The Riviera Maya is well known for its beautiful coastline beaches, but the name itself often causes a little confusion for long-time Mexico visitors as the geographical name was adopted less than 20 years ago. Looking for a relaxing escape from winter weather, we headed to the all-inclusive Reef Playacar for a fun in the sun getaway.
The drive from the Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen is always a confusing one for me. It’s a little over 30 miles and will take about an hour, depending on traffic, and passing through cities and industrial areas make me wonder if there really are beautiful beaches on the other side. And yes, there are. It was a delightful surprise to turn off the highway, drive through a residential area, and then enter the rainforest-like area that was our welcome to the Reef Playacar.
We were hot and sticky and tired when we walked in but were immediately perked up by the cheerful “Hola” greetings and the cold glass of bubbly brought to us as we check in. This friendly and gracious hospitality was a hallmark of our stay at the Reef Playacar.
Heading to our room felt like walking through a jungle, with lush trees, vines, and pathways marking our way. The resort’s 196 guest rooms are laid out around the property in 18 villas, and you wend your way through the jungle to your room. Note that the property is not wheelchair accessible, and there are no elevators in the villas.
Our large king-room was decorated in muted earth tones and had the expected upscale amenities. A sitting area, a separate desk that could serve as a makeup area or workspace, and large closet and drawer space, made it a comfortable room. A minibar with beer and soft drinks, coffee maker, and bottled water, meant we never went thirsty.
The bathroom was large with a full-sized shower with etched glass doors. There was plenty of room for two people trying to shower and change after a day on the beach.
A small balcony had a seating area and a slice-sized view of the pool and beach. One morning while I was sitting on the balcony reading, I spotted a couple of agoutis romping and snacking on the ground below. These frisky fellas are common in the rainforest and look like a cross between a chipmunk and a guinea pig (they are related to the latter). They’re adorable – and harmless – and you may see them throughout the grounds.
The resort has six dining options around the property and you can pick and choose based on your preference. All are included with your all-inclusive rate, although there are some upgraded options should you wish.
We had breakfast each morning at the Chulavista cafe. Served buffet-style, the buffet offered a large selection of all-American fare along with Mexican specialties. Cook-to-order stations let you customized your omelets and eggs. My favorite Mexican breakfast dish is chilaquiles and there were three varieties offered each day (my favorite was the chicken with red sauce). Chulavista is also open for lunch and dinner.
Two specialty restaurants are open for dinner – Botticelli for Italian food and Terrazza Grill for upscale Mexican dishes. Both restaurants are ala carte (order from a menu) and are included with your rate. Drinks are also included, although a wine list has some upscale options available for an additional fee.
For beach or poolside food, the Deli Snack bar has carry-out options of pizza, burgers, and similar snacks. The Reef Playacar is a family-friendly resort, and kids will probably love this option, but as an adult, I found it a little disappointing in both quality and selection.
We never made it to the Ice Cream Parlor, which is set in the jungle nearer the lobby than the beach, as its limited open hours didn’t work for us (4-6 pm). Longer open times would have made this a better option for us as we really wanted ice cream after dinner, not before.
Bars are located around the property, including a lobby bar, swim-up pool bar, poolside bar, etc. Nico’s, a private beach bar, is available for guests on a premium plan. None of the bars had chair service, so you’ll need to plan to fetch your own drinks.
But we came for the pool and beach, right?!
The Reef Playacar has three pools and fronts a stunningly beautiful sandy beach. Chairs and lounger are placed around the grounds, and even during peak times, we were able to find a place to sit and relax.
Surf conditions were “red” during our stay, so we just walked along the beach with our ankles in the water. It feels like you can walk on the beach for miles. We saw a few people playing far a bit further out, but it seemed like most people were following the caution flag and not getting too far from shore.
While this was a rest and relaxation visit for us, the resort has a daily list of activities for those guests interested in more. From bicycles and non-motorized water activities, to fitness classes, and nightly entertainment, you can keep as busy – or not – as you like. A tour desk is also available to help with visits to other local attractions (Chichen Itza and Xcaret seemed to be two popular guest choices when we were there).
A spa is located in one of the tropical garden areas and you can also opt for a beach or poolside treatment. Services are not included in your rate.
The all-inclusive rate structure can be a bit confusing. Regardless of your plan – standard or premium – most everything is included. The premium plan enhancements include minibar in-room, welcome bottle of wine in room, premium spirits, access to Nico’s beach bar, upgraded room amenities, spa discount, and free wifi.
The wifi alone may make it worthwhile to choose the premium plan and while we found strong connections for our phones when out and about the resort, we thought the room speed was fairly slow. If you need to check in with the office now and again, it’s sufficient, but may be tough if you really have to get some online work done.
There are a few value add-ons worth considering, especially if you’re celebrating a special occasion. On our last night at the property, we saw a couple enjoying a dinner on the beach. The tented table was aglow with candles and mood lighting, offered drinks and dinner with a private butler, and looked very special.
The Reef Playacar is located in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Rates vary based on the type of all-inclusive plan chosen but generally start around $250/night. You can also compare rates at Hotelopia or Expedia.
Disclosure: The author received a complimentary stay.
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