** Warning ** Super-SUPER-long & detailed review!! ** Anything and EVERYTHING you could want to know about the hotel, and a bit about the city too **
I stayed at the Riu Santa Fe in Cabo San Lucas from Dec 3-10, 2009, leaving from Toronto, with airport transfers included. This is my seventh all-inclusive vacation – I have previously stayed at:
* Club Marival (4*) in Puerto Vallarta, MX - 2001
* Oasis Cancun (3 ½*) in Cancun, MX - 2004
* Bahia Principe (5*) in Punta Cana, DR (2 times) – 2005 & 2007
* Bahia Principe (4*) in Puerto Plata, DR - 2005
* Tryp Cayo Coco (4*) in Cayo Coco, Cuba - 2009
(If you have any questions about Oasis Cancun or Bahia Principe then search my previous reviews, or if you have a question about any other resort, just ask!).
I went on the trip with my boyfriend (I’m 25, he’s 28), and we hung out with friends we made there the entire week (30 year old couple, and 2 guys, 31 & 32). I read almost every review from September until the time I left, so I really relied on the information people wrote as well as what I read in the forums in order to appropriately set my expectations. As a result, I will do my very best to write a review that describes the hotel and what I experienced of the city, and be sure to include as many pertinent details as possible – things I think others would want to know before their trip.
Hotel Arrival – When you arrive in the airport when landing in Mexico, you first go through customs, then go to pick up your luggage. After that, you hand the airport officers a form (the customs form?) and have to press a button. The button turned green for both of us, but from experience I had in Cancun several years ago, I believe that if the button turns red they search through your luggage. After this, you walk through an area shaped like a square which has men sitting in booths around the perimeter of the room. These are the guys who try to sell you timeshares. I had read a tiny bit about this, so we kind of tried to rush them through the process and just get past them. The guy basically roped us in by saying “which hotel are you going to?”. When we told him, he said “OK, you will be on bus number three, you will look for Jose, and he will arrive in five Mexican minutes”. Well, we were on bus number eight, it was already there when we arrived, and our guide was Rico, so…ya, not true. Anyways, he told us that if we were married and both 28 he would give us a free vacation back to Mexico…OK. We didn’t stick around to hear anymore details. However, the other couple we met was approached by someone there who offered them an excursion, whale watching, and all these other things for $40USD/pp if they attended a 90 minute presentation (obviously trying to hustle them for something) off the resort (the guy said he’d shuttle them between the hotel and the location where the presentation was). They bought it, but because our nights were a tad messy (haha), they never ended up attending the presentation! Anyway, after all that, there is a bar as you exit the airport where you can buy drinks, and then the buses lined up in front.
Layout – The Riu Palace and Riu Santa Fe are side by side. I found it somewhat confusing to figure out when looking at the diagram online, but after a day or so of being at the resort you should have no trouble. The SF basically has 2 resorts in one – rooms in the 1000-6000 block are closer to the lobby, the quiet pool, the spa, the buffet, and the Mexican, Asian, and Italian restaurants. The 7000 rooms surround the main pools (infinity pool and 2 smaller pools with the swim-up bars) and are by the Steakhouse restaurant. You can also only have an oceanview (or partial one) in some of the rooms in the 7000 building (not all rooms will be oceanfront, but there is no possibility of being able to see the ocean from the other building). Between the main lobby and 1000-6000 building is the Italian, Asian, and buffet restaurants, the nightly entertainment venue, 2 bras, lots of seating room, the disco, and shops.
The entire resort is beautifully set up with lots of trees, plants, and cacti. The main lobby has beautiful furniture and lots of nice white comfy couches. If you look to the left when facing the front desk, you will find the tour company reps (we were with Sunquest). Behind the main lobby (by the gate where you drive into the secured hotel grounds) is where the tennis courts are for the SF. Four of us played there one day – there was no problem getting a court, just ensure that you make a reservation early on in the day you want to go.
