The beginning of 2019 definitely did not get off to a great start! There isn’t much of a worse sound than the ringing of your alarm at 5:00 AM after you went to bed around three earlier after a way too loud and exhausting New Year’s Eve party in Brooklyn. Even worse than that was when I looked down at my phone and saw a message from United Airlines that our flight to Mexico was cancelled and we were put on a new flight for the next day! After New York experienced a frigid downpour all New Year’s Eve there was no way I was accepting being deprived of the sun for one more day. After changing my direct flight to a new connecting one we had to rush to the airport to make it on time. Luckily we made that flight and were arrived in Cancun only a few hours later than originally planned.
Unfortunately there was another setback when we got put in the slow line with only one border agent at customs and had to wait forever to get through. I was really nervous that our shuttle to the hotel wouldn’t be there because we had changed flights that very morning and we were being delayed again at customs. Incredibly, our driver from the resort was waiting just outside the door and we were finally on our way to start our vacation!
About 45 minutes after we left the airport we arrived our first resort: Sandos Playacar, a beautiful and expansive all-inclusive resort just to the south of the popular resort town of Playa Del Carmen. Our room was in the adults-only section right by the beach and it was such a gorgeous and relaxing area of the resort. The first thing we did was grab a couple mojitos and relax at the resort’s incredible beach. Despite what you may think from my Instagram, I’m usually not one of those adventurous travelers; on vacation I prefer to sit on beach chair in a sun hat with mojito in hand and read a book until I fall asleep two pages in. Usually my boyfriend has to wake me up to make sure I don’t get sunburnt because I fell asleep right in the sun. So I do try to relax and get tan, but I still always end up looking so pale!
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of adventurous things to do in Mexico both outside and inside the resort. Sandos Resort has its own separate eco-resort where you can do amazing things like zip-lining, kayaking, and diving into cenotes (underwater caves). The part of the resort we were at had its own cool things to do like a water park, water sports, mini golf and nightly shows. We definitely took a more relaxing approach to our vacation and naturally frequented the beach, pool, and their amazing spa! They have an incredible zen spa area that is open late with soothing hot tubs. We also got an amazing massage - I am a big fan a strong massages and they will go hard on your sore muscles if you ask them to!
Besides and beach and the spa, good food and drink are essential on any vacation. I had some really amazing food at Sandos Playacar, my favorites being the Festival Grand Buffet (huge selection of tasty foods) and Il Piemonte (Italian). The night we went out for Italian was the only night a mojito wasn’t my drink of choice and instead we opted for wine and it was great! A final surprise during our stay at Sandos was one evening when we returned to our hotel room from being at the beach all day. When we were about to reach our door which opens to a large interior courtyard we heard a bunch of loud howling. Across the courtyard was a troop of monkeys perched on the balcony and rails eating fruit. They even had little babies! It was so cool to see and totally unexpected, but I found out later that they show up from time to time looking for treats. All of the exotic animals at the resort were so cool and really made us feel like we were far removed from the winter storm in New York.
After an amazing four days at Sandos Playacar I packed my overstuffed suitcases and we were off to our next resort. Our resort for the next three days would now be the Banyan Tree Mayakoba, a very unique type of resort I had heard a lot of great things about. The Banyan Tree is made up exclusively of private villas set in a jungle and beach area which has been carefully constructed to minimize the disruption to the local ecosystem. The Banyan Tree calls itself a “sanctuary for the senses” and this moto 100% rings true from the moment you get there. From the breathtaking lobby to the incredible jungle landscape you feel completely at peace. They personalize your villa with everything of your choice - from the incense scents (I chose lavender and orange) to pool temperature (94 degrees) to food and drinks (I chose guacamole and, of course, mojitos). The villas themselves are breathtaking with a private, pool, hot tub, outdoor bath, and separate living room and kitchen area. You even get own personal bicycles to get around the areas of the resort!
In addition to the amazing personalized service, the food was just absolutely out of this world. We had dinner at two of their restaurants Cello (Italian) and Saffron (Asian). Saffron was actually some of the best Thai food I’ve had in my life! The chefs are flown in from Thailand and it really shows in the authenticity and flavor of the dishes. Even the more casual restaurants like the poolside restaurant features guacamole that too die for and amazing drinks. At breakfast at the restaurant Orient they had an incredible selection including a breakfast taco station, all overlooking a beautiful river.
