Mayan retro spa in Cancun

A great massage needs no embellishment. The simple act of kneading stress from your body is enough. Warm Jacuzzi waters afterward complete the experience, especially when washed down with crisp cucumber water. A twist that enhances the experience, though, can matter, as I learned at the JW Marriott’s spa in Cancun, Mexico.

The on-site spa infuses its treatments with Mayan ritual, adding a sense of purpose to what otherwise would be sheer decadence. The therapists add ancient prayers and local ingredients to facials, exfoliation and massages to bring a regional flavor to a luxurious commodity.

The spa itself occupies three floors. The first is open to all guests of the JW Marriott and adjacent CasaMagna. Visitors can swim in the indoor pool, soak in the coed Jacuzzi or hit the weights in the gym. The second floor – where you’ll find gender-specific relaxation rooms, saunas and hot tubs – requires an additional fee of approximately $15. Treatments are conducted on this floor and the third.

The differences between the first and second floors are not limited to the modest fee. As you walk the wide, slightly winding staircase, the softly burning candles and soothing aromas remind you that you’re entering a unique environment, a place where every care you have will evaporate thanks to the skilled hands of a focused masseuse.

Language will not be a barrier when you explain the pressure you’d like, as the team does speak English well. After that first conversation, of course, it doesn’t matter. Once you’re finished and have been presented with warmed slippers and cool water, conversation will be the last thing on your mind. Shuffle back to the relaxation room, and use the view of the indoor pool to see if you want to ease back into society with a stop down on the first floor before heading back to the world.

These are the brief moments, punctuating a hectic lifestyle, that remind you that … just sometimes … you come first.

View the latest deals at the Marriott CasaMagna here.

Cancun’s Mercado 28, a friendly outdoor market

The local vendors manning the kiosks at Mercado 28 – Cancun‘s outdoor marketplace – do not disappoint. They are ready to cut you a deal and almost seem to be acting in character when you step onto the sidewalk. One instructs you, “It starts here,” ushering you inot his store. All greet with “amigo” and promises of “nearly free” prices on jewelry, pottery and “genuine” Cuban cigars, among other wares.

Mercado 28 is not designed for an easy exit. A mix of covered and open walkways form a maze intended to keep you shopping … and spending. Every salesman offers a broad smile and a polite entreaty to come into his shop. This “smooth operator” approach has only one purpose: to make it hard for you to say “no.” with every person you pass, you feel increasingly rude (and thus increasingly ashamed).

Some pitches are better at inspiring guilt at others. My favorites:

“Your wife would like …”

“You should get your mother-in-law a …”

“Have you bought anything for your kids?”

It takes a triumph of the will – and a readiness to seem heartless – to decline and move on.

As outdoor marketplaces go, Mercado 28 is surprisingly docile. It’s nothing compared to what you’d find in Tijuana, which combines visible abject poverty with an unplanned landscape of desperation. Having recently been to the souks of Marrakech – a labyrinthine pressure cooker of merchandise hawking – I found Cancun’s equivalent a breeze to navigate.

Nonetheless, complacency will open your wallet. If you see something you like and decide to engage (the leather goods are worth your time), expect to settle at 40 percent below the initial offer. A fistful of U.S. dollars may give you a bit more negotiating leverage … finally.