Now that winter has officially hit the Northern hemisphere, many of us are beginning to daydream of escaping to warmer climates. To pre-empt the winter blahs, I recently visited Playa del Carmen, Mexico, a vibrant tourist town along the Caribbean Sea about 45 minutes from Cancun in the heart of the Mayan Riviera.
While there are several boutique hotels and condos in town, which is booming with new development, there are only two beachfront all inclusive hotels directly in Playa del Carmen: the Gran Porto Real and the Royal Playa del Carmen. Both hotels are part of the Real Resorts group and adjacent to one another, but the Gran Porto is a four star family-friendly option while the Royal Playa del Carmen is a five start adults only resort.
The location of these hotels is fantastic, within close walking distance to the famed Quinta Avenida or 5th Avenue, which is a pedestrian-only street that has miles of shopping, restaurants, and all the nightlife you could ever possibly want. Playa del Carmen is also centrally located to explore the surrounding Mayan ruins, adventure sports or the island of Cozumel. Note that being in town, this is certainly a busy and touristy area. If you are looking for something more secluded and pristine, consider staying in Tulum.
This review will focus on the Gran Porto Real and a review of the Royal will follow shortly!
The Gran Porto has 287 rooms in five categories (standard, junior suite, oceanview (partial view of ocean), oceanfront (full view of ocean), and beachfront (direct access to beach)). Guests in the more expensive room categories receive full access to use the facilities at the Royal, which is a fantastic option if you are travelling as a couple or friends. Personally, I think the Ocean Front rooms closer to the pier are the best. We stayed in room 355 and loved the panoramic view on three sides, including 2 balconies – one with loungers and one with a table.
A number of our friends were also staying at the resort in standard rooms near the rooftop relaxation pool, which were well located close to a bar, sushi, hot tub and spa (this area is great for groups, but keep in mind it’s a bit noisier and some rooms have no windows so if you want to lounge in your room, may not be the best option). The higher end room categories also have an in-room liquor dispenser, which is a cute novelty. All rooms have bar fridges with water, pop and beer replenished daily.
A portion of the Gran Porto beach has sandbags and fishing boats; however, the other half of the beach is beautiful with lots of flat sand (it gets rocky the further out you go, but good for wading). Also the beach in front of the Royal, two minutes walk away, is great for longer swims. If you like staying on the beach, I recommend locating yourself closer to the pier which has the nicest sand, plenty of chairs and a beach bar with swings instead of seats. No umbrellas or huts means that the beach has very little shade, so I could rarely sit there for longer than 30 minutes anyway.
Dining options include one main buffet, a Mexican a la carte restaurant that doesn’t require reservations and an Italian a la carte restaurant that does require reservations and gets quite busy so book early. There is also a 24 hour snack bar near the lobby with self-serve open bar including beer, wine and spirits as well as hot and cold snacks, which is a nice treat. Also during the day an outdoor beach grill offers burgers, fries, tacos, fruit, and nachos (the guacamole is amazing in Mexico!). Fresh sushi is also offered near the relaxation pool for lunch. The room service was absolutely fantastic – delicious food and beautifully presented. If you are a real foodie, consider upgrading to a room with Royal access to try several additional excellent restaurants.
Facilities include a full gym and spa, and while treatments cost extra, an excellent hydrotherapy area is free for guests and includes a tranquil gender-segregated steam room, sauna, jacuzzi, and cold plunge pool. Definitely worth a try in the evenings. As mentioned, in addition to the main freshwater pool, there is a smaller rooftop relaxation pool and hot tub near the spa area as well.
During the day animation staff arrange volleyball, dancing and other activities at the main pool for those that wish to join, but they are never pushy. There is also a kids club and activities for teens, but we didn’t explore these. Also worth noting is that the free WiFi at this resort was the best I have ever experienced anywhere in the Caribbean. It worked on the beach, by the pool, everywhere.
There is nightly entertainment in the lobby, usually a band with a singer, but we never saw many guests listening to them. There is also a show each night in the lobby but we didn’t get a chance to see it. Based on the set-up, my expectations were not high. There is plenty of nightlife in town, so I don’t think the hotel focuses on this too much. A romantic lobster dinner on the beach is arranged one night of the week ($108 USD per couple).
Last point is about the staff and customer service: really exceptional! From the general manager to the concierge to the housekeepers, bell hops, servers and ground crew, they were all wonderfully kind and polite. You really do feel very welcome at this hotel and if you ask for something, they will do everything in their power to accommodate it.
We would definitely recommend the Gran Porto if you are looking for an all-inclusive option in the heart of Playa del Carmen. Getting a room with Royal access ensures you have the best of both worlds, being right on the beach at the Gran Porto with the extra amenities of the Royal.