I’m a huge animal lover, and I’ve been writing about vacation resorts for a few years now. These two facts might at first seem like a non-sequitur, but on my recent visit to Iberostar’s five-resort Playa Paraíso complex on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera below Cancun, they came delightedly together.
Here not a day goes by where you won’t spot a charming critter with feathers, fins, or fur. Strolling from my room to dinner one evening at the Paraíso Maya, I came across a peacock calmly striding around the covered outdoor walkway (I was hoping he’d unfurl his tailfeathers for me, but no such luck). One resort over, walking from the Paraíso Lindo lobby toward the huge theater, I spotted a gaggle of flamingos preening themselves near a spurting fountain in one of the many shallow pools, while small turtles swam beneath them. A bit farther along, there was a Mexican family whose two little boys were absolutely entranced by a pair of swans – one black and one white. Multihued parrots rest on perches in various spots, and sometimes staffers will take them around to introduce to guests; at another point I saw a couple of guys letting guests hold a large tame iguana. One local Mexican friend of mine commented to me at the time, “Well, some of these kids have grown up in the city and never actually laid eyes on these animals outside of pictures or TV before, so this is a real revelation for them.”
Boffo Bonus for Family Vacations
Indeed, having animals all over like this strikes me as a really nifty extra for families with kids, both for entertainment and educational value. If you’re lucky enough to be down here during the nesting season of the giant loggerhead and green sea turtles (late June and late August), you’re in for a special treat, as mama turtles first lay their eggs in the beach sand and the babies hatch and immediately start wriggling madly toward the ocean.
Perhaps the cutest (and certainly the most ubiquitous) varmint you’ll see on-property here are the coatimundis (aka coatis), frisky little members of the raccoon family with pointy snouts, twitchy noses, long tails, and bright button eyes (as if they didn’t already look like adorable stuffed animals, I found out that one name for them in English is “snookum bears” – just too precious!). These critters range from northern Mexico down through much of South America, but here on the Yucatan coast they’re a particular subspecies, called Cozumel Island coatis. They’re curious, fairly intelligent, and here quite tame around both kids and grownups. As I walked from one resort pool across a plank walkway to the beach, dozens of them scampered and capered on either side, a couple even climbing the railing and peering at me. The reason is, I’m quite sure, that despite the “do-not-feed-the-animals” signs, these guys score goodies from guests all the time; I even spotted one family with a bag of breadcrumbs just going to town.
Quite honestly, I can’t recall any other resort with quite the open animal presence of this Iberostar complex, and it truly added a charming extra dimension to the resort experience. Want to learn more? Here’s an interesting interview with in-house biologist Saúl Juan Solano, who oversees these resorts’ plant life as well as the animals.