Hotel Reviews Archives

July 8, 2009

Hotel La Palapa - Isla Holbox - Review

We decided to stay at La Palapa hotel (on July 2009)for four big reasons: they had availability, they accepted two adults and two children in a double room (two double beds), regardless of what they said online, it was at the beach and it got great reviews at It was a great decision. The hotel is beautiful, family-friendly and utterly relaxing, close to town and with a friendly and accommodating staff. Definitely a place you should consider for your Isla Holbox stay.

When the kids saw our room – quite simple, with two double beds (rather hard, but so are often the beds in Mexico) and a couple of shelves, no phone, no TV, no mini-refrigerator, but cool with its two ceiling fans and a gorgeous veranda with a couple of chairs and a hammock – they begged to stay more than one night. It's US$90 a night (the rate we agreed on, though I've seen rooms offered for significantly less online), more than I want to pay for multiple nights. But hotels are quite expensive in Isla Holbox, and this one is truly enchanting. In any case, they don't have availability, so we are out of luck.

The room is not without problems, however. As beautiful as the veranda is, it's full of mosquitoes, even after they've sprayed insecticide, We found no way to turn on the A/C, though I imagine there must be one. Fortunately the two fans work very well, and there was quite a pleasant breeze blowing during out stay.

The hotel is located in a beautiful, white-sand beach, cleaned and combed daily. It has multiple lounge chairs on the beach, including a few that recline fully and have foam tops. Some are shaded, many are not. There are a few hammocks and lots of palms. There are several boats docked at the beach, but they still leave a large enough shore area in which to swim. A little palapa encases five tables and chairs and includes a bar/restaurant. You can have mixed drinks (MN$50-60) or one of a few dishes, from pizza (MN$40) to lobster (MN$150); the exchange, as I write, is about MN$13 to US$1, so neither very cheap nor ridiculously expensive (the spaghetti, for some reason, is MN$120 – 160, which seems absurd to me).

The sea is also beautiful. This being the Gulf of Mexico, the waters are not blue but aquamarine. The shore is full of small shells, but free of seaweed and you don't really need water shoes. It was very hot the first day we stayed at the beach (but the hotter it is, the fewer the mosquitoes), but very pleasant, and somewhat cloudy, the next day. The kids loved to play in the sand, specially at the end of the day, but beware that there are “tabanos”, a type of sand fly (horsefly according to a dictionary online) with a nasty bite. If you come here, you should really get some mosquito repellent with DDT, “OFF” doesn't cut it.

The hotel is very well located, one street down from the main street, and only a few blocks from the zocalo. There are plenty of restaurants nearby, from cheap traditional eateries (though most not serving Yucatecan food) to nice beach restaurants. Prices are pretty steep however, even at the more modest eateries.

The golf-cart taxi from the dock to the hotel was MN$30 – it should have been MN$20 for anywhere in the island, but we are ignorant tourists, what can I say? Tours to swim with the whale sharks booked through the hotel are MN$800, I'm not sure if they are cheaper elsewhere.

Finally, for those who read reviews that mentioned construction going on on the roof, the construction is all over, so you don't have to fear such noise. However, this is a very family friendly hotel, so it's not a place to get away from all noise.

La Palapa
Av.Morelos, 231 - 77310

Beach in front of La Palapa - Isla Holbox

Room at  La Palapa - Isla Holbox

Bathroom at  La Palapa - Isla Holbox

Room balcony at  La Palapa - Isla Holbox

July 22, 2009

Viva Wyndham Maya Hotel - Playa del Carmen - Review

The Viva Wyndham Maya is not the worst hotel I've ever stayed at - that
honor goes to a $4 a night Guatemalan hotel, where the cockroaches were
so big and so abundant that I had to leave in the middle of the night in search of less buggy accommodations.

This is not to say that the Wyndham Maya is roach infested (though
there were some worrying little bugs coming out of the information
folder), but when I arrived there (after our stay at the Sandor Caracol
Beach Resort
), I wanted to cry.

You see, I paid pretty much the same amount for both hotels - and while
the Sandos Caracol could be described as the “Target” of the all
inclusive resort industry, a solid 3-star resort, the Wyndham is closer
to K-Mart or Walmart, or a thrift store for that matter. Indeed, I
wondered if that's where they got the furniture which surrounds the pool
and pool-bar area. If I was a hotel reviewer (well, I guess I sort of
am, as I'm writing this review), I'd give it one star max (it claims it
has 3).

