Hola! Having just returned recently from a week in the Cancun area of Riviera Maya, the trip confirmed what I already knew to be true: Cancun, Mexico is not only a great vacation destination, but the people who work so hard in the resorts there to make you both comfortable and happy deserve to see us come down in ever growing numbers. You will be pampered in varying degrees, perhaps depending on budget, but one thing is certain…it will be a wonderful vacation!
It was a very busy week for me and my love, as we stayed in three different hotels and paid a visit to six other all-inclusives. I rented a car, as it would have cost a small fortune to hire a driver to all those hotels! While it can get a bit crazy in the hotel zone and down near and in the town of Playa del Carmen, you will find it’s pretty easy to get around. There’s really only one main road up and down the coast. I got a great price on the car, but the required insurance drives up the price quite a bit. I would suggest that you might do best by pre-purchasing insurance and cover it with your travel insurance plan. (Ask me, I will be happy to help you choose the right plan).
Things You Should Know Before Choosing Your Hotel
The Hotel Zone is north of the airport, and the mostly high-rise hotels are built on a series of islands connected by bridges. Most have a lagoon view with beautiful sunsets, and also the coveted ocean views overlooking the often-active surf and pretty beach. The Nichupte Lagoon provides many opportunities for active water fun in the sun, as the surf on the beach is often too rough for water sports. If you think you will prefer to stay very near or at your hotel for the entire vacation, this is a good area to choose. And there is a new area where all-inclusive resorts are popping up north of the hotel zone, offering you an even greater variety of choices.
The excursions by boat to swim with whale sharks or to visit Isla Contoy or Mujeres leave from a dock north of Cancun, so the hotels in Cancun or the Isla Blanca area make it a shorter transfer time than if you are staying down south of the airport towards Playa del Carmen and Tulum. (Whale shark season is June-September)
Something that may or may not be very important to you is whether or not there is security at the gate of the property. In some hotels in the hotel zone there is no gate attendant, and all beaches are public. This is a plus in my mind, as I love to mingle with locals when I travel, however for you it may not be. Do your research or ask your travel agent if there is good security at the hotel.
The area known as Riviera Maya is a very large one, extending south for about 75 miles. Currently, there are nearly 900 beach side hotels in the Yucatan Riviera Maya area. Yikes! So, do you want all-inclusive, or are you more interested in dining around? There are inclusive resorts in all price ranges, and in this case, you get what you pay for. If you are a foodie, be careful! Many of the all-inclusive resorts rely heavily on buffets for dining. Be thorough while browsing your choices, as they tend to hide the “good stuff” in the far corners of the room! Some also require ala carte dining reservations a day in advance, requiring standing in line as early as 8 am. I will share that Karisma Resorts advertise “Gourmet Inclusive”, and while I have not experienced this brand yet, they get great marks!
Likewise, the moderately priced hotels offer a lower quality of alcoholic drinks, so be sure to inquire about thaqt if you have to have your brand of wine or beer! It might be an option for you to shorten your vacation a day or two in order to stay in a higher quality resort.
One helpful tip: Check to see if your city or one near you offers a charter flight option, a dedicated vacation flight at a lesser cost with a company like Vacation Express or Funjet Vacations. These are typically non-stop and a better value than the regular airline companies. Your travel agent can advise the best option for you.
Let’s talk about the hotels that I saw on this recent trip so you can consider them while doing your research. For brevity purposes, I will give you an overall impression and give you suggestions on which type of trip or traveler each would attract most, in no particular order. A link to each hotel website is included.
We had a four night stay at this resort and was upgraded to an ocean view from a garden view room. There were four ocean front pools, each with a different vibe. Most rooms are ocean view or at least partial ov. First floor rooms may not see the ocean, as it is U-shaped like most Rius. This all-inclusive is moderately priced and located north of the Cancun airport about 45 minutes in a newly developed area, so it is isolated but well gated. This Riu has a good variety of dining, no reservations required, and a fun entertainment scene. It’s great for nearly everyone! Note: Dunamar has a cool little kids club water park, and the slides in the bigger kid area were BIG and EXCITING, even for us old folks! Plus, the beach was great for swimming and walking.
Westin Resort and Spa Cancun
This hotel is not all-inclusive, but does have some restaurant options (the main one is currently being renovated). Many rooms have windows that cannot be opened but have lovely views and most are oceanfront or lagoon view. Pricing currently (May 2018) is great due to renovations and it is on the south end of the hotel zone so near the airport, making it a good choice for the last night if you have an early flight home. The public bus that runs up and down the strip for $1 per ride is directly across the street and runs 24 hours, so no need to feel trapped. It does have a guard at the gate when you drive up. The beach is fine, and they do a good job of seaweed cleanup. I don’t recommend this for a week-long trip.
While staying in a Riu Cancun resort, you may play at nearby Riu resorts in the same class, so we stopped for lunch at this Cancun property after another hotel inspection in the area. The pool area is a bit tight for the number of rooms, so it felt a little crowded, but the beach, while narrow, was very pretty. The lobby is quite grand, and the lunch buffet provided some yummy treats. I thought the chocolate dessert was much better than at the Riu Dunamar, for what it’s worth! Cancun tends to attract the party crowd still, I think, but this is a family resort with a kid’s club, too. Feel confident in service, food choices and entertainment. Wines, well, not so good, in my humble opinion!
