Put aside those memories of raucous spring breaks spent south of the border: Mexico is perfect for a grown-up, post-nuptial trip. Cancún, one of the best-known resort destinations, is a draw for those seeking a vibrant party scene where they can let loose. Playa del Carmen, in the heart of the Riviera Maya, has a more refined, cosmopolitan feel. Both offer posh accommodations, long stretches of gorgeous beaches and the perfect dose of romantic getaway. Whether you want to thoroughly detox your psyche of wedding-planning stress, pretend that your reception never wrapped up, or find something in between, these popular destinations offer luxury, style and comfort, just hours from Philly.
BY DAY: Wherever you stay, relax by the unbelievably gorgeous Caribbean Sea and marvel at how a single body of water manages to capture so many shades of blue, from nearly clear aqua to the deepest royal. At ME Cancún, you can wake up gently at the Relaxation Deck section of the pool and beach, then move to the adults-only Beach Club, where a DJ spins on Fridays and Saturdays until 6 p.m. Take your pick between the pristine white sand or a poolside perch; either way, reserve a canopied bali bed for semiprivate snuggling.
The tranquil YHI Spa at Gran Meliá, with its Zen-feeling individual treatment rooms—separate little cabins perched above a series of ponds and connected by wooden walkways—is the perfect setting in which to let go of whatever residual planning stress you’re still carrying. If you somehow manage to stay awake through your treatment, peep the colorful fishes swimming beneath the glass floor below your massage bed.
Should you muster enough energy for exploring, there’s Xel-Há, a geological park in nearby Tulum, where you can snorkel, swim with dolphins, bike along shaded trails and tour the ruins of an ancient Mayan city. And Cancún’s La Isla and Luxury Avenue shopping centers, both easy to find on the Boulevard Kukulcán, offer familiar names (Gucci, Carolina Herrera) as well as luxe local retailers.
BY NIGHT: Nothing is more romantic than the barefoot dinner for two at ME, a surf-and-turf spread served on the sand. Afterward, head to the Rose Bar for a nightcap or the Beach Club for dancing. At Gran Meliá, don’t miss nightly live music performed in the Lobby Bar: Sounds reverberate through the main section of the hotel, which glitters with tiny lights all around. If it’s alone time you crave, hole up in your room for a movie night—the concierge will order a pay-per-view selection and provide the popcorn. Want to take in a little local flavor? Walk Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue, the town’s main street and a 24/7 hub of activity, for a variety of bars, shops and restaurants.
WHAT TO EAT: These properties break the stereotype that “all-inclusive” is code for “lackluster dining options.” Bring your appetite to the Water Grill at ME for Argentine churrasco, an endless parade of grilled meats carved tableside from giant skewers, plus sides such as cheese empanadas and sautéed shrimp. At Gran Meliá’s Ku-Nah, sip a refreshing tamarind margarita while indecisively poring over the menu of impeccable modern Mexican fare, like cactus salad, beet and chayote “ceviche,” and sea bass al pastor.
WHERE TO STAY: ME Cancún has a decidedly European feel, despite its North American location. From the moment you set foot in the sweeping, cavernous lobby, you’ll be struck with the sense that this is where the beautiful people stay. Sculpture by Yuri Zatarain is ubiquitous, from the dramatic assemblage of sirens outside the hotel’s entryway to the fish-like forms on walls throughout the property. The splurge-worthy Level rooms on the 10th floor are honeymoon-perfect: spacious rain showers, king beds and minibars stocked with playful treats like chocolate body paint and “mobile intimacy kits."
If ME is for those who appreciate fashion and fun, Gran Meliá is better suited to architecture aficionados and those craving a fully restorative escape. Verdant on the inside with vines spilling down the walls, this resort’s grand design mimics breathtaking pyramids as a nod to Mexico’s Mayan heritage. For a more intimate feel and deluxe service—we’re talking about having your own personal butler—opt for a room in the exclusive Red Level section of the hotel.
Paradisus Playa del Carmen, open November 30th, offers an entire adults-only wing, La Perla, which has 394 modern appointed rooms—including some with swim-up pool access, others with private terraces and outdoor Jacuzzis, and all with views of either the ocean or the bay.
WHAT TO PACK: Resort casual is the stated dress code for all three properties, though if you choose ME, you’ll want to bring your chicest caftans for daytime and some cocktail dresses for evenings—not because the hotel requires them, but because when you’re surrounded by this many stylish people, you’ll want to look your finest. Don’t forget your passport.
BEST TIMES TO GO: Though Mexico is beautiful year-round, May and November are great times to visit; rates are generally lower than in peak season, and you’ll miss both hurricane season (July through October) and summer’s scorching temperatures.
NEWLYWED NEWS: These resorts are eager to arrange in-room champagne, couples massages, and other romantic perks. Ask about options when booking.
GETTING THERE: Direct flights from Philly to Cancún International Airport top out at four hours. To Cancún’s hotel district, it’s another 25 minutes by car; Playa del Carmen is a 45-minute drive from the airport.