Located close to Playa Del Carmen's Avienda 5, but in a quieter area, the Pitted…
As we have matured in years (a.k.a. got old) our taste for the type of vacation we take has developed, particularly as we now travel without the worry of having children in tow. Our preference now is for a more independent style of travel. We look to make our money go further (so we can travel more) by trying to avoid spending money on the luxuries, particularly when it comes to hotels and food.
That said, our recent jaunt down to Mexico’s Riviera Maya was spent at a top-notch, all-inclusive resort.
A few years back we developed a very bad habit of buying timeshares, an infliction I now find hard to explain. Somehow we allowed ourselves to succumb to buying into multiple timeshares. As part of one of these deals we ended up with some “free” weeks at a chain of resorts. So, for the last couple of years we have used these weeks to escape the cold winters of America’s Northwest around the spring break vacations in March (Karen works in a school district). Not the best time to travel unless you like mixing with a hoard of “Spring Break” teenagers hitting the bars in countries that willingly supply them huge quantities of alcohol.
Fortunately, the resort we had chosen, Zöetry Paraiso de la Bonita, located around halfway between Cancún and Playa Del Carmen close to the small town of Puerto Morelos was well away from the Spring Break party scene.
Zöetry is a group of small, luxury hotels that are part of the AM Resorts Group. This resort only has a hundred suites and has maintained its AAA 5 Diamond Award status for over 15 years.
Anyway, I thought I would give personal review of this resort from our one week stay in March.
Getting to the resort from the airport at Cancún only took us about 20 minutes. They do provide complimentary transportation to and from the airport – but we chose to rent a car.
The resort entrance itself is set back a mile or two from the main coastal road leading south from the airport, Highway 307, so you need to keep a good eye out for the turning off of highway – which can be tricky especially at night! From the direction of Cancún the exit is on the left hand side, so you will need to go past it and take a u turn and follow the highway back North.
The resort itself is very compact. With only 100 suites it doesn’t need to be large. The tallest buildings are only 3 storeys high, which makes everything open and airy. The accommodation buildings are right on the beach and everyone has an ocean view, but being on the 2nd or 3rd floor improves your view and privacy. You can walk everywhere easily, but if for some reason you can’t make it around using foot power they provide chauffeured golf cart rides.
The grounds are beautifully maintained by the staff; as you would expect for 5 Diamond resort. The grounds people are continuously beavering away clearing leaves, mopping water when it rains and raking the sand. The style of the resort is very relaxed and due to the wonderful climate all the public spaces are open to the elements.
At Zöetry Paraiso de la Bonita the beach is never far away. Like most of the beaches along the Riviera Maya there is not much of a tidal rise so the beach’s depth is consistent, but it is a strip of sand rather than an expansive plain of a beach. Don’t expect to see a caravan of Bedouin tribesmen appearing over the top of a sea of sand dunes! I woke early every morning during our stay and was drawn to look out on the ocean – and without fail there was a small army of people out there grooming the beach and removing seaweed. I need to mention the seaweed as there was a lot of it. Apparently, as the story goes, this is a recent phenomenon, resulting from pollutants being dumped in the sea by Brazil. Researching this further the problem goes back several years and the algae blooms are due the nutrients in the water (some man made), weather patterns and other environmental factors. The type of algae causing the problems is called sargassum, which is a genus of large brown seaweed that floats in island-like masses. The authorities and the resorts along the Riviera Maya are trying their best to manage the situation but they are struggling. During our stay, there was a lot of seaweed in the water (and other detritus) which really put us off swimming in the sea – which we were really looking forward to.
The main facilities of the resort are set in a horseshoe shape around the main pool. The pool itself is not designed for swimming; there are 3 smallish circular plunge pools connected by narrow strips of “land” that are submerged by ankle-deep water. If you wanted to practice for your next Ironman event by swimming laps then this is not the pool for you! Another thing that was missing was a hot tub in the pool area. Close to the pool is the ubiquitous bar serving beers, wine and cocktails. There is only one other bar in the resort which is in the “library” – but most people hang out in the pool bar (also known as the Hippo Bar – due to two hippo statues on the bar counter). If drinking copious amounts of alcohol and partying is a part of your holiday plans then Zöetry is not going to work for you. The bars close around 11 am. The focus of this resort is wellness and tranquillity – so no all-night raves going on here!
