Category Archives: Mexico and Costa Rica

Spotlight on Cabo

Cabo-Arches

The southern tip of the Baja Peninsula is where the Gulf of California meets the Pacific.  Los Cabos is actually two towns.  Cabo San Lucas has a vibrant downtown and nightlife, a marina for fishing and snorkeling excursions, and views of the famous El Arco, an arched rock formation just off the coast.  San Jose del Cabo is a sleepy and charming town and home to several luxury resorts and hotels.  In between the two is the Corridor, which is a beach resort and golf area.  Overall the area is dessert, and you’ll enjoy the beauty of the sparkling blue waters and the majestic mountain backdrop.

With mild weather and whale watching, winter is Cabo’s high season.  There’s plenty to do in the area, including golf, sports fishing, seasonal whale watching, zip lining, and even camel rides.

Top resort picks in Los Cabos

  • For luxury:  Grand Velas Los Cabos Luxury All-Inclusive
  • For a relaxing adult getaway:  Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort
  • For socializing (adults only):  Breathless Cabo san Lucas Resort & Spa
  • For families:  Dreams Los Cabos Suites Golf Resort & Spa, and Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos All-Inclusive Resort & Spa

sjd_dreams_dreams_1

Photo:  Dreams Los Cabos

Don’t Miss Outback & Camel Safari. In small groups, you’ll head off-road in Unimog trucks that take you deep into the heart of the Baja Outback on a voyage of discovery and wonder. Enjoy the spectacular views of the ocean and desert from atop a camel, and, in the winter, keep an eye out for whales swimming past offshore.

Best weather is November thru May.  Passports are required for travel to Mexico.

~Happy travels!  Cindy Grant, travel consultant at Expert Family Travel.  972-625-6200.

 

 

Places to go, Mexico

So many places, so little time!  Not sure where to vacation this summer?  Here are some ideas to get you thinking about your next trip.

Tropical Hot Spots
Tried and true, add these locations to your bucket list. There’s a wide range of resort sizes and styles to fit you perfectly.  Nonstop flights from major US cities
  • Cancun - With its sandy white beaches and turquoise blue water, the Hotel Zone is as popular as ever with resorts that just keep getting better.  Frequent flights and short ride from the airport makes this a super-convenient beach destination.
  • Riviera Maya/Playa del Carmen - located just south of Cancun, this resort area offers many resorts in all sizes and price points.  Great choices here for families, groups, and couples.
  • Playa Mujeres - located just north of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, this area offers the region’s newest resort developments.  Resorts here are in the 4 to 5 star range.  Or, take the ferry to Isla Mujeres where you’ll find a handful of boutique-sized resorts for couples and adult friend groups.
  • Cozumel - an island destination known primarily for great diving and snorkeling spots.  Located off the coast of Playa del Carmen with its own airport.
  • Puerto Vallarta - on Mexico’s Pacific side, Puerto Vallarta and neighboring Riviera Nayarit sit on the calm, scenic Banderas Bay.  The city is charming and worth an afternoon stroll or two, and there are great zip line opportunities too.
  • Los Cabos - on the tip of the Baja Peninsula, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean.  This is scenic and desert (imagine Tuscon with a beach).  Famous for the golf but I go for the margaritas.
Hidden Gems
Looking for something a little different?  These destinations may require more travel time but the end result is worth it.
  • Ixtapa - this is a Pacific resort area set along a 16 mile stretch of sandy beaches and inlets.  Nearby is the charming fishing village of Zihuatanejo with a handful of boutique beachfront hotels.
  • Mazatlan - lively resort area with nightlife along Mexico’s Pacific coast.
  • Manzanillo - a small Pacific coast resort with colonial charm and a laid back pace.
  • Chetumal - for the adventure seeker looking for an unspoiled destination.  On the Yucatan Peninsula, further south than Riviera Maya or Tulum.  Getting here requires a connecting flight.

 

City Getaway

Looking for a long weekend getaway?  Mexico City is a fun possibility.  Popular “must see” attractions include the Frida Kahlo Museum, the great pyramid of Tenochtitlan (you can experience this by hot air balloon if you are daring), National Museum of Anthropology and the city historic center.  Stay in a nice 5 star hotel, and enjoy the city’s fine dining options.