Now as for the detailed details:

Why I chose this hotel

I chose the Viva Wyndham Maya because it was the cheapest all inclusive
I could get in the Riviera Maya when I made the reservations. I did check out the reviews at, and while some expressed problems at the hotel, most of them
were very positive. None really explained that this was a low-end hotel


The hotel is located in Playacar, a newish designed “community” of
hotels, condos and time-shares. It's across the street from a shopping
area of sorts, which contains a Starbucks, a pharmacy, a travel shop and
various stands and shops selling Mexican-looking souvenirs. Playacar is
about a 20 minute walk our US$5 taxi ride from Quinta Avenida in Playa
del Carmen.

The hotel is located at the beach.

Check In / Out

When we went to check in (mind you, at 2 PM rather than the 3 PM check
in time), they only had one person at reception. That meant we had to
wait, and the “lobby” is open to the elements (read “hot”) and without
seating possibilities. Still, it's all in all not a big deal. However, check in can be very slow
for people who arrive at busy times or in groups.

The check in was painless enough, but the hotel required that we show
them all our passports and entry cards, and they made photocopies of
them. Photocopies that they will keep, god knows for how long, for some
unknown reason (the receptionist claimed he didn't know why they were
doing this, he claimed that it was a policy from Accounting). I am
suspicious that the hotel may believe it attracts the sort of clientele that might
be willing to steal a pillow or break and ashtray, and Accounting wants
to be sure they will be charged for that. Indeed, their hotel policy
says that people will be charged for anything they take, which goes
contrary to the policy of most nice hotels (those who expect guests to come back).

The Viva Wyndham is a “bracelet” hotel. That means that when you check
in they put a plastic bracelet around your wrist that you must wear
throughout your stay. There is no way to take it off at night or other
points, and then put it back again. My bracelet gave me a rash after a
couple of days, fortunately one of the guys at the front desk allowed me
to remove it and put another one on my other wrist.

Unlike other hotels, the front desk staff won't let you check out unless they cut the bracelets from everyone's wrists - again, suggesting that they believe their guests may possibly use their facilities for a little while after check out without paying. *shudder*


The Viva Wyndham Maya has two types of standard rooms, those that have
been updated by the adults pool at the front of the hotel, and the
“regular” rooms closer to the main pool/beach. We stayed in one of the
latter. I did not get the opportunity to see any other rooms, so I
can't comment on them.

The room we stayed reminded me of those at mom &
pop hotels from the 50's. Mind you, the Viva Wyndham Maya is nowhere as
old, but I guess all the humidity and lack of upkeep wears down rooms
quite quickly. Our room had peeling paint and stained walls and doors.
It was simply furnished with two double beds, one night stand, a shelf
coming out of the wall, with two drawers underneath it, that served as a
stand for the TV and as a desk of sorts, and a chair. There was a
closet and a mildewed mirror. The mattresses were put on top of hard
surfaces and they were hard, though not as hard as those in other
Mexican hotels. The pillows were small and hard, not particularly
comfortable, but easily folded for those who sleep that way. I had no
problems with the bedding.

The bathroom also showed many a sign of aging. It had a bathtub, but
the plug was stuck at mid-point, making it impossible to close for a
bath or to open completely to avoid the water reaching your ankles when
you take a shower. The bar for the toilet paper holder was missing, so
the toilet paper was left on a shelf. No big deal, all in all, but
another sign that the room was in decay.

There was a mini-refrigerator in the room holding 3 drinks when we
arrived. Despite the fact that the refrigerator had a weird smell to
it, we did ask for it to be filled up five times during the first two
days. At the end of the second day, a couple of sodas were added, but
no more.

The rooms come with a very loud air conditioning system (the plus is
that you can set it to the temperature you want and maids don't turn it
off when they come clean the room) and a TV. Alas, the AC is so loud
that it's hard to hear the latter. It also makes it somewhat difficult
to get to sleep. On the plus side, rooms near the beach are also near
the “theater” with the nightly entertainment which begins at 9:30 PM,
despite the closeness you can't hear a thing over the AC.

There were dispensers with hand soap and shampoo in the bathroom, as
well as something that could have been shower gel or hair conditioner,
we didn't figure out which and just used our own. There was no lotion
provided or anything else, though there is a shop where you can buy
what you need.

In all, we found the room serviceable but depressing. Alas, we wanted
to stay close to the pool and beach and that's what we got.


The Viva Wyndham Maya is a relatively small hotel, long and narrow. You
can walk from the gate to the beach in about 5=10 minutes. The grounds
themselves are manicured and clean, there are palms and native plants as
well as grass. The vegetation hides a number of agoutis (cute rodents, about
twice the size of a squirrel) as well as the odd iguana. The kids, of
course, loved looking for them.

