I love the concept of this sprawling 500 acre property, Bahia Principe, with 4 luxury hotels in the Riviera Maya complex, just an hour and a half from Cancun airport. It’s in the same vein like cruising, everything is inclusive so you don’t have to worry about paying for every little thing when you’re on vacation. My immediate impression on arrival is the beautiful landscaping and greenery, so relaxing and gets you into a vacation mood.
The Bahia Principe concept was started by Spanish family, Pinero with locations in Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Spain. The 2 “luxury” hotels, Akumal and Sian Ka’an have access to all 4 hotels’ amenities, restaurants and beaches which provides ample variety. The 2 “Grand” hotels, Coba and Tulum have full access on both these properties.
Things we loved :
• I enjoyed browsing through the local Mexican craft stalls at Hacienda Dona Isabel. I came away with 2 colorful ceramic bowls to add to my Mexican collection.
• nightly entertainment from Acro Dance to Magic, Michael Jackson or a Circus show to appeal to a wide audience. I really enjoyed the Acro Dance, street boys who’ve perfected synched rope jumping to music and invited the audience to participate.
• water sports and ballgame activities included in price
• unlimited a la carte gourmet restaurants which include a variety of Japanese restaurants serving sushi and teppanyaki
• free wifi in lobby
• pillow menu for folks with neck or back pain like I did. It saved my life!
• wellness centers for relaxing massage under tiki huts by poolside to get us into the holiday mood.
• hop on carts that take you from one hotel to the next, I got to meet some lovely guests
• enjoy evening appetizers and champagne at Sian Ka’an
My room was in the building right on the beach so I had amazing views of sunrises and close to lobby, night entertainment, spa, pool. 128 new rooms will be added November 1, 2015 to their existing 630 rooms so they must be doing something right. They offer super value…
• Spacious room with balcony or terrace as well as living area with sofa bed to lounge and read.
• free coffee and tea makers
• hydro massage bath tubs with bodycare lotions and potions.
• decor is Mexican Colonial and cozy.
• I have to mention Sian Ka’an, the adults only hotel was my favorite. The 3 storey “villa” with zen modern decor, plasma TV won me over. I wanted to bring home their beautiful, locally crafted wood dining table. Rooftop hot tubs and sweeping views of forests, order up some champagne and appetizers to complete your decadent experience.
• Coba Hotel is geared towards families with kids. Great idea so they can have playmates.
Pools & Beaches
Two enormous pristine and inviting pools surround the property, if you’re on one of the bridges, the view of the pools are pretty impressive. One was a river style pool with bridges and tropical gardens and a lake style pool closer to the beach with swim up bar. We had access to 3 other hotels’ beaches and pools for some variety. If you want a kid free zone, Sian Ka’an, the adults only hotel’s pool is for you! An infinity pool will be added with a bar nearby making a total of 3 amazing choices.
Eco Bahia Foundation
I was thrilled to see they have a tour to raise awareness of amazing creatures that roam on their property. We spotted strange looking racoons called coati with tails that point straight up and barricades were set up around turtle nests on the beaches. Our mini tour in their eco forest got smothered with mosquitoes no matter how much repellent we slathered on. One thing the locals are strict about is using biodegradable insect repellent to protect the environment, I liked that. We didn’t get to see much on this eco tour but could be because of time of day.
Coba Tulum Tankah Tour is a MUST when you’re in Rivera Maya! It was the best tour I’ve ever taken, hands down and I’ve been on a couple that are nothing but a tourist promotion. The tour was successful due to our superb tour guide, Gabriela who really knew the local history, culture and made it come alive.
Why this tour was perfect…
• Good mix of visiting Coba Maya ruins, then some sporting activities and lunch inside an authentic Mayan village, then a Mayan walled city in Tulum.
• Coba Maya Ruins was not too long and not too short. It was just the right amount so you weren’t huffing and puffing but enough so you got some exercise after all the eating. You only need to see a few ruins, they look the same.
• We visited one of the tallest pyramid ruins in Yucatan known as the Nohoch Mul. Some actually got to the top but not me, I have virtigo but I cheated and posed on the steps for a photo.
• My favorite was visiting a Mayan village, Tankah with 2 natural cenote (sink wells) that were so clear and beautiful.
• Enjoy 2 zip lining adventures, then paddle in canoes and a swim in the cenotes.
