Fancy yourself as Indiana Jones exploring lost cities and lush jungle but without the leaches, bugs and hardship? Try an all inclusive holiday on Mexico's Caribbean coast
Tramping through the lost cities of forgotten people and tracking wildlife in the jungle and mangroves of Southern Mexico may sound like a Boy’s Own adventure, but it really does not have to be hard work thanks to air conditioned coaches and all inclusive resort hotels.
Set on Yucatan’s Mayan Riviera, on a 173 acre site, is the Grand Palladium Colonial Resort & Spa. While the resort offers luxurious accommodation, the architects have been careful to integrate its infrastructure into the rainforest and mangrove swamp that make up its natural environment. Travel between the hotel lobbies, restaurants and our palatial villa block was by land train, golf buggies, boat and covered walkways.
Our suite was enormous. Since the mini-bar was refilled daily with beer and soft drinks there was always something for us to drink while decadently sharing our whirlpool bath. Both of the suite’s rooms had a widescreen TV, ceiling fans and the absolutely vital air conditioning.
Only a short walk through the mangroves was a long sandy beach with plenty of sun beds. It was just the place for a mescal and a beer as the sun set over the sea. For those of us who didn’t fancy braving the surf, a sea water pool was shared with a pelican; just the place to hunt down small fish hiding from the bigger fish out in the Caribbean.
The fresh water pools included one for adults only where mojitos were brought to my sun bed, as frigate birds and black vultures soared effortlessly on the thermals overhead.
The resort’s grounds are a haven for wildlife, some of which have adapted to its intrusion into their environment rather too well. Wherever there was an open space we’d find iguanas basking in the early morning sunshine, no problem with them but I’m sure the herons and egrets were not supposed to be helping themselves to the ornamental koi. As for the crocodile, she’s three metres long, but fortunately in her own enclosure.
Things to do
While living it up in luxury is great, I do think there is little point in crossing an ocean solely to wallow in it. The Yucatan is packed with archaeological sites that were virtually forgotten until opened up by the gentleman explorers of the 19th century.
Yucatan’s Maya civilisation flourished up until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, Tulum (admission around $4) was a Maya port. Not strictly a city, more a collection of religious and administrative buildings, Tulum was imposing enough to scare the first conquistadors away. The centrepiece is the magnificent Temple of the Frescos, it’s incredible to think that these buildings were put together by people with stone tools and what is basically chewing gum for mortar.
Though Tulum was pretty amazing it paled into insignificance compared to the ruins of Chichen Itza (admission $10). Dominated by the massive Temple of Kulkulhan, the site is split into two distinct architectural styles. Old Chichen is purely Maya, but the most impressive buildings including the Temple of Kulkulkan were built after the Toltec conquest of the late 13th century. Don’t miss the ball court where a game similar to basketball was played - only the winning team got sacrificed and eaten.
Close to Tulum is Xel-ha (www.xelha.com) which is for want of a better way of putting it an eco theme park. It’s expensive at around $75 but you get a lot of bang for your bucks with unlimited food and drink included in the price. Since the sea was a bit choppy we decided against the aquatic activities and opted to take a walk through the rain forest where we had a magical encounter with a family group of coati foraging for food. After which we went foraging for food at one of the very good Mexican buffets.
All Inclusive food and drink
I’d always been a bit sniffy about all inclusive deals, preferring to investigate local restaurants and bars, but I was distinctly impressed by the Grand Palladium. Sure the branded spirits were limited, but there was a wide cocktail menu and excellent local beer. Drinks could be enjoyed virtually all day at beach and poolside bars and the hotel lobbies. I found the best Manhattan was mixed by the salt water pool. While for lunch there were a variety of Mexican snacks at the beach bar which we shared with bandit masked raccoons.
In the evening eight a la carte restaurants vied for our attention, including Italian, Chinese and Mexican eateries. Despite the odd misfire (melted cheese on Moroccan chicken anyone?), the standard of cuisine was usually pretty good.
Of particular note were Rodizio, the Brazilian restaurant, where the attentive waiters brought around sword sized skewers of just about every roasted meat you could possibly imagine and the Japanese Sumptuori restaurant where theatrical teppanyaki chefs prepare the food at your table.
We travelled with Thomson Holidays (www.thomson.co.uk) and booked our excursions through their website in the UK. As virtually everything was paid up front we needed very little spending money and mercifully didn’t come home to a huge credit card bill. Quite a change from one of our usual trips.