The hotel counts with two pools, each with their own bar, as well as a
nicer bar in the reception area. The buffet restaurant, serving
breakfast, lunch and dinner, is on top of the reception room. There are
also three other restaurants serving Seafood, Mexican and Italian food
(we only tried Portofino, the Italian restaurant).


There is a gym, with a variety of machines, a spa and an internet room
with three computers. Internet access is not included, and it's charged
at US$5 an hour. There is no wireless anywhere in the hotel (but you
can get free wireless at the large McDonalds a few blocks north of the
Playacar exit).

The hotel provides you with free bicycles (you can take them out for 3
hours between 8 AM and 5 PM), free boogie boards and kayaks, as well as a
catamaran (if you know how to use it).


There are organized activities throughout the day, they don't vary day
by day though there tends to be a daily “tournament” for something or
other. Activities include exercise/dance classes and games.

There is also a trapeze that children from 4 to 15 can use between 9-11
AM and adults can use from 3-5 PM. There is less of a wait to use this
than you would guess.

The hotel has an archery range (open for a couple of hours in the
morning and afternoon), and bows for both children and adult.

Finally, there is one ping-pong table.

Children Activities

The hotel counts with a kids club that operates between 9:30 AM and 5
PM. The two girls who run it are great with the kids, and my children
enjoyed it a lot. There is also a “mini-disco” for kids at 9 PM.

As mentioned above, children are allowed to use the trapeze, the archery
range and the bicycles (there a couple of small ones for little kids,
none with training wheels).

There are babysitting services available for US$5 an hour. We didn't use them.


There is one daily show at the “theater” (a stage reminiscent of a high
school auditorium, with a roof but no walls and cheap plastic chairs) at
9:30 PM. It changes from day to day and is adult-oriented. I didn't
see any so I can't comment on them.


There is one by the reception area. We didn't go.


The Viva Wyndham Maya has two pools. They are both rather small and
were very crowded during our stay. You can't really swim in them or
play something without bothering other people (not that people were that
polite). The water in the general pool was unpleasantly hot. The other
pool is for adults only. The large pool has a swim-to bar.

If you want to get a lounge chair under the shade, you need to arrive by
about 8 AM and reserve it by putting your towel on it. People start
doing so about 7-7:30 AM.


The beach in front of the Viva Wyndham Maya is just plain beautiful.
The sand is white and powdery and the sea has the most amazing
blue/turquoise color. A mere postcard could not make it justice. If
what you want is to stare at a lovely sea, you could do no better.

The beach itself is rather narrow and filled by rather uncomfortable
lounge chairs. As with the pool, if you want a lounge chair in the
shade, you should come and reserve one by 8 AM. Fortunately, I'm an
early riser so this was no problem for me. People seem to be respectful
of others' towels.

The sea itself is rougher than in other areas, and quickly gets
waist-deep, but it's perfectly fine for even young children. The
temperature is great, specially in the morning.

As with the pool, the beach and the sea are very crowded from
late-morning on, if you want to enjoy the sea in peace, come early.

There are large rocks under the water, water-shoes are recommended but
not essential.

There are also sand bags, a few on the beach delimiting the areas for water sports and swimming, and others underwater, where the sea turns deep. We didn't think they were particularly unseemly.

Time Share Sales

The people selling time-shares (or vacation something or other, they'll
never admit they are time-shares) have a desk in the patio area beyond
the lobby. However, they swarm around the lobby and lobby bar area and
will approach you if you make eye contact (or even if you don't). They
are very polite and nice, however, and once they are told that there is
no way in hell that you would buy a time share at this hotel because you
consider it hell on earth, they'll stop bothering you (but they'll never stop saying hello to you).

If you are actually considering doing a time-share presentation for the
gifts, be aware that the gifts here are considerably lower than those
you can get elsewhere. For example, they could only offer me a $60
discount to Xcaret, while other places can offer you discounts twice as


The hotel has a very small parking lot by the main entrance gate. We
were always able to find parking, however.


The Viva Wyndham Maya has a buffet, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner,
a snack bar and three reservation-only a la carte restaurants. In
addition, you are welcome to use the dining facilities at the Wyndham's
sister hotel, the Viva Wyndham Azteca (located three hotels over, also
on the beach), which include its own buffet, as well as three
reservation-only restaurants.