Hard Rock CancunWith 601 rooms, this is a relatively compact all-inclusive by area standards, but it’s top shelf everything! A family resort, you have in-room liquor bar (it can be locked from the kids), 24/7 room service, 9 restaurants, and nearly 1500 rock memorabilia on display. I would be happy here due to veggie burgers and gluten free bread! It is gratuities included, and there’s a different vibe in each pool area. Cabanas are available on the beach for an added fee. This resort definitely has the “cool” factor for families, singles and couples alike. And my host offered me a glass of the house cab, and it was delicious! This a relaxed luxury done really well. Here is the official website if you want to know more.
Hard Rock Riviera MayaWith 1264 rooms, this place is massive, but it didn’t feel that way at all. It is located down the road a bit and south of Playa del Carmen. With two distinct hotel sides, Heaven for adults only and Hacienda for families, I absolutely loved the architecture. The spa in Heaven was absolutely gorgeous and I loved the very cool vibe. I saw a bathrobe on the wall that Madonna wore! Maybe the coolest area, though, is the nightclub, complete with a large indoor swimming pool in front of the DJ booth. Each resort has its own pools and beach areas, with a kid’s pool, too. You need to know that the beach areas are coved with a protective rocky barrier. It allows for calm waters but no long beach walks here.
One of the very coolest thing about staying here is that you skateboard, BMXers and trampoline folks can enjoy coaching and practice at the Woodward indoor facility on site. Check it out!! There’s also a “Ninja Warrior” type course to conquer. Trust me. Your kids will think you are a rock star if you bring them here! The resort with it’s two distinct sides are perfect for both partying singles and families.
UNICO 20 n 87 w
I cannot say it better than the website. This new adults only all-inclusive resort south of Playa del Carmen is nothing short of AMAZING.
“Experience a new category of all-inclusive. Set on the stunning white beaches of Riviera Maya, UNICO 20°87° immerses guests in the culture of the region, from the locally-inspired cocktails and cuisines to the art in the rooms. Three unique pools and holistic spa and wellness center drive home a sense of relaxed luxury, while exciting pop-up events insert a touch of spontaneity into the experience.”
One of the things I was most impressed with is the fact that they are intent on using local products, even in the building materials. When you check-in, you get to go pick out your special salts, scents and soaps to your preferences. That is so cool! The restaurants have Michelin chefs. (I was offered an avocado toast snack…yum!) The beach here is gorgeous and you can walk a good distance in the sand. I could go on and on. This is a very special place, and I hope that one day I may have the pleasure of staying here. Save your pennies so you can, too.
The Princess complex has 674 rooms on each side and is a solid choice just 10 minutes from Playa del Carmen. The resort recently held a wedding group of 50 I booked, and they had a great time, despite some rainy weather the day of the wedding. I loved the volleyball court area on the beach…just far enough away and with trees around so the ball doesn’t roll into the ocean! There’s a special beach club restaurant and area that requires an extra fee that was really cool. Also check out the Platinum Service. It was not an expensive upgrade but gave some nice extras. This resort will please the entire family at a reasonable price point. A great choice for groups.
Another new all-inclusive resort with a difference, this property offers unlimited entry into six amazing parks in the area. You will love them! One cool feature is that you can ride one of several boats into the Xcaret park (think Mayan Disneyland). The architecture is fabulous, built around cenotes (underground rivers) and mangroves. There’s a small beach in addition to the coved sandy lagoon areas, and you can even use kayaks on the rivers if you like. This link shares the parks that you may visit while staying at Hotel Xcaret. The five buildings with various room categories each have a different theme, with two dedicated to adults only. I was very impressed with the amazing chapel built high in the sky. You must see it to believe it. This resort is uniquely luxurious, eco-friendly, and will deliver an unforgettable vacation.
This was an unexpected pleasure! On this trip, I had planned to mix business with pleasure, staying four nights up north and hoping to be able to “cash-in” on a couple of earned hotel stays at two other all-inclusive resorts. It didn’t work out, so we booked the Westin the last night, and this property on Expedia (I can use a travel agent site for commissions, which is an extra bonus!) 2 nights for a very low cost in May, the shoulder season. I want to give a shout-out to Andrea, the charming but shy young lady at the front desk, for helping to make the stay memorable. There are 18 rooms in this hotel in the gated community of Playacar. We had a one bedroom (Capricorn, they called it the luxury suite) in a quiet area. They had cool room-darkening shutters, the AC worked fine, and a little kitchen helped us eat for less. right below us was a wonderful Mexican restaurant called Dona Aurelia, and the last night we found just around the corner a new fish place called Sundowner Yacht Club that was awesome!
Within easy walking distance into Playa del Carmen and near the golf course, we had a lovely time exploring the area. We could walk to the beach in about 15 minutes through a nice neighborhood of private homes. the hotel had a rooftop place for gathering with a little shallow pool to cool off in and a couple of tables. The owner obviously loves old, eclectic furniture and nick knacks and things do need a bit of updating, but for the price I was pleased. The bed was comfy enough, although the shower pressure lacked a bit. If you aren’t a princess, it will do!
I would like to share some personal feelings about Mexico to assure you that a vacation there is both a wonderful value and a fabulous experience. The people who work in the resorts are hard-working, friendly and trust-worthy. At all times we felt welcomed and safe. The nature, culture and Mayan history is fascinating, and I encourage you to explore to your hearts content soon!