The Viceroy Riviera Maya (Photo by Brad A.Johnson)
“What’s your favorite hotel in Mexico?” That’s a question I get asked a lot.
It’s a loadeded question to which my answer changes daily. I’ve stayed at so many hotels and resorts in Mexico that I can’t possible count—or even remember—all of them. A favorite? I hesitate to pick just one. However, when pressed, I can usually come up with a short list of the places I most want to go back to again and again. This is, of course, a very personal and subjective list, one that varies wildly from glam to rustic, high-end to low. And it depends on whom I’m traveling with, too. So when asked about my favorite hotel, I generally respond with, “What are you in the mood for?”
Grand Velas Riviera Maya (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
The Ultimate Foodie Retreat
For glamorous gluttony, there is simply no better hotel in Mexico than Grand Velas Riviera Maya. The food is incredible, and it’s all included in the price of your room. All day. Every day. As much as you want. Whatever you’re in the mood for. And I’m not talking buffets, wristbands or tour buses here. This place oozes luxury. It’s among the best of the best. I’d rank the signature restaurant, the very modern Cocina de Autor, among the Top 5 restaurants in Mexico. And the French restaurant, Piaf, might very well be the best French restaurant in Mexico. But of course, when you’re in Mexico, you’re going to want Mexican food—and the chefs at Frida and Chaká, are fantastic. The rooms are sublime. The beach is pristine. And the spa… just, wow.
Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Elsewhere in the Riviera Maya
I’ve been traveling to Cancun, Playa del Carmen and the surrounding area since the late 80s—long before anyone coined the term “Riviera Maya.” I even lived in Cancun for a while in the late 80s. I have so many favorites here, for so many different reasons. For the best overall rooms and romance, my pick is Banyan Tree Mayakoba, where every room is a villa with its own private pool and courtyard—and the French doors of the bedroom open directly into the pool! The resort’s Mexican restaurant is excellent, too (I wish the Thai restaurant were as good.) And the spa is one of the best in Mexico.
And if I get to choose one more in the Riviera Maya, it would have to be The Viceroy, formerly known as The Tides. The Viceroy is opposite of the sprawling Grand Velas or meandering Banyan Tree. Whereas those are grand and posh, Viceroy is quaint and rustic, a wee bit Robinson Crusoe but still luxurious, offering an unparalleled sense of tropical Mayan authenticity. The chef, Jetzabel Barragan, is one of the top female chefs in Mexico—or maybe I should just say, one of the best chefs in Mexico, period. My only complaint about the Viceroy is that the spa is terrible—far too rustic for how much this place costs. However, I’ve been told plans are underway to completely upgrade the spa.
The King Cole Bar at St. Regis Mexico City
In Mexico City, I’ve stayed at all the top hotels, and in terms of pure luxury, it’s a toss-up between the Cesar Pelli-designed St. Regis and the ultra-romantic Four Seasons. The St. Regis is just a great hotel all around—as glam as any of the most modern hotels in New York, London or Tokyo. The rooms and bathrooms could not be any more perfectly calibrated. And the King Cole Bar, with those sweeping city views from the terrace, is where anyone who’s anyone gathers for late afternoon cocktails and chalupas.
Four Seasons Mexico City
But the Four Seasons is far more romantic, less business-y, more personal. And I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be come Sunday morning than than having brunch in the courtyard here. On the other hand, if I’m traveling with my nightlife-y friends, I’m probably more likely to stay at the ultra-sexy Condesa DF, where we’ll spend way too much time at the rooftop lounge with cocktails in our hands.
The pool at Demetria
And speaking of favorite rooftop decks, my favorite hotel in Guadalajara is the Demetria, which I only recently discovered. It’s a great boutique hotel with an incredible rooftop pool and lounge. For such a cool town, the hotel scene in Guadalajara is fairly old fashioned and stodgy. Not so at the Demetria, which really sets itself apart. This is definitely the coolest hotel in town.
Rosewood San Miguel de Allende (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
San Miguel de Allende
I travel to San Miguel de Allende at least once a year, but I usually rent a house or apartment instead of staying in a hotel. That said, I do occasionally stay at a small hotel or B&B. My favorite? Rosewood. This hotel truly changed the game in San Miguel when it opened almost two years ago. The first luxury hotel here to be built from the ground up, it delivers all the modern amenities you’d expect from a world-class hotel in 2012—while at the same time capturing the charming, old-world sensibility that has always made this colonial town so popular in the first place. World-class restaurant. Sublime spa. The rooftop La Luna bar offers unbeatable sunset views and killer tamarind margaritas.
Ice cream by the pool at Four Seasons Punta Mita (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
There are so many hotels in the Puerto Vallarta area that I have yet to explore, but I’ve toured some of the nicest. And my top pick so far is the Four Seasons, just north of Puerto Vallarta proper in the gated community of Punta Mita. One of favorite things about the Four Seasons Punta Mita is the poolside ice cream service, delivered by tricycle every day at precisely 3pm. Three scoops of Mexican vanilla, please.
Las Ventanas al Paraiso (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
I don’t know why, but even though Los Cabos is the easiest resort destination to get to from Los Angeles, i probably go there the least. Maybe it’s because it feels too much like California, with so many fellow Angelenos sitting around the pool? Haha. But if I were going to pick a favorite here, I’d go with the classic Las Ventanas al Paraiso. I love the xeroscaped landscape filled with agave and cactus. And I also love the complimentary Clase Azul tequila in the rooms.
Hacienda San Jose
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Merida, and I think it’s high time to return. Merida almost feels like another country. It feels like it’s so far from anywhere else in the country. When I was last in this part of the Yucatan touring a number of hotels, my favorite was the insanely romantic Hacienda San Jose. It’s an old sisal plantation that’s been turned into an exotic hideaway not too far from town. It still feels like an old ranch. Porch sitting is an art here, and you’ll want to work on your form for hours at a time.
It seems like much of the news coming out of Michoacan these days is bad news. But my friends who live in Mexico City say they still love to visit Morelia. They still feel perfectly safe here and actually go frequently. I’ll take their word for it. Morelia has the best candies in Mexico—even better than Puebla. There’s an amazing little hotel here that I can highly recommend. It’s called Villa Montaña. It’s a grand old mansion and collection of detached villas that sit high on the hillside overlooking the city. The view from the pool is breathtaking. The library lounge feels like something out of a Sandra Cisneros novel.
New, On My Radar
There are several new hotels that I’m looking forward to trying soon. Tops on the list is the recently opened Endemico in Baja’s Guadalupe Valley. It’s from the same group that owns Basico and Deseo in Playa del Carmen and Condesa DF
in Mexico City. And that same group has also just opened Downtown in Mexico. Meanwhile, down in Tulum, I’m really intrigued by the new Papaya Project, which was originally intended as a pop-up hotel but has become somewhat permanent, at least for now. And coming in 2013 is the Capella Bahia Maroma, which should be truly spectacular.
Now it’s your turn. What Is your go-to hotel in Mexico? Hit me up on Facebook and tell me about your favorites.
This article can also be found at MexicoToday.org, which syndicates my content about Mexico. All stories and opinions about México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today never tells me what to write or say, nor does the organization limit or restrict the scope of my stories or critiques. You can trust that I will always share my honest, unfiltered thoughts and commentary about the places I visit south of the border.