Buffet Restaurant

We had breakfast at the buffet four times, lunch a couple of times, and
dinner once. Breakfast included American “favorites” such as
pancakes, French toast and freshly-made omelets, as well as Mexican
dishes (though few of these). I don't think I was ever able to find any
bacon. I found most of the food bland and a waste of calories, but I
was satisfied with some banana bread and nutella or cajeta (Mexico's
version of dulce de leche). The coffee and tea were somewhat drinkable, and
while the juices were the industrial-size cheap bottled type kind, the kids liked them well enough.

Lunch was actually OK when we had it. Once we had a breaded pork cutlet,
tasteless in itself, but OK with added salt and lemon juice. Another time there was some nice, tender chicken - and yet another a good pork rib. Just don't expect much flavor.

Dinner, on the other hand, was atrocious. There were very few choices, and those
available did not taste very good. We decided on the BBQ chicken and
ribs, and they were so dry as to be inedible. Fortunately we were able
to get reservations at the a-la-carte restaurants for the other 3 nights
of our stay.

A la carte restaurants

There are 3 a la carte, reservation-only restaurants at the Viva Wyndham
Maya, one serving seafood, another Italian food and another Mexican
food. In addition,there are 3 other restaurants (a Mexican one, an
Asian one and an Italian one) at the Viva Wyndham Azteca, the Maya's
sister hotel a few hundred yards down the beach. So guests have
theoretically a choice of 6 restaurants. In reality, it doesn't work
like that. The restaurants, by the way, only serve dinner.

You can go to the reservation desk every morning from 8 AM onward and
make reservations for the restaurants. They will let you make
reservations in advance; how many will depend on how many nights you'll
be staying (we stayed four, so we could make one reservation in
advance). But you can always make a reservation for the same night.

Now, which restaurants and times will be open for your reservation seems
pretty random. I couldn't make a reservation in advance for the Asian
restaurant, but I was able to make it the day of.

In any case, this system benefits the early birds who can be there first
- which worked out well for me, as I'm an early riser. People start
lining up at about 7:40 AM - if you're first or second you should be
able to sit in one of the chairs, so it's best to be early and bring a book.

Below are quick reviews of the three restaurants we visited: Portofino
(Italian @ the Maya), Bamboo (Asian @ the Azteca) and Il Palco (Italian @ the


Portofino is an Italian restaurant with a nautical theme. It offers a few salads, two or three soups, a couple of appetizers, some pastas and some main dishes - as well as three deserts. We found it to be good, though not in the least exceptional, and were particularly pleased with the desserts.

The kids had pasta (the restaurant made it with just butter & cheese for my 4 yo), and were happy with their dishes. I actually thought their spaghetti carbonara was quite good, even though it lacked bacon. Mike and I had steaks, beautifully presented but a bit tough and bland - but Mexico is not particularly known for its beef. The pasta portions were too big but the entrees were very nicely sized. A tartlet with tropical fruits was delicious, and a passionfruit mousse was surprisingly tasty. Service was good and efficient. Definitely a great improvement over the buffet.

Il Palco

Il Palco had the nicest dining room of the restaurants we ate at. The smallish dining room was decorated in soft colors with large (art-deco?) paintings that the kids liked. It had the atmosphere of a chic bistro. The menu was Italian / Italian American, which a few salads, several pastas and entrees. The kids and I had pasta, which we found to be good but not special. Mike and Mika liked my carbonara, which I thought was just OK (but it's hard to make good carbonara), and Mika's fetuccini bolognese was fine. Mike thought his chicken breast stuffed with something or other was pretty good. Mika liked my tiramisu dessert (it had quite a mild flavor). Service, once again, was good, and it was a meal several notches above the buffet.


Bamboo is described by the Wyndham as an "oriental" restaurant - they are seemingly unaware how the word has offensive connotations for Asians and Asian Americans. What it actually is, is a top-notch restaurant serving inventive new-pan Asian cuisine. Despite its tacky 70's inspired Japanese restaurant look, Bamboo could stand alone as an Asian bistro even in a food-mecca-sort-of-city such as San Francisco (or at least the East Bay). Every dish we had was good, inventive, interesting and tasty. The fried spring rolls had wonderfully flaky shells, and a vegetable filling that included black beans and who knows what else - there were distinct Mexican flavors, but it was still an overall Asian dish. The sushi tasted fresh and could have come from any sushi restaurant around.

