Compliments of GordandDar (thank you)
Originally this was a one pager for my sister and her family , who have not traveled much , so some of it I am sure many of you allready know. It has now grown to 3 or 4 pages but I left the basic stuff in because this is going out to lots of different people with different levels of travel experience. I wrote it on Wordpad , which for some reason does not have spell check. ( sorry )
I found a good map of the resort on line. To find it , google Bahia principe Tulum Map , It is about the fifth site down the page and has 3 map images. The 2nd image is the good map. Save it to your photos , then you can zoom in on different parts of it.
A lot of people have mentioned that they are in the Golden , or Royal Golden section.
Royal Golden is not so much an area of the resort , it is more of a perks package. It seems like a lot of guests are Royal Golden. For us , the best perk of Royal golden was the use of the Royal Golden Lobby. I also didn't bring a laptop , so went there to check e-mails , and taunt those still back home.
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE HYGINE : I have recently added this paragraph in response to reading several reviews where people got sick on vacation , and blame it on the food or water at the resort. You have to remember that you are in a resort with thousands of other people , some of whom have spent the last 24 hours in the bathroom violently ill. Most of the illness you will find in large resorts is spread by the patrons , not the food , or the staff. WASH YOUR HANDS often , particularily before and after eating. Bring a small bottle of hand sanitizing gel . After you dish up your supper , clense your hands before you start eating. Nothing is worse than loosing 1 or 2 days of your 7 day vacation because you are sick. Be aware and cautious , stay healthy. Some of the food is " finger lickin good " but a napkin is a better alternative. I would suggest bringing a package of " imodium " with you just in case. A few years back , I had to make an "uncomfortable" trip to the pharmacy at the hacienda to buy some. Luckily they had some , and within a couple of hours I was feeling much better. POOL TOWELS : In response to a reviewer who's young child ended up with a nasty skin virus called Molluscum Contagiosum both times they went to the Bahia. He blamed it on the pool water , and eluded that local kids were using the pool too. ( read whatever you want into that ) . NOW FOR THE FACTS : that virus is spread by direct skin to skin contact with an infected person , or shared items like clothing or towels . My sugestion is that if everyone at a pool is using identical blue hotel supplied towels , mistakes could be made. SO..... If you have children , you might want to bring their own easily identifiable beach towels. Don't let them use the blue resort towels. NOTE : this was a complaint from 1 reviewer , and I don't recal seeing any others like it before. It's the same as the food issue , you are ultimately your own best defense. Think about prevention.
Getting there :
Tie something on your suitcase that you will recognize when you see it coming down the baggage belt.
Be careful how much you pack a lot of people left Vancouver no problem but got charged extra $$ for overweight bags when leaving Mexico , even though they didn’t have any more stuff on the way home. I think the Scales in Mexico are a bit off and the humidity makes your clothes heavier.
If you are travelling between the months of October and April , bring a warm jacket , it can get cool in the evenings. There is also a dress code in the a la carte restaurants , no shorts , halter tops , or sleeveless shirts.
Fly through security at the airport by making sure you are not going to set off the metal detector. Coins , belt buckles etc.
Bring a pen on the plane. You have to fill out customs forms and a Visitors card on the plane. If the card is not completely filled out , a lady in the cancun airport is not going to let you past. You will see a crowd of people squatting on the floor filling out the card as everyone else breezes past.
We went with a tour operator called Air Transat , and so did my sister , so the following paragraph may or may not apply to you depending on how good your tour operator is.
After you are sure that you have all your bags.
Blow through the airport , don’t stop for anyone who says they are there for information or to get you to your transport. They are trying to sell you something. Air Transat has already arranged everything for you. When you get outside , there will be people from Air Transat and Nolitours there with 4 or 5 busses , they have a list with your name on it and will tell you which bus to get on.
Some of the busses will go directly to your resort , others will stop at 2 or 3 other resorts first. Your bus ride could be anywhere from 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours depending on how many stops there are.
**BUS TIP** Many of the busses have a washroom mounted down in the cargo bay on the right (passenger) side of the bus , this uses up a lot of room , but they still squeeze the same number of rows of seats in as on the drivers side. If you are over 4 feet tall , I recomend you try to end up on the drivers side of the bus. There is nothing to see out the passenger side anyways.
OK , you are there. :
When you check in ask for a map of the resort if they have one.
Ask for a lock for the safe in your room. Last time we were there , it took us 2 days to get one because by morning , they were all out of locks.
It’s possible that by the time you get settled in , the big restaurants might be closed , but there are snack bars that are open 24 hours a day.