Spotlight on Panama

 
More than just a canal, Panama is a compact country about the size of South Carolina offering a variety of flora and fauna along with beautiful beaches.  Consider hiking or nature watching among the 14 parks, 12 forest reserves and 10 wildlife refuges.  Or kick back and relax for a few days along a golden sand beach.
There are two distinct ways to experience Panama.  The first is with a tour or rainforest stay, with more of a focus on wildlife and adventure.  The second is a beach resort stay, with optional day excursions.  There are beaches on both sides of the isthmus, though there are more resort options on the Pacific coast line.  And, cap off your visit to Panama with a night or two in Panama City, where you can experience the cuisine and culture of this charming country.
Secrets Playa Bonita Panama Resort & Spa
Panama’s tourism is “up and coming” with new resorts being developed in the beach areas.  The newly opened Secrets Playa Bonita Panama Resort & Spa is the first luxury adults only all-inclusive in the country.  Other great resort choices include the five star JW Marriott Panama Golf and Beach Resort; the Westin Playa Bonita Panama which is family friendly and offers an all-inclusive option; and two upscale all-inclusive, family friendly resorts – Riu Playa Blanca and Sheraton Bijao Resort.  If your focus is on nature, the Gamboa Rainforest Resort is a client favorite.  And for your stay in Panama City, the Le Meridien Panama is a great four star recommendation.
And for you nature/adventure lovers a sample guided tour itinerary would be the “Panama Explorer” which includes 2 nights in Panama City, two nights in the Gamboa Rainforest, 2 nights in Anton Valley, and 2 nights on the beach in Playa Blanco.
Flights to Panama City operate out of many major US hubs, including Dallas.  The “green” or rainy season is roughly from mid April to mid December, while the high season runs from mid December to mid April.  While the green season sees more rain, travel to this tropical country can be enjoyed year round.
Happy travels!  ~Cindy Grant, Expert Family Travel.  Contact us at 972-625-6200 to plan your next vacation.  Serving Dallas Texas metro area plus clients across the US/Canada.

Top Five All-Inclusive Resorts in Puerto Vallarta

Nestled between beautiful Banderas Bay and the Sierra Madra mountains of Mexico is the charming city of Puerto Vallarta and its neighboring beach community called Riviera Nayarit.  This is a Pacific coast area, but the waters are calm due to the bay.  The weather here is lovely year-round, though it can get hot in late summer.  There is plenty to do during the day, including zip-lining in the mountains or whale watching in the winter.  Here’s my top five picks for all-inclusive resorts in the area.    

1.  Gran Velas Riviera Nayarit
Hands down, the best all-inclusive resort in the area.  Food is fantastic, and the sunsets are divine.  The resort has a spa-like ambiance, though is still family friendly with a very good Kids Club.  Perfect for an anniversary trip, or for a relaxing escape from the hectic pace.  AAA Five Diamond award.  

2.  Secrets Vallarta Bay, Puerto Vallarta

This adults-only all-inclusive is walking distance to the nightlife and shops, and is perfect for a friends’ group that wants some spa time but still have a resort with some energy.  Use of Now Larimar facilities next door.  Rooms here are gorgeous.  

3.  Hyatt Ziva Resort Puerto Vallarta

After a $20 million redesign, this property recently reopened as the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta.  Situated between the mountains and the Bay south of downtown, this resort is ideal for families and couples alike.  All rooms were completely rennovated and have oceanviews, and the public spaces are fresh and new.  A great pick for a destination wedding or corporate retreat.

4.  Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta

Located at the start of the Riviera Nayarit area with a beautiful beach and yet an easy taxi to the Malecon shops downtown.  Junior Suites are well appointed (including a hot tub) with 24 hour room service, and is offering a very generous Resort Credit with your stay. Resort is full service yet not too large.
5.  Iberostar Playa Mita
This resort opened about two years ago, and sits on the very northern tip of Banderas Bay.  Nearby is the quirky surfer town of Sayulita as well as some fantastic golf opportunities.  The property is spacious and is lovely for all ages.  I especially like the public grounds.  

Mexico Beaches: An Overview

Mexico remains the top vacation destination for Expert Family Travel and for good reason:  easy striking distance, many flight options, a wide variety of beachfront resorts, and a great bang for the buck. Here are the Mexico resorts areas we currently offer:

Riviera Maya

Located just south of Cancun along the Yucatan peninsula’s Caribbean coast.  This area is 112 miles of coast and includes Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, and Tulum.  Most resorts are all-inclusive, with a variety of family friendly, adults only, mega-sized, and boutique-sized for all budgets.

