Blue flags for Cancun’s beaches

Seven of Cancun’s stunning white beaches – step forward Las Perlas, Chac Mool, Delfines, Marlin, Ballenas, El Nino and Coral – recently received Blue Flag certification.

Blue Flag bestows a mark of quality on Cancun’s shores and means visitors can can expect beaches with said flag to be safe and clean, meeting the highest environmental standards, as well as the most stringent standards for international bathing water.

In terms of beaches with blue flags Cancun is the undisputed leader in Mexico. “It is the municipality with the most flags in Mexico,” confirmed Manuel Linss de la Pena, director of the Federal Maritime Ground.

Cancun’s blue flag accolade comes in the wake of the news that the city has been chosen to host World Travel Awards’ Latin America Ceremony 2017 ( ) on 9 September.

The Latin America leg of the travel industry’s leading awards programme – frequently dubbed the “travel Oscars” –   will take place at the glitzy Hard Rock Hotel Riveria Maya.

World Travel Awards Founder and President, Graham Cooke, said: “It will be an absolute pleasure for us to return to the Riviera Maya for the first time since 2009, for our annual Latin America Gala Ceremony. And I can think of no better partner for this event than the iconic Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya.”

Vamos Mexico…

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Hard Rock Hotel to open in Daytona Beach

Hard Rock Hotel has announced plans to open its fourth property in Florida, bringing the brand’s iconic vibe to Daytona Beach in late 2017.

The 200-key property is set to boast a Body Rock workout facility and Rock Spa complete with a music-infused Rhythm & Motion spa menu, plus poolside cabanas with spa services. In the lobby, the world famous Rock Shop will sell Hard Rock’s famous merchandise.


For families, the Hard Rock Roxity Kids Club offers kid-friendly diversions. Elsewhere, the property will feature ‘The Sound of Your Stay’ music amenity program, allowing guests to set a mood with complimentary vinyl player and records or Fender guitars available for in-room jam sessions.

The hotel is being built in collaboration with Summit Hospitality Management Group and managed by Hard Rock International.

The Hard Rock Daytona Hotel deal comes as the brand’s Riveria Maya outpost revealed that it has been selected to host World Travel Awards Latin America Ceremony on 9 September 2017 ( )

The industry’s leading awards programme was established in 1993 to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the tourism industry. Today, the World Travel Awards brand is recognised globally as the ultimate hallmark of quality, with winners setting the benchmark to which all others aspire.

World Travel Awards Founder and President, Graham Cooke, said: "It will be an absolute pleasure for us to return to the Riviera Maya for the first time since 2009, for our annual Latin America Gala Ceremony. And I can think of no better partner for this event than the iconic Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya.”

Memorable mid winter getaways

It’s wet, windy and dark at four o clock so it must be time to head abroad and bask in some winter sun. KH has the low-down on 10 destinations where sun, sand and sea come as standard

Palm  Springs, America
Surrounded by the stunning San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains, Palm Springs stands for everything I love: hot weather, fabulous sun tanned bodies and some of the some of the swankiest hotels and bars on the planet.
Located 110 miles east of Los Angeles along Hwy 111, Palm Springs is where the King of Cool and his Rat Pack cronies headed when they wanted to escape the intensity of Hollywood. However it wasn’t just Dean, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr who flocked to this desert jewel. Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable: name your star and they’ll almost certainly have had an extravagant home here. The question isn’t so much who has stayed and played in Palm Springs, as who hasn’t? The Best of the Best’s ‘Rich And Famous Tour’ shows you the estates of the all of the celebs who helped put Palm Springs on the map.
But the real reason you flock to Palm Springs is to drink designer cocktails and dance to fresh DJ spun tunes around kidney shaped pools until the wee hours. Sure, Palm Springs won’t suit everyone – you either get it or you don’t. But if you do, like me, you can’t wait to return.

