When it comes to accessible Caribbean escapes, it’s hard to beat Cancun. From the Eastern Seaboard, you can board an early morning flight and be drinking margaritas with your feet in powder-white sand by lunchtime.
As winter rolls around, it’s key to have a few tropical destinations on your radar that combine sun, sand, convenience and a dose of luxury, ideally paid for with points.
There’s been a flurry of Hilton hotel openings in Mexico, but the 173-key Waldorf Astoria Cancun, which finally debuted in early November, has generated the most excitement. As the second Waldorf in Mexico (the other is the Waldorf Astoria Pedregal in Cabo), it promises to set a new standard for luxury hotels along this popular stretch of Caribbean coastline.
A world apart from Cancun’s Zona Hotelera with its rowdy spring break image, it’s geared to travelers looking for a serene oasis, but within striking distance of Cancun International Airport (CUN) and all the famed attractions of the Riviera Maya — an idyllic coastline, Mayan ruins, sacred cenotes, Michelin-star cuisine and world-class spas.
But, would it live up to all the hype? Here’s what my experience was like at the Waldorf Cancun:
Between lush mangrove forests and (reasonably) undeveloped white-sand shores, the five-story property’s public spaces and guest rooms marry luxe styling with supreme functionality. The Waldorf’s signature Jazz Age glamor is reimagined with contemporary Caribbean flair — motifs, paintings, sculptures and decorative touches — all designed to reflect the ocean setting.
The design is striking, from the glass-walled lobby everything cascades to the Caribbean sea. The two beautifully landscaped infinity pools — magical when illuminated at night — are among Cancun’s finest.
What immediately distinguishes this property, however, is the impeccable service, which goes above and beyond even by Waldorf standards. It’s not an overstatement to say that after a two-night stay, all the bellboys, front desk staff, concierges and bar staff that I’d encountered all really did know my name.
The Waldorf Astoria Cancun is 10 miles (around a 25-minute drive) from Cancun International Airport (CUN), 19 miles south of the Hotel Zone. After exiting Highway 307 (the main road that runs along the Riviera Maya to Chetumal on the Belize border), it’s around an eight-minute drive along a mangrove-fringed road.
A taxi from the airport (Happy Shuttle, USA transfer, Super shuttle) will cost around $60. To avoid solicitation and hassle outside Cancun airport’s arrivals hall, you can arrange a pick-up in advance through the Waldorf’s transportation service (Iconic) that offers one-way, meet-and-greet, transfers in an SUV for $125 (up to four passengers).
Every room at the Waldorf Astoria Cancun has an ocean view and features either an outdoor soaking tub or plunge pool. Low-season rates start at around $572 per night for a standard Ocean View Room (675 square feet), but you can expect to pay around $800 during peak season (and more than $1,000 during the holidays).
If you want to indulge, upgrade to a Swim-Up Pool Room (from $773 per night) with a prime location near the beach and infinity pools. For Hilton Honors members, reward redemptions start at 95,000 points per night.
Standard room rates for my mid-November stay were $575 per night, plus fees and taxes that added another several hundred dollars so my total for two nights came to $1,517. I was able to save almost $600 off my stay by taking advantage of Hilton’s bonus point buying promotion. I bought 95,000 points ($950) and received 100% bonus points. So, the 190,000 points accrued covered my two-night stay. Since I was staying at three Hilton hotels during my six-night trip, I also signed up for Hilton’s double stay points bonus, which gave me a nice earnings boost.
Several Hilton Honors cobranded credit cards offer members free night certificates to apply to stays, some as part of their ongoing benefits and some as a special perk you can earn by spending. Cardmembers earn a free night certificate with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card after spending $15,000 on qualifying purchases in a calendar year with the card. The same is true of the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card, though you can also earn a second free night certificate after hitting $60,000 in purchases with the card in a calendar year. Finally, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card confers cardmembers with one free night certificate every year after renewal and an additional one if they spend $60,000 or more on eligible purchases in a calendar year. If you earn these certificates, you should be able to apply them to stays at the Waldorf Astoria Cancun when there is 95,000-point availability.
The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
- The service is phenomenal — warm, intuitive and on point: pool staff seem to mind read your every need.
- All rooms have ocean views and outdoor soaking tubs or plunge pools.
- Rooms are richly appointed with marble, leather and tropical woods so that even the base-level rooms are luxurious, spacious and user-friendly.
- Haute cuisine at Malpeque where entrees and sides grilled “al carbón” (the sea bass was outstanding) avoid fussy presentations and let delicate flavors shine.
- The two oceanfront infinity pools are beautiful and interspersed with palms and foliage to provide privacy and seclusion.
