La Paz is a little corner of Mexican paradise that a few in-the-know travellers have discovered. Many want to keep it a secret and I may regret sharing how much I love La Paz.
CostaBaja Resort & Spa is a quiet place to base yourself for exploring La Paz’s charms and relax after the amazing animal encounters here. The resort is a short drive from the downtown area near the marina and golf course (which boasts sea views from 14 of its 18 holes). The resort is split into two — at the beach is the beach club, requiring a separate fee, with an infinity pool and restaurant. Past the marina is the hotel with another pool with swim-up bar and several restaurant choices, including the premium Steinbeck’s, with marina and golf course views.
The decor throughout the hotel is desert-calm with splashes of ocean. I loved the manta rays gliding by in the open air hotel lobby with views out to the pool and ocean.
My corner Super Suite room was immense, with two balconies, both perfect for watching the sun sink into the sea at the end of the perfect day. My king bed was most welcomed after long days enjoying the sun and surf of La Paz. The room was equipped with a mini fridge, coffee machine, safe, and a large desk with television. The sink area was in the bedroom space, with a separate toilet room and a huge shower room with smoked glass windows. Standard rooms have a smaller glassed-in shower.
CostaBaja has a spa and gym, though you’ll need to book a longer stay if you want to enjoy them. There are just too many things in La Paz to pull you away from the hotel, from snorkelling with sea lions at Isla Espiritu Santo, snorkelling with whale sharks near downtown, standup paddleboarding with rays and turtles, or having grey whales approach your boat in Magdalena Bay, on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula.
Sitting down for the quick check-in process at Hotel Xcaret México, I’m asked if I’d like a popsicle made from my favourite fruit — passionfruit or maracuyá in Spanish. Yes please! It’s the perfect pick-me-up after the 50-minute drive from the Cancun airport. I get a quick explanation of the “All-Fun Inclusive” experience, which means not only activities, food, beverages and room service at the hotel, but also admission at the six eco-archeological parks affiliated with the hotel.
The challenge with staying at luxury all-inclusive Hotel Xcaret is choosing between the facilities at the hotel and spending time at the parks. I only have time to visit one — flagship Xcaret Park. Here, I float down a semi-underground river, through caves and tunnels and past jungle greens. It’s a way of exploring the Riviera Maya like no other. Also at Xcaret is a giant aviary where I walk over suspended bridges and past waterfalls to see birds from the area, many with endangered status. Xcaret is home to many other animals too, including turtles, manatees and stingrays, and there’s a lagoon for snorkelling. Exhibits and shows provide a taste of Mexican and Mayan culture and history as well as lots of fun.
Back at the hotel, there’s also an abundance of activities. My favourite is exploring the cenote river — built by connecting the natural underground cenotes in the area — by standup paddleboard. Kayaks and SUPs can be paddled through the river’s canyon, inside tunnels and around islands, and, occasionally, past hotel rooms that look out over this blue paradise.
The beaches also call. Hotel Xcaret has two types. Walk over suspended bridges to narrow offshore islands with the traditional white sand beaches of the area, complete with waves that splash into tide pools. The bridges take guests over the second type of beach, at lagoons fed by the river water. They’re as calm as swimming pools and perfect for small children and snorkellers.
Hotel Xcaret also has several pools to choose from, including a shallow one with a play park for kids. Other pools separate the different residence buildings, called casas, from each other and from the restaurants, or they look out over the beach. Some rooms have swim-up lagoons too. The views are best from the rooftop pool at Casa Fugeo, which even has a glass swim tunnel — perfect for Instagram. My favourite pool, though, is the showcase immense infinity pool with views of the sea. It’s chilled so it’s always refreshing.
There’s a variety of room types at Hotel Xcaret. They’re all beautifully designed with lots of seating and storage space, luxury bedding, a jetted tub and large shower room. Handmade decorations highlighting Mexican artistry are sprinkled throughout. Each room has a patio or balcony fitted with a hammock or two, a day bed, and some also have a private jetted tub. There are 900 rooms at the resort, but even though the hotel was at capacity during my opening weekend visit, it wasn’t crowded at all.
Dining is in ten different restaurants and bars, including Há by Michelin-starred executive chef Carlos Gaytan, from Chicago restaurant Mexique. This is the only restaurant at Hotel Xcaret that demands an extra charge, all others, including room service, are included in rates. I eat very well throughout Hotel Xcaret where I’m treated to maracuyá sorbet and cocktails, as well as other favourites like tuna sashimi, ceviché, traditional sirloin and fish tacos, pineapple and churros.
Hotel Xcaret opened in December 2017 and is sure to become one of the most popular resorts on the Mayan Riviera.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look this blissed out. The man practically floats out of the spa at Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, making his way back towards the infinity pool and the white sand beach. He doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. I want that look. I need that look! Perusing the spa’s extensive menu, I simplify my choice: could I have what he had?