There are lots of different snack bars for late nite food , but the best one is called the La Casita , they actually cook food to order , lots of the other ones just have pans with cooked food sitting in them. La Casita is actually in the Coba part of the resort , but is very close to the Akumal Premiere club. Depending on where your room is , it might be closer to you than one of the Akumal snack bars.
Akumal Premiere club ( and other lounges ) also has a live band in the evenings , suitable for a relaxing drink and conversation . A lot of the other entertainment around the resort is Loud and annoying karaoke type stuff. If you want to see ( or sing ) karaoke , the patio outside the Coba Lobby is the place to go.
You may find your room has a damp musty smell , that is common in the area. Open the patio door right up for some fresh air. Leaveing the A/C turned on all day helps too.
If you are traveling with young children , the mini disco at the Coba section entertainment theater is a must do. They play music and do games etc. it is every night before the main show. Our 2 year old was younger than most of the other kids , but you could hardly get her away from there.
ALSO the Disney Show ( Thursday or Friday ? ) is Pretty Good.
Get up early : There is not a whole lot to do after dark , so I recommend early to bed and early to rise. It gets nice outside pretty early in the morning , and the food at breakfast is hot and fresh. The restaurants are only open certain hours , so if you sleep till 10:00 you will be wasting 25 % of the sunny part of your holiday , and you might miss breakfast too. The beach faces south east , so earlier in the day has more direct sunlight.
Hit the Beach:
The pools are not heated , the ocean is actually warmer. ( we were there in the winter , summer could be different)
The white towels in the room are for the bathroom , the blue ones are for the beach.
You can trade in a used blue towel for a fresh one at a kiosk by any of the pools. They will not give you a towel unless you turn one in.
Use Sunscreen : it is almost always windy here , so it doesn’t feel realy hot , but the sun
is very strong and will burn you quickly.
Explore the whole beach , the resort is huge , and there are places that are better to go than others. Most of the area in front of the Akumal has a nice beach , but you can’t get into the water , it is just razor sharp lava and corral . ( NEW , the akumal section has built a breakwater which aparently has a nice beach and water entry within it. ) The Coba beach right next to it is better but the water is not very deep. There are also some strings of buoys that you can’t go past. They outline a coral reef that is a protected ecological area , if you swim out there to snorkel , the lifeguards will be blowing whistles at you and telling you to come back in. Don’t touch the prickly black sea urchins , the little spines are very sharp and poisonous and will poke you and break off , they hurt.
Further up the beach toward the Tulum section of the resort , there are 5 or 6 big mounds ( sandwhales ) out in the ocean. This is a fun place to swim , and play in the waves. On the majority of the beach front there are a lot of rocks and corral for the first 10 feet as you walk out but after that it is nice sand. Wear your swimming shoes or you will stub your toes.
You will see a lot of people walking around with black and blue big toes. Also , when in sandy bottom areas , drag your feet a bit so you scare away rays instead of stepping on them
There was one spot at this part of the beach where someone has cleaned a little path , only about 5 feet wide for easier access to the ocean. It is very close to the ropes that the sailboats are tied up with . That is just in front of the booth where you can get masks / snorkels / boogie boards / kayaks.
If you want to use any of this stuff , you have to go there and reserve it. If you want to use a kayak , you have to be wearing a T-shirt under the life jacket.
The Coba beach , where the dock is , is the softest sandy part of the bay.
If you have your own mask / snorkel , bring it with you. You could also buy a set at WalMart in PDC for about $20 . The resort has a kiosk that lends them out , but , you have to reserve them , you only get them for an hour , and the place they want you to use them has nothing to see. I have also been told that they will not give out snorkel stuff if the Red Flags are up on the beach. Some people who went in January said the red flag was up every day. Most of the resorts only rinse out the gear after people use them , so the snorkel you are putting in your mouth may not be very well sanitized.
The best snorkeling is outside of the resort. Akumal Bay is a favorite . If you look on google earth , you can see straight roads that go directly from the highway to the ocean. They are every couple of miles , these are access to the beach , and there is a sign at each , but they are not really well marked.
The bars by the pool serve alcoholic beverages for mom , and some pretty tasty non alcoholic drinks for the rest of you. Unfortunately they serve them in little plastic cups that don’t hold very much. If you bring a big plastic beverage mug ( a la 7-11 ) from home , you can sit on the beach and enjoy it for a while without having to back and forth to the pool bar. I also wished I had brought a coffee to go mug with me for my morning coffee. 2 little Styrofoam cups with no lids were not easy to get back to the room with.