Cancun

A barrier island in the shape of a “7″ this 14-mile resort area is on the Yucatan’s Caribbean coast.  Plenty of flights from major US airports daily.  Resorts are mostly all-inclusive.  While there are some wonderful family-friendly resorts in Cancun, the area is better known for the nightlife & shopping appealing to adults.

Finest Playa Mujeres Resort

Playa Mujeres & Isla Mujeres

“The Island of Women” and its associated mainland beach (to catch the ferry), this area is just north of Cancun Island.  Playa Mujeres has enjoyed recent development with new upscale to luxury all-inclusive resorts.  Isla Mujeres remains a sleepy getaway island with a few choice boutique-sized all-inclusives.

Cozumel

A Caribbean island just off Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is best known for exceptional diving.  The resorts here are smaller and more in the 3 to 4 star range.  Nonstop year-round flights from DFW, Houston, and Atlanta.

Puerto Vallarta

Shifting gears and heading to the Pacific coast, Puerto Vallarta sits on beautiful Banderas Bay.  There are three distinct resort areas:  Puerto Vallarta city area, the stretch of beach called Riviera Nayarit, and the relatively new development of Punta Mita.  Resorts here are all-inclusive or European Plan, from boutique to large in size.  The resorts are an exceptional “bang for the buck” though air can sometimes be pricey.  Whale watching is a popular activity in the winter months, and the Sierra Madre Mountains offer fun activities such as zip lining.

Los Cabos

A beautiful destination on the tip of the Baja Peninsula, this is where the desert meets the sea.  The area was hit by a hurricane a year ago (Sep 14, 2014) but has recovered fully at this point.  Cabos has the roughest currents of the destinations listed here, so is not the best choice if you are looking for calm water at your resort but the scenery is gorgeous.  Great golfing and nightlife.

 

Ixtapa, Mexico

Ixtapa

Located on the Pacific side, this is great if you are looking for a quiet escape, or just to try something different.  Most US departure cities will require a connecting flight.  My favorite accommodations in the area are small and romantic though there are some mid-size family friendly options as well.  Most resorts are not all-inclusive.

Destination Spotlight: Cozumel

Just off the Riviera Maya coast line is the charming island of Cozumel.  Ever since Jacques Cousteau filmed from the coral reefs near Cozumel in 1961, this island has been best known for world class diving opportunities on the Playacar Reef which is part of the Meso-American reef system.  Most resorts have dive shops onsite, and many are PADI 5-star certified.  Diving is typically not included in your resort package, but prices are reasonable.  For those not certified, abbreviated resort dive courses are available as well as full certification and advanced diver courses.

 

Secrets Aura Cozumel (adults only)

 

If you aren’t looking to scuba dive, the snorkeling is great.  In other words, you don’t have to don an air tank and weight belt to be able to enjoy the beauty of the coral reefs.  Most resorts have snorkeling right off the beaches.  Or, sign up for a catamaran snorkel sail.  This is great for couples as well as families (with the kids being good swimmers).

 

The beaches here don’t have the wide sandy ribbon like you find in Cancun.  Resort beaches range between narrow sandy to downright rocky (with a few exceptions, like Secrets Aura Cozumel).  However, since the island’s resort side faces back to the mainland, the tide at your resort beach will be gentle.

 

Cozumel Palace Resort

 

My favorite resorts in Cozumel by “travel style” are:

  • Grand Occidental Cozumel – for families and small groups looking for a quiet beach getaway.  This is an easy going 4 star all-inclusive, and prices well (good “bang for the buck.”)
  • Iberostar Cozumel – the best pick for divers who are looking for 3 1/2 to 4 star accommodations.  The resort is very close to the reef, on the southern end of the island.  Diving is at additional cost.  The diveshop (Dressel Divers) is very well run
  • Cozumel Palace – for those divers who are looking a bit nicer accommodations, this resort has a great dive shop and is a 4 1/2 star all-inclusive.  There is no sandy beach here, but just steps that go into the water.  Snorkeling is excellen
  • Explorean Cozumel – this is a new adults-only resort that includes sports and activities.  This is a great choice for the couple or small friends group looking for a little soft adventure. The resort itself has a quiet, boutique feel to it.  Access to beach at sister property next door (Fiesta Americana Cozumel).
  • Secrets Aura Cozumel – for the adult couple looking for a romantic escape.  This is a small 4+ star all-inclusive resort with lots of charm.  Plus, the beach here is gorgeous.

