March 22, 2023

Destination of the week

A view of the “Silent Evolution” sculpture at the Underwater Museum.Cancun is more than a party beach

By Jeanette Settembre From New York Daily News

There are remnants of Mayan culture, underwater museums and fascinating water holes to explore

Cancun is known as a spring break drinking destination where college kids wreak havoc at gimmicky nightclubs — but we’ve discovered an intoxicatingly beautiful, tamer side.

The key is taking day trips from the city off the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Whether you’re gazing up at the towering pyramid tops of the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, or snorkeling beneath the Caribbean Sea in the world’s largest underwater sculpture museum, you’ll be glad you ventured out.

But before you do, settle right in Cancun at Punta Nizuc — a secluded enclave just 10 minutes from the city’s airport. Nizuc Resort and Spa, a 29-acre property that was formerly a private Mexican presidential retreat, boasts two private white sand beaches overlooking stunning views of the turquoise Caribbean. Add the infinity pools and swim-up bar, and it’s no wonder celebs like Neil Patrick Harris and Kevin Spacey, along with New York Giant Victor Cruz, have flocked to this serene spot.

Even more relaxing is the resort’s Nizuc Spa by Espa. Opt for the Nizuc Thermal Experience, which takes you through a maze of 10 hot and cold treatments including an aromatic steam room, ice bath, sauna, a cold plunge pool and thermic lounge chairs. Customers spend 10 to 15 minutes at each spa station during the treatment that lasts about 50 minutes. The heat treatments are designed to relax muscles while the cold stations help stimulate circulation. After you leave, you’ll feel fully rejuvenated — and ready to explore.

A must-see is The Underwater Museum of Art, called MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte). Installations are scattered beneath the crystal clear water surrounding Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Punta Nizuc, and can be explored by diving or snorkeling.

The area is home to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef in the world, and divers and snorkelers can swim among schools of fish and sea turtles while admiring more than 400 life-size concrete sculptures .

The environmentally friendly sculptures are designed to serve as artificial reefs made from materials that allow marine life to breed. Each work has a symbolic meaning. Must-see statues include the Man on Fire, a life-size figure of a man with 75 holes cut into it that are filled with fast-growing fire coral. Artist Jason DeCaires Taylor, who created each sculpture, tried to depict a man unaware that he was on fire to symbolize people being oblivious of how their actions affect nature. Look but don’t touch — fire coral can leave a nasty sting.

Another intriguing work is the Dream Collector, which features a man writing in a journal. The statue symbolizes hope, loss, fear and belonging.

There are two different locations to set out to see the exhibits: one is in Punta Nizuc (at the southern tip of Cancun’s hotel zone) which boasts a shallow 13-foot deep snorkeling area to see the 23 sculptures; the other is at Salon Manchones — off the coast of Isla Mujeres — a small island six miles northeast of Cancun. That area contains 475 sculptures that are 27 feet deep. Public viewing is year-round, but you’ll need to sign up with a tour guide to access the conservation area (about $60 for a two-hour tour via

For another excursion, we traveled two hours west of Cancun to Chichen Itza to see the the ruins of a mysterious ancient city that once centered the Mayan empire from A.D. 750 to 1200.

The most recognizable stone structure is the Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo. This marvel has 365 steps — one for each day of the year — with each of the temple’s four sides containing 91 steps. The top of the platform makes the 365th. Twice a year, a shadow falls on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent during the spring and autumn equinoxes. At sunset, this shadowy serpent descends the steps to eventually meet a stone serpent head at the base of the structure. If you clap your hands in front of the statue, you can hear the echoing sound of a bird chirping. Scientists believe the Maya may have built their pyramids to create specific sound effects, in this case, to imitate the chirping of the sacred quetzal bird.

The Mayans’ astronomy knowledge was so advanced they designed an observatory that allowed them to predict solar eclipses. The structure, called El Caracol, which is dated to about A.D. 906, was used by the Mayans as a lookout to the heavens.

All that sightseeing can work up an appetite. Before leaving Chichen Itza, stop off for a Mexican buffet at Hacienda Chichen Resort. There, we salivated over the tacos al pastor, a dish developed in Central Mexico. Pork is marinated in a zesty combination of dried chiles and spices and slow-cooked to perfection on a vertical rotisserie.

After lunch we visited the Ik Kil Cenote, a 130-foot deep, natural water pit beneath a limestone cave just a few miles away from the Chichen Itza ruins. The city’s only permanent water source comes from these sinkhole wells used for irrigation and religious ceremonies.

Visitors can dive in, swim or snorkel in the refreshingly cool water. Legend has it that young Mayan men and women were thrown into the massive pool as a sacrifice to the god of rain.

But visiting the area now is nothing but relaxing.

If you go…

Getting there: AeroMexico offers roundtrip flights to Cancun International Airport from JFK starting at around $350. Many other airlines also fly to Cancun from NYC-area airports.

Stay: Nizuc Resort and Spa. Rooms start at $590 per night. Visit

Do: Explore the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza. For full-day tours visit

Eat: The buffet at Hacienda Chichen Resort (, in Chichen Itza.

Nizuc Resort and Spa boasts two white sand beaches.
EFE OUT ISRAEL LEAL/AP The archeological site of Chichen Itza is famed for the remnants of an ancient Mayan civilization.
A view of the “Silent Evolution” sculpture at the Underwater Museum.
The “Dream Collector” sculpture at Museo Subacuatico de Arte.
Sailing along the blue Caribbean Sea is one of the benefits of visiting the Cancun area. JEANETTE SETTEMBRE/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Rooms at Nizuc Resort and Spa have modern decor, and many have sea views.
The infinity pool at Nizuc Resort and Spa is inviting.
Tacos al pastor at Hacienda Chichen. Pork is marinated in a combination of dried chiles and spices and slow-cooked on a vertical rotisserie.

For more on this story go to:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About ieyenews

Speak Your Mind