There are daily activities planned, all of which are quite gentle and reserved, in keeping with the clientele who visit Zöetry. Don’t expect to be playing beach volleyball or beer pong. This is not technically an “Adults Only” resort but there is absolutely nothing laid on for children or teenagers – they would get bored very quickly if your plan was to purely hang around the resort. There were a couple of activities which did take our fancy. One was a Temazacal ceremony; a Mayan celebration that culminates with a steamy session in a sweat lodge and an evening cruise on a catamaran to watch the sunset (which doesn’t really work too well on the Riviera Maya which faces East.Beyond the main pool area, there is a spa. As part of the spa, you can partake in the thalassotherapy facilities. This includes a sauna, steam room, a small hot tub and a saltwater pool. Once you’ve been shown the ropes you can come and go as you like during the opening hours. There is also a small gym if you feel the need to work out (we always take our workout gear on vacation and never use it.) They of course offer a range of spa treatments – but we were put off by the price tag for the massages, which started at $200 per person for an hour. We instead headed into Playa Del Carmen and got a “couples” massage for one hour for $50 for both of us, which probably lacked the therapeutic efficacy of the massage at Zöetry, but still felt darn good.
The Restaurants and Food
There are three restaurants on-site at Zöetry. Only one serves breakfast and another only opens for dinner. The latter is La Canoa, a AAA Four Diamond award-winning restaurant.
These restaurants don’t do buffets for any of their sittings – so everything is à la carte. The menus changed a bit every day – but the choices largely remained the same – which would have got tiresome if we had been there for a longer and hadn’t taken some of our miles outside of the resort.
We are vegans. This can be problematic when we’re travelling – but we hoped that a luxury wellness resort could cope. And to a large extent, we were accommodated. There were limited vegetarian options on the menu and none were vegan, apart from basic appetizers; plates of fruit or vegetables, or could easily be made vegan. So, everything had to be made from scratch. This went well – the only annoyances were, having to remind them continually of our dietary needs (that shouldn’t have been so difficult in a small resort), some of the waiters not knowing what “Vegano” meant and the lack of variety of the food. I have to say that the food that was served was very well presented and tasted gorgeous. The portion sizes were generally on the small side but were made up for by the number of courses.
Our Room and the Service
We were given a suite on the 3rd floor which meant we had nobody above us, which is always nice. In fact, we didn’t hear any neighbours moving around or making any noise for the whole of our stay. The suite had a very private balcony that was not really overlooked at all so you could wander around naked if you chose (we did a few times). Of course, we had a magnificent view of the ocean and the beach and were treated to some wonderful sunrises.
The size of the room was not the largest I have seen but it was comfortable. The design theme used traditional Mexican styles, which I really liked. Obviously, these suites had been built a few years back, so some of the fixtures did feel dated, especially when it came to the bathroom. The bathroom was almost the biggest room in the suite and had a huge walk-in shower and sunken bath – all very nice but it could have done with some refreshing.
One of the small details which we think smacks luxury is the quality of the towels and linens that a hotel provides to guests. Unfortunately, Zöetry failed big time here. The towels that were provided did not have that plush feel, and, although intended to be pure white, many had a tell-tale grey tint to them.
Something else we were a little unhappy with was the room service. A couple of times we went out and returned late afternoon and the room had not been serviced. Additionally, used items such as glasses and plates were either not removed or left outside our door for a day or more. One time we came home to find a dirty cleaning cloth used by the staff left in a sink in the bathroom. Also, they were not very diligent in replenishing our minibar (with water!) and the coffee maker supplies. We’re not very fussy people but when a resort or hotel positions itself as “luxury” then the little attentions to detail make all the difference.
We did have a lovely experience with our room service. I had told them at the beginning of our stay that it was our wedding anniversary during our stay. Generally, we don’t make a big fuss about our anniversary and having made the comment I had forgotten about it. So, on Thursday night we had got talking to some fellow Brits in the bar and were settling in for a bit of drinks session when the bar closed at 11 pm. Not to be deterred I went back to our room to raid the mini bar for cans of beer, wine and the bottle of tequila we had been given on our arrival. Much to my surprise, I found our bed decorated with flower petals and the bath filled with water and bubble bath and sprinkled with petals. I took some photos and then headed back to the “party”. It was lovely but we were a little bit too drunk to enjoy it fully when finally made it back to our room at 4:30 am.
We are great lovers of wildlife so we were very happy to see the large iguanas and coati mundi running amok around the resort. They even had a little crocodile which seemed happy in its pond. The resort included some less than local creatures in the form of peacocks that roamed everywhere. It is difficult not to appreciate the beauty of these birds but they sure are noisy.
Less welcome were the caged birds. They had quite a number of cockatiels and macaws some of which were housed in small cages – which was upsetting to see. Some of the birds were allowed out to sit on perches during parts of the day but the rest of the time they were stuck inside their cages. We did meet a very nice young parrot called Patricio who was allowed to spend breakfast time strutting his stuff on one of the large marble tables located near to the breakfast room.
In summary …
Overall we loved the week we spent at Zöetry Paraiso de la Bonita. The location is wonderful and the weather was splendid and most welcome after a long, cold winter. There were some things that did disappoint us, mainly around food options and the attention to detail when it came to service – and of course the seaweed. The staff we met made us feel most welcome and they were all lovely.
Would we come again? Perhaps, but at $4000 for a week we could have a more adventurous and fulfilling journey elsewhere that would better fit our current expectations of a great vacation.