Riviera Maya: The Good, The Bad, and The Absolute BEST!
Surviving the winter is hard. But what’s even harder is surviving winter when you KNOW it’s supposed to be summer…
That is my life.
I live in the Great White North where winter lasts 6 months…
...which is 120 days...
Six LONG months of blizzards and below freezing temperatures --- that’s how long it lasts OFFICIALLY...but if you live in Canada you know it actually lasts way...wayyyy longer.
Needless to say, when it was still cold in June, I had to get away and I chose the one place I knew I’d find some sun, sand, and tacos…
Mexico...the land of great food, vibrant colours, lively music, and you guessed it -- TEQUILA.
From ancient Mayan temples, to the crystal clear magic that is a cenote, Mexico is a bustling hive of activity, culture, and tradition. It’s a tropical wonderland and a place I needed to be STAT.
Sure, I’ve always known about Mexico -- I mean Cancun is like the spring-break capital of the world -- but, the wild parties, excessive drinking, and the Jersey Shore style debauchery that’s depicted in every spring break movie known to man, didn’t exactly appeal to me in my old age (this 23-year-old liver just can’t take it anymore).
I’m not much of a partier, and because of that I had always shied away from Mexico...that is until I discovered the beauty of Riviera Maya.
Just south of Cancun, is a stretch of Caribbean coastline filled with beauty and culture that is indescribable. If you are more low-key like me, you'll instantly fall in love with the unique feel of each of its cities and the lifestyle that’s more focused on the beach and local cenotes. Yes, there are all-inclusive resorts; but, because the area is less populated, the vibe of Riviera Maya is more intimate which is perfect for couples, like me and my boyfriend looking for a little getaway, or for people just looking to relax and unwind. Don’t get me wrong, there are tons (and I mean tonsss) of things to see and do; but, Riviera Maya is a great place to get away from it all and just chill.
My first impression of Riviera Maya was made long before I actually arrived. Initially, when doing my research I was looking for a place that was warm, had great food, and a quiet vibe to escape the obnoxious hustle and bustle that comes with living in a big city. Riviera Maya checked all of my boxes. So, I booked an all-inclusive, packed my carry-on, and hopped on a plane to explore a new city.
A few hours later I arrived and as soon as I stepped off the plane it hit me...No, not that AHA moment of self-actualization that happens to every "wanderluster" ever… what hit me was the heat. AND BOY WAS IT HOT! I’m originally from the Bahamas so I should be used to it; but, maybe it’s because I just left blizzard central, or because I’ve been living in Canada for too long, but somehow that heat threw me for a loop.
After a quick pit stop to the washroom to wrangle the curly bush that had now become my hair off my sweaty neck, I was shuffling through the airport. Things moved pretty quickly (with the exception of the 25 minutes it took to wait in the line for pens) and within an hour (again..because of the pens) I was out of immigration and on the WestJet bus that was waiting for me and my boyfriend (Ryan) to shuttle us to the hotel.
The 1.5 hour ride from the airport to the hotel was pleasant (and air-conditioned AKA BLESSED!) and as our bus-guide went over some things to know about Mexico, I stared out the window watching the lush trees and vibrant colours zoom past me. Mexico. Was. Beautiful.
First Impression = 10/10
Now that I’ve had the opportunity to gush over how perfect Mexico was, I’m going to get into the nitty gritty. I’m going to break down my trip into 4 sections: Accommodation, Transportation, Food and Activities; and then give them each a score out of ten!
Bad news is like ripping off boob tape -- sometimes you just have to shut your eyes, grit your teeth and get it over with, and that’s what I want to do here. While, like anyone who knows what work is like, I just want to skip to the fun part and tell you all the great things because Mexico has SO much more to offer than this one hotel. I also want to be honest and I hope that my mistake helps you when choosing your accommodations. I would hate for something like a crappy hotel to ruin your perspective on such an amazing place.
That being said:
Choosing a hotel is hard work. Hotels pay professional photographers to highlight its best assets, and try desperately to conceal all of its faults...that is precisely why you should filter all the poor review’s first not just read the 5 good ones that pop up at the top ….
….which is what we did…
I know this is a rookie mistake on my part and I'm still kicking myself because I usually scour all 363 pages of reviews on TripAdvisor; but, to be fair we went on this trip with 2 other couples and it was the only place that looked decent and fit comfortably in everyone’s budget. So, we ended up conceding to the majority and choosing the hotel package that they wanted. By the time they actually agreed on something, I was just so relieved we booked before anyone could change their minds.
Advertised: 5 star hotel
Reality: 2.5 star hotel (at best)
For what it’s worth the hotel isn’t completely horrible, but it's definitely not 5 star.
Check-in was at 3pm and it was chaos. The lobby was open air which was beautiful but impractical. There was no A/C so it was jam-packed with hoards of people sweating actual bricks and there was so much confusion that it became a very tense experience. Our first check-in lady was a little rude; but we gave her a pass because we got it -- it was hot.
