Attracting 3.3 million tourists a year, Cancun is a popular tourist destination on the eastern coast of Mexico in the Yucatan. High-rise hotels are packed side-by-side on a 14-mile, curving, white sand peninsula called The Hotel Zone, set between the Caribbean Sea and Nichupte Lagoon. The properties here are quite nice, with suitably lavish resort spas.
The pleasures are simple: lounge by the pool, look out at the turquoise sea, drink cocktails, eat out, go to a bar, get a spa treatment, jump on a jet-ski, or stroll on the beach. Oh! Cancun also has golf courses, coral reefs for snorkeling and scuba diving, sport-fishing and jungle tours, or you can take a bus into town for the club scene.
Just south of Cancun, along the Riviera Maya, are the region's most upscale properties, such as Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa, and Grand Velas Riviera Maya. Some have a Temazcal, a traditional sweat lodge, and you can go through the experience with a local shaman.
The Yucatan is the heart of Maya country, so it's worth your while to explore the interior of Quintana Roo to see the famous pyramids of Tulum and other Maya ruins, great flocks of flamingos and bird sanctuaries, sacred fresh water cenotes, and the 500-year-old colonial city of Merida.
The most modest (and most traditional) places to stay are located in the city of Cancun on the mainland, where most of the locals live. Peak season is December to April when the temperature is in the 80s and the humidity is low. It can be steamy during the summer, which is also hurricane season.
Gem Spa at Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Resort
At 43,000 square-feet, this is the largest spa in Cancun's Hotel Zone and one of the best with its gemstone-based treatments -- and therapists who channel the stones' healing powers. All services begin with a ten-stop hydrotherapy circuit guided by a "hydrotherapy butler." It includes an aromatherapy steam room, showers of various temperatures and intensities, clay steam room, sauna, ice room, Jacuzzi, polar plunge pool, footbath and "sensations pool" filled with waterjets of various shapes and pressures. The spa recommends a full 90-minutes for this experience!
The spa is named for many gems that are used in its treatments, including a quartz crystal chakra-balancing massage that takes you to 7th Heaven; a Russian-inspired massage with malachite; a hot stone obsidian massage; a Four-Hands massage with jade, and an Amber and Gold Regenerating Facial.
The Mayan God’s Ritual with Tiger-eye Stone begins with a copal exfoliation (copal resin was used by ancient Mayas and Aztecs in their spiritual ceremonies and is known for revitalizing the spirit.) After, a personalized massage uses a rebozo stretching, which is "Mayan ancient wisdom" to heal sore muscles.
Gem Spa offers several international massage styles, including Balinese, Indian head massage, and a Hawaiian massage called Lumi Juma. And kids from age 5 to 15 can receive a light massage or a facial flavored with chocolate -- another ingredient indigenous to Mexico.
Leblanc Spa Resort
This adults-only resort in the Cancun Hotel Zone is the best place for couples who want time away from children in a spacious room with a two-person tub. Studded with translucent stone candle holders lit from within, the spa's soothing relaxation room is set up for couples (and their friends). Four leather chairs face each other, in between floor to ceiling columns of white curtains, to create a greater sense of privacy.
The must-try treatment here is the Kukulkan, a four-handed Maya-inspired massage ritual that aims to infuse you with the qualities of the jaguar (courage and power), eagle (freedom and vision) and the snake (transformation). The treatment starts with a rain stick and a piece of copal resin, into which you put any negativity, then burn in a fire as a sign of purification and letting go. Two therapists work on you, mirroring each other's movements as they mimic movements of the three spirit animals.
Before your treatment, enjoy the sauna, a steam room, and a hydro-reflexology pool. The spa has 19 Le Blanc D’Or treatment suites, including three master suites with hydrotherapy tubs, five indoor couples suites, nine single suites, one Golden VIP suite, and one Vichy suite, where you can experience a lovely horizontal shower after your body treatment. Yoga and Pilates classes are available, along with a state-of-the-art gym.
Spa at the JW Marriot Cancun Resort
The three-story spa at the JW Marriott Cancun is gorgeous and specializes in traditional Maya massage like Hunab Ku Mayan Massage, which uses abdominal massage, among other techniques. Another favorite is the open-air palapa massage, right on the sandy white beach. The spa also offers a teen massage or facial for those age 12 to 15.
All body treatments are customized and range from a body scrub freshly made with coconut, brown sugar, herbs or mango to soothing after-sun skin care. Enjoy separate lounges for men and women, along with a health bar serving smoothies and fresh-pressed juices: sip one while enjoying lagoon views from the indoor lap pool area. Amenities include a full-service salon and a state-of-the-art fitness center.
The Royal Sands Resort & Spa
This all-inclusive, family-friendly resort in the Hotel Zone has a lovely spa with an extensive list of international massages, from the classic Swedish to bamboo, hot stone, and lomi-lomi. The Thai Samunprai Massage uses warm poultices, cloth bags filled with medicinal herbs including mint, chamomile, eucalyptus, rosemary, and camphor salts and heated with steam. The poultice is combined with gentle stretching and a massage with lavender oil to relieve tension and muscle pain.
If you're on a budget, head to the Xbalamque hotel in the heart of Downtown Cancun, where room rates are much less than in the Hotel Zone. The small-but-impressive spa offers treatments at affordable prices, so another option is to stay in the Hotel Zone but get treatments here.
The group “temazcal” therapy is inspired by the Mayan sweat lodge and uses meditative instruction and medicinal herbs to help you detox and refresh. Other services include aromatherapy, Chinese cupping, shiatsu, sports massage, Thai massage and watsu, a massage that takes place in water. Along with facials and body treatments, it also offers energy treatments including Reiki, crystal therapy and time on an amethyst quartz bed.
If you want to cross a fish pedicure off your spa bucket list, Cancun is the place to do it. Also known as ictiotherapy, this service got its start in Asia but is now a popular way to pass the time at the Cancun airport. Slip your feet into cool water and relax while hundreds of garra rufa, a type of carp that ranges in size from one to two-and-a-half inches, literally suck the dead skin cells from your feet. (The carp have no teeth.) It is said to tickle rather pleasantly.
At Kukulkan Plaza in downtown Cancun, Wayan Fish Spa offers an expanded menu where the options include hand therapy, foot therapy, and if you are really brave, whole body therapy with over 800 fish.