Mika and Camila had the chow mein, thick noodles with either bok choi or spinach strips, carrots and tiny broccoli stems. It had a sweetish sauce that brought everything together. I had the kofta, described in the menu as an Indian dish. The somewhat heavy meatballs (I actually don't remember if they were meat or lamb) might have been Indian, but the sauce was soy-sauce based, also a bit sweet, and delicious. I wasn't as crazy for the brown rice that came with it, but I'm not a big brown rice fan. Mike had the panang chicken, perhaps the least mutated dish of them all. He also enjoyed it.

We all had the fried ice cream for desert - the kids weren't crazy about the shell, but I thought it was quite tasty. Service, once again, was perfect.

Bamboo is definitely a restaurant I'd go to if it wasn't attached to the hotel - but not, unfortunately, reason enough to go to the Wyndham.


The staff of the hotel was friendly but mostly low key.


The Wyndham has a very international clientele, with an emphasis on Latin Americans (mostly Argentinians and Mexicans) and Europeans, we saw relatively few Americans.


Despite the fact that Mike and I are veteran budget travelers, we did not like the low-end atmosphere and amenities of the Viva Wyndham Maya. We are not likely to stay at an all-inclusive hotel any time soon, but if we did, it would definitely not be at a Wyndham property.

Viva Wyndham Maya
Playa del Carmen

An agouti at the hotel grounds:


July 23, 2009

Sandos Caracol Beach Resort & Spa - Playa del Carmen - Review

The Sandos Caracol resort is a 3-star all inclusive beach resort,
neither more or less than that. We went there with almost no
expectations, and found it to be a mostly pleasant place to be, with
mostly a very cheerful and dedicated staff. It offered nice, if aging,
accommodations, standard food, and a reasonably nice pool and slice of
beach. Probably its best feature was the kids' club which my kids loved.

How I chose the hotel

The Sandos Caracol resort, along with the Viva Wyndham Maya, had the cheapest rates I could find for the two nights in July I was looking for. I figured that it'd be nice to check
out a different resort, so I went for the Caracol.

Finding the hotel

I made the reservations through the Sandos website, which provided me
with the wrong address and directions for the hotel. That meant that we
spent about an hour driving back and forth around Playa del Carmen,
trying to find it. Finally, we ended up at the Sandos Playacar, where a
helpful guard told us how to get to the Caracol. Once we knew how to
get there, it was relatively easy to do.

To find the hotel from the south, drive past Playa del Carmen until you see a sign for the Grand Coral resort, go into this complex and then follow the signs for the Sandos. There are currently no signs for the Sandos on the road. If coming from the north, look for the Grand Coral signs before Playa del Carmen proper.

Check In / Out

The checking in process was quick and painless. I explained what
happened to the receptionist, who was understanding and called the
manager, who clearly couldn't care less and did not even offer an
apology (much less an upgrade or anything). Ricardo, the receptionist,
did put us in a very nice standard (what we've reserved) room, a stone
throw away from the pool and the beach. He did, however, passed us on
to our “private concierge”, who I expect was meant to try to sell us
into a timeshare. She somehow realized that that was not in the cards,
so gave us some info about the hotel, offered us a free day at the
Sandos Playacar (worth US$90, she said, but the Playacar was only US$20
more a night when I was making reservations), which we declined, and
sent us in our way.

The Caracol is a "bracelet" hotel, which means you have to wear a bracelet throughout your stay.

The check out process was just as painless. I returned my keys and towel cards (make sure to not lose these, there is a US$50 charge for each card that is not returned), got a piece of paper to give to a bell-boy, and that was that.


The kids and I thought that our room was pretty nice. It wasn't
particularly big, but we liked the blue and yellow color combination
(being a Cal graduate, maybe I'm biased towards these colors).
The room had tiled floors, which we appreciated, a small closet, two
queen size beds, a night table, a small dresser with a fridge and a TV,
one of those things to put your luggage, and a very small desk. We
appreciated the fridge and the fact that the room came with a clock ­ so
many rooms in Mexico do not. On the down side, the room had very bad
artificial lightening, it'd be a strain to try to read at night.

The beds were fairly comfortable, hard, but not the hardest we've
encountered in Mexico. The pillows were overstuffed, and not too

The one major problem with the room, however, was the A/C which began
leaking our first morning. The maid noticed it and called maintenance;
the guy who fixed it made a hack job that barely lasted, and soon it
began to leak again. I called again, and within a couple of hours the
problem was fixed.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the hotel has central air, which
means you do not get control of the temperature in your room. The a/c
seems to be fixed at about 24C, which we found pleasant.