- With limited dining options and on-site amenities, it feels more like a contained, luxe city hotel than a world-unto-itself resort.
- For more than a weekend stay, you’d likely want to head to Cancun for more culinary variety.
- With soft white sand and turquoise water, the beach is lovely, but if you walk a few minutes south, a clutch of older buildings and construction debris detract from its idyllic vibe, as well as seaweed mats (a common problem along this coast from May to October).
- Beyond the pool and beach (with nonmotorized water sports), there’s really nothing to entertain children or teens.
The Waldorf Astoria Cancun’s emblematic Peacock Alley lobby bar leaves a dazzling first impression. Behind magnificent cedar doors, a pearl-inlaid Art Deco clock is flanked by soaring columns of gray marble and ocean-inspired chandeliers. Area rugs with blue swirls, curved sofas and circular white-marble tables all seem to flow toward the ocean.
In the company of personal concierges, arriving guests disperse to more intimate, secluded nooks off the main reception area or linger over welcome cocktails on curved armchairs and plush sofas in muted gray and beige tones.
In the outdoor lounge areas, a more Caribbean vibe holds sway with ornamental water features, large terraces dotted with palm trees and the constant sound of cocktail shakers at the palapa-style pool bar.
At breakfast, you can expect to rub shoulders with guests returning from beach yoga, drinking green juice in their athletic garb and, in the evening, dining on the sumptuous seafood at Malpeque — the epitome of tropical elegance.
My room (506) was on the fifth and top floor, around a seven-minute walk from the lobby along a carpeted, very robustly air-conditioned hallway. With the exception of the Peacock Alley lobby bar and the hotel’s other restaurants, its public spaces, while handsome and inviting, give the overall feel of a lavish, supremely comfortable city pad, stateside, rather than a tropical retreat.
At check-in, guests are provided with a bracelet that acts as both a door key and a web portal (there’s a QR code on the reverse side) for information on hotel amenities, including room service menus.
The warm greeting from my personal concierge in the lobby continued to my guest room in the form of a bottle of tequila and a message saying, “welcome home,” waiting on the table.
Floor-to-ceiling windows open onto a large, furnished terrace with a built-in soaking tub and views of the two infinity pools and the beach extending all the way north to Cancun’s hotel zone.
My room felt rooted in a traditional Waldorf aesthetic, with hints of Art Deco in the geometric patterns, curving sofa and nightstands, and a subdued gray, beige and blue color scheme with pops of gold.
Decorative objects and furnishings are inspired by the ocean setting and Indigenous craftsmanship — whimsical tapestries, coral-inspired sculptures and a driftwood-style armoire that housed the minibar and Nespresso maker.
From the crisp white linens on the beige, leather-framed bed to the marble-tiled bathroom and fluffy robes and slippers, everything felt luxurious and thoughtfully designed.
Spanning one side of the bedroom, the bathroom was spacious, opulent and practical. A separate gray-tiled shower unit opened onto the deck with a built-in soaking tub.
Two marble vanities with oval mirrors set in shimmering mosaic tiles were separated from the bedroom by a wooden screen-style wall mounted with a flat screen TV.
Food and drink
Breakfast was served à la carte in the brasserie-style Chaya. With polished gray marble tiles, black-and-white furnishings and a dramatic white sculpture in the entrance, there was a sultry vibe. During my stay, most guests dined under swirling fans on the outside terrace, which was separated from the pool area by a wall of palms and foliage.
The menu featured breakfast classics with a Mexican twist — lobster omelet ($940 Mexican pesos/$49), eggs Benedict with crab and chipotle hollandaise ($460 pesos/$24) as well as more virtuous acai bowls ($300 pesos/$15) and smoothies ($240 pesos/$12), all prepared with locally sourced produce. I ordered avocado toast drizzled with lavender agave syrup and topped with poached eggs ($390 pesos/$12) which was flavorful, perfectly proportioned and artfully presented.
For lunch, the contemporary cantina, J’AO, served classic and nouvelle Mexican fare that could also be ordered from the poolside palapa. As well as a selection of tacos, there was vegan ceviche ($320 pesos/$17 ) and cactus salad ($320 pesos/$17).
Like most guests, I opted to stay poolside and ordered the tasty (but not amazing) fish-of-the-day tacos ($520 pesos/$28) — local sea bass seasoned with tomatillo tatemado (spicy tomato salsa). The highlight was the passion fruit margarita ($360 pesos/$19) made with Don Julio and Cointreau.
Far and away the most memorable dining venue was Malpeque. Helmed by acclaimed chef Roger Stewart, it specializes in fish and seafood — served sashimi style or simply grilled “al carbón” — in a tropically chic dining room.