Check-in – My boyfriend and I were the first people off the bus when we arrived at the hotel. We planned it this way so that we could check in first and therefore not wait in a long line and have more negotiating power for the room we wanted (upper floor, building 7, facing the ocean). We were quite surprised to see that all rooms were already assigned upon arrival. Because we got what we wanted anyways (room 7315 – fourth floor because the bottom floor is floor “0” – with a partial oceanview [we paid for a garden view room]), this worked out splendidly for us and saved a lot of time and hassle. The key for the room is an old-fashioned key like you would use for your door at home, not the modern plastic cards that many other resorts use. Ours had this large rectangular block attached to it with our room number prominently displayed, so about two or three days in we just discarded the block and tied the key to a hair elastic, and I wore it around my wrist!
We checked out with the girl sitting at the reception desk in building 7 on our way out – saved a ton of time because everyone else we spoke to went by the main lobby and did it there. The girl didn’t cut our bracelets off either, but at the lobby they did.
Rooms – The rooms are very nice and modern. The bathroom had some marble and his-and-hers sinks, which was nice. The water pressure of the shower was good. Our maid gave us 4 large towels, 2 hand towels, and 2 face towels everyday (we tipped her $1USD daily). She also left us two towel creatures on the first day only, and then brought us flowers once or twice throughout the week. The only concern we had with her was that she was a tad sloppy and forgetful – the first night I left the ashtray out on the table on the balcony, and when she cleaned the room the next day she dumped the contents of it in the toilet but didn’t flush it. She also took the ashtray (I presume with the intention of bringing us a clean one) but never replaced it the entire week. One day we took two glasses to our friends’ room, and left them there, and she never replaced them. Another day she left a dirty rag on our dresser.
There is a large closet with lots of hangers and a dresser with 6 large drawers. There is a safe which is free. You choose your own combination for the safe (we had a 4 number code). We never had any problems with theft, but we were always sure our safe was securely closed and that we didn’t leave our valuables lying around the room.
You don’t need to a magnetic card to activate the lights or air-conditioning here, which is something I’ve encountered at other resorts. The bed was a king and had three pillows, a sheet, and a thin comforter. We had lots of channels on the television, and a good mix of English and Spanish shows were played. They also had a Riu channel advertising other Rius around the world.
We had a small table with two chairs by the balcony door, and two plastic chairs on the balcony. Our balcony was pretty small, but we had friends in 7101 with a huge balcony (but no oceanview – so we were fine with our small balcony!).
The only other thing worth mentioning is the mini-fridge and bar. Upon arrival we found our fridge stocked with 6 beers (Dos Equis), 4 large water bottles, 2 Sprites (I believe) and 2 Cokes. On top of the fridge is a alcohol dispenser – it had an upside-down bottle each of tequila, rum, vodka, and I think it was whiskey? (none are international brands). You press your glass up under the triangular shaped cover and it dispenses one shots worth of alcohol at a time. We didn’t drink much of it except the water, so we never really needed a refill. We did however stick a $1USD bill in the fridge once when we wanted more water. We heard the guy is supposed to come and refill it every two days, though I don’t think our friends had it replenished that often. The guys vodka bottle was empty we they arrived at the hotel, and it never got refilled!
Food – I had no real complaints with the food, and I’m a vegan! Two or three of the days a line of tables were set up by the daytime entertainment by the main pool where people could come and get food – usually Mexican food. They also had this set up outside the main buffet one or two nights.
Funny story – one night four of us were at the buffet, and one of my friends bit into something hard. Turns out it was the white pointed pick which gauges the temperature/cookedness of the meat. Three hotel works (managers included) wound up coming over to make sure he was OK and not upset. He asked for a bottle of “champagne” (like a sparkling wine) to make up for everything, and within an hour later he had one delivered to his room! The manager even came and found him the next day to ensure everything was OK and he was happy.
Buffet: I had no complaints with it. Even with my food restrictions, there was always more than enough food to eat. I was thrilled that at breakfast (open 7- to 10:30am) they made so many fresh juices (tomato, orange, watermelon [my FAVE!], “healthy juice [tasted celery-based], etc). At dinner (6:30? to 10pm), they have a meat station, nacho and Mexican food station, pasta station (with premade pasta, however they will also make you your own pasta). I presume they are open for lunch, but we always are lunch at the buffet in the Steakhouse restaurant by building 7 (open about noon to 5pm). My fave thing was the guacamole, salsa, and homemade “tostitos”. Very yummy.