Finally, the hotel provides you with soap and lotion (there is a
dispenser in the bathroom), but not with shampoo or other toiletries ­
bring your own. They do give you a bath towel per person, but the
towels are old and rough. The same can be said for the hand-towels and

The rooms were quite clean, and the beds were beautifully set with rose petals and a swan-shaped towel, which the kids loved.


The Caracol has an “eco-hotel” theme, which is mostly manifested by a
series of water canals surrounded by abundant vegetation and inhabited
by various critters. My girls delighted in looking at the fish and
turtles from the bridge near the buffet. They loved the iguanas that sunned throughout the result during the warm afternoons, and once my oldest got to see a friendly coati which showed up after dinner.

The problem with such an "ecological" landscape, is that all the standing water promotes mosquitoes - and the mosquitoes were insatiable at the Caracol. Be prepared for them and bring plenty of strong repellent.

The hotel has a central area with the reception, a bar nearby and areas for tours/time shares. Close to it is the disco, "theater"/sports bar, shopping area, and the restaurant/lounge/central bar area. There are rooms in most directions from this central space - a couple of the other restaurants are at random locations in the property.

The hotel counts with four pools, the main one is closest to the beach. There is a bar/snack bar by the pool, and I think another one in the beach.

The buildings themselves are all meant to look classy, and are decorated with nice furniture as well as design touches. The whole resort has a designed-community look to it. It is, however, quite comfortable (beyond the mosquitoes).

Note that while there are gold carts that can help carry luggage and people around, the hotel can be easily negotiated on foot - it's not that big.


The hotel does not have wireless internet service, as far as we could ascertain, but you can connect to the internet through their computers for US$5 an hour. I don't know if they offer any other business services - if they do, they're probably pricey.

I think there is a gym, and there's definitely a spa (in the central area). We took a look at it and it was quite nice, the large jacuzzi would look inviting were it not for the oppressing heat day and night.


There are activities throughout the day, some in the pool, others in the beach and presumably others elsewhere. These include games and classes.

I didn't find anything that we could do by ourselves, however. The two pool tables at the sports bar did not have all balls (they were lacking the 8-ball, for instance).

Children Activities

My kids loved the kids' club, which included standard activities such as making sand castles, playing in the pool and watching movies. When we were there, the teachers were guys - I mention this as some people are less comfortable with male teachers.

There is also a different kids activity every night around 7:30 PM. One night it was a kids' disco, another night a piñata (this one was particularly popular).

There are a few inflatable swimming toys you can borrow.

Shows and Disco

We didn't experience either.


The Caracol has four pools. The main one is pretty large and it's really two pools connected by a rather wide waterway. There is a shallow kiddie pool at one end and a swim-to-bar on the other end. The bar side was closer to our room and was the least crowded side, so we liked it better. The swimming pool is surrounded by lounge chairs, and there are several palapas with little tables providing shade - still, if you want to make sure you get a chair under one, claim one early. This pool is right near the beach.

One of the other pools is for exclusive use of their club people, another one is for adults only and the third one is open. These were standard pools, not very interesting, but very quiet, even during the hottest part of the day. If you are looking for a quiet swim, either is a good bet.


The beach in front of the Caracol is your standard white sands - turquoise waters Riviera Maya beach. It's very pretty, of course, but not the prettiest in the area. The beach itself is very crowded with lounge chairs - there is barely any free space. However, the northern side of the beach was not very crowded with people while we were there. Most of the activities happen in the much louder southern side.

There are huge sand bags in the ocean, near the beach. I didn't find them unattractive, but they weren't a good source of snorkeling material, unfortunately. They do create a sort of bay in front of the hotel, making the waters quite gentle and ideal for little children. The water in front of the hotel is quite shallow and becomes deeper quite slowly.

All in all, I think it's a pretty beach but not spectacular.


The parking lot is by the reception, it's small but apparently sufficient.


Like other all-inclusives, the Caracol has a buffet and a number of reservation-only, a-la-carte restaurants. We were there for only two nights, so we weren't given access to the latter. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the buffet.

In general we found the food to be fine. There was a great selection of cooked items, as well as a grill-to-order station. The food follows a nightly theme, the "Mexican" night included dishes from throughout Mexico, including the Yucatan. However, we found most of the food to be rather mild, albeit made with good ingredients. I'd describe the food as "banquet quality", rather than "restaurant buffet quality".

The buffet restaurant is large and not air conditioned, it can be a little hot.


We found the drinks to be quite good at the different bars we tried. The banana daiquiris in particular were great. The hotel does use syrups rather than fresh fruits in most instances, however.