South coast, Barbados
When in Britain the sky is the colour of porridge, the leaves are falling and everyone is succumbing to the  flue, in Barbados it’s hot. Not sweltering sunstroke hot you understand, but blue skies, smattering of clouds, top up the tan hot.
Even better: it doesn’t require a string of vaccinations to get there and everyone speaks English. The majority of Brits make a beeline for Barbados’ fabled west coast which isn’t nicknamed the Platinum coast for nothing: this lap of luxury is where the jet set (think leggy models, real estate gurus, playboys and socialites) hang out.
Yes the west coast is good at showing off, but sometimes less is more right? So if, like me, you can survive a holiday without bumping into Simon Cowell and co, head south where you’ll find pockets of paradise that have not yet been lost. There’s no such thing as a bad beach in Barbados, but Brownes beach, Miami beach and Accra beach – all on the sun kissed south coast – are exceptionally fine spots to toast on a sun lounger and then spend longer in the paint box turquoise water than a dolphin.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio has always been hot (in every sense of the word) but right now the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) is positively sizzling! The world’s best footballers were in Rio last summer for the FIFA 2014 World Cup and they’’ll be followed by the Olympic flame in 2016.
Most visitors touch down and make a beeline for the beach – be it the world famous Copacabana or its more salubrious sibling, Ipanema, both of whom have been celebrated in song and film. Regardless of where you to choose to stretch out your beach towel, expect to see Cariocas (aka residents of Rio) from all walks of life – families, favela kids, football players, pensioners, hawkers peddling sunglasses and sarongs, and socialites in huge sunglasses – coming together to get their groove on.
It would be easy – and perfectly understandable in light of the recent Siberian weather conditions in Blighty – to spend all of your time frying yourself silly on the golden sand. But Rio offers more than just a day on the beach and only a philistine would visit without ticking off the 125ft statue of Christ the Redeemer who stands, arms outstretched, on the summit of Corcovado Mountain – and ascending Sugarloaf Mountain (also referred to as Pao de Acucar).

Sanya, Hainan
A few weeks from now you could a) be counting the shades of gray in a February day or b) lying on the sand in Sanya (there’s more to China than the Temple of Heaven and Terracotta Warriors), working on the tan.
This oasis that sits on the same latitude as Hawaii hasn’t received the recognition it deserves, having only been opened to visitors 20 years ago. As a result, it’s not as fashionable as other Asian beach destinations, but it can only be a matter of time…
Sanya marks the southernmost tip of the island of Hainan, which is roughly the same size as Belgium. Dubbed “the end of the earth” (or the “tail of the dragon” due to its remoteness in relation to Beijing), this tropical city is famous for its beaches and doesn’t disappoint. Dadonghai Bay and Sanya Bay are both fine spots for those who want to fly and flop but, budget permitting, aim to base yourself 15km east at exclusive Yalong Bay. The beach here is the best and, unless you’re mad enough to go over Chinese New Year, it’s virtually empty.

Tel Aviv, Israel
Can’t choose between perfect beaches and bronzed bodies, a buzzy city atmosphere or architectural treasures? Israel’s largest city delivers them all – along with gastronomy, history and culture -  in spades.
Of course Tel Aviv has been in the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons but don’t be deterred from visiting: travelling to Tel Aviv – whose name means ‘Hill of the Spring’ – no longer constitutes an active threat. Tourists have rarely been targeted and you’ll be warmly greeted by Israelis looking to shed their country’s international reputation.
In fact we defy you to to resist the charms of the friendly – and unfeasibly good looking – locals who will bend over backwards to help you during your sojourn in the White City. Those that I was befriended by couldn’t get over the fact that, back home in Britain, I don’t know my neighbours – absolutely everyone knows everyone in Tel Aviv.
All told if you want to put the pep back in your step, if you want to live life to the full and be bold, bright and fabulous, Tel Aviv delivers.

Riveria, Mexico
If the weather is really getting you down, fret not. Simply pull out your sense of adventure and make for Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. True the journey to get there is something of an odyssey but this is a small price to pay for a perfect mix of winter sun, beautiful beaches,  sea as turquoise as glass, ancient temple ruins, fine food and loud and proud Latin culture – in short everything you could want from a Mexican holiday.
Cancun is the gateway to this pocket of sunny paradise but his resort lined strip only gives you a limited view of what the state of Quintana Roo (pronounced Kin tah nah roh) has to offer. Instead push onto Playa del Carmen which manages to be hip as well as hot. The postcard charmer has decades of experience of welcoming European and Americans sun seekers who flock here to see and be seen on Playa’s Bounty advert beaches. World class snorkelling and diving (the underwater world here is a paradise for snorkellers and divers of every ability) can fill your days or you can just drift off a beachside bed and ogle the mahogany flesh – expect a competitive parade of preening bling – that is always on display before hitting Quinta Avenida which hums with activity at any hour.