A la Cartes – Yes, the way they book for a la cartes could be done a lot better, but it seems that they have been doing it the same way since they opened two and a half years ago, so I doubt their method will change. You basically have to book the restaurant you want the day you want to go, with a few exceptions. They also usually only have two a la carte restaurants open per night (a lot of this probably had to do with the time of year we were there and therefore how booked up the resort was – I’d guess about 40% max). We booked at the reception in building 7 – I don’t know if you can book them anywhere else since we didn’t check, but there may be. For the most part, you actually don’t even need a reservation (we ate at all four restaurants, only reserving one but then changing it upon arriving [booked for 2 people, showed up as a group of 6] without reservations), though depending on who’s working at the restaurant they may give you a hard time. All the a la cartes will give you a welcome cocktail upon arriving (I personally think they all tasted like juice). The most frustrating part for me was them telling you they’d have no room when the restaurant would be less then half full all night.
Asian: We went here on our second night. We walked up to the restaurant at about 5pm and asked the guy if he could fit in a group of 6 people around 8pm. He told us we could only come at 6 or 6:30pm, so we decided to come at 6:30pm. We tipped him $5 when we came back at 6:30. The whole meal was buffet. It was OK, obviously quite different than regular Asian cuisine you would eat at home…they had spring rolls, their version of tempura, Chinese rice, chicken, fresh sushi, and more. The restaurant is quite small.
Mexican: We ate here on our third night. We (four of us) walked up to the restaurant at 9pm and asked if they would seat us, and they did right away (we gave the guy a $5 as a thank you). The restaurant was rather large. When I asked for vegetable fajitas, they brought me a plate of only steamed vegetables. I also thought the tortillas tasted kind of funny. The other three I was at dinner with weren’t overly impressed with the food. We did get serenaded by the mariachi band however, and we tipped them $4USD (another night we only tipped them $2USD).
Italian: This was the one restaurant we had made a reservation for. We booked it on the Friday morning around 9:30am for the Sunday night (occasionally they will let you book for another night). We made a reservation for two people at 7:30pm, then showed up as six people at 7:45pm. They gave us a bit of a hard time, as the restaurant is quite small and was actually pretty full, but they sat us after about five minutes. My friends all liked the food – I, on the other hand, found nothing to eat there (not even at the appetizer buffet they had preceding the meal!). Therefore, the only thing I can recall from the menu was a lobster risotto, which I think went over well with my friends.
Steakhouse: The restaurant is also very large (like the Mexican). We went there (five of us) on our last night. We showed up at 8:40pm and said we had a reservation at 8:30pm (we didn’t) and that we had lost our reservation ticket. The lady we were speaking to told us she was the assistant manager and gave us the hardest time of all the restaurants. She said she couldn’t find our reservation (obviously) so we’d have to wait until just past 9 to see if they had any cancellations or no-shows. It was kind of annoying since the restaurant was quite dead, but we waited, and at 9:05 they gave us a table. They made me a plate of grilled veges stuffed into a green pepper. They also brought one tray of “tempura” veges as an appetizer for us all to share. Most of my friends had steak cooked medium or medium-well, and they thoroughly enjoyed it.
Bars – There are two in the square. They open at 6pm I believe, and get decently busy at night. They serve all sorts of alcoholic drinks as well as coffee. I remember seeing Smirnoff and Bacardi, but as far as other international brands go, I’m not sure. Because there were a lot of young (25-30ish) groups of people there when I was there, it got somewhat rowdy at night time. A lot of the guys would cheer for shots, and the bartenders never disappointed. On at least one occasion there was chanting for “hun-dred shots!”, and the bartenders served it right up!
There are two bars by the main pool – one on each side. You can get to both of them on the land or in one of the small pools (depending what side you approach it on). My boyfriend also saw them open a brand new bottle of rum one day, which led him to believe that the drinks are not watered down.
