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The Many Faces of the Mayan Riviera

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Written by Colleen Pero.

In the last 18 months, Dan and I have been fortunate enough to visit the Mayan Riviera three times…in three distinct ways. The first visit was a long weekend with two friends. We stayed at the Porto Real on the European Plan (i.e., none of our food or drinks were included). The second trip was just the two of us, and we opted for a small boutique hotel, Mosquito Blue. The third trip was in December 2001, and this time our two children, Alexander and Claudia, as well as our Lithuanian au pair joined us. To keep things simple on this 7-day adventure, we opted for an all-inclusive resort, so we would never have to reach for our wallet while on property! Each experience was very different, and yet all three were wonderful…and depending on what you’re looking for, could be just the ticket for a relaxing get-away.

The Porto Real

The Porto Real is a medium sized beach-front property located on the northern edge of the town of Playa del Carmen, about 45 km south of Cancun. This Spanish hacienda-style property has all spacious junior suites, and most of them have a great view and a balcony. It has one restaurant inside the hotel and another poolside. We loved the location because we were only 2-3 blocks from downtown Playa del Carmen, and all of the restaurants and other retail establishments found there. Part of the beach is pretty rocky, and the staff works hard to keep the beach clear of the seaweed that frequently washes ashore. I would suggest that if you like the beach, you head north of the hotel…you can walk for miles and find wonderful places to relax on the sand. You can also visit some of the other hotels up the beach…we made a habit of walking about 30 minutes up the beach to the Shangri-La for a very tasty breakfast buffet each morning!

We’re more pool people ourselves…we like to look at the ocean walk along it, but we’d rather swim in a pool. The Porto Real fit this to a T in that from the pool, you can see the ocean, and yet don’t have to worry about the sand in your swimming suit!

Mosquito Blue

A friend who spends 3-4 weeks in the Playa del Carmen area each year recommended this boutique establishment to us. It’s not big, it’s not fancy, and it’s not on the beach, but it was just what we were looking for in our short break from the pressures of work and family. Our room was on the second floor facing the pool and featured a large, private balcony and a king size bed. There are two small pools on the property, and very comfortable lounge chairs resting on the grass that surrounds the pools. There isn’t a restaurant onsite, but they have an arrangement with one just around the corner. There is a wonderful open-air structure between the two pools that has a small bar, a library and a pool table. There are also great little conversation areas where you can escape the heat and the sun without feeling like you have to wear more than your swimming suit. These are the perfect places to read those books that you’ve been trying to get to at home!

This is a great place to go to get away for a few days … especially if you don’t mind not having a restaurant downstairs, and feel comfortable walking a block and a half to get that first morning cup of coffee.

The Riu Palace

After escaping south of the border twice without our children, we decided it was time to take the plunge…to have them join us for a week in Mexico! As parents know, whenever you travel with small children, you want things as uncomplicated as possible. That’s why this time we opted for an all-inclusive resort…where all of your food and beverages are part of the package. This is also attractive because there is always at least one restaurant open, so you can get the kids a quick bite to hold them over until the next meal…or to get them through their afternoon nap!

We thought the Riu Palace was great! The rooms are spacious, and all have a separate sitting area with either a balcony or patio. The grounds are beautiful, and the staff couldn’t be more helpful. The buffet in the main dining room was very good as all-inclusive resorts go, with a nice variety from day to day. The Mexican and Italian buffets at lunch were adequate, but who needs that much food when you’re in your swimming suit all day!! There is also a good specialty restaurant onsite– just make your reservations early the morning you wish to eat there.

The hotel property extends to the beach…though you don’t really see the ocean from the hotel itself. Again, we were happy to just be by the pool, but did venture down by the beach and found it to be much nicer than that of the Porto Real. The kids loved playing in the sand, and chasing the waves. They also enjoyed the children’s pool…which was set up nicely so that the parents could be right there by the kids. Next to the pool was a sandy area with a swing set and slide. Actually, when the kids really wanted to “play,” we went across the street to the Riu Tequila (when you stay at the Riu Palace, you can use all three of the Riu properties — the Tequila, the Yucatan and the Playacar). The Tequila had a great little children’s area (all fenced in) with attendants on duty for most of the day. The staff was great…letting the kids finger paint, draw, build things, etc. Despite the fact that the hotels were at capacity, there were usually no more than 3 to 5 children at the children’s club at the Tequila.

By day four, we had built up enough courage to rent a car and head for the picturesque ruins of Tulum. By the way, don’t be taken in by the signs advertising rental cars for $48 — that’s just the insurance! But, it was nice to get out and about, and the kids loved running from ruin to ruin. We hadn’t made it down there on previous trips, and were glad we finally took the time. What an incredible sight especially given its situation right on the ocean!

When we left home for this trip, we thought it was either going to be one of the best trips ever, or it was going to be the worst. We didn’t envision any middle ground. Well, I’m happy to report it was among the best. Every week, one of the kids will say, “When are we going to Mexico again?” Soon, I’m sure!