All Inclusive - Play Del Carmen, Mexico
We are recent converts to all-inclusive holidays. Once in a while when you are looking for a complete break they are a great idea. We wouldn't want to take all our holidays that way but they are a terrific way to switch off for a couple of weeks and grab some unseasonal sun. That said we wanted to see something of the country as well and from that perspective Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Yucatán coast, was a great choice and we were pleased with our chosen hotel the Riu Tequila at Playacar, outside Playa Del Carmen.
Playacar, is a gated community a short distance outside Playa Del Carmen where many of the resort hotels are located. Guests at our hotel the Riu Tequila had access to facilities in the Riu Yucatán, Riu Playacar, Riu Lupita and could eat, drink and enjoy the facilities, beach, pools and entertainment freely at any of them. There are also a couple of Riu Palaces with facilities exclusive to the guests in those hotels. With all your food, drink and entertainment included in the price of your holiday there is a temptation never to set outside the grounds but Playacar is a short distance from Playa del Carmen with its bustling beaches and nightlife. Cozumel island with a coral reef, second only to the Great Barrier reef, is a short boat ride away and there are Mayan ruins at Playacar itself, Tulum, an hours drive away and Coba not much further. Chichen Itza is also accessible but a bit further away and we chose not to go this trip.
We enjoyed our stay at the Riu Tequila and would seriously consider going back. It's a 10 hour flight from the UK and a 6 hour time difference, so it has taken us a day or two to get over the jet lag; but it is only 4-5 hours from Canada and nearer for the U.S. depending where you live. There were a lot of Canadians staying at the hotel while we were there. I guess they needed the winter sun even more than we did.
The Riu Tequila is set back from the beach so there is a 10-15 minute walk to the beach shared with the Riu Yucatán. If you are feeling lazy you can ride there on a golf buggy but if you are taking full advantage of the food and drink on offer the walk is probably good for you! The beach once reached is stunning and everything you expect of the Caribbean with palm fringed white sandy beaches. The sea itself was stunning, turquoise in colour and quite unreal looking. It was calm the first week we were there but got rougher the second week. There are extensive pool facilities in both hotels but they were quite crowded and noisy. Great if you like lots of entertainment laid on but we preferred the beaches and catching up on some reading.
We asked in advance for a quiet room on the upper floor towards the back of the hotel and got just what we had asked for. We overlooked a strip of jungle separating the hotel from the golf course and were entertained by birds and wild life. Coatimundi, racoon like creatures, are a particular feature of the hotel greatly enjoyed by most guests and we loved the birds not least a an owl, a woodpecker and an oriel among others.
Our room was simple but adequate. It had a good shower and comfortable beds. There was a free (being all inclusive) mini bar including unusually a selection of spirits. The fridge was poor but there was access to an ice machine. As British guests (some stereotypes still hold good) we would have liked tea making facilities in the room. We took a travel kettle and our own tea bags but it was difficult to keep milk very long. That aside we thought the accommodation was good value for money and very well kept. As in many resort hotels we were entertained by a daily display of towel art.
The main restaurant is buffet style. There is a wide not to say bewildering selection of options and it is easy to make bad choices but if you choose carefully you can eat well and will certainly not go hungry. Queues can be a problem but we chose to eat later than most people so were OK. We particularly enjoyed breakfast omelette cooked to taste, a selection of pasta and accompaniments prepared to order. There are three a la carte restaurants. The steak house was good, the mexican restaurant a bit disappointing. We didn't try the asian restaurant. There are excellent theme nights and the mexican night in particular is a better bet than the a la carte mexican restaurant.
The staff work very hard. Particularly the entertainment staff. The constant round of activity was not to our taste but if you enjoy that sort of thing there was something happening all the time. We enjoyed the evening entertainment live music in the foyer and a different show every night of the fortnight we were there which we found impressive. There is lots of mimeing to taped music but the costumes and settings are excellent and some of the dancing and acrobatics superb. Some of the audience participation was tiresome, particularly the daily awards but there are people who enjoy that sort of thing. We were more entertained by the cocktail bars. The staff are incredibly friendly and efficient, quick to refill your glass with the cocktail of your choice and to deliver Tequila slammers or the spectacular Mexican flag that involves drinking flaming tequila through a straw.
We spaced our excursions to get a balance between relaxation, enjoying Mexico and getting the most from the all inclusive facilities but we particularly enjoyed: scuba diving off Cozumel island, visits to Tulum and Coba and the beautiful beach at Akumel, though sadly we didn't see any turtles there. We arranged most of the excursions ourselves rather than go through our tour operator. Tulum is an easy bus ride from Playa Del Carmen on air conditioned tourist buses. A trip to Cozumel is easily arranged from the pier at Playa Del Carmen and there are operators queuing up the other end to arrange a scuba trip for you. Our biggest day out combined Coba, a Mayan village and Akumel - an itinerary we chose ourselves. Maya Travel in Playacar Plaza, a short distance from the hotel arranged it for us and were much more competitive than Thompsons.
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