Boracay, The Philippines
No visit to the Philippines is complete without spending some time on the island of Boracay whose pristine beaches and balmy waters provide a welcome escape for weary travellers. Yes, grass-roofed, fixed umbrellas are everywhere. And yes, hawkers do patrol the beach looking to sell their crafts. But it’s still possible to secure a stretch of sand for yourself, settle back and enjoy the unhurried pace of life. Some whinge that Boracay has become commercialised – that the island has too many resorts, eateries and bars (there’s even a shopping mall). Yet, while there are signs that the island is going upmarket  (Shangri La hotel has taken up a tenancy), Boracay still lags way behind any of its Thai equivalents, as far as rampant development goes.
At night, the island comes alive. Filipinos certainly know how to party. Head for the landmark beachfront bar of Hey! Jude or Bom Bom Bar – a sizzling hot sundowner spot. Under the setting sun and the blare of pop hits, you can enjoy timeless and unpretentious Filipino fun that modernity can’t surpass.

Cape Town, South Africa
It was back in 1850 that Sir Francis Drake described Cape Town as the “fairest cape in the whole circumference of the earth”. Fast-forward a few hundred years and Drake’s declaration still rings true. After a few grim decades, when the thought of visiting Cape Town and feeling the sun on your face was heavily tempered by the specter of violent crime, the city is once again back on the map, having firmly established itself as a travellers’ haven.
It might be possible to have a bad time in Cape Town, but it’s hard to see how. For in the aptly named ‘Rainbow Nation’, visitors can effectively combine a spectrum of different holidays in just one trip. The tourist target boasts an embarrassment of riches: its got awesome mountains, game reserves galore, cultural rewards in the shape of the city itself, scores of scenic attractions and yes – world class beaches where you can ogle the effortlessly gorgeous, long limbed locals basking in the sunshine. (You won’t see many soaking up the surf as the waters are cold enough to keep even the keenest of swimmers out of the ocean). Other pluses? Prices are reasonable, if not remarkably cheap and there’s no jet lag to contend with.

Dubai, UAE
As recently as two decades ago few Brits had heard of, yet alone been to, Dubai. Now the emirate is a permanent fixture on the winter sun scene thanks to its promise of guaranteed rays, without the need to fly halfway around the globe.
People, perhaps understandably given the emirate’s penchant for publicising its outlandish projects, have the wrong idea about Dubai – believing it to be all about  malls and modernity.
However scratch beneath the shiny surface and you’ll find another side to the ‘city of gold’. Alongside the skyscrapers like the Burj Al Arab (the self proclaimed seven star hotel) and the Emirates Towers sit historical sites such as Bastakia  and the creek – arguably the heart beat of Dubai. Here you can watch abras and dhows (traditional Arab sailing boats) weave their way across the water, as they have done for centuries. For further local flavour, factor in a tour of Jumeirah Mosque (Dubai is after all an Islamic state even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia) before sauntering through the bustling souks. Bottom line? There’s awful lot to discover about Dubai beyond what you know from the glossy brochures.

Nha Trang, Vietnam
If you’ve ever wondered what Goa looked like before the hippies or Thailand before the high rise hotels, then Nha Trang could be your last chance to find out. Vietnam’s beach capital may not have previously figured on your mental map, yet when you get there it’s hard to see why not.
Allow me to paint the picture… the sea is the colour of Bombay sapphire, the sky is perpetually blue and the sand is platinum blonde and squeaks when you walk on it. Right now it’s warm rather than scorching, but six hours of sunshine a day is still a distinct improvement on Blighty. To the beach you can add cultural treasures, great surf and dive sites, good retail therapy, lively nightlife, fabulous food and everything from hostels to super swish resorts.
When night falls, seek out The Sailing Club: a friendly bustling establishment on the beach that’s a great spot for a night out. As you stand watching the waves crash onto the shore with a cool beer in hand while a calypso throbs in the background, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.


The major US airline that behaves like a low cost one

Bashing British Airways seems to have become something of a national sport. We’re all – myself included – quick to condemn the UK’s national carrier. But if my experience with other airlines this year is anything to go by, we shouldn’t be so harsh on poor old BA. Sure the stewards and stewardesses may look matronly but the service – from the friendliness of the staff to food and in-flight entertainment options – is first class.

If only the same could be said for one of BA’s biggest competitors, American Airlines. To date I’ve flown with AA twice in 2014 and, as America’s national carrier, I had high hopes for a smooth journey upon boarding each aircraft.

I have learned the hard way: great expectations will invariably leave you as disappointed as Miss Havisham.

AA’s aircraft look and feel very antiquated. At around eight stone, I’m not a large person by any means but in an economy seat on an AA flight from London to Chicago, I felt as squashed as the proverbial can of sardines.

I’ve reached a stage in life where I not only appreciate the finer things, but I expect them and so was looking forward to relieving my seating discomfort with a cheeky alcoholic tipple over dinner. “No problem,” the attendant told me, “but you know we charge for alcohol right?”

