How to Pick the Right Mexican All-Inclusive Resort
The basic concept of an all-inclusive is beautifully simple—and vastly appealing: For an agreed-upon sum, your wallet gets banished to obscurity while you get unlimited fun, food and drinks.
And in Mexico, that trio can be especially epic—say, a morning spent between your swim-up suite and the pool, followed by an afternoon of kayaking and an evening of feasting (complete with wine pairings) in a thatch-roof “culinary theater.”
Of course, all-inclusive doesn’t mean one-size-fits-all. And with so many options spanning Mexico's vacation hot spots, where do you even begin? Right here, actually. Read on for the six questions you should always ask yourself before booking—and the answers that will lead to your own epic escape.
1. How much do we want to spend?
“The evolution of the all-inclusive resort concept over the last decade means there’s now something for everyone’s budget and taste,” says Sarah Flook, product manager for CheapCaribbean. “Choices range from mass-market complexes with multiple pools, bars, restaurants and activities to boutique properties offering a more tailor-made approach, where chores like unpacking and ironing are included, thanks to your butler.” So while you shouldn’t assume that “all-inclusive” means inexpensive, it often suggests major value in Mexico.
A few cases in point: At the bargain end of the spectrum, there’s Holiday Inn Resort Los Cabos, where you'll find three distinct zones—one activity-filled, one totally chill (and adults only), and one especially kid-friendly. Four nights—with air from LA—start at $499.
A good mid-range example is the Grand Oasis Cancun, an extravaganza of Vegas-style shows, celebrity concerts, flash mobs, casino diversions, 18 restaurants and 14 bars, where prices start at $802 for four nights.
And if you’re feeling spendy, consider Secrets Huatulco Resort & Spa, an elegant hideaway on the Oaxacan coast with 24-hour room and concierge service, wait service by the pool and beach, chic waterside bars and top-shelf everything. Stays here are generally north of $1000 for four nights (well north in some of the Preferred Suites), but worth the splurge, according to devotees.
Whatever you’re looking to spend, “look for resorts that offer you credits toward spa services, in-hotel purchases or tours,” Ms. Flook advises.
2. What are the most romantic choices?
On the surface, almost any Mexican beach resort has the basic ingredients of a romantic escape: sand, surf, hammocks, margaritas. But dig a bit deeper, and some resorts—whether they’re party central or kiddie central—aren’t ultra-conducive to romance. So if you’re looking to reconnect, search for smaller, secluded spots with low-key entertainment, says Ms. Flook.
Consider an adults-only option such as Valentin Imperial Riviera Maya, where you can easily steal away to some hidden corner of the lush, tropical grounds—or to your own hydro-massage tub.
On the other hand, there are some dreamy retreats that aren't technically (or entirely) adults-only but tend to see very few kids. One case in point is Zoetry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres, with only 35 oceanfront suites and an emphasis on fine dining and attentive service. “It has an intimate, hidden-away feeling,” says Ms. Flook, “and the arrival by private yacht, complete with sparkling wine, is magical.”
Another is Grand Sirenis Matlali Hills Resort & Spa Riviera Nayarit, perched in its own lush eco-reserve high above Puerto Vallarta. A whole roster of spots vie for best seat in the house: the loungers at the infinity pool overlooking the bay, the specialty baths inside the thatch-roofed Spa Makawé and the toes-in-the-sand Acapulco chairs at the Beach Club, to name a few.
3. What’s best for a family vacation?
From tot-sized buffets heaped with chicken nuggets to kids-only dance clubs, the family-friendly resorts will earn you major parent points here.
But adults can get their own time off to boot: At Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa, for example, take your kid to the Explorer’s Club for sandcastle-building and pyramid-climbing while you’re face-down on a treatment table at the spa, then reunite for dinner and beach movies beneath the stars.
If your family leans green, consider Playa del Carmen's Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, where kids can snorkel through a naturally occurring cenote, swim through a mangrove-flanked river and walk along iguana-, coati- and spider monkey-spotting trails—all without leaving the property. Not that every animal in residence is wild: There's also a sweet little farm filled with rescue animals.
4. How spirited will things get?
Time was, all-inclusive resort bars served up wine, beer and the obligatory boozy fruit slush. But the drinks, they are a-changing. All-inclusives are awash with craft cocktails, fine wine and select microbrews.
So if your spirits are important to you, consider the “Unlimited-Luxury” program with Secrets, Dreams and Now brands; it includes premium wines, beers and other top-shelf beverages, suggests Ms. Flook.
Or choose resorts where quaff connoisseurs need not buy into a special program. At Breathless Riviera Cancun, for example, you can sip your way through unlimited top-shelf spirits at nine chic bars and lounges or browse the bubbles at the Fizz Iced Champagne Bar.
For its part, the Fives Azul Beach Resorts Playa del Carmen has an amply stocked tequila and mezcal bar and a dedicated gin bar. Meanwhile, oenophiles should report to the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, where serious sommeliers and a vast wine menu await. And if you want an in-room spirits setup that rivals a cantina's, consider Cabo San Lucas' Riu Santa Fe, home to en-suite beverage dispensers that give new meaning to "minibar."
5. How well do we want to eat?
Foodies, rejoice. Mexico’s all-inclusives now cater to you in unprecedented ways. At the Riviera Maya’s El Dorado Royale, for example, the monthly culinary series draws Michelin-star chefs who cook with fresh ingredients from the hotel’s own greenhouse—and you can book a five-course dinner with wine pairings and a cooking demo in the on-site culinary theater.
In fact, all Karisma Hotels and Resorts, of which El Dorado Royale is one, offer a "Gourmet Inclusive" experience that includes fresh produce and spices, 24-hour room service, vegan and vegetarian options and a multitude of ethnic cuisines.
Another all-inclusive that offers especially varied ethnic eats: Ventus at Marina El Cid’s in Puerto Morelos, where the Mercado de Dolores is home to seven eateries with distinct cuisines.
6. Beach or pool?
If you can't decide which is more important to you on vacation, why force the issue? There are so many properties that offer epic takes on both, you don't have to choose.
At Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya, for example, you can snorkel with wild turtles before returning to your suite, where a swim-out terrace leads to the pool.
Meanwhile, at the eco-friendly Hotel Xcaret, pristine pools are carved into natural lagoons, and jungle trails lead to secret coves, caves and cenotes. One infinity pool kisses the Caribbean, while another covers a rooftop. “This resort takes all-inclusive to a whole new level,” says Ms. Flook. Bonus: Once you’ve filled your lounging quota here, take advantage of free access to nine area theme parks and tours.