The sunny, warm - and seemingly safe - Mayan Riviera in Mexico
MAYAN RIVIERA, MEXICO - Okay, it's only a couple days. And I AM spending my holidays at a high-end, all-inclusive resort. But so far, I'm feeling extremely safe on my first vacation in Mexico.
Issues with service, sure. But unsafe? Not at all.
I'm staying at the Barcelo resort, in particular at the Barcelo Maya Beach Resort. It's a sprawling complex of four four-star properties and one five-star, where I'm not staying but got to visit on Monday.
The complex has a great beach that's at least 2 km long, with a shallow reef that's said to be good for snorkeling although I haven't gotten around to it yet. There are tons of pools and, yeah, tons of bars. Very good food, too, and a million activities; everything from scuba diving to catamaran sailing to ping pong, volleyball, basketball, mini-golf, tennis, billiards and more.
The grounds are huge and impressively landscaped, with open areas of lawn and bright pink bougainvillea or oleander, plus jungle-like areas where you're likely to spot meter-long (well, almost) iguanas sunning themselves on a rock in a clearing.
We had to pay an extra $140 or something per person, but we upgraded to the premium package to get access to the reservation restaurants and a wider variety of food at dinner, plus a nice lounge where I can type out notes and check email. The seafood restaurant, Mare Nostrum, was a touch hit and miss the other night, but the Japanese spot was quite good for sushi and mains if a little off on the tempura. The Mexican spot last night was best of all, I thought, with chicken mole and fresh grouper on a slice (not fresh, I don't think) of pineapple, plus fabulous chips and salsa.
I gotta say the service is rather hit-and-miss, however. They've been good at replacing burned out light bulbs in our unit, and we got moved to a room with a nicer view without asking, but I still don't have a clock radio that works, forcing me to get up and turn on a light in the middle of the night to check my watch. My laptop is acting goofy, and I can't get into the WiFi system. It might be my laptop's fault, but the concierge here didn't do much to help; calling a tech person but not asking them to come check it out the way I've had happen at other hotels I've stayed at.
The wait staff, on the other hand, is super friendly and they seem to work their butts off; dashing to and fro at breakneck speed to keep tourists like me supplied with coffee in the morning and margaritas at night (with some folks seemingly doing it the other way around, or skipping the coffee altogether).
We decided to skip the fancy cenote tours offered by the hotel and walk across the highway yesterday to check out some of the ones with booths on the side of the road. It was $15 per person to swim in three cenotes - underground, freshwater caves that form when water seeps through the porous limestone in these parts. And that included a mask and snorkel and lifejacket, just for extra safety.
The water was clear as can be and with beautiful rock formations you can see under water. Not a lot of fish, but a few were darting to and fro. The final cenote we visited - sorry, i can't get my photos to load - looked like something out of cenote central casting - a glorious pond of water open to the skies and surrounded by high, limestone walls and a flat area dotted with towering palm trees. The water wasn't as clear as some other cenotes but there was lots of plant life and reddish flowers blooming under the water, looking like a Disney painting. The greens were so bright I felt I was in an underwater Ireland.
A guy in a small compact car picked us up near the highway and drove us a mile or so to the cenotes, where my family and I swam alone until joining up with some locals at the final swimming spot. I don't think they wanted five wet tourists in the back of their car, so we walked back to the highway when we were finished, walking through scrub land and past the odd farmhouse with barking dogs and satellite dishes.
They say the Mayan Riviera in general is far safer than most areas of Mexico. But I suspect it's pretty darn safe 99.999 per cent of the time in Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, too. Certainly one wants to take precautions, but it seems unfair to label all of Mexico as dangerous when most of the problems involve drug cartels in states bordering the USA. It would be like having a few isolated cases of an infectious disease in Toronto and making everyone else in the world think the entire city is under siege and that they need to wear masks at Pearson or the Rogers Centre. Oh, wait....
Off to check out the PGA Tour event at the El Cameleon course today, up in Mayakoba. I'll report back later this week on the Fairmont Mayakoba and possibly on the ruins at nearby Tulum.