I had the pleasure of visiting several resorts during my recent trip to Mexico. Each resort is adapting to COVID-19 in different ways, but all of the resorts I saw were doing an excellent job of social distancing. These are by no means the only resorts in the Cancun/Playa del Carmen/Tulum areas excelling in this time of COVID---these are simply the ones I was able to visit during my short trip.
Palmaïa, The House of Aïa
This is a brand new wellness resort on the Riviera Maya and they have a strong eco and sustainability focus. This concept sets them apart from many of the resorts in this area. The vibe is intentionally chill and zen and the resort was designed with social distancing in mind...even before social distancing was a thing :) That gives me confidence that this resort will be a safe place to travel even when occupancy levels are allowed to climb back to 80% or higher. All of the staff are required to wear masks and the dining areas have staggered seating to ensure you have plenty of space to yourself. The grounds of the hotel are beautiful and the beach is a short walk from any of the rooms (this is not a huge resort). There are 3 natural cenotes and spaces designed for yoga, quiet reflection or meditation. The meals offer plenty of vegan and vegetarian options, but meat is also available. The spa is made up of little casitas with a wall of windows overlooking the gardens (in the direction where no one can see you....) and seemed very peaceful. If you want to relax and disconnect from the world, this is the resort for you.
This resort is family friendly and in all of the family rooms, there are 2 showers. A cool (and very useful!) perk. There are also suites where one side is a regular room and the other side is a bunk room for kids (with their own bathroom). The kids club is also different than most---it is inspired by Waldorf education and allows kids to have personalized attention. All of that said, in my opinion, this resort seems better suited for older kids and adults who want to disconnect.
Tulum is about 1.5 hours from the Cancun airport and the area has a quieter vibe. You are close to the Tulum archeological ruins and turtles lay eggs and nest right on the resort beach (how cool!). While the vibe is more relaxed in general, Dreams has plenty to offer and you won't be bored unless you want to be. The resort has 2 sections and each has a different atmosphere. Staff are all required to wear masks and there are limitations of the number of people allowed at a time for things like the stores and cafes, and weddings are only allowed with a limited number of guests (it maxed out at 60 during my visit). During my visit, the guests had plenty of room to spread out on the beach and in the pool areas---it was well done. Guests are requested to wear masks in all indoor areas (but currently not required).
Dreams has a beautiful spa, with indoor rooms or outdoor areas for special occasions. There are several room categories from tropical views, to swim out rooms (show in one of the photos) and of course ocean view and ocean front options. There is a kids club that has its own little water park, splash pad, rock climbing wall and they offer different excursions (like scavenger hunts) throughout the day. There is entertainment each night and while some options are limited during COVID, something is going on every night.
Secrets is a chain of adult only resorts and this location is in beautiful Akumel. Of the resorts I visited, Secrets was doing the most related to COVID. In addition to the hand sanitizer when you arrive, you are also asked to stop part way to the lobby for a sensor to take your temperature. Other resorts took my temperature, but no other resort told me what they were doing (it was seamless....all behind the scenes). Secrets wants guests to know about the temperature screening so guests feel more comfortable. They also had a few other precautions in place that I didn't see elsewhere---like wearing shoe covers in the spa to having individually wrapped wash cloths in the public restrooms. The resort is beautiful and the buildings are well connected via covered walkways---each building feels private, but the walk to the beach is never more than about 7 or 8 minutes.
I think the highlight of this resort is the beach---it is beautiful and there is wait service available so you don't even have to get up when you want a drink or snack :) There are lots of options for entertainment on-site and most were open with limited capacity. The nightclub is still closed due to COVID. Weddings are back and there is plenty of space on the grounds to have private ceremonies (this is a popular location for destination weddings).
This resort is only a few years old and is known for offering guests a local experience. They want you to feel like you are in Mexico and each guest is assigned a local host. They can help you arrange excursions or things like spa treatments or dinner reservations. This resort includes more items in their all inclusive plan than most resorts---from spa treatments to excursions to golf. You do need to pay a 25% gratuity on what the item would have cost (so a $300 spa treatment would be charged a $75 gratuity). UNICO has changed check in during COVID to get you to your room as quick as possible and they require staff to wear masks. They were not requiring guests to wear masks anywhere, but they do recommend them indoors. Most of the restaurants were open, some with outside seating. The main bar with live entertainment is still closed due to COVID, but the lobby and pool bars are open.
UNICO is a gorgeous resort and the emphasis is on social areas---they are one of the most Instagrammed hotels. The pools and beach are the main attractions and there is a less of a jungle feel here. Many of the rooms have outdoor bathtubs on the balconies and all rooms are decorated in a chic, contemporary style. UNICO is an adult only property, but tends to have less of a romance, couples feel than other adult only properties. UNICO attracts more groups of friends or multi-generational families (with kids being all 18 years or older). There are still plenty of couples and UNICO is a great option for a honeymoon when you want your friends and family included.
