Lisa Spiller… My Travel Odyssey through Mexico during Covid-19

This October, I escaped to Los Cabos and Puerta Vallarta, Mexico after being grounded by Covid all year. We flew on American to Los Cabos, stayed at the breathtaking Las Ventannas al Paraiso Resort for four nights, then flew on Aero Mexico through Mexico City to Puerto Vallarta and stayed at both the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit and the elegant Four Seasons Punta Mita. We also toured the grounds, rooms and had dinner in Los Cabos at the Waldorf Astoria at Pedregal Los Cabos.

With all candor, there are pain points in air travel today that take the glamour out of flying.  It is important for travelers to be aware that flight schedules will change, they will be required to wear a mask the entire time, they will receive a baggie upon boarding the plane with hand sanitizer, a cookie and a small bottled water, and they may not be receive any cabin service beyond that. Keeping an open mind and being willing to go with the flow is now more necessary than ever when travelling. Airport Security allows travelers to pack a bottle of hand sanitizer and wipes, and I recommend.

Having said that, we felt safe. The planes were packed to capacity, but were spotless. Airports had touchless free-standing hand sanitizer stations every 50 feet. Everyone work masks throughout the airports and for the duration of flights. In Mexico airports, about 40% of the travelers wore shields and masks. All airline personnel in airports and on the planes wore masks and shields.

In advance of a trip to Mexico now, one must complete and print three forms for ease of travel:

  • Health Declaration
  • Customs Form
  • Immigration Form

I recommend keeping them handy in a carry on pocket to be ready to present at any random point.  In the airports and on the planes, these forms and any sanitized pens are not readily available, most likely due to Covid. Bring your completed forms and pack a pen.

We made advance reservations for a car rental in Los Cabos through Auto Europe.  We were advised by our car insurance company that one must purchase car insurance in Mexico when renting a car there, so we paid $85 for insurance for a four day rental on site.  Roads in Los Cabos are in pristine condition and are uncrowded, so driving is easy. It allowed us the freedom to go to several different restaurants and drive to San Jose Del Cabo with ease, and it was more economical than hiring transfers and taxis. Transfers from the airport can be around $150 each way; whereas a four day car rental can be under $200 depending on car type.  We had to wait a long time-over an hour- as they sanitized the car at the car rental shed at the airport. But in the end, it was worth the wait.

Upon arrival at the gleaming white desert oasis of Las Ventanas al Paraiso, we immediately and irrevocably fell in love. A swarm of snappily-dressed and masked butlers and bellman enthusiastically greeted us upon our arrival. While the doorman parked our car, another discreetly whisked our luggage away to sanitize it before delivering it to our room. We were asked to step on a hydrostatic matt to clean our shoes, and our Butler introduced himself and escorted us on a tour of the property.

The feel is white Santa Barbara -style hacienda, landscaped throughout with sand zen gardens, blooming cactus and lush tropical palms. Lazy rivers of swimming pool water snake through the property. Colorful sculptures and cozy seating featuring vibrant Mexican embroidered pillows add refined detail to the décor throughout.  Mexican colored glass hearts dangle like Christmas ornaments from dramatic mesquite trees and the sound…. is of palm fronds blowing in the light breeze, the constant breathing of the sea and doves cooing to their mates.

That’s it. No traffic noise, no club music jamming by the pool. No loud tourists partying at a tiki bar. Pure peace and tranquility, and ultimate refinement. The property sits on a wide and endless white sand beach that one can walk for miles. The water is an impossible shade of transparent blue and the waves are gargantuum. Not swimmable with the exception of a few sheltered bays at other hotels, including Montage and Chileno Bay.

Our room had been sanitized and sealed with a ribbon that only we were invited to break upon our arrival. The room was absolutely stunning, with details like a wood fireplace, candles and scented oils to burn nightly, Mexican pottery, huge bottles of bath salts to use in our enormous ocean-view sunken whirlpool tub, a telescope for viewing the stars at night and whales in the sea, an infinite jacuzzi pool on our patio, plush built in patio seating and a spiral staircase from our patio to a rooftop penthouse featuring loungers and a covered daybed with plump pillows to while away lazy afternoons in the shade.

We received daily turndown service with little gifts every night, including creamy Mexican chocolates, truffles, and a different hand-made worry doll each night.  We collected four. Worry dolls are a Mexican tradition. You tell her all your worries and put her under your pillow at night and when you wake up, the worries have gone away.

Las Ventannas has four dining venues, all of which were serving meals al fresco during our visit. Live music is featured nightly and it is world-class.  During Covid, most nights the live music was staged on a floating stage perched over a lazy river within view and earshot of the excellent Arbol restaurant. We dined at Arbol our first night and were blown away. Seating is outside under the dramatic lighting of lanterns hung from mesquite trees, and the menu features Thai, Japanese and Indian. The live music is a Cuban band with a big bodacious female powerhouse singer reminiscent of Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald.  They play nightly onsite in the speakeasy or in the open air. The Speakeasy is DARLING and a huge highlight of the experience.