A couple hundred yards from the crowded beach at the resort is a deserted bay ( chemuyil ) where you can relax and swim or snorkel. . To get there just go out to the beach and turn right. Go right past the end of the resort and follow the path through the coral and around the corner. Have a look at it on Google Earth. It is a nice walk , but be sure to wear good running shoes as the rocks and coral are sharp. Myself and another guy snorkeled WAY out at that bay. The further out we went , the better stuff we saw. Near the mouth of the bay , there are deeper crevaces in the shallow black rock that are bright blue with sandy bottoms. There is also 1 very small piece of nice coral reef about ½ way into the bay and about 80 feet offshore. Lots of very cool fish , but hard to find , even for myself after diving it 3 different days. Just a matter of luck coming across it. There are some rays here too , so be sure not to step ontop of one.
As this is outside of the resort boundary , going alone might not be such a good idea ( even though I did ) . A few years back , Dar and I talked to some people who said some locals were drinking on that beach and not very happy about gringo tourists being there. This year , the only people I saw there were others from our resort. A couple of bays further is Xcacel beach , which is apparently awesome. Can also be reached by an access road off the highway.
Take a dip in the pool after swimming in the ocean , to wash the salt off.
Welcome Meeting : Your travel reps may have a welcome / orientation meeting the first morning in a conference room , might be worth going , or just a waste of time.
One of the things they do there is give out pamphlets about all the different excursions you can go on. These are little tours that leave the hotel on a certain schedule.
It is nice to get a bit of info about these places , BUT , you can go to ANY of them on your own if you want , and on your own schedule. (cheaper than a tour too)
I recommend the ruins at Tullum , It is very close , only about a 15 min colectivo or taxi ride . You can see the Mayan ruins , and the beach there is awesome. Go on a day when there are going to be some waves for body surfing. You can skip the beach there if it is too crowded for your liking , and go to Paraiso Beach instead , it is only about a 10 minute walk , and is the best beach I have ever set foot on. As you are leaving the Tulum ruins , instead of turning right to get back out to the highway , continue straight. There will be several little roads to get over to the beach. Take the first one , so you can walk down the beach instead of the road. From the moment you get to the entrance of Tulum people will be trying to get you to buy a snorkel , sightsee package for about 350 peso's , down on the beach road it drops to 250 peso's , when you are at the waters edge it will be 150 pesos or less. We did it this year ( 2013 ) because the guy told us it was the best snorkeling in the area. He Lied ! It was OK , but not nearly as good as Akumal Bay. We feel that the 1 hour we spent on the boat would have been better spent on the beach , and the 150 pesos each could have bought some cervesa's.
We never went to Xal Ha , but those who did had a great time. It is close to the resort too. River tubing , snorkeling , cliff jumping , etc. it is an all day thing.
There is a catamaran tour that goes down the coast past Tulum ruins for a snorkeling trip. ( goes to the same place as mentioned above )
I never took it , but those who did told me that the snorkeling was good , but LOTs of people ended up being too sea sick to enjoy it.
If you want to party , coco bongo's in PDC is the place.
Colectivo is the local bus system , they are parked right outside the entrance to the resort , and you can go anywhere for $2 or $3 each. There are also taxi drivers out there who will try to get you to go with them instead. I was suspicious of them at first , but I found them to be honest and dependable and they take you right to exactly where you want to go. Tell them you want to take the colectivo , and they will lower their price to try to get you to go with them instead. Get a price before you agree to go with them. One guy took us in to Playa Del Carmen , and then waited for us (3 hours) on the street until we were ready to go back to the resort. He explained that it was better financially for him to wait for us , then to try to get a different customer , or go back to the resort. He didn’t even want us to pay him till we came back , but we did because I am sure he has been riped off by people who don’t come back. At the end of the night , he was there waiting for us. He saw us comming from a block away and even walked up the street to help us with our bags and stroller . When we got back to the resort , we tipped him well.
Playa Del Carmen : 5th Ave shoping area is a cool place to go , but go in the evening , when there is not much else to do at the resort. The atmosphere is better at night time too. No use wasting good beach time during the day. Don’t pay full price for anything. If the price tag says $50 you can get it for $30 . You will probably find exactly the same thing for $20 a block down the street. Don’t buy gold or silver jewelry in Mexico , it will turn your skin green in 1 day. There is a Wal Mart in playa Del Carmen in case you forgot to bring something you need.
