Mexico: My Favorite Hotels

“What’s your favorite hotel in Mexico?” That’s a question I get asked a lot.

It’s a loadeded question to which my answer changes daily. I’ve stayed at so many hotels and resorts in Mexico that I can’t possible count—or even remember—all of them. A favorite? I hesitate to pick just one. However, when pressed, I can usually come up with a short list of the places I most want to go back to again and again. This is, of course, a very personal and subjective list, one that varies wildly from glam to rustic, high-end to low. And it depends on whom I’m traveling with, too. So when asked about my favorite hotel, I generally respond with, “What are you in the mood for?”

Playa del Carmen, The Ultimate Foodie Retreat
For glamorous gluttony, there is simply no better hotel in Mexico than Grand Velas Riviera Maya. The food is incredible, and it’s all included in the price of your room. All day. Every day. As much as you want. Whatever you’re in the mood for. And I’m not talking buffets, wristbands or tour buses here. This place oozes luxury. It’s among the best of the best. I’d rank the signature restaurant, the very modern Cocina de Autor, among the Top 5 restaurants in Mexico. And the French restaurant, Piaf, might very well be the best French restaurant in Mexico. But of course, when you’re in Mexico, you’re going to want Mexican food—and the chefs at Frida and Chaká, are fantastic. The rooms are sublime. The beach is pristine. And the spa… just, wow. (More about Grand Velas here, here and here.)

Elsewhere in the Riviera Maya and Cancun
I’ve been traveling to Cancun, Playa del Carmen and the surrounding area since the late 80s—long before anyone coined the term “Riviera Maya.” I lived in Cancun for a while in the late 80s. I have so many favorites here, for so many different reasons. For the best overall rooms and romance in the Riviera Maya, my pick is Banyan Tree Mayakoba, where every room is a villa with its own private pool and courtyard—and the French doors of the bedroom open directly into the pool! The resort’s Mexican restaurant is excellent, too (I wish the Thai restaurant were as good.) And the spa is one of the best in Mexico.

UPDATE: In Cancun, my new favorite resort is Nizuc, an extraordinary achievement in architecture and design, with incredible food as well.

And if I get to choose one more in the Riviera Maya, it would have to be The Viceroy, formerly known as The Tides. The Viceroy is opposite of the sprawling Grand Velas or meandering Banyan Tree. Whereas those are grand and posh, Viceroy is quaint and rustic, a wee bit Robinson Crusoe but still luxurious, offering an unparalleled sense of tropical Mayan authenticity. The chef, Jetzabel Barragan, is one of the top female chefs in Mexico—or maybe I should just say, one of the best chefs in Mexico, period. My only complaint about the Viceroy is that the spa is terrible—far too rustic for how much this place costs. However, I’ve been told plans are underway to completely upgrade the spa.

Mexico, DF
In Mexico City, I’ve stayed at all the top hotels, and in terms of pure luxury, it’s a toss-up between the Cesar Pelli-designed St. Regis and the ultra-romantic Four Seasons. The St. Regis is just a great hotel all around—as glam as any of the most modern hotels in New York, London or Tokyo. The rooms and bathrooms could not be any more perfectly calibrated. And the King Cole Bar, with those sweeping city views from the terrace, is where anyone who’s anyone gathers for late afternoon cocktails and chalupas. But the Four Seasons is far more romantic, less business-y, more personal. And I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be come Sunday morning than than having brunch in the courtyard here. On the other hand, if I’m traveling with my nightlife-y friends, I’m probably more likely to stay at the ultra-sexy Condesa DF, where we’ll spend way too much time at the rooftop lounge with cocktails in our hands.

Guadalajara
And speaking of favorite rooftop decks, my favorite hotel in Guadalajara is the Demetria,  which I only recently discovered. It’s a great boutique hotel with an incredible rooftop pool and lounge. For such a cool town, the hotel scene in Guadalajara is fairly old fashioned and stodgy. Not so at the Demetria, which really sets itself apart. This is definitely the coolest hotel in town.

San Miguel de Allende
I travel to San Miguel de Allende at least once a year, but I usually rent a house or apartment instead of staying in a hotel. That said, I do occasionally stay at a small hotel or B&B. My favorite? Rosewood. This hotel truly changed the game in San Miguel when it opened almost two years ago. The first luxury hotel here to be built from the ground up, it delivers all the modern amenities you’d expect from a world-class hotel in 2012—while at the same time capturing the charming, old-world sensibility that has always made this colonial town so popular in the first place. World-class restaurant. Sublime spa. The rooftop La Luna bar offers unbeatable sunset views and killer tamarind margaritas.

Puerto Vallarta
There are so many hotels in the Puerto Vallarta area that I have yet to explore, but I’ve toured some of the nicest. And my top pick so far is the Four Seasons, just north of Puerto Vallarta proper in the gated community of Punta Mita. One of favorite things about the Four Seasons Punta Mita is the poolside ice cream service, delivered by tricycle every day at precisely 3pm. Three scoops of Mexican vanilla, please.

Los Cabos
I don’t know why, but even though Los Cabos is the easiest resort destination to get to from Los Angeles, i probably go there the least. Maybe it’s because it feels too much like California, with so many fellow Angelenos sitting around the pool? Haha. But if I were going to pick a favorite here, I’d go with the classic Las Ventanas al Paraiso. I love the xeroscaped landscape filled with agave and cactus. And I also love the complimentary Clase Azul tequila in the rooms.

Merida
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Merida, and I think it’s high time to return. Merida   almost feels like another country. It feels like it’s so far from anywhere else in the country. When I was last in this part of the Yucatan touring a number of hotels, my favorite was the insanely romantic Hacienda San Jose. It’s an old sisal plantation that’s been turned into an exotic hideaway not too far from town. It still feels like an old ranch. Porch sitting is an art here, and you’ll want to work on your form for hours at a time.

Morelia
It seems like much of the news coming out of Michoacan these days is bad news. But my friends who live in Mexico City say they still love to visit Morelia. They still feel perfectly safe here and actually go frequently. I’ll take their word for it. Morelia has the best candies in Mexico—even better than Puebla. There’s an amazing little hotel here that I can highly recommend. It’s called Villa Montaña. It’s a grand old mansion and collection of detached villas that sit high on the hillside overlooking the city. The view from the pool is breathtaking. The library lounge feels like something out of a Sandra Cisneros novel.

Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa

I love the Viceroy Zihuatanejo, situated on a beautiful stretch of beach just a short cab ride from the center of town. And up in the hills on a cliff overlooking the ocean, Capella Ixtapa is absolutely gorgeous and blissfully secluded. The chef there is one of the region’s brightest rising stars. (Read about pozole in Zihuatanejo.)

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