Flights from the US to Cozumel operate year-round out of the following cities, with connections possible from your departure airport:

  • DFW Dallas
  • Houston
  • Miami
  • Atlanta
  • Charlotte
  • Denver

​​Additionally, there are seasonal (December – April) nonstop flights to Cozumel from Chicago and Minneapolis-St Paul.

Cabo Unstoppable

On the southern tip of the Baja peninsula lies the charming area of Cabo.  Here is where the mountains and dessert meet the Sea of Cortes and Pacific Ocean.  Cabo (which means cape) consists of two towns connected by the “Corridor” on a 25-mile paved highway. 

San Jose del Cabo is the sleepy sister with a quaint downtown area full of art gallery and jewelry shops.  

Cabo San Lucas has a vibrant nightlife and fun shops.

On September 14, Hurricane Odile ripped through Cabo, shutting down the airport for several days and causing major damage to many of the hotels and condos along the coast line.

I just visited Cabo last week and I’m happy to report that Cabo has bounced back quickly, and in time for high season which begins mid December.  The airport is functioning fully amid construction in certain areas.  By the end of December, over 10,000 hotel rooms will be open and available to receive guests.

My top hotel picks in Cabo are:

  • Secrets Puerto Los Cabos – a 500 room luxury adults only all-inclusive resort with exceptional spa and golf onsite. Opened a year ago.

  • Riu Palace Los Cabos – large (642 room) upscale all-inclusive for all ages.  Consistently my top selling resort for the area.
  • Dreams Los Cabos Suites – elegant, family-friendly all-inclusive with 213 suites and junior suites.  Set to reopen March 1, 2015.
  • Las Ventanas Al Paraiso – the ultimate in luxury in Cabo with only 71 suites.  The only AAA Five Diamond resort in Cabo, and considered one of the best resorts in the world.  Romantic, pampering.

My top activities in Cabo

  • For the energetic, zip lining at Wild Canyon.
  • Camelback riding
  • Glass bottom boat ride to the Arch.
  • Golf (there are some amazing courses here)
  • Deep sea fishing
  • Shopping & nightlife
  • Spa treatments
  • Whale watching during winter months

Cabo is a year-round destination, with warm balmy weather during winter and hot weather during summer.

~Happy Travels! Cindy Grant, travel consultant with Expert Family Travel.  Located in the Dallas Fort Worth metro area (Texas) Near Frisco, Plano, Little Elm, and The Colony.  972-625-6200.

Ixtapa: Authentic Mexican Flare

 

Research is rough!

I just returned from a visit to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo on Mexico’s Pacific coast.  This beautiful coastal area sits between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco on two scenic bays, surrounded by lush green mountains and coconut plantations.  This is a great destination for folks who have already done the “usual” Mexico destinations and are looking for something different.  Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, two beachside towns on two adjacent bays are both charming, sleepy, and authentic feeling — especially when compared to Cancun & Playa del Carmen.    Ixtapa has the larger hotels, while Zihuatanejo (still a tongue twister) has the best beach, Playa la Ropa.

Beautiful Playa la Ropa

My top picks for hotels in the area:

  • Azul Ixtapa and Azul Ixtapa Grand – these sister properties (4 stars and 4 ½ stars, respectively) are great choices for families, groups, and adults.  All-inclusive, multiple pools and restaurants, tennis courts, a convention center, and a view of Ixtapa Island just off the coast keeps you as busy as you want to be.  Located on the “Hotel Strip” of Ixtapa and near Senor Frogs and shopping.
  • Sunscape Dorado Pacifico – this 3 ½ to 4 star all-inclusive resort is great for families, friend groups, and simple destination weddings.  While this hotel is “nothing fancy” the food is very good and the rooms are pleasant and comfortable.

  • La Casa de Canta – switching gears, this is a breath-taking, small and intimate boutique hotel suited perfectly for a romantic getaway.  Situated in Zihuatanejo and just above La Ropa Beach, you can enjoy views from your own private plunge pool.  Gorgeous!  Five star luxury.  Meals not included.
  • Viceroy Ixtapa Hotel – another 5 star gem.  Located on the best beach (Playa la Ropa), this property is a bit larger than La Casa de Canta though equally as elegant.  Perfect for couples and adult friends travelling together.  Also an excellent choice for a destination wedding.  Families are welcomed, though there’s not too much for kids to do here.  Optional meal plans available.