Viceroy Riviera Maya
This is a boutique resort with only 41 private villas. This is the ideal example of social distancing. Each villa has its own outdoor space with a hammock, seating area and plunge pool. The staff all are wearing masks, but they didn't have to change much else to respond to COVID---the resort is designed for privacy. The villas aren't as expensive as you might think and you can choose an all-inclusive plan, breakfast only or no meals included in the rate. The resort has little areas designed for peace and quiet---including one for artists. Viceroy can supply the canvas and easel or a table to write in nature. The spa has offerings from the local area, including one option that ends in a bath in a hollowed out tree trunk (how cool!)
The villas all have indoor and outdoor showers and some have soaking tubs. The way the resort is laid out, you feel like you are alone...until you choose to go to the pool or beach. The resort is in a central location about 10-15 minutes to Playa del Carmen if you want more activity than this resort has to offer.
The Fives Oceanfront
You might be a little confused thinking I already told you about The Fives...and I did detail one of the 3 resorts that are included under The Fives brand in my previous post. Each location is very different. This one is a brand new resort in the residential neighborhood of Puerto Morales. The location allows you to eat off-site easily (plenty of options within a 5 to 15 minute walk) while staying in luxury. The theme of residences/condos is true here---each room has its own kitchen, dining and living area (just like The Fives Beach Resort) . This resort is using a spray disinfectant booth when you enter and they disinfect luggage prior to delivering it to your room. All staff are required to wear masks. Most of the common areas are outdoors or are indoor/outdoor living, so it is easy to avoid confined spaces.
The rooftop stole the show for me at this property. Absolutely gorgeous and plenty of seating to spread out. The beach is gorgeous and it is one of the few resorts to have no neighbors on one side, so it feels very private. Families are allowed here, but there isn't a kid club or any kid focused activities. In my opinion, this resort is better for adults or older kids. The resort offers an all inclusive plan, but most people choose to include no meals or only breakfast and then eat locally for the other meals.
The Fives Downtown
This hotel is set right in the middle of Playa del Carmen---one block off from the famous 5th Avenue. People choose to stay here to participate in city life---from markets to shopping to local restaurants. The beach is only a 5-10 minute walk and the ferry to Cozumel is about the same distance. Like the otherThe Fives properties, this hotel also has rooms with a kitchen, dining and living areas. The entrance is designed to mimic the jungle and cenotes of the area...and is open (no roof in the middle).
The rooftop terrace also steals the show here. Absolutely stunning! The views from the room balconies are more city views with a touch of ocean. This hotel is a great place to come back to after spending time in the hustle and bustle of the city. Staff are required to wear masks and there is plenty of signage encouraging social distancing (a little harder to do here as it is only one building....but still possible).
Here to help
Travel during the time of COVID can be more complicated than before, but I am here to help you every step of the way. I have partnered with all of these properties (and plenty of other resorts) to offer something additional to give you an extra special experience. Please contact me when you are ready to plan your travel.
COVID has changed many things in our lives, but our desire to travel and see new places remains the same. I had clients start to travel in July and more and more people are reaching out to talk with me about Mexico. I decided to see for myself how Mexico was adjusting to the "new normal". Mexico is one of the few locations that is open to Americans and does NOT have a COVID testing requirement for entry (as of the time of writing….). Even for travelers who never really considered traveling to Mexico before COVID are suddenly thinking now may be the time to explore.
So, let’s start at the beginning. Travel in the time of COVID means that some decisions are made a bit differently. Looking at flights, I had my choice of several airlines to fly into Cancun (roughly all the same price). I have always loved Delta and their amazing customer service, but now it was the fact that they were the only airline flying to Cancun that were blocking middle seats AND capping the number of travelers on the plane. I want to be a responsible traveler and not put myself (or others) at any unnecessary risk. Once I decided on Delta, I started looking at dates. My schedule was flexible and so I played around some and found an amazing price on first class airfare. First class isn’t all that on flights within the US and Mexico, but it did allow me to have even more space to myself. It also allowed me to board at any time and be one of the first off the plane. This is important because although airlines are asking people to remain seated until the row in front of them is 6 feet ahead, no one (on any airline) seems to be able to hear the ding of the fasten seat belt sign turning off and not run to get off the plane :) So, being first avoided the crowd of people. I get that first class isn’t affordable for everyone and this was my first time in first, but for around $100 more, I decided now was the time. Plenty of extra benefits for a small upcharge.