The staff was quite friendly, and everyone you saw always greeted you. They seemed quite efficient (except for the A/C guy).


The clientele seems very international, albeit with an emphasis on Europeans and Americans.


We liked the Sandos Caracol (specially in retrospect, after staying at the Wyndham) but found it a little bit boring. Still, we appreciated the feeling of semi-emptiness of the place, which might be a temporary thing, however. I think the hotel is a middle class, family hotel, and was a great deal for the price.

Sandos Caracol Beach Resort & Spa
Playa del Carmen

Bedroom at Sandos Caracol

Towel art at the Sandos Caracol

July 24, 2009

Grand Royal Lagoon Hotel (aka el Gran Laguna Real) - Cancun - Review

Summary: Modest hotel, but fun and relaxing.

We stayed at the Grand Royal Lagoon Hotel (aka el Gran Laguna Real)
because it was one of the cheapest hotels I could find in Cancun ­ about
US$38 after tax through, including breakfast for two. There are four of us (two adults and two children), which makes it less
than US$10 per person, quite a bargain in my book.
The hotel is located on the lagoon side of Kukulcan Blvd in the Zona
Hotelera. It's right after the golf course, if you are coming from the
center of town, on the other side of the boulevard from the
Intercontinental hotel. It's probably not a long walk to the beach ­
though you will have to find a place to cross the boulevard and then a
walkway to the beach. The lagoon itself is too full of seaweed and
refuse (waste water flows to it) to make it swimming-friendly.

The hotel is quite small (comparably speaking, given the mega resorts
that mostly inhabit Cancun) but comfortable. A few three story
buildings surround a rather small, but very clean, pool. It was a
perfect size for the kids, however, as they could easily swim across it
(Mika by herself, Camila wearing a life jacket).

We stayed at the hotel twice, for one night each time. Our first room
was, very fortunately, located on the ground floor, a few steps from the

The room itself was very modest and pretty dark. It had two double
beds, a night table, a large desk, a TV, a mini-fridge and a closet.
The room, like the bathroom (shower, not tub), was very clean. The AC
was turned on to 16 when we came in, and clearly it had been for a
while, as the room was wonderfully cool. It became quite cold at night,
however, so I'd recommend turning it to 20 or so before you go to sleep.

The beds were quite hard, as were some of the pillows (Mike was not a
happy camper when he woke up), but I thought comfortable enough. The
only light in the room is a fluorescent bulb on the ceiling, not very
strong, which makes reading quite hard.

Our second room, also in the first floor, but of another building, was
similarly furnished but did not have a refrigerator. It was also
smaller. We asked for a change to a room with a fridge, and we got one
in the third floor of another building. This room was larger and better
lit, but also by a single fluorescent bulb.

Whether you get toiletries will depend on the room. Our first one had soap and shampoo, the second one neither, and the third soap and shaving supplies (!?). I'm sure you can ask for whatever is missing.

The rooms have a safe in the closets.

The grounds of the hotel are pretty small. The pool is centrally located and there are lounge chairs around it. Beyond it, towards the lagoon, there is a restaurant under a palapa, and another palapa with a large table. There are a few hammocks hanging up, and then the dock. We saw our first iguana at said dock.

The restaurant serves basic foods at prices that are not outrageous for Cancun. Breakfast includes eggs, fruit, toast, coffee and juice.

Grand Royal Lagoon
Boulevard Kukulcán Km. 7.5 Zona Hotelera
+52 998 883 2899
Marga's Hotel Reviews

July 25, 2009

Hotel Hacienda Sanchez - Valladolid, Mexico - Review

The hotel Hacienda Sanchez was a surprise; one of the most pleasant surprises we had during our trip to the Yucatan. Finding it was a pain the butt, it's located near the paid (cuota) road to Chichén Itzá while we were arriving to Valladolid from the free road. If you are staying here, just head for the cuota road and you should be able to find it. It's right next door to a large supermarket.

The hotel is not really an hacienda - or at least I can't imagine it ever was one. It consists of a 3-story building placed on one side of a central courtyard. One-story suites line the courtyard in two other sides, and the restaurant is in the remaining one. The central courtyard is beautiful, with lovers' benches, manicured patches of grass and flowers and a fountain. The swimming pool to one side is large, refreshing and very clean - it has both an adult and a kids' side (it closes at 8 PM for cleaning).

I would have liked to enjoy the courtyard more, but unfortunately there are lots of mosquitoes. Bring repellent!

