“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” (Mark Twain)
As travellers we all class ourselves as open-minded individuals, willing to try most things as long as they are morally correct and often ecologically sustainable. However, what I do also find is that frequent travellers are also very vocal about their particular travel style, easily dismissing others and their choices – we may therefore, class ourselves as open-minded, but I challenge everyone to think about this; are we not all narrow-minded in our own distinctive ways.
I will openly admit that the thought of sharing a dorm room with at least five other travellers no longer appeals. That’s not to say that this is not a good travel option for others, and potentially would work for me if I was travelling with a group of friends; however, the late night disturbances caused by high revelry causing me to have sleepless nights is not something I relish.
Would I recommend hostel accommodation to others? Yes, if it suited their travel needs.
What I do notice though, is that others are not quite so open-minded to other travel ideas. I often hear, from frequent travellers, that by staying in an all-inclusive resort you miss out on the true nature of a country and that the only reason people visit such resorts is to partake in sunbathing and drinking. Forgive me if I am wrong, but could I not also have the same in mind if I am staying in a hostel or an apartment?
With this in mind, we decided to experience an all-inclusive resort for ourselves. Is it really as bad as the naysayers make out or are there positives to this type of holiday?
Let us introduction you to the Riu Tequila in Playacar, Mexico.
By choosing a resort-based hotel you loss the traditional look gained by booking local accommodation.
I can’t say that every all-inclusive is traditional in style but I don’t think you could say that about any choice made. Looking on sites like AirBnB and Flipkey, I agree there are some lovely looking properties, some that we have booked ourselves. However, there are also some very bland looking rentals that I would never choose to stay in. Inside, they replicate a white box, going for the sterile hospital look, with limited features and a lack of interesting outlook.
We chose the Riu Tequila in Playacar specifically for its design. Set in beautifully tendered grounds, with a circular driveway when you wander through into the open lobby you automatically feel like you have walked into a large Hacienda. Dressed in gold, regal blue and sunburnt orange, crowned with attractive, opulent-looking chandeliers this portal into the resort welcomes you with open arms.
Smaller in size than many other all-inclusive hotels, especially along the Riviera Maya, you will not find any hideous high-rise monstrosities here. Instead, spread out around the grounds, shaded by the tropical grounds you will find small, two storey accommodation blocks. Coloured in rustic reds and calming creams these delightful areas are spread out around a large swimming pool and restaurant coating with a palm tree leafed roof.
Inside the large, lemon toned rooms, the character continues. With two large beds and a dressing area as standard, each room also has a balcony where you can while away the hours with a relaxing complimentary drink from the minibar before heading out for dinner.
Whilst not located on the beach, there is a beautiful sandy expanse only 800 metres away from the entrance, offering you a place to lounge around, listening to the waters lapping at the shoreline, in the early afternoon sun – and after all, a few days of relaxing on any break is a welcomed addition.
The range of All-inclusive food offered consists of fries, fries and more fries and everything is over-heated and dry.
No matter how you travel or where you end up for a meal everything is a risk. You may not enjoy your meal, it may not be cooked to an accepted stand for you or you may end up at a traditional ‘American’ or ‘British’ diner even when visiting a foreign land simply because you fancy a taste of home.
At the Riu Tequila there were several dining options including a traditional Mexican affair, an Asian restaurant and a Steakhouse. For us, however, what stood out was the vast selection of offerings in the buffet. Never before have we had such a great choice, regardless of the time of day.
Fresh fruit and Vegetables were in abundance along with several different meat and fish options. Every day there was a different theme and the menu complimented each one perfectly. Whether you wanted a paella, meat and mashed potato or quesadillas – the choice is there.
Beginning a vegetarian I am often concerned about the selection and variety of food available and also the way in which it is cooked – yes I am one of those people who do not want to know that the spoon stirring my sauce has not also been used on a meat alternative. I had no issues with either the options or the standard of food here. Each evening had a large variety available with a whole section labelled up for vegetarians, from spinach cannelloni to Lentil stew something new was always appearing to try. Add to this the large selection of salads and there is simply no way anyone that anyone could go hungry here. We ate there over a two-week period and not once did we walk away thinking that there was nothing to eat.
Finally, as for the fries – in 14 days I did not have any. Yes they were available if I so desired them but with the abundance of fresh produce on offer the thought of a plate full of them never crossed my mind.
Other than the traditional look of this particular resort, the reason for choosing the Riu Tequila had been the food. Of all the reviews we read, the food at this particular hotel stood out, with many people commenting that it was outstanding, offering both traditional Mexican treats and other diverse foods to try.
Those that go on an all-inclusive holiday never leave the resort.
This may be true but it may also be the case for those that book into a nice villa somewhere or an apartment complex, so I don’t really agree that this is a reason on its own to disregard the all-inclusive option.
Playacar, is a town based on the outskirts of Playa Del Carmen. I beautiful area, with many luxury homes some directly on beach. Yes, this is an expensive part of Mexico to live in but when travelling sometimes a little luxury is appealing.