Cozumel : Similar to Play Del Carmen , but you have to take a 1 hour boat ride to get there. Not really worth it unless you want to take a sightseeing tour around the island , or spend an entire day exploring. I know people who rented scooters and went around the island and had a fantastic day. This is probably not a good idea , as , if you get in any kind of accident , you are at the $$$ mercy of the local cops , and the rental company. Renting a car down there is not advisable for the same reasons. Many people rent and never have any problems , but there are horror stories all the time. My opinion is that the local transportation system is cheap so why take the risk. ( update 2013 : next time we go , I will be renting a car on the days we plan on heading out . The freedom factor is worth it , but will be very carefull , drive the speed limit , and keep 500 pesos in the car just incase i get a fine. ( need to pay a bribe )
Playa Akumal ( the beach at the village of akumal) it very nice and only about a 10 min taxi ride away. It is a MUST DO on the list of many regular travelers to the area. There are giant sea turtles there , and the dive shop will take you out to see them for $20 including life jacket , mask , snorkel , fins , a locker for your wallet , and a guide. OR you could just swim out to where everyone else is and see the same thing as them. It is a long way out , but the water is only about 5 feet deep. There is a well inhabited reef out there too , and if you don't go all the way out to see it , you will be missing out. I do recomend wearing a floatation vest , as it is a long swim , and you will probably want to spend quite a bit of time out there. There are also a few great restraunts and little bars on the beach.
There are 3 sections of the resort Coba , Tulum , Akumal , there are also villages nearby called Tulum and Akumal . Some people get/give confusing advice/directions because of the same names issue. For instance they might say that Akumal has a great beach and snorkeling , they mean the village of Akumal , not the akumal section of the resort. There is also a newer section ( now adults only ) called the Sian ka'an.
If you have a set of FRS 2 way radio's , it might be a good idea to bring them to keep in touch with others from your family / group. I went on a 1 hour snorkeling adventure to Chemuyl bay. When I got back 3 hours later , I could not find the wife and child anywhere. It was 2 more hours before we crossed paths (thanks to a trolly driver who remembered droping them off at the hacienda ) . If you are with a group of people this could help get people together in the same place at the same time. We bumped into my wife's aunt and uncle one night. They had been in the resort for 6 days , and we had been there for 4 . Talk about a surprise. ( Its a small world )
It is a big Resort : you can spend a lot of time riding little busses all around the resort going from one place to another. There is different big buffet restraunt at each of the 3 parts of the resort. You might want to try out each one , but be careful not to spend too much time criss crossing back and forth all over the resort.
Some nights , some buffets are better than others , but it’s hit and miss , there is no real way to plan which one to go to. They do advertise their theme nights.
Getting around : Sometimes you wait 10 min for the little train to take you somewhere only to find out that where you are going is just around the corner and you could have walked faster. Other times , you start walking , and walking while little trains go past you.
Generally , which every you decide will be the wrong choice. Be nice to the drivers and they will go out of their way to get you where you want to go. If they say they are not going there , it is because they have a train full of people going somewhere else , not because they don't want to help you out. Every driver has his specified routes and they go around and around in a big circle. There is no GPS controled guidance systems on the buggys , and sometimes all 3 guys driving a certain route end up pretty close together. It may seem like the transports aren't comming , but they are. The ones that are all white are Tulum and Akumal , the ones with Blue paint on them are heading for the Coba. The doorman (not that there are doors) at each lobby will tell you where to wait if you tell him where you want to go. If you are staying at the coba , the best place to catch a tram is out the rear of the Lobby , not the front , as not all of the trams go to the front entrance.
Map signs : They are all over the resort , but can be confusing. They only show the roads that the little carts drive on , they don’t show the narrow sidewalks. Most people are lost for the first 2 days. One morning I noticed that somebody ( funny guest ) had turned a bunch of the signs around so that they pointed in exactly the oposite direction that they should.
A La Carte restaurants : There are some pretty good restaurants , Japanese , seafood , steak , Italian , etc. but you have to make reservations. The only way to get good reservation times is to book your reservations early. (The first day you are there) . Better yet , e-mail your requests about 10 days prior to arrival.
Buffets : Make a mental note of what times they are open , they close between breakfast and lunch , and between lunch and dinner.