The rooms were fine but nothing special. Two beds, a night table, a desk with a TV, closet and a very powerful a/c (no fridge). They had nice towels and soap and shampoo in the bathroom. There is free wi-fi from the rooms and elsewhere in the hotel.

My only complaint about the room (other than the de rigeur hard beds) is that they didn't use a fitted sheet on the mattress, which means that the sheet came out during the night :-(

Perhaps the best part about the restaurant was the restaurant. It serves Yucatecan and continental food, but you definitely should go for the former. My pollo pibil was delicious and Mike really enjoyed his longaniza (a specialty of Valladolid). Their licuados and fresh juices were divine. For dessert I had caballeros pobres, or "poor gentlemen" - something I had never tried before. It's basically a type of fried bread with a honey-cinnamon sauce. Very, very good. The prices were ridiculously low, I think that less than US$5 for the main dishes!

I should say that I really loved the ambiance in the restaurant. It's in an open building with two rooms opened to each other. One is more or less a lounge area, while the other the dining room proper. Mike said the airy room reminded him of the place where they had the dance in the Zorro movie - indeed, take the chairs and tables away and it'd be a great dance hall. As it's open there is no a/c, but it's kept cool by ceiling fans. The rooms are decorated with hacienda items, guns and paintings.

We had breakfast the next day (US$15 more for 4 people if booked at the time of your reservation) and it consisted of eggs or pancakes, served with beans and something else I can't remember, buttered bread, fruit, coffee and juice. Everyone was quite full.

What I enjoyed the most, however, was the dedicated, kind and attentive service. Everyone was very polite and eager to help.

In all, I wish we would have been able to stay at the Hacienda Sánchez for more than one night, and I wholeheartedly recommend this hotel. We found the cheapest rates for the hotel at

Hotel Hacienda Sánchez
Beginning AV. Zaci-hual
01 (985) 85 6-52-12
01 (985) 85 6-52-14

Marga's Hotel Reviews

Hotel Hacienda Sanchez

Hotel Hacienda Sanchez

Drink at the Hotel Hacienda Sanchez

Hotel Dolores Alba - Merida, Mexico - Review

I almost didn't go to the hotel Dolores Alba in Merida due to a couple of negative reviews at One, in particular, claimed that the pool was full of leaves, and if there was something I wanted in a hotel, it was a good pool. But then, someone in the fora recommended the hotel, and I thought I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did, as the Dolores Alba is a very nice and comfortable hotel, and we felt very much at home there.

The hotel is situated four or five blocks from the main square - not as close as I'd have wanted, but there isn't much you can do about that. It has a small, private, locked parking lot for those who, like us, are driving (and given all the ruins and sites to explore near Merida, it pays to have a car). It also has a restaurant, which we didn't try.

The hotel itself is divided in two parts. The older part of the hotel consists of two wings surrounding a central, covered patio (where the table/chairs for the restaurant are located). A newer part is made out of three additional wings surrounding the swimming pool. There are a lot of arches and iron work that help give the place a faux-colonial style. There are some plants around one side of the pool to make it look more tropical.

The pool is on the small side, and it's very popular with guests, but it's immaculately clean and my children loved it. My 7-year-old was able to touch bottom in the shallower part, but my 4-year old was not (so she floated around in her life vest).

We found the rooms to be quite beautiful. Ours had a very nice tiled floor, darkening windows (you can look out from the inside, but they look like a mirror from the outside) and some stylish features such as gorgeous painted glass night lights. The a/c worked very well, and the room had a TV with cable but no fridge. There was only a shower in the bathroom (I think soap but no other toiletries were provided).

My favorite detail from the room were the two rocking chairs placed around a small table by the windows. They were comfortable and just a tad luxurious. Unfortunately the beds were very hard, probably the hardest we experienced in this trip.

The hotel has a laundry room with rather big washers and driers. Washing and drying a load will cost your MN$50, including the detergent. There are also drinks for sale at MN$15. As the hotel is downtown there are places were you can buy anything close buy, including a very good bakery 1/2 a block away.

There is free wi-fi in the hotel, though the connection is not always great from the bedrooms.

In all, we really enjoyed our stay at the Dolores Alba and would stay here again. We made our reservation through their own website. The rate during our stay for a room with two double beds was MN$540.

Hotel Dolores Alba
Calle 63 No. 464 x 52 y 54

Dining Room at the Hotel Dolores Alba Merida

Hotel Dolores Alba Merida

About Hotel Reviews

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Marga & Mike's Yucatan Adventure Blog in the Hotel Reviews category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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