Err. No I didn’t. And having already paid above the odds for an economy seat (when it comes to travel, my common sense flies out of the window – I’ll balk at replacing my washing machine but will happily whip out the plastic to pay for a flight) the request for a G&T was swiftly replaced with a more modest tomato juice.

I turned my attention to the television screen and decided to kill time watching a film. Only unlike BA, the movies offered by AA are on ‘loop’ meaning you don’t get to decide the time you want to watch the on screen action. Nor are you able to pause/rewind at any point. I managed to find a film that was just about to start, but the the quality of the sound system was akin to something you’d pick up at a car boot sale.

Five days later, I took an internal flight from Chicago O’Hare International Aiport to Dallas Fort-Worth – again with AA. My ticket for this two hour domestic flight came in at around US$300 so I was flabbergasted to be told, upon arrival, that I’d have to pay to check in my suitcase. Admittedly at US$25 it wasn’t a fortune but if you’re a family of four or more… What narked the most was that while AA had outlined that no snacks would be served throughout the duration of the 2.5 hour flight, there had been no mention whatsoever of a suitcase surcharge.

Everyone knows that with Easyjet, Ryanair et al, you pay to check bags into the hold. However this wasn’t something that I had expected to encounter or come across with a so called ‘proper’ airline.

Its not only AA that I am annoyed at: AeroMexico (Mexico’s national carrier) isn’t any better. I flew from London to Mexico City with AeroMexico during the festive season and sadly, despite phoning and emailing in advance to confirm my requested vegetarian meal, found myself up in the air for 10 hours with nothing to eat save for a small tub of ice cream and a rock hard bread roll.

But that’s nothing compared to what happened on a subsequent internal AeroMexico flight. My scheduled 10am flight from Mexico City to Merida was scrapped and 12 hours later, I was informed that I was being re-routed to Cancun. I made it around midnight – if only my luggage had too. It was a frustrating four days before my bags and I were reunited in Cancun, a destination that I had never even intended to touch down in.

My message? It’s easy to knock BA but, as airlines go, it’s not half bad.

The other side of Cancun

Kaye Holland discovers that there's more to Cancun - the Mother of all Mexican resorts - than first meets the eye It’s hard to believe that just four decades ago,  Cancun - on the thinly populated south east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula - was little more than a sand barrier and jungle.











Fast forward 40 years and Cancun – much like Las Vegas and Dubai – has risen out of the sands to become a mega resort whose white sands, high rise hotels, salubrious shopping malls and super clubs attracts more than four million visitors a year.


The Four Tops might have sung about going loco down in Acapulco back in 1988 but today it’s Cancun where the party people come in their droves to drink and dance Ibiza style at clubs like the legendary Coco Bongos.


Culture snobs may sniff but Coco Bongos (which can accommodate 1800 revellers) is a fun-fest alright – expect DJ booths, a glitter balled dance floor, hormones and hedonism.


But contrary to public perception, Cancun isn’t all about party nights and sleeping late. If, like me, you’re after a tamer time you could head out to Isla Mujeres  or to Ciudad Cancun aka Downtown.


The downtown area (which is on the mainland whereas the Hotel Zone is on a sandy spit of an island) couldn’t be more different from the Zona Hotelera if it tried.


It’s not particularly pretty (you won’t find too many tourist brochures urging you to head here) but what downtown does have is lots of local character making it great for those tired of tourists, tourist menus and inevitable tourist price hikes.


Travelling here (you’ll need an afternoon to get there and do it justice) from the Hotel Zone by bus feels like a bit of an adventure – albeit a vanilla one. To get the inside story on Downtown Cancun, check out Avenida Tulum – the main (and most interesting) road. It’s short on standalone attractions but high on atmosphere.



A couple of places worth knowing about… Mercado 23 is a good place to pick up authentic souvenirs (happily you won’t find any corny T-shirts proclaiming ‘I heart Cancun’ here) as well as inexpensive clothes (a girl can never have too many bikinis) and food items. Next throw yourself into a feast of local cuisine at the all-night food market – home to some of best taquerias (taco stalls) in town. But if you’re the type who needs a table cloth and cutlery with your evening meal, Perico’s is the place for you. In fact every diary should have a window for dinner at this long running restaurant where family recipes are served with a show consisting of comedy skits, live marimba and, on my visit at least, a lively conga line. Before leaving downtown (although there are some charming small hotels such as Hotel El Rey del Caribe should you decide to stay), enjoy a drink at one of the (very local) bars that dot the periphery of Plaza de Toris.


Essentially Ciudad Cancun is no landmark holiday destination but if you need a break from the jet skis, sunburned crowds, banana boats and babble of the Hotel Zone, Downtown delivers.