• I was hoping to watch the Mayans cook tortillas on these enormous cast iron flat pans and chicken inside big cast iron pots over charcoal but alas they had everything ready by the time we arrived. The chicken was so tasty and juicy and the freshly made tortillas were delicate and had a nice texture.
• Even though there were other tour groups at the entrance, we never saw them and felt we were having an exclusive tour of our own.
• Next up was a Mayan walled city in Tulum. It was small and it was getting hot, so it was perfect to run through it. The best was looking over the beach, again the water was crystal clear and emerald green.
• The best part of the whole tour was our tour guide who fed us fascinating tidbits of Mayan history including drawing in the sand to illustrate her point.
• The tour was organized through Bahia Principe’s own tour company so it’s easy to make reservations from any of the 4 hotels!
If you’re a golf fanatic, you’re in for a treat…
• Award winning British golf architect, Robert Trent Jones II designed this outstanding water and rock 18 par 72 golf course and a 9 par 27 course.
• Golf carts are fitted with GPS so you don’t get lost!
• You don’t even have to bring your clubs or shoes, you can rent everything there.
• Kids can give golf a try too.
• The last hole was absolutely breathtaking but very tricky, it was tiered and interlaced with ponds, good luck amigos!
Very smart the designer had all the restaurants with views of the beach or pool.
Adding to their roster of 16 restaurants on their property, a new restaurant, Rodizio, a Brazilian “churrascaria” will be added starting November 1, 2015. You know where the waiters keep circling round and carve meat like picanha, steaks and spiced sausages off their skewers and you have to keep flipping up the STOP sign so you can take a run around the block before continuing the next round. I’m glad it wasn’t up yet.
Buffet is a great way to offer variety to suit all ethnicities. They had stations for Italian and even had an Asian section! After experiencing buffet dining which is very popular in Asia and from years of cruising, I’ve learnt not to fill up my plate. There’s a method to buffet dining and that’s to preview everything first before selecting very tiny portions so you can get to taste many dishes.
Breakfast buffet was fun, there were omelet stations where you could pick the fillings in a little bowl for the omelet chef to make fresh for you. I made up my own Huevos Rancheros from different stations one morning.
Our buffet lunch at Sian Ka’an’s gourmet restaurant, Yal-ku was another favorite of mine. There was less choice but still plenty to choose from. I loved the ambience and setting of this dining room, you felt like you were inside a forest.
I couldn’t stop taking photos of the beautiful intricate carved fruit and vegetables. It’s definitely an art form very prevalent in Thailand and Southeast Asia. I must say they made the food look ever so appealing.
I got a chance to talk to Chef Lisardo, a Spaniard who runs all the restaurants and manage all the chefs and staff which nearly double in size during season. My stand out dinner was at Arlequin, an upscale gourmet restaurant at Akumal. The menu was small but had excellent choices. I’m all about quality versus quantity. Chef suggested Thyme & Honey Lamb Rack so of course, I took his advice, they were perfectly executed.
The most fun dining experience was at Mikado, I’m probably biased cause I’m Asian. It was one of those teppanyaki grills you sit round where the chef does a whole performance with the food and FLAMES! It never gets old, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it, it always engages you, you can’t help but let out the ooohs and aaah’s. This was definitely a pig out night, we started with some light appetizers and then the show starts. The secret to getting everything tasting so good is the slathering of butter over everything. Mikado tops any show I’ve seen, the chef poured fuel around the stainless steel counter and lit it, so he was behind a gulf of flames, what a superb finale!
I was sad I didn’t get a chance to dine at Frutos del Mar, their highly rated seafood restaurant.
Pros and Cons…
• Such great value because so many activities and amenities are included in the all-inclusive
• So much choice with the variety of restaurants and beaches
• Kids and tweens have play areas with loads of games and a fun water park. They cater to even babies, so you can take a “baby break” and totally relax.
• If you’re thinking of longer stays, their vacation rentals and condo residences are a great option to get away from the cold.
• You can experience the best of Mexico without leaving this property.
• Their ‘virtual receptionist’ app makes reservations for dinner, entertainment or spa services or even a group chat can come in very handy for organizing gatherings.
• The only cons I can think of were mosquitoes in the Bahia Eco forest as well as in our hotel building. I learned from an African drumming instructor that by simply burning a smoldering log, it will keep bugs and insects away. It certainly worked when I attended her session and it doesn’t spoil the environment. Maybe they can make this a daily ritual?
Note: this was my first media trip and travel article originally written for about.com