We were assigned two dedicated butlers to anticipate our needs and pamper us daily. Upon arrival, a QR code connects guests with dedicated Butlers via What’s App. I never touched the phone in the room, I simply texted our Butlers via What’s App anytime we needed anything.  “Samuel, can we have a couple margaritas delivered to our room?” Five seconds later, “Yes Mrs. Spiller.” Knock knock, margaritas appear.

Our Butlers magically and discreetly appeared around us every morning after we made our way out of our room and down to breakfast, which is offered complementary as a Signature amenity.  They reconfirmed dinner reservations, scheduled our car to be ready, planned a beautiful anniversary celebration for us, and delivered goodies to our room when requested.  Breakfast was out of this world and, at $150 daily, this is a HUGE value as a signature amenity!  We could choose anything on an extensive menu in multiple courses, including fresh fruit platters and fresh house-made French pastries for starters.

Pool loungers by the breathtaking infinite pool overlooking the gorgeous beach and rolling waves were plentiful.  When we chose a couple each day, we were assigned a pool butler.  We were given a Pool Boy Call Button and towel set up. Buckets of ice cold bottled water were delivered to us regularly, like every hour. When we wanted to adjust the back on our pool lounger, our Pool Butler would SPRINT over to us, and adjust it for us. When the sun moved across the sky, the Pool Butler would appear and adjust the umbrella so it covered my husband but left sun on me.  Truly an unprecedented royal level of pampered attention.

Upon our departure, we were gifted with one of the Mexican blown glass hearts hanging from the trees. We were told that every guest receives a different color each time they visit.  I already can’t wait to return!

In Los Cabos, I highly recommend dinner at Sunset Mona Lisa, Hacienda y Cocina and El Farallon, located at the Waldorf Astoria at Pedregal Los Cabos, and of course, Arbol at Las Ventannas. It should be noted that ALL restaurants and venues in Mexico offered touchless menus. Guests hover their phone camera over a QR code which pulls up the menus on your phone and that is how it is done.

I also recommend a visit to the artsy small town of San Jose Del Cabo, 20 minutes from Las Ventannas. No need to arrive until around 11:00 because that is about the time the galleries, little crafty local shops and boutique café’s open.  It is the perfect place to meander for two hours and do a little shopping for local crafts such as blown glass, embroidered napkins and pillows, colorful worry dolls and pottery, all well-priced and open for bartering. We arranged a Historical Walking tour in advance, recommended by Los Cabos tourism. I recommend you skip it. It was a boring 2 hours standing outside the church, inside the church and inside the municipal building while the guide discussed the 17th and 18th century history.

While in Los Cabos, I toured the Waldorf Astoria at Pedregal and saw several room categories. The property is walking distance to the town of Cabo San Lucas for any travelers who want to spend time downtown.  You enter by driving through the mountain in a tunnel, which is one of their signature features. The resort is designed in the Adobe style in a sand stone color to blend into and is literally built into the side of the cliff and is located on a small, golden sand beach.  It is a dramatic setting on a small piece of property. The spa is beautifully designed and has an impressive indoor outdoor pool area.  The rooms are done in dark, warm Mexican tones, they have an electric fireplace, patios with swim up plunge pool and bathrooms feature Mexican tile.  I actually preferred the open, bright rooms at Las Ventannas, but recognize that everyone has their own unique tastes. Their signature fine dining restaurant is El Farallon, and it is an outdoor patio built into the edge of the cliff overlooking the wild Pacific ocean surf.  Just an exquisite dinner venue and not to be missed. The dinner was a multi-course steak and lobster affair with mass appeal. Service was top notch.

We flew from Los Cabos to Puerto Vallarta via Mexico City. I don’t recommend this, because of the long travel day, but it was worth it to me to check out a few more resorts and prolong my vacation.

When we arrived at the Puerto Vallarta Airport, our transfer met us at baggage claim with our names on a sign. She offered us hand sanitizer and bottled water. She escorted us with our luggage to our car & driver. As we left the airport, our luggage was sprayed with sanitizer and we had to step on a hydrostatic mat to clean our shoes.

Twenty minutes later, we arrived at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit.We were invited to step on another hydrostatic matt to sanitize our shoes, and they took our temperature with a touchless camera. Our luggage was spray-sanitized. We were escorted to our room and asked to break the seal that indicated no one had been in our room since it had been cleaned.  E route to our room, I noted a dirty diaper left in the hallway, dirty room service trays left outside oom, and some broken hotel exterior décor.