3 good shots to try – Scooby Doo (green), Blue Ocean, and Tequila Boom Boom (red). The first two are fruitier, but the last one they make it, cover the top of the shot glass, then slam it down on the counter. You are supposed to take the shot as its ready (not wait for each person to have one in hand) because you’re supposed to shoot it as it’s fizzing up.
Sports Bar – It is opened 24 hours a day. They have games inside (car racing, air hockey, pool tables) that have to be paid for in pesos (coins) in order to be used. They also serve drinks there (same ones as at the bars) and a little bit of food (nachos with “Tostitos” that looked stale – not the same ones from the restaurants – liquid cheese – and burgers). All the food is self-serve, and they have a microwave beside it all to warm the food up. They don’t have regular burger toppings (e.g., lettuce & tomatoes). I never tried any of the food, but one of my friends swore the burgers tasted like McyD’s and religiously ate two per night.
Pool – There are technically four pools at the resort – the one quiet one in the middle of the resort, the infinity pool by the ocean (it looks as though the pool goes right into the ocean; the water runs over an edge and drops to a basin-type thing by the beach), and the two pools surrounding the swim-up bars around the infinity pool. There is lots of seating area and umbrellas between every two chairs. Beside every two chairs there is a small white plastic table and they place an ashtray on it in the morning. They play mostly old-school dance and house music by the pool all day long.
Entertainment – During the day, the entertainment is held by the main pool (infinity pool). Supposedly there are Spanish lessons at 10am everyday, but I never saw this occur. Water aerobics is at noon, and then other events are held throughout the day.
At night, they have shows nightly at 9 or 9:30pm. They are OK…we only caught two: Miss Riu 2009 and Grease. For the Miss Riu show, they called up four women from the audience to come on stage and do silly and embarrassing contest activities. For Grease they lip-synched along with the soundtrack in costumes, and danced. Beforehand and after (10-11) they have live music in the main square between the two bars.
Disco – The disco on the resort is called Pacha. It opens at 11pm after the live music stops in the square. Everyone stays at the two bars in the square for a long while, but the problem is that there is no music there then (luckily for us, there was a group of 9 guys at the resort the same week we were there, and they brought a boom box with them and kept the music going!). The disco is pretty dead most of the time, but if there is a large group of people there it will pick up. Because of that, we had a few good nights spent there. It stays open until about 2 or 3am, and the bartenders in there are pretty cool. Towards the end of the night, once everyone gets riled up (and asks for it), they will bring out the tequila and go around the bar and pour shots into everyone’s mouths.
Spa – There is a relatively large gym located within the spa (biggest one I’ve ever seen at an AI resort). They have two containers of juices set up there with cups, and lots of cardio machine, as well as weight (machines & free-form).
Also for free in the spa is the use of the cold and hot Jacuzzis. Be sure to call at least one hour before you want to visit to reserve the time. It is technically indoors because it is in a mostly covered area. There are lounge chairs around the tubs and they have the juices here too. To get to them, you walk through the change room (men and women separate) where there are lockers, washrooms, a steam room, and a sauna.
Other services are available at the spa for a fee. Each day of the week they offer different discounts – e.g.., on Tuesdays, you can get 20% of an 80 minute luxury body treatment, where you get all sorts of different treatments (massage, body wrap, etc). It is regularly priced $109USD but works out to $81 and change on Tuesdays. Some other discounts they offer on different days are for certain massages, hair braiding, and mani/pedi.
Beach – The beach is very beautiful to look at, and nice to walk on if you are heading left (when facing the ocean) down the beach. Otherwise, the sand is very coarse and gritty and there are large drops.
Right when you walk down from the pool, you will encounter the vendors who have ceramic plates, wooden figures (e.g., palm trees), sunglasses, jewellery, ladies wraps/dresses, cowboy hats, little trinkets, and some green stuff (you’ll know what I mean when you see a guy holding a 420 sign and selling pipes). They will try to call you over to buy from them, but if you are not interested they get the point after two or three no’s.
Past the vendors, the sand drops steeply once or twice before you reach the ocean. It is no joke that the ocean is generally pretty rough and the tide strong, so don’t go in unless you are a strong swimmer. There is also a steep drop once you get about halfway in the water, so be careful if you decide to go in.