The spectacular treatment turns out to be the Lomi-Lomi massage. Based on ancient Hawaiian philosophy and healing techniques, this massage works the body and relaxes the mind. An hour later the kink in my neck has disappeared, the knots are gone from my back, and I have the exact same blissed-out look on my face. It lasts my entire stay at Grand Residences Riviera Cancun.
This five-star resort is on a quiet beach in the fishing village of Puerto Morelos, which is between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Puerto Morelos has a handful of hotels sprinkled along its seemingly endless white sand beach. The best is Grand Residences Riviera Cancun.
The hotel is aptly named. The all-suite accommodations are equipped and decorated like a real home, so you don’t feel like you’re in an anonymous hotel room. Although … I can’t think of too many homes I’ve been in that have the special services Grand Residences offers, like magical replenishments of treats and Bulgari amenities, and evening turndown service with gifts of tiny alebrijes folk art sculptures.
My grand one-bedroom suite has a full kitchen, laundry, dining table for eight, living room, large bedroom, and a balcony which has chaises longues, another dining table for eight, and a jetted tub. My bathroom has two walk-in closets, his- and hers- sink areas, a shower room, separate toilet room, and another jetted tub.
Grand Residences Riviera Cancun currently has 144 of these suites, from junior in size to immense ones with four bedrooms. Some have their own private pool. They’re laid out in a handful of low buildings clustered around central courtyards with sunken mangrove gardens, a lap pool, kids club, restaurants, and an immense tiered infinity pool overlooking the beach. Two buildings sit right on the beach.
While you can cook for yourself in-room, dining at Grand Residences is exceptional. Meals can be purchased à la carte or on an all-inclusive basis. One restaurant specializes in authentic Mexican and Mayan dishes, another has a menu which changes throughout the week. In the lobby, there’s an espresso bar and a patio for afternoon tea, complete with finger sandwiches and pastries. At the beach, have lunch with your feet in the sand or try a tequila tasting.
The town of Puerto Morelos is a short drive away, though it’s easy to drive to Cancun or Playa del Carmen too. I highly recommend Puerto Morelos’ Tulaka Diving for a reef-conscious way to explore the underwater world of the Mayan Riviera, whether by snorkel or scuba. The waters off Puerto Morelos have been protected by the Puerto Morelos Reef National Park since 1998, so the reef and sea life are in excellent condition. I saw colourful fish, an abundance of sea fans and even a sleeping 1.5m nurse shark (which are not dangerous at all to humans).
Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is ideal for couples, families (kids under 12 stay for free, and can enjoy the kids club), and for special events like weddings. As a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, you can be assured that your stay will be just about perfect.
The Solmar brand is coveted by those in the know. Solmar has a handful of hotels in and around Cabo San Lucas. My stay is at Grand Solmar Land’s End, but I get a quick peek at the spectacular rooftop pools and incredible city and harbour views of The Ridge at Playa Grande, and also see the almost-endless beach where Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas will open in December 2017.
Grand Solmar Land’s End is the utmost in tranquillity and exclusiveness, thanks to its location as the last hotel on Playa Solmar. It’s right before the towering rocks at the tip of Land’s End that form Cabo San Lucas’ famous El Arco. The area is secluded and quiet, except for the crashing of the powerful waves rolling northward from the nearest land point — Antarctica.
I’m thrilled to be upgraded to a two-bedroom penthouse suite, complete with tv room, great room with full kitchen, dining table for eight, and couches next to glass doors leading out to a balcony that stretches half the width of the building. The spectacular view includes desert gardens, two restaurants, places to lounge, and several meandering pools, including an infinity pool overlooking the sandy beach and deep blue Pacific. Further along the beach east toward El Arco are more infinity pools, restaurants and the spa. Westward is the sunset infinity pool and spa cabanas overlooking the pounding surf.
All of Grand Solmar’s rooms are suites and can accommodate four or more comfortably. Even the smallest rooms are 68 square-metres and have a king bed, fold-down queen murphy bed, dining table for four, kitchen, and spacious balcony.
Though the resort is at capacity during my visit, it feels almost empty, thanks to the spacious design, excellent service, and the variety of pools, decks, restaurants and nooks and crannies. One of my favourite spots to eat is the sushi restaurant nestled against the towering rocks of Mount Solmar, complete with waterfall. I’m also partial to the quiet infinity pool near Las Brisas restaurant which also has a view of Cabo San Lucas’s brilliant red sunsets. I also enjoyed my lunch at the main pool, sitting at an in-water table in the shade with views of the sea, eating Solmar’s excellent ceviche.
Meal plans are available for those who wish to enjoy everything Grand Solmar has to offer. Downtown Cabo San Lucas with its variety of bars, restaurants and shops is a short walk away. Guests can cook in-room if they choose as well.