Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso

Hear the words “Mexican Riviera” and your mind will conjure up images of sparkling resorts on Mexico’s west coast, places rooted deep in the psyche when dreaming of vacations in Mexico: cliff divers in Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta’s colorful and exotic “Night of the Iguana” mood, and carefree Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo.

But the Mexican Caribbean—a stretch of land facing the sea that separates the Yucatan peninsula from Cuba—is another story, a relatively new narrative with Cancun & the Riviera Maya as its main protagonists. The area is modern Mexico’s most celebrated vacation retreat, a wonderland synonymous with leisure and high times.

Its natural glories are legendary, clear proof that the ancient Maya knew what they were doing when they built a series of temple towns here way back before there was a Mexico. The remains of that mysterious civilization can still be seen in spectacular ruins that stand as a potent draw for visitors from throughout the world. The Aztecs, who conquered the area later and who were as susceptible to its wonders as the Maya, named the place “Yocatlan,” which means “place of riches,” and thus Yucatan remains, bringing vast wealth to the country’s tourism coffers.

Just like its cousins on the Pacific are ingrained in the mind of travelers, it’s difficult to separate Cancun and the Riviera Maya from the imagery it conveys: golden beaches, delightful tropical weather, beautiful people lolling around, exotic cuisine that blends Spanish and Mayan influences and a lifestyle that seems to dance in careless abandon to the tune of Yucateca music.

The area is indeed full of unforgettable resorts, but the crown jewel of all Riviera Maya retreats has got to be the Iberostar Grand hotel Paraiso, a sprawling five-star complex built in 2007. It dazes with beauty and astounds with exquisite service.

When walking around the Grand Paraiso, one of five Riviera Maya resorts owned and operated by the Spanish hotel conglomerate Iberostar, a chain of hotels and resorts known for elegance and fine service, it’s difficult to believe that you’re in Mexico.

The Grand Paraiso would be right at home somewhere in the middle of the Riviera Ponente dominating any of the splendid small towns that dot the craggy coast of Italy’s Ligurian Sea. Yet this dazzling place is only about 30 miles from Cancun International Airport smack in the middle of a tropical, balmy and humid zone.

The resort is all marble, frescos, pillars and majestic staircases, a juxtaposition of Italian renaissance, Venetian and baroque architecture smack in the middle of the tropics. It’s this unusual mixture that makes it extremely appealing and gives it a splendid atmosphere.

It is rare when a resort captures the imagination the way the Grand Paraiso does, especially when so many resorts seem patterned with all the architectural flair of prefab suburban condos.

From the moment new guests are greeted at the registration desk with hot hand towels and chilled champagne, to the time when a van transports them to the airport for their return journey, this place gives new meaning to the term “all-inclusive.” This is a five-star resort that should please discerning clients who want to escape to a hideaway where pampering is routine and first-class service is evident in even the most remote nook and cranny of the vast complex.

The Grand Paraiso sits on a sandy tract known as Playacar and is full of bars, restaurants, cigar bars, meeting halls, nightclubs, spas and shops. Its gardens are impeccable, and the private spa, with a merry-go-round at its entrance, is a thing of beauty. An infinity pool is filled with water from underground springs the Maya called cenotes and the secluded beach’s unparalelled butler service offers drinks and snacks to guests.

A decorative Maya pyramid paying homage to the pre-Columbian roots of Yucatan dominates the hotel’s main entrance and is the complex’s focal point. Inside the pyramid an ultramodern bar and restaurant serves first-rate fare while soft music oozes from unseen speakers.

Some travel connoisseurs consider the Grand Paraiso to be the ultimate Cancun experience—and it certainly lives up to the hype.

The resort is huge, with 135 jr. suites, 45 oceanview jr. suites, 120 oceanfront jr. suites, 10 honeymoon villas and two presidential suites. Still, the personal service makes guests feel like they’re vacationing in a quaint, secluded European hostelry that goes out of its way to please.