From the Riu Tequila walking just five minutes down the road will bring you to a shopping complex full of all those traditional gifts that you may wish to take home for others. Continue on a further twenty minutes and you will find yourself on the edge of Playa Del Carmen, a large commercial hub full of attractions for both the tourist and the local.
Here you will find yourself surrounded by boutique clothes shops, restaurants, bars and street entertainers. Once again, you have a choice – head to an authentic Mexican bar for Happy Hour where two margaritas could cost you between 40-80 pesos (about £2-£4/$3-5) or head into one of the bars that Mexico has become known for, e.g. Senor Frogs, where a beer will cost you between 80-125 pesos (about £4-5.50/$5-8.30).
Likewise, just outside our hotel we found several waiting taxis ready to take you wherever you wanted to go – the key is to always remember to ask the price before getting in, as soon as you sit down you have lost your bargaining power. If you don’t want to pay for a taxi then wander into Playa Del Carmen and head for the bus station where you can pick up a ‘colectivo’ like a local. (Costs – taxi – short journey is about 100 pesos (£5/$6.70) or the bus costs between 20-40 pesos (£1-2/$1.50-3) depending on journey length.
Finally, there are many trips that can be arranged, either independently or via a tour operator. Known for our independent approach by friends and family, on this occasion we decided to opt for the excursions offered by a tour operator. We were intrigued to see whether you do really get a second-class experience by booking as part of a group, which is the perceived case of many long-term travellers.
Honest answer here, and it’s not often I say this, but we really enjoyed our pre-arranged trips. I didn’t have to spend hours on the internet beforehand searching for guides, transport or sources. I didn’t have to worry about pickups or no shows. In short, it was actually quite refreshing. On top of that, no tour that we went on (which included trips to Coba and Isla Contoy) had large groups. That doesn’t mean that people from our hotel didn’t visit these locations but they simply limited the numbers so that we each gained the most from our experiences; you had to book early in your trip to get the days you wanted. On each of these trips there were a good mixture of people, all mixing well and generally enjoying our days out, plus, on several we were the first ones to arrive, missing the larger tours and often the last ones to leave. This being the case, I have to ask myself, why we often judge those that do arrange their trips in this way harshly.
Now for those that do not wish to leave the resort, and there were several days where we fell into this category, you have the choice of a large pool area or beach to relax on, an entertainments team to keep you entertained and an all-inclusive bar to keep you hydrated – is all that such a bad thing?
For those that enjoy their morning dose of yoga, this was included. Want to play a game of water polo or volleyball? Again, included. In fact, any imaginable activity was pretty much on offer. You even had the opportunity to learn Spanish should this be on your list of things to do. Let’s be clear here, I am saying that it is ok to stay put; everyone needs down-time in order to relax and rejuvenate themselves, after all for many this will be their many break for the year.
It’s more expensive to go on an all-inclusive holiday.
Looking at Airbnb I can see that some apartments are available for around £30 per night, whilst many show at £100 per night. So let’s work on an average nightly rate of £65. Looking into hotels, the rate is very similar for room only. This means that for 14 nights I would be looking at a minimum of £910. Add to that the cost of two flights from the UK at £379 each (which was the cheapest I could get at the time of booking) and I am faced with a bill of £1668 for 14 nights. This does not include food or drink, or the flight upgrade that we opted for. So could we really gain an all-inclusive hotel for less? Yes, is the simple answer. For 14 nights at the Riu Tequila we paid £1632 for the pair of us – making a saving of £36. On top of that, we didn’t have to pay for any food or drink whilst there. Should we go out for the day, we had a minibar full of bottles of Pepsi, 7up and water to see us through.
So from a cost perspective this all-inclusive was a no-brainer. Even if we had eaten out every evening we would have still saved money. You have to question why you wouldn’t look into this as an option when money is concerned.
I had food and drinks on tap 24 hours a day should I want it – for no extra cost. Surely, this is important especially at a time when so many people are looking to save money.
Taking all of this into account, we sincerely believe that by choosing the Riu Tequila as a base for our break away we had the best of all worlds. An authentic-looking, cheap option that still allowed us the freedom to wander and do as we please.
But, don’t just take our word for it – look at the reviews and you will see that this is the reason that many people return to this particular hotel time and time again. They also crave the freedom that we do and everyone we spoke to had chosen this particular hotel for its design – even in the resort it felt like you were in Mexico; it was a hotel with character.
Would we return to the Riu Tequila?
Definitely. We don’t often visit the same location twice but we would make an exception for the Riu Tequila.
For all those that would still argue that going on an all-inclusive trip cannot be classed as actually visiting the country, I challenge you to rethink. It may not be your preference but if you complete your research, as many of us naturally do, I guarantee that, whether you prefer large or small, high-rise or low-rise, remote or situated in an accessible area, there will be a resort suited to everyone.