What I enjoyed the most about the Banyan Tree Mayakoba is its strong commitment to preserving the natural environment. We took a guided boat eco-tour on the many rivers around the resort area and our tour guide explained all of the careful conservation efforts that were taking place to promote the continued health of the natural environment. The success of their efforts was on display with all of the various fish, birds, and amphibians that were on display everywhere we went, including a sunbathing crocodile! In fact, many species of rare birds have been returning to the area thanks to the Banyan Tree’s efforts to conserve their habitats. Right next to the resort’s beautiful beach they are painstakingly planting coral reefs piece by piece. Because of changing global temperatures and habitat destruction coral reefs are on the sharp decline all across the world. It is so great the Banyan Tree taking strides to fix this terrible problem in our oceans’ ecosystems.
After a few incredible days it was time to say a sad goodbye to the Banyan Tree and move on to our final resort. Luckily it was literally next door. Our final resort of our Mexico vacation was the Grand Velas Riviera Maya. This five star all-inclusive resort on the beach was simply paradise! Our suite was enormous and had a huge balcony overlooking the incredible beach and ocean. Our room was also stocked with personal treats like fruit, chocolate, candy, champagne, mezcal, and our own sun hats to wear by the pool.
Speaking of the pool, WOW does the Grand Velas have incredible pools. Not only are they huge and look amazing, they are heated and feature swim-up bars. Their mojitos were fantastic, and I even tried a few of their other cocktails and they were equally as good. The food by the pool was so fantastic - I really recommend the fish tacos, sushi and tuna salad. In fact, the food everywhere we went way exceeded our expectations even for a resort of this high caliber. The most memorable dining experience we had was at Cocina de Autor, a 10-course extravagant dining experience (at least I think it was ten courses, I lost count it might have honestly been more). I could write a whole blog post about that dinner, but I’ll just leave it at this: this is a must visit if you ever get the chance to visit Grand Velas. And I also feel that I need to mention again that this is an all-inclusive resort so you are getting a 10-course dinner included in your experience! Each course was a small dish ranging from muscle burgers, to foie gras, to quail, grouper with cactus and so much more. Each course not only tasted delicious but was also paired with a specific glass of wine or liqour that would perfectly compliment the course. Also I recommend Piaf, a romantic French restaurant with a live harp player, and Frida, a traditional Mexican restaurant dedicated to matching the vibrancy of famed artist Frida Kahlo with their food. Pro tip for Piaf restaurant: you can order a rose martini and I’m not sure how they make it but it’s really good! Pro tip for Frida restaurant: if you like cheese, definitely get the aged 3 cheese soup you will thank me later, it was to die for !!
One final thing that I think needs to be mentioned about the Grand Velas is the amazing attentiveness of the service. Every time we went somewhere the staff was so helpful. At the pool they brought around sushi and other snacks and the pool attendants knew my name and exactly what drink I like - it’s a mojito in case you haven’t been able to guess that by now! We were even given a personal concierge for our room that made sure everything was as we needed. It was actually our anniversary one night at the Grand Velas and while we were out to dinner they snuck into our room and made it super romantic. They drew a bubble bath with rose petals, a bottle of champagne and chocolate strawberries. It was so sweet and clearly took a lot of effort!
Unfortunately soon came our final day in Mexico and it would soon be time to leave for the airport. On the morning of our last day we visited the spa at the Grand Velas which is also the largest spa in Latin America! I got a really amazing and lengthy treatment that I recommend to anyone that needs some muscle relaxation. First I went through a ceremonial water treatment composed of water jet massages, a sauna, steam room, ice room, and finally a clay scrub. After the water ceremony I had an 80 minute Bacal Massage ( corn massage ). The massage started out with a traditional Mexican ritual celebrating the four elements water , wind, earth and fire. I then got a full body exfoliation, showered and had the massage. They not only gave a really relaxing and deep massage but they used hot cobs of corn to help massage and relax my muscles. It was unlike any other massage I have ever had and I was soft as a baby for weeks after my exfoliation! After the morning spa treatment we spent our remaining moments by the pool, ate a few more fish taco’s and unfortunately had to catch our taxi to the airport.
Overall it was just an amazing trip all around. We did fortunately luck out and got great weather the entire time we were there. We spoke to some of the resort staff that told us the week before we arrived there was a lot more rain than usual. I’m really glad we got good weather but I know we would have enjoyed ourselves anyway - so long as it wasn’t freezing cold like it is in New York in January! Living in a cold place really makes you appreciate a sunny paradise I guess. Can’t wait to go back to Mexico, but first I have a few other places on my list. Stay tuned for more of my world travels!