Inside, there was a buzzy vibe from the dynamic open kitchen, but the best tables were outside on the terrace, alongside a dramatically illuminated reflection pool, where simple white chairs fashioned from natural fibers and comfy rattan sofas were surrounded by displays of Maya-inspired decorative objects and artifacts.
The “crudo” appetizer section of the menu featured tuna tiraditos ($610 pesos/$31), hamachi ($660 pesos/$34) and seafood towers for four people ($3,600 pesos/$185). Signature entrees included whole fish-of-the-day for two people ($1,900 pesos/$99) and chargrilled octopus ($690 pesos/$36).
I ordered the grilled sea bass ($890 pesos/$45) with a side of whole roasted cauliflower ($260 pesos/$13) that was topped with pistachios, pomegranate and tahini sauce — it could quite easily have been an entree in itself. The prices were on par with a fancy restaurant in Chicago…and absolutely worth it.
Amenities and service
The hotel offers a daily calendar of wellness-focused classes, including yoga, meditation and pilates on the white-sand beach in front of the hotel. By 10 a.m., however, the action centers on the two large, multi-level infinity pools where wooden loungers and daybeds with plush white cushions are shaded by parasols.
Each time I orbited the pool, I was immediately greeted by staff keen to set up sun loungers and provide towels, ice buckets with glass-bottled water and a menu for the pool bar, JA’O. During my stay, there wasn’t a single moment when I had to seek out a staff member for a drink, a towel, water…anything, really.
While the hotel isn’t geared toward families — there’s no kids club, programming or designated kids pool — there were a lot of families enjoying short pre-Thanksgiving breaks. The solar-heated (and surprisingly warm) shallow pools are great for older children. The restaurants all feature kids’ menus and the staff appeared to go above and beyond to make them feel welcome.
Sybarites will love the cenote-inspired spa. Tucked away from the main building, amid a riot of foliage, it felt like the hotel’s inner sanctum and a serene place to linger for a few hours rather than just pop in for a treatment.
At MX5,480/$283 for an $80-minute (Swedish, traditional or aromatherapy massage), prices are astronomical, but in line with what other hotel spas are charging along the Riviera Maya. Treatments are inspired by Mayan cleansing and purification traditions and deploy healing stones and occasional chanting.
The fitness center has a handful of running machines and ellipticals, a rowing machine, stationary bike and free weights, all facing picture windows with foliage views — it’s rather like working out in a greenhouse.
Out and about
I would expect that for most guests, two or three days of relaxation and pampering at the hotel is more than enough. The Waldorf’s excellent concierges can arrange tours or car hire (around $90 per day) to explore beyond the gates.
The region is studded with Mayan archaeological ruins, sacred cenotes (sinkholes) and small towns and villages. There’s also superb snorkeling and diving along the Great Maya Reef near Puerto Morelos, or a boat ride away in Cozumel.
Around 90 minutes south, Tulum’s Mayan temples are dramatically sited along a stunning arc of Caribbean coastline. The town itself is also worth visiting for its thriving restaurant scene, unique boutiques and boho vibe.
Cobá (around two hours southwest) is one of the Maya Route’s more immersive archaeological sites. With steep, jungle-cloaked pyramids — including many that haven’t been fully excavated — it feels like a lost world. Chichén Itza — one of the New Seven Wonders of the World — and lesser-known Ek Balam are also feasible for day trips (around 2.5 hours west)
Hidden beneath thick jungle, a short drive from Tulum, Gran Cenote is an otherworldly spot where snorkeling among fantastical stalactites and stalagmites in crystal-clear water is a one-of-a-kind experience.
The Waldorf Astoria Cancun caters very well to travelers with mobility challenges. Ramps, which lead down to the pools, restaurants and beachfront, are all beautifully integrated with the hotel’s design.
Guest rooms and restaurants all have wide doorways to accommodate wheelchairs. Walk-in showers are equipped with handrails and a wooden bench and user-friendly light panels by the bedside also control the drapes. There are audible alerts, visual alarms and braille signs in the hallways and elevators.
The Waldorf Astoria Cancun is a luxurious oasis that feels a world apart from Cancun’s overdeveloped beaches and raucous party scene.
Peacock Alley’s grandeur and lavish styling is immediately balanced by the warm welcome and genuine interest from the staff — service was flawless.
For a two- or three-day winter escape, focused on poolside relaxation and pampering, the hotel ticks a lot of boxes. As it doesn’t feel like a true resort in terms of its scale, amenities and focal points, it works well as a bookend to a longer trip or a base for exploration. If I had stayed longer than two nights, a car would have been necessary to broaden my culinary horizons and add a few cultural and recreational excursions into the mix.