Riu Palace – We walked over there one afternoon to check it out (go via the main entrance in the SF lobby, or behind the block 6 building I believe it is). The wristbands at the SF are red and the ones at the Palace are gold, so I doubt you’d have much luck trying to actually use the facilities at the Palace without it being noticed. Anyway, it is very beautiful as well, surprisingly slightly more so (and I say surprisingly because the SF is beautiful). They have a few more pools I think (I noticed 2 infinity pools, one much smaller than the other) and I heard the food was better. Other than that, it was dead. My Mom stayed there in February and loved it (it was likely a lot busier then since it is when reading week is, and also since that was before the Swine Flu broke out). I think though, for the difference in price and the atmosphere at the SF that it is most definitely the way to go.
The Arch/Lovers/Divorce Beach – This is beautiful (you will see it in my pictures where I am sitting on a boat). We took a water taxi (“glass bottom” boat) from in front of the hotel for $35USD for 4 people (they tried to charge $40 at first). I would HIGHLY recommend that if you do this mini excursion that you go to the marina in the city and then take a boat from there. On the way to the Beaches there were four of us in the boat, but on the way home there was about 15, and I kid you not, 1 lady almost died, and 2 almost got knocked unconscious (I’ll get to that in a minute). Anyways, on the way over they drive into the Arch to show you the pelicans and sea lions. It’s so amazing…there is one rock which is covered with sea lions, and the guys driving the boat make noises to try to incite the sea lions to do so as well. After that, they drop you off at Lovers Beach and give you about 40 minutes. Lovers Beach is on one side, and as you walk through, you come to Divorce Beach (2 small beaches that are attached). There are some really crazy waves on the Divorce Beach side, and that is also the only place I was able to find any seashells on the trip. There are also amazing rock formations and little caves which are awesome to take pictures in front of.
Anyways, on the way back to the hotel, the waves were extremely rough and the Mexicans were literally throwing and rolling people (Seniors, mind you!) onto the boat because they couldn’t bring it close enough into shore. When we approached the beach by the hotel, it took probably about half an hour for all 15 of us to get off the boat because again, they couldn’t bring the boat in close enough. They kept driving up and turning around and going further from the shore, etc. They would tell you to sit two at a time with your legs over the sides of the front of the boat, and two of the Mexicans would help you jump out and to shore when the guy driving the boat said so. Well, no one on our boat decided to listen to him, and they kept jumping out when they thought it was a good time. Really bad idea. One lady (like 65 years old or something) jumped out and one of the Mexicans grabbed her arm. However, the tide started pulling her deeper into the water really quickly while the boat started to move towards shore. I swear, I screamed out and put my head down because I thought the boat was going to land on the lady and the guy and kill them. Then, when there were six of us left on the boat, it started to go up a massive wave (people on the beach watching said it looked like it was like 50 feet!) and two of the girls were airborne. Had they been sitting a different way, they could have landed on their heads when the boat came back down. While the whole experience was fun, it was without a doubt THE scariest experience of my life! We definitely needed a round of 15 shots after that happened!
Nightlife in Cabo – I wrote a mini review on the forums, so I’m just going to copy and paste that into here: (I’ll just start by saying that there is no cover charge anywhere)
On Friday night we started off the night at Passions at the ME. We got there around midnight and stayed til maybe 1:30am. It was really nice inside - white with couches and fire pits and stuff. The only problem was that it was quite dead. They played a good mix of house music and top 40.
From there we cabbed over to a (female) strip club which was across from Cabo Wabo (I can’t remember if it was called Mermaids or Splash or something). Granted I am a female writing this, but it was DIRT! I think even the guys I went with would agree. There are two floors, and when we were there only the second floor was open and it was pretty dead. The bathrooms are rank and there is no soap or water in them. At the stage, if you put $2USD in your teeth/hand whatever and lie on stage, the stripper will you give basically a full on lap dance.