We checked into room 1211 and were immediately unimpressed. The room was dirty, the halls had a moldy smell, and the whole situation was run-down.The only good part about building 12 was its location because it was really close to the beach. After a quick call to the front desk we were moved to a room in building 8. This room was MUCH better (although still run-down) and extremely far from the beach, it had its own pool section, it was close to the lobby and 3 restaurants...it was also free of mold. There were even regular cart pick-ups to take you to the beach/the other side of the resort.
ROOMS = 1/10
Unfortunately, we went during seaweed season so I don’t know if this is the most accurate assessment. The beach at the hotel was a bit of a let-down (although not the hotel’s fault). The water was brown and the sand was covered in algae which was disappointing; BUT, we weren’t disappointed for long because about 8 minutes down the beach (walking distance), there was a GORGEOUS lagoon with clear blue water, white sand, and a little river path secluded under an umbrella of trees that more than made up for it.
BEACH = 0/10
The best part of staying at Blue Bay was the service. The waiters were so nice, attentive, and extremely funny. Sure, they tried to serve us tequila at breakfast; but, we were on vacation so why not! The front desk agents were overall extremely helpful and despite some language issues, they tried their best to help us with whatever we needed. The chefs at the restaurants even made special gluten free dishes for me when there weren’t any options or called in a meal from another restaurant to meet my allergy needs.
We booked the entire vacation with WestJet Vacations and I must say that while I usually hate WestJet because every 5 out of 7 times I fly with them (they have a direct flight to the Bahamas, which is why I keep using them) I have a bad experience (delays, bad attitudes, general shenanigans and nonsense), WestJet Vacations really impressed me. Not only did they have the best price ($2303 CAD for 2 people), they also partner with Best Day Travel Group who included a shuttle to and from the airport, a representative at the resort to ensure that we had assistance during our stay, and we were surprised with a free day trip to Playa Del Carmen with a tequila tasting.
This part was tricky (some points are lost) because there weren’t any signs directing us to the shuttle. We also didn’t realize that our bus was with Best Day for the first 15 minutes, so that added to the confusion; however, once we actually found the guide (who was waiting there with a sign) the rest was smooth sailing. The ride was peaceful and the guide - though his jokes were horrible LOL -- gave us some really good information about Mexico, the hotel and general things to be aware of (like DON’T drink the water -- I can’t stress that enough).
Let me start off by saying, that from the reviews I read, cabbing in Mexico is an EXPERIENCE. Though there is a bus (which is cheaper), we opted to cab from the hotel because I wanted the security. We used the company Lazaro Cardenas Del Rio (the cabs have aqua circles). The cab’s were SO clean and smelled amazing. The four drivers we had were polite, and efficient and despite the language issues (many of them don’t speak English), they tried their absolute best to communicate, answer questions, and put up with my out of practice, hasn’t been used since high school, Spanish. The one thing I liked about this company was that the rates were fixed. Each destination has its own price so there was no worry about the meter. We knew what we were paying upfront and that was that. It is pricier than just hailing a cab off the street (you can’t haggle); but I would say the convenience was worth it.
TRANSPORTATION = 7.5/10
Everything I ate was delicious (the 7 pounds I gained confirms it!). My favourite things I ate were the hash browns, fajitas, spicy red sauce (which I put on literally everything), and these little gluten free corn-bread cupcake things that no one knew the name of.
Because I have so many allergies, and I don’t eat beef, pork or avocados, eating (especially off the resort) was a bit of a challenge; but, I will say what I did eat was so fresh and well-seasoned and my stomach gives it 5 stars.
Favourite Meal: Chicken fajitas, refried beans and Mexican rice (drenched in the spicy red sauce LOL)
Favourite Drink (sans alcohol): the “green juice” at XPLOR Park
Favourite drink (with alcohol): Blue MotherF---ker
FOOD = 10/10
Just because I said Riviera Maya is a great place to relax, doesn’t mean it’s boring. In fact it’s the polar opposite. There are so many things to do like catching a cab to Playa del Carmen and shopping on the iconic 5th avenue, exploring historical Mayan ruins like Chichén Itzá, walking through the underground caves, taking a dip in one of the many local cenotes, and so much more.
There's absolutely no shortage of adventure in Riviera Maya and I highly recommend taking at least one day to get off the resort and seeing all that Riviera has to offer!
The one activity I have to recommend is taking a trip to Xcaret Park. It is an eco-park full of natural wonder. There are underground rivers and caves to explore, Mayan villages, tutorials for things like wool-making, and cocoa powder tastings. There's snorkeling, archeological sites, animals and shows to see throughout the day.
The final show is the “Mexico Spectacular!” and believe me when I say you don’t want to miss it. It starts at 7pm and runs until about 9pm; and is a musical phenomenon that will take you through the entirety of Mexican history. Trust me I know, after being at the park all day, committing that last two hours is a hard thing to convince yourself to do; but, it is truly an experience you will never forget!
ACTIVITIES = 11/10
OVERALL SCORE = 10/10 and I highly recommend! I know the math doesn’t add up but Riviera Maya is one of those unique places, with so much beauty and life that I can’t possibly give it lower than a 10!
Sure there were bumps in the road, but what trip doesn’t have them! At the end of the day every bump makes the experience and this one is one that everyone should have!
The next time you need a vacation and you’re struggling with choosing a destination, try Riviera Maya and #thechampagneseries to let us know how it goes!