The room was large with a polished tile floor, sliding glass door to balcony offering a gorgeous panoramic view of the sunset and lush landscaped property, pool and Swim up bar under the Palapa. The room décor was standard and did not offer a sense of place. It reminded me of a Hilton business hotel room. In the room, we were left with Clorox wipes and masks and a nice amenity of tequila and gourmet cheese platter.  As an elevated service during Covid, they offered to launder our travel clothes complementary.

We were assigned the lounge chairs of our choice both by the pool and on the beach for the duration of our stay.  They placed a RESERVED for SPILLER FAMILY sign on our chairs daily.

The Local Government had just opened the beaches, but the resort was not yet offering the all-inclusive amenities including paddle boarding, kayaks, snorkel gear.   The beaches in Puerto Vallarta feature hard-packed brown / black sand which you can walk on for miles, the water is a dark blue / brown with low waves, very swimmable.

They did have an activities instructor on staff who offered a daily water aerobics class, which I took, and it was fun! No group yoga or fitness classes were on offer by the gym or spa, but one can book private lessons for a fee.  I booked private yoga for $120 and the yoga instructor was excellent.   The Spa was closed but they offered massages by the pool. But I found the lack of activities and entertainment to be a great disappointment, considering this is an all-inclusive.

Dining: Two restaurants were open each night. The sports bar was not open and there was no live entertainment at night. We dined in a different restaurant each night of our 3 night stay. The restaurants were big Dining Rooms with austere modern décor and in my opinion, a genuine lack of ambiance. There was no noticeable music. Live entertainment was not offered any night.   The food was delicious, and my favorite restaurant was the French restaurant. The wine list was just short of average,  like the wine list you might find on an NCL or Carnival Cruise.  Premium wines and champagnes are available for purchase and at a higher price tag than in the US.

The clientele was mainly local Mexican families, young 30 somethings interested in heavy drinking at the swim up bar, and families with young kids from Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, Montana. This would be a good resort for a family with a deluxe budget travelling with kids who are seeking a four star inclusive value and five star service.

From here, we hired a transfer to take us to the Four Seasons Punta Mita, which was a 45 minute ride Northwest from Riviera Nayarit and an hour from the Puerta Vallarta Airport.

Arriving at Four Seasons Punta Mita is like arriving to another country other than the one we left in Riviera Nayarit. Punta Mita is a peninsula jutting into the Sea and both the St. Regis Punta Mita and Four Seasons Punta Mita are tucked in here behind private gatesand operate at just absolutely another level.

The open air lobby opens to a grand view of the beaches, infinite pool and grounds. The Four Seasons offers elegant sculptures artistically staged throughout the property blending into the architectural landscape. The infinite pool is at the heart of the resort grounds offering plenty of plush loungers and butlered food and beverage service.

There are two stunning beaches with swimmable crystal-clear azure water, and plenty of comfortable curtained cabanas, irresistible hanging day beds, a beach shack for beach snacks and a hilltop cliff for private dinners for two and morning sunrise yoga.  The dive shop offers paddle boards, kayaks and snorkel gear.

We enjoyed floating on inner tubes around the Lazy River, which is one margarita long.  Pool Butlers pop champagne and deliver your glass right to you as you float by under the canopy of waving palm trees.  The Kids Club sits behind a gate adjacent to the Lazy River and offers an extensive activities program for kids ages 5-17.  It was closed while we visited due to Covid.  A third pool area offers another setting for adults-only and is situated right off the spa, featuring hammocks and plump day beds under shady trellises.

There are multiple restaurants on site, all al-fresco open to the gorgeous fresh air, and managed by an earnestly hospitable and gracious staff well-trained in Four Seasons five-star service.  They feature live entertainment nightly. There is a house Cuban style band that plays six nights a week and an acoustic guitarist who plays at the seaside seafood restaurant.

The grounds are EXTENSIVE and they offer MULTIPLE ROOM TYPES from the Casita, King Suite with private Plunge pool, Residences, Oceanfront and Oceanview Villas and Presidential Villa. All absolutely gorgeous. Guests may call for a golf cart pick up to shuttle them around the property.  Villa Guests have their own golf cart included with their villa rental.

We golfed 18 holes on the iconic Pacifica Course featuring the “Tail of the Whale” hole, 3B, where golfers must hit their drive over the water onto the green.  Only during low tide can you play your second shot on this par 3, and it is a lot of fun. Beautiful golf course with ocean views on virtually 90% of the holes. Very memorable and not difficult. I highly recommend.

I do not have enough adjectives in my vocabulary to describe how much we loved this resort. There is much to keep a couple or family busy for five days or more. I recommend 5 nights or more.

Lisa Spiller is an Independent Luxury Travel Advisor with Preferred Travel of Naples.  www.PreferredNaples.com.   She may be contacted at 800-523-3716 or Lisa@preferrednaples.com

 

 

 

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