Food safety : I recently read a large article about the food handling practices at the Palladium. Absloutly Top Notch........ None of the hotels and restraunts that I worked for here in Canada came anywhere close. At the end , a Rep from the paladium stated that even though they are very proud of their standards , All of the other large resorts in the area adhear to similar guidelines.
while there , we were aproached by staff from the photo shop to book a private photo shoot. Long story short , eventhough I am a skeptic and a cheapskate , we did it , and the results were fantastic. You just can not get memories like that by handing your camera to a stranger and asking them to take your picture. The one mistake we made was picking some pictures that had allready been edited. eg: black and white , sepia , soft focus. You get your photos on a CD , and you can't undo what has allready been done. So If you do it , and you love the Black and White pic , don't buy it , buy the color one and edit it yourself when you get home. If memory serves me correctly , US $ were the prefered method of payment. You only buy what you want , but they really try hard to get you to buy $200 worth. We went in with the intention of spending no more than $100 , we ended up spending $150 , but feel it was well worth it. ( NEW . Apprarently , the photos are now $15 each with a minimum # of pictures , bringing the price up to around $250 . Hopefully as with everything else in Mexico , there is room for negotiation.
We found that the staff at the Akumal section were not as friendly or happy as the staff at the coba section , probably because it seemed like the most of the guests there were rude people from XXXXXXXXXXX
I personally watched a guest tear a strip off a young lady at the front desk for about 15 minutes. Why ? Because she was suposed to have a chocolate on her pillow each day and she hadn't seen one yet. ( I am not kidding ) . Please be nice to the staff , you have no idea how many people are not. I also noticed that their proficiency in English declined drasticaly when dealing with rude patrons.
Mini Bar : The fridge in your room will have a couple of beer , and pops in it . Someone comes and restocks it each day. If you leave 50 peso’s inside , they will load it right up with drinks and snacks. ( if you leave money on the counter , the maid will not take it ) If you put it on the bed , she knows it is a tip for her.
The people who work in these resorts don't earn very much money , so a $2 or $5 tip is greatly appreciated.
The first time We were there , we found that if you take the beers from the fridge to the beach , they were not replaced. If you left the empty cans in the room , they were.
Last time , we left tips in the fridge , and it was always full. Sometimes we left 50 pesos , sometimes 20.
Hacienda Dona Isabella : is a little shopping plaza and gathering spot right at the main entrance to the resort. They have a fiesta there on ( thursday ? ) night , there is an extra charge for it. Some enjoy it , some say it was not worth paying extra for.
Shopping there will cost you quite a bit more than in Playa Del Carmen.
The bank machine in the lobby of the hotel will dispense US $ . The front desk will sell them to you too , but the rate is not as good. ( check what the service charge on the ATM is , I never saw a problem , but have read reviews from other people who said the service charge was excessive and the instructions were missleading ) There is a ATM up at the hacienda that dispenses Peso's ( ScotiaBank ) It is tucked away in a little hallway and hard to find , so ask someone where it is.
Buying Peso's at the airport before you go is not a great deal either. Your best bet is to buy Peso's from a bank before you travel. US$ are still widely used as well . I have seen a couple of Cambio kiosks in Playa Del Carmen that will exchange US or CDN $ into Peso's at very good rates. Peso's are the best curency to use , Canadian works too , but US$ are good for tipping if you can get small bills.
The cashiers at the resort run out of small bills ( Peso's and US ) quite early each day because people get change for tipping. If possible , bring a lot of small bills with you for tipping. CANADIAN COINS are worthless to the staff as the banks won't cash them in . About all your maid can do with a Twoonie , is throw it in a fountain and make a wish. We left 50 peso's on the bed for the maid each day , and alternated 20 or 50 pesos each day in the minibar fridge. The maid does not stock the minibar , there are other people who do that.
There are a few places that you can get on a computer , but you usually have to wait in a bit of a line up for your turn. ( early morning is usually OK ) If you try to log onto facebook , it will probably lock your account because you are trying to log in from a foreign country , then you have to go through a security verification process to get back into facebook , This can be tough to do if the screen is not in English. The Mexican keyboard is different than here too , @ is not where @ is supposed to be.
There is Wi-Fi in some of the lobby’s if you bring your own laptop. ( I wish I had brought one )
Check out : Your room key will quit working at noon on the day you are supposed to be leaving , but you get to keep your wrist band for food and drinks until you actually leave. You can ask for a late check out , but you might not get it , and if you do , it is $10 per hour. When you go to check out , bring your blue beach towels with you , or you might be charged for them. ( someone told me this , but I never heard of anyone in our group having a problem ) You can also hand your towel in at the pool kiosk and they give you a towel voucher to turn in , or use to get a different towel later.
Don’t miss your Bus. ( even though you want to stay )
The lock for the room safe is $5 per day. They charge you when you check out. (msg from sundog - pay in pesos at 50p per day)