in converted old homes complete with vintage tile floors and lofty ceilings.