Imagine this, you’ve arrived to a resort and entered the lobby of the building. You check in and began making your way through the rest of the building out to the start of the property. As you leave the lobby you begin walking on a paved path that winds its way through lawns of green grass that have been decorated with small gardens, alive with colorful and fragrant tropical flowers.
Shading the gardens are towering palm trees and between them you start to see the buildings that hold guest rooms. The path continues to wind through the property, offering magnificent garden views until you feel the kiss of the salty breeze against your face. You feel the warmth of the Caribbean Sea but have yet to place your eyes on it.
You drop your bag in your room and continue to follow the path until you reach a pool so blue, with water so clear that it doesn’t look real. You see loungers and hammocks but your eyes find the palm trees and like a magnet you are drawn to them.
Moving towards them you follow a short brick wall until an opening appears that allows you access to the beach. You pause for a moment as your toes hit the sand and let the scent of coconut oil fill your nose.
Following the sand you weave your way through more palm trees until the tree line disappears behind you and you’re alone with the sea. The only thing separating you from the turquoise waters of the Caribbean is a single stretch of the glimmering white sand.
Looking to the right then the left, you discover that the beach gives way to a protected lagoon showing off to you an impressive display of color variants as the gentle waves lap the shore, begging you to jump in for a swim.
It takes you a minute to realize that you’re not in a dream. That paradise is real and that you’ve found it, in the Riviera Maya.
Celebrating 15 Years of Travel Together
It’s hard to believe that 15 years has come and gone since we took our first trip together in 2003. In many ways it feels like just yesterday we boarded a plane in Minneapolis, Minnesota southbound for Cancun, Mexico.
While it wasn’t the first time either of us had left the country, it was the first trip we would ever take together. It was a trip that would forever embed travel into our relationship and show us a small glimpse of what travel would become to us later in life.
It was the typical vacation package, 8 days & 7 nights on an all-inclusive package in paradise. All the amenities you could ever want at your fingertips and the overwhelming beauty of the Riviera Maya all around us.
We discovered what it was like to be away from home together, we spent our days playing in the Caribbean Sea, lounging by the pool, exploring the area and enjoying the entertainment. We fell in love with Mexico on that trip and knew that the Yucatan would always be a special place to us.
15 years later, we decided it was time to return and celebrate more than a decade of travels together. We spent a week reliving the moments we loved from 2003, rediscovering the now expanded Barcelo Maya Grand Resort and creating new memories in our beloved Riviera Maya.
Barcelo Maya Grand Resort
Pulling up in front of the lobby was a time warp for us. From the moment we arrived at the entrance and saw the towering white letters of the word ‘Barcelo’ we were overwhelmed by memories.
It’s funny how seeing one familiar thing can trigger memories you didn’t know you still had. The next week would turn out to be a special combination of remembering our previous adventures and developing a whole new view of the property.
On our first visit, the resort featured 5 buildings as one resort. This time around, the property has grown into 5 intertwining properties all tied together as the Barcelo Maya Grand Resort and it is nothing short of grand.
As luck would have it, we were booked into one of their new premium rooms that features swim up access to your room from a private pool. The room would be in one of the original Barcelo Maya Beach Resort buildings, now called the Barcelo Maya Caribe.
We are very much the type of travelers that like to get out and explore. This means we’re not always looking for options that offer everything you need in one place. However, for a relaxing vacation having an all-inclusive option is second to nothing.
The Barcelo Maya Grand Resort features 16 restaurants and 15 bars with each one strategically located throughout the property for your convenience. Needless to say, no matter where you are on the property you’re no more than a few steps away from a place to dine.
The same can be said for the bar access, including swim up bars in each of their 7 pools. The staff is friendly and learned to recognize us almost immediately. They would see us coming and our drinks would be ready and waiting on the bar when we got there. It’s a personalized service we don’t find everywhere in our travels.
Property aside, the Barcelo Maya Grand Resort sits on one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the Riviera Maya, featuring two huge horseshoe shaped lagoons with perfect translucent waters. This sets the stage for enjoying the wide array of complimentary non-motorized water sports that the resort offers, including snorkeling, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, small catamarans, wind surfing and tricycle pontoons.
There was nowhere to go on the property that didn’t offer something complimentary to indulge in during our stay. If nothing else, you can spend your days soaking in the pools or catching up on your reading on the beach. The swaying palm trees set the stage for a perfect stay.
It was really the strangest thing to be walking around a property that we visited 15 years ago! So much was the same, yet so much had been added or improved at the same time. I think that Barcelo did a nice job of keeping the charming parts of the original property and incorporating them into the new mega resort that stands there today.
Kantun Chi Eco Park
As adventurers, even in the most lavish of places, we can’t sit still sometimes. Try as we might, we couldn’t visit the Riviera Maya without dipping our toes into a cenote or two. Not wanting to spend hours in a van, a quick Google search returned the fabulous Kantun Chi Eco Park just across the road from the Barcelo Maya Grand Resort.
So we packed our cameras and went for a walk. The entrance is literally just across the road from the resort- of course use caution when crossing the busy highway- but arriving is very easy. A short walk from the highway up the driveway found us at the office where we purchased tickets, rented snorkeling gear and began our adventure in the jungle.
The Kantun Chi Eco Park boasts an extensive underground river system and also 4 separate cenotes that you can access along the trails. One of them is completely in the open and is a literal oasis, painting the perfect scene that had you dreaming of the Riviera Maya in the first place. The others are a combination between partially obstructed and fully covered cenotes giving you a chance to experience a variety.
Tickets for the cenotes and underground river system are different, they do not offer an all access pass. We chose the cenote ticket simply so we could go on our own, without a tour and have the time we needed to take photos and explore. If you want to see the underground river, it is required that you join a group tour and be guided.
Overall, we found the eco park to be a wonderful experience and a great place to access cenotes while staying at the Barcelo Maya Grand Resort. The entrance was reasonable, $20USD per person, and it was not very crowded. That said, I highly recommend getting there first thing in the morning so can have the whole place to yourself.
Planning Your Own Escape to Barcelo Maya Grand Resort
The Riviera Maya is a stretch of coastline where the Yucatan Peninsula meets the Caribbean Sea. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world and lucky for everyone, can be accessed very easily from Cancun.
Flying into Cancun is very easy, as many major cities in the USA, Canada and other international countries offer direct flight options. Once arriving into Cancun, the Riviera Maya is accessible by car, van, taxi and bus. Officially starting just north of Puerto Morelos, the Riviera Maya zone stretches south all the way to Punta Allen, covering a distance of approximately 93 miles.
Planning a stay at the Barcelo Maya Grand Resort is easy, the hardest part will be deciding how many days you should stay! While the property features 5 hotels, staying at one gives you access to the entire grounds. All the bars, all the buffets, all the pools, all the beaches and all the fun stuff.
This part of the world is an extremely popular vacation destination because it not only boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but offers an endless array of adventure, historical, natural and cultural options during a visit. You are, after all, in the heart of the Mayan Jungle and the ruins of lost civilizations surround the area.
Being a beach bum is great but be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to learn about a new culture, meet local people, have an adventure and enjoy this beautiful piece of the planet that we hold so dear to us.
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Disclaimer: This post is made possible in collaboration with the Barcelo Maya Grand Resort, who loved the idea of us revisiting the property where we took our first trip together. All opinions, self professed love for the Riviera Maya and celebrating of 15 years of travel together are 100% mine. As always.