Delta requires you fill out a form saying you don’t have any symptoms of COVID, have not been around anyone with COVID and that you will wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth while in the airport and throughout the entire flight (except while eating and drinking) before you can check in. The planes are sanitized before each departure and as an extra measure, you are given a sanitizing wipe to use in your seat area. There is no drink or snack service---only a snack bag with a bottle of water and a small snack (for flights under 4 hours). In first class, I did have the option of beer and wine on afternoon flights (but no option for soda or juice).
When I landed in Cancun, there were thermal cameras that take your temperature as you walk through. I didn’t see this happen, but if you have a fever, you will be taken aside for further screening. There are signs all over the airport suggesting social distancing and they have markers on the floor so you can see the distance you should be keeping. I walked outside of the terminal to the shuttle area and found my private transfer. A private transfer is an additional charge, but you have the vehicle to yourself and you go directly to the resort. Drivers are required to wear masks in Mexico and passengers are strongly encouraged to wear one (I wore a mask every time I was in a vehicle).
When I arrived at my resort, The Fives Beach Resort and Residences, I was greeted by bell staff in masks who took my checked bags (much like a pre-COVID arrival). The new detail is that the bell staff are sanitizing your luggage while you are checking in. The Fives had a sanitization sprayer when you enter the lobby---it looks like a metal detector, but it sprays a fine mist of sanitizing product (at The Fives it is an eco-friendly, natural product). I didn’t realize it at the time as the resort is not advertising it, but just before the front desk, there is a camera that takes your temperature. It looks just like a regular security-type camera. The front desk area has plexi-shields between you and the agent and the area is sanitized between guests. The staff all are required to wear masks and guests are asked to also wear masks during check in.
I chose to stay at this resort because they offer options for 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms residences (fancy word for a condo). Each room has a full kitchen, dining area and a living room. They also have at least 1.5 bathrooms. Even traveling alone, it is nice to have the extra space. Other resorts offer larger options at an increased price---most $800 and up per night. The Fives is able to offer these larger rooms at a more reasonable price (varies a lot by season). The rooms are perfect for families or groups of friends traveling together. The resort is all inclusive and has amenities like several pools, a kids club, spa and a beautiful beach, so you aren’t missing out on resort perks to stay in a condo. The location is also close to Playa del Carmen, so you can go explore the city if you like. There are several styles of rooms---the pictures below give you some examples.
The Fives has changed a few policies since COVID. Along with all of the accommodation in Mexico, they are currently only allowed to sell 30% of their rooms. Housekeeping staff does clean rooms each day, but they are not allowed to clean while you are in the room. They are still doing turndown service. Restaurants are open, but on a revolving schedule, so not all of their restaurants are open each day. They are trying to not use paper menus and instead ask you to scan a code on your phone to view the menu on-line. 24/7 room service is available. They are now charging a $3.50 fee per delivery for room service as they have to do additional sanitization. As I mentioned, staff have to wear masks---from landscapers to concierge to those that work in the dive shop. There are markers to help show social distancing in the lobby and other indoor buildings. The Fives also now provides sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer in each room.
There are plenty of things that have stayed the same. Beach chairs and Bali beds are still on the beach and they are still offering beach and pool wait service (so you don’t have to leave your wonderful spot to get a drink). Masks for guests are not required at the pool or beach. They still have a concierge team to help you make dinner reservations or book a tour. The mini-bar in your room is still stocked as usual. My experience at the resort was very similar to resort visits I’ve had pre-COVID.
I also did inspections at several other resorts to see what their COVID protocols were and how they were adjusting. I will explain more about those resorts in another blog post.
When it was time to leave, I also used a private transfer back to the airport. Mexico requires that you complete a COVID screening before leaving with questions about your symptoms, if you came in contact with anyone with COVID and details like how long you were in the country. I was given the option to fill out the form on-line or do it on a paper copy (I did mine on-line). You have to show security that have completed the form before you are allowed to go into the main security screening area. The Cancun airport had plenty of signage about social distancing and frequent announcements were made over the PA to wear your mask and maintain a distance. I had one stop in Atlanta en route back to DC. When I landed in Atlanta, there were no questionnaires, temperature screenings or other procedures in place because of COVID. The Atlanta airport had similar precautions as the other airports---masks are required and announcements are made about social distancing.
I felt safe in Mexico and appreciated all of the precautions put in place. I believe the Cancun area has done a good job balancing COVID precautions with tourism. While I was there, the COVID threat level was lowered and plans were being put in place to increase hotel occupancy rates up to 60% and attractions such as the Tulum ruins were being scheduled to open. I know now is not the time to travel for everyone, but if you feel ready to travel, I would love the opportunity to help you plan your next trip.
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent except Antarctica.