We then tried to go to Cabo Wabo at 2am, but they were closed already. So we walked over to Squid Roe which was great. We loved it there! Such a party. There was a good mix of locals as well as vacationers, and drinks were reasonably priced. Music was mostly top 40. We also ended up there again on Tuesday night, where it was pretty dead (we didn't get there til 2am). The place filled up slightly, but mostly because a whole slew of people came from our resort. We stayed until the lights went on and music shut off that night, which was about 4am I think. Drinks are reasonably priced there at probably about $4-5USD/ea, and smoke were $4 I believe.
On Saturday night we started off at Cabo Wabo around midnight. It really wasn't for us, but I can see how people would like it depending on what time of night you are looking for. It was big inside and they played good music (alternative rock), but we were looking for somewhere faster paced, so we left after 15 or 20 minutes.
We then walked over to Pink Kitty. It was a lot of fun. It is not bottle service only, there's no cover, and they didn't hold a line. We did hear however that one of the guys from our resort showed up wearing shorts and they made him pay $30 US to get in. Inside they have a few poles ("stripper poles"). The music was awesome for what we were looking for -- house music. They also played some top 40 songs remixed into house versions. We stayed until about 3:15am. The only real downfall with the club is the cost of drinks -- holy crap, they are more expensive than expensive clubs in Toronto. One order we got was a tequila shot, 2 vodka-red bulls, and a bottle of water, and it came to $46 US!!
Hotel Departure – The wait to check our luggage was rather long, not like in Toronto. We arrived at the airport shortly before 10am for our 12:55pm flight. They had I think four counters open, and they search every single person’s luggage before you get up to the counter. They also have a small scale where they tell you to weigh your luggage, because if it’s over 20kg (even by 1kg), they will charge you (I think its $10USD/kg over). If you get up to the counter and they weigh it and then try to transfer items between your bag at the person’s bag that you are travelling with, they won’t let you, and they will make you go to the back of the line. My bag was 21kg and my boyfriends was slightly under, so luckily the lady we had at the counter said that was OK because the combined weight of our luggage was 40kg.
Other things to know –
• They do not accept CDN currency (however there is a ScotiaBank & HSBC by the Wal-Mart; there’s also a Costco). We paid for everything in USD, but change is always in pesos, so be aware of the exchange and if they’re ripping you off (they usually are!). The exchange was $1USD = $13 pesos while we were there.
• On the fifth day at the hotel at around 7pm, a hotel worker showed up at our room with a free bottle of “champagne”. We didn’t have any sort of upgraded package, and none of our friends got that, so we still don’t know how we lucked out with that!
• Go to Wal-Mart. It is about a 30 minute walk down the street to the left of the hotel, or an 8 peso bus ride (we walked there, bussed home). Just be careful when getting on the bus to come back – most of the bus drivers don’t speak English and we almost went on the wrong bus! There is a McDonalds inside the Wal-Mart.
• They are currently on Mountain time (2 hours behind Toronto)
All in all, it was a great vacation – beautiful hotel, great atmosphere, nice city, and a fun place. I would refer to it as a “Cancun for 40+” (haha) – but being 25 I didn’t feel out of place (there were lots of 20 & early 30-somethings), and it’s definitely not AS rowdy as Cancun. Having stayed at somewhere that I consider a true 5* resort (Bahia Principe in Punta Cana – 6 a la cartes, all rooms junior suites, Jacuzzis in every room, etc), I would rate this hotel a 4 ½* - the only things that could be improved on would be the food (though most of it was superb) and the atmosphere – they need more people to stay there!! I would also recommend the SF over the Palace any day – for half the price, you get almost all the same features and amenities, and a much busier place (in comparison!).
If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- * Located in the southern Baja California peninsula, 4.5 Km/2.8 Miles from Cabo San Lucas * Opened winter 2007/8 * 1-story main building and 3-story and 4-story annexes * On the beachfront * Complimentary sun loungers on the beach * 3.5 Km/2.2 Miles from downtown Cabo San Lucas * 40 km/25 miles from the airport * 500 m/1650 ft from a bus stop ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Riu Santa Fe Cabo San Lucas
- Riu Santa Fe Los Cabos
- Riu Sante Fe
- Hotel Riu Santa Fe Cabo San Lucas, Los Cabos