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My twin 16-year-old daughters’ eyes misted over as we took off in the taxi heading back to Cancun International Airport. It was clear that none of us wanted to leave the Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa after our week spent in paradise.
Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa appeals to nature lovers.// (C) 2009 Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa
Yes, indeed. The Riviera Maya property, built originally in the mid-1990s, prides itself on its lack of manicured gardens and concreted areas. Rather, it is lush and full of dense jungle greenery, slow-moving rivers, lagoons and wildlife at just about every turn. No building is higher than three stories tall, and its canopied meandering paths hide the fact that this property is enormous, with a whopping 781 guestrooms in total.
Where the Wild Things AreThe Sandos Caracol also feels as though it has been a part of the area for much longer than it has. Ferns, vines and thick trees sprawl throughout the property, and we truly did see and encounter the wildlife as advertised in its brochures.
One night, we delighted in watching a cat playfully batting around a six-inch land crab that didn’t seem perturbed at all by its feline companion. Dusk brought out the mapaches — small, endearing raccoons that emerge from the jungle thickets surrounding the 24-hour El Nido snack bar — hoping to find a stray tortilla chip or a soft-hearted tourist with food to spare.
Some 20 or so large turtles lazed in the large lagoon outside the main buffet restaurant. We loved hanging over the little wooden planked bridge to watch them swim through the towering mangroves, sometimes with their little ones on their backs.
Herons, pelicans, seagulls, hawks, sandpipers and more woke us in the mornings with their cries and melodies. Wild badgers, peacocks, coatimundis, two very affectionate burros and gorgeous, multicolored macaws rounded out the menagerie, and I’m sure there are more creatures hiding in the darkness. Such specimens are not only welcome at this eco-resort, but are encouraged; the property is currently building a free-flight aviary and apiary for Maya bees and both structures are scheduled to open in early 2010.
Eat, Drink and Be MerryWhile nature lovers will appreciate the resort’s abundance of wildlife, those who come to an all-inclusive resort to indulge in all-you-can-drink and all-you-can-eat adventures will be happy here, as will those who want to know they are in Mexico, and not just some cookie-cutter resort that might just as well be in Miami or the Bahamas. This is the place for clients who will appreciate an absence of disposable cups and plastic straws and who don’t mind applying a bit of mosquito repellent (after all, wildlife needs something to eat, too) and enjoy hearing languages from all over the world.
The Sandos Caracol is not a U.S.-centered property, either. During our stay, we met happy travelers from Argentina, Canada, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Peru and Spain. The resort’s very tasty and varied cuisine is international, too, replete with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish at every meal and my favorite, coconut ice cream.
The Select ClubWe arrived at the Sandos Caracol late in the day after a quick 45-minute shuttle from Cancun. Our blue, gold and white rooms, situated in the Select Club section of the sprawling, yet intimate, property, were spacious, attractive and luxurious, with in-room marble Jacuzzi baths, views of the verdant garden areas and extra-plush towels. We delighted each day in our housekeepers’ towel-and-flower creations. One day there was a teddy bear, another day a kangaroo with joey, but my favorite was the ballerina with hibiscus flower tutu. The Select Club, designed to be a hotel within a hotel, consists of 218 rooms and a private, quiet swimming pool. It also offers an on-beach, oceanfront Select Club Beach club house with private lounge chairs and cabanas, free Internet access, pool tables, a bar with top-shelf brands and a continental spread for all three meals. The only downsides to the Select Club: Select Club guestrooms don’t offer an ocean view and are the farthest from the beach and the main restaurant. However, these rooms are nicer, larger, quieter and newer than other rooms. And if your clients need or want top-shelf brands, along with “VIP” status, it’s probably worth the reasonable extra expense.
Wherever your clients choose to stay at Sandos Caracol, however, they will find the usual all-inclusive array: specialty restaurants as well as a main buffet, nightly entertainment, activities and pool games, a gym, a spa, bars, tennis courts and kids’ and teens’ clubs. That’s all there, but this property also offers the extra touch of making its guests feel in harmony with nature, with Mexico and with the exotic wetlands that surround them. That’s why so many guests cry when they leave. It’s a true escape from home and an immersion into a new world — one from which they never want to leave.
Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spawww.sandoshotels.com
Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa’s Eco EffortsBy Mark Rogers
While many all-inclusive resorts are pointing to their premium wines, room service or beach butlers as enticing complimentary inclusions, Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa is going a distinctly different route. The resort has launched a complimentary Eco Tour that takes guests along a resort nature path to observe indigenous animals and local flora, teaching guests the importance of preserving and respecting nature.
Animals and birds that guests might glimpse during the tour include cormorants, peacocks, scarlet macaws, agouti, coatimundi, raccoons, iguanas and freshwater turtles. They’ll wander among endangered palms, mahogany and kapok trees, as well as chaka and chechem trees, considered to be holy by the Mayas. Tour participants will also see some of the resort’s 16 cenotes, naturally formed limestone sinkholes filled with water. While cenotes may look inviting for a somewhat adventurous dip, it’s not permissible to swim in them.
The resort has hired an on-site veterinarian who works full-time to care for the animals that live in the property’s secluded areas. The resort will also be adding more animal species once the appropriate protected areas are established.
“Since the eco-tours are offered within the grounds of the resort, we decided to make them part of the all-inclusive experience for our guests,” said Jacques De Paep, director of sales and marketing for Sandos Hotels & Resorts. “Offering the tours complimentary is yet another example of what sets Sandos Hotels & Resorts apart from other all-inclusive properties.”
De Paep also notes that it is preferable for guests to book eco-tours once they arrive at the resort.
Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort & Spa is currently developing several green projects. De Paep pointed to ongoing efforts such as a self-sustaining building that uses new technologies to reduce the building’s carbon footprint by 75 percent; a project to separate and recycle trash; and another initiative utilizing compost canisters made of recycled material to turn organic material into compost.
“Our free flight aviary is almost complete and offers guests a unique opportunity to get close to different species of regional birds, such as herons, flamingos and parrots,” said De Paep.
Further down the road, the resort has a number of projects planned, including an apiary.
“This will be a place for guests to observe one of the typical species of the region, the Mayan bee,” said De Paep. “This bee produces a kind of honey that is famous for its healing as well as its nutritious qualities.”
Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa is also designing a program which will contribute to the conservation and protection of sea turtles.
Scroll down for more details on Sandos Caracol’s free eco-tour for guests.