Mexico is known for its incredible beaches, cultural sites, amazing food (and margaritas!) – but where should you start?
Our trade account manager Sarah and PR account director Louise both recently headed Mexico way, but to opposite sides of the country on two very different holidays. Sarah stayed in Playa del Carmen on the east coast on a girl’s trip while Louise headed west to Puerto Vallarta on her honeymoon. So how did their experiences compare? Is West best, or is East most excellent?
Louise – Puerto Vallarta, west coast
This was my first ever visit to Mexico – and I had high expectations! I was on honeymoon, and so for me, the main activity of the week was relaxing on a daybed by the pool, sipping on margaritas from midday to midnight, eating delicious gourmet nachos and topping up my tan. Not to be too lazy we did alternate days by the pool with a day at the private beach club. By day five we felt like we should leave the hotel and played a round of golf on the hotel’s own 18-hole course. For an adrenaline buzz we also flung ourselves off mountains over the tree canopies below along 12 zipwires which was a great buzz. One of the most memorable experiences was releasing a newly hatched turtle into the ocean as part of the hotel’s turtle protection programme.
We stayed at a boutique property, Casa Velas, part of the Small Luxury Hotels group. With just 90 rooms, this property was intimate, romantic and the most beautiful setting for our honeymoon. There was only one restaurant, which served à la carte meals (not a buffet in sight), and a swim-up pool bar. A short walk away we also had access to an exclusive beach club complete with infinity pool overlooking the beach and ocean. This was a great spot for romantic evening dinners watching the sun sink into the ocean.
The hotel was so intimate it genuinely felt like we were staying in someone’s house. We were treated like absolute royalty and the staff couldn’t do enough for us. The locals were SO friendly and we were made to feel like we were part of the Casa Velas family. We made new friends with other guests from the USA and Canada – interestingly we were the only Brits here. Puerto Vallarta has a cute marina which we explored and the vibe was very relaxed and friendly.
We had private beach access through our hotel, and we did take a dip in the Pacific Ocean once – however, it wasn’t the swaying palm trees and powder white sands that I’ve experienced in the Caribbean or Maldives. The sunsets were to die for but we preferred to enjoy these from the pool at the beach club.
Our hotel was set in the jungle – and a plethora of animals had made the grounds their home. There were terrapins in the pond out front which we got to feed, a couple of stunning blue peacocks strutting around the poolside, gigantic iguanas, lizards, and beautiful birds singing from the trees. As Puerto Vallarta used to be swamp land, you can expect to find crocodiles here too – and sure enough, on one of our strolls around the marina we did in fact see a huge one gliding in between the million-dollar yachts!
Sarah – Playa del Carmen, east coast
With a whole host of small cruises, snorkelling and sightseeing available from the Riviera Maya it was difficult to pick just two. My friend and I went with Xel-ha marine park and Coba ancient ruins. Tubing through the mangroves into Xel-ha’s natural cove was great fun and showed off the coastline to perfection. Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, was three hours from Playa del Carmen, but we visited Coba as it was much closer. Climbing to the top of the huge pyramid after exploring the ruins rewarded us with views over the endless forests and we even got a glimpse of monkeys swinging through the trees.
I love food! So usually I would choose a good B&B to explore different restaurants, but for the first time in a long while I went all-inclusive at the RIU Tequila. The food was AMAZING, as were the drinks which we guzzled unashamedly at the beach bar during the day. The hotel itself was traditionally decorated, although about to go under renovation, set amongst jungle trees and plenty of greenery. The RIU was one of four within the ‘hotel zone’ – a big collection of all inclusive properties which initially put me off, but actually this created a small, comfortable and convenient town of its own.
The vibe was friendly! So friendly – from staff at the hotel, tour guides, workers on the beach and everyone in-between, the local people were extremely funny and welcoming which gave the whole place a very relaxed feel. Locals would go out of their way to give you a wave or check how you were, something which confused my friend and I initially but we came to love. The local town of Playa del Carmen was a buzzy little centre, great for munching nachos with a beer and watching the world go by or for a party. On my next trip I will be visiting Coco Bongos!
The beach was beautiful, and absolutely lived up to my expectation of any Caribbean Sea coastline. The palm trees that ran along the beach front were a given, but I also enjoyed the ‘mini capybara’ (also known as Sereque) whizzing about the sand, which I did not expect. As the hotels were perched on the beach I did miss having a local beach bar like the ones I have come to love on Greek islands, although we did get to do dance classes in the sea!
When we ventured outside the hotel area we were lucky enough to spot monkeys in the forests, but not everyone was that lucky. Bats would swoop past our balcony at dusk and of course there was the obligatory hotel cat. But my new favourite animal roamed around the hotel, which was the Coati. Inherently cheeky, greedy and cute.
Both holidays fully met the need to soak up the sun combined with a taster of what life outside the hotel had to offer. For anyone looking to climb the pyramids and learn more about ancient Mayan culture, or enjoying typical white sandy beaches, then the east coast has lots to offer. But for beautiful sunsets, boutique hotels and a laid back mooch around a peaceful local town then west could be best. From our experience, whether visiting east or west coast, rest assured that you will be enchanted by the Mexicans’ kind nature and good spirits – and you’ll love over-indulging on the delicious food and smooth tequila! VIVA MEXICO!!!