 

Flights to Zihuatanejo require a connection from most major US cities.  And, don’t forget passports are required.  Weather is tropical year round, with high season occurring December through April.

Let’s go to Costa Rica!

With its verdant rainforests, active volcanoes, hot springs, abundant wildlife, and beaches Costa Rica packs an incredible diversity in such a small country.

There are essentially three different types of Costa Rica vacations we offer.

  • Guanacaste Beach Stay.  Fly into Liberia airport and stay at one of the beachfront resorts on the Guanacaste area along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast line.  Resorts range from moderate to luxury, some being all-inclusive resorts. Ideal for families, couples, and friends who are looking for a beach vacation with a few day excursions to explore.
  • Custom Itinerary.  Fly into either San Jose or Liberia and visit multiple areas tailor-made to fit you best.  Rainforest + Volcano + Beach is the most popular combination.  You can concentrate your interests (such as canopy tour, hiking, and white water rafting for soft adventure; cloud forest, rain forest, and turtle time for an eco adventure).  Included in your itinerary is transportation so you don’t have to rent a car.  We can also arrange your day tours. Great for a honeymoon or a family with older kids.  Custom designed for groups.
  • Guided Vacation.  We offer several great escorted tour options in the moderate to upscale range.  This is by far the easiest way to explore Costa Rica and all its marvels. We even have a speical Family Experiences tour for families with kids ages 5 and up.

Happy Travels! ~Cindy Grant, travel consultant with Expert Family Travel located in Frisco/The Colony Texas (in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex).  Contact at 972-625-6200 or cindy@expertfamilytravel.com

If scuba is on your bucket list…

Whether you are a seasoned, advanced scuba diver or a newbie looking to try it out for the first time, a dive vacation can be a great option for your next getaway.

  • Cozumel – located just off Mexico’s Yucatan coast, the island of Cozumel lets you experience world famous Palancar Reef with drift dives of all experience levels.  Graet snorkeling opportunities as well.  Accommodations range from economy to upscale, but with no true luxury resorts on the island.  All-inclusive options available.
  • Grand Caymans – located in the Caribbean, and easy striking distance from the US.  Known for great wall diving as well as wreck dives.  A total of 365 dive sites covering all experience levels.  Incredible visibility and beach quality, too.  Accommodations from economy to luxury.  A few all-inclusive options, but most hotels & resorts with no or limited meal plans.
  • Bonaire – if you are an advanced diver and are going with a dive buddy, this is a great choice.  Located in the Caribbean and part of the ABC Islands (south, close to Venezuela).  Simple two and three star accommodations along with a pickup truck rental and you are good to go.  Many DIY beach dives for the independent-minded.
  • Belize – Famous for Ambergris Cay and the Great Blue Hole.  Dive options more suited for the intermediate and advanced diver.  Try “Shark Ray Alley” for a highlight of your trip.  Fly into Belize City, with regional flight service to San Pedro.  Accommodations range from simple, 2 stars to upscale.  Nothing here is all-inclusive.
  • Galapagos – for the true dive enthusiast, a Galapagos live onboard dive ship experience to see whales, sharks, and other marine wildlife.  Strong currents in the area means you should be a good swimmer and advanced diver.
  • Fiji – dive a little, dive a lot.  Fiji is gorgeous above the water as well as below.  This destination is perfect for honeymooners and families.  Those in the travel party who are not divers can find plenty to keep them content back at the resort.  Dive opportunities for all levels.  Accommodations range from 3 star moderate to 5 star luxury.  Meal plans available.
  • Australia – Great Barrier Reef is the ultimate in diving experience.  Allow a minimum of 2 weeks to enjoy your diving, plus add some land sightseeing to round out your stay.  Live onboard ships or dive-centric resorts.  Accommodations range from 2 star economy to 5 star luxury.
  • Rangiroa, French Polynesia – this atoll island is known for their huge lagoon teeming with tropical fish and clear waters.  The most awesome experience here, though is “shooting the pass.”  Ride the tide at Tiputa or Avatoru Pass, and see rays, reef sharks, tuna, barracuda, and maybe even hammerhead sharks.  You can experience this either by diving or by snorkeling.  Stay at Kia Ora Resort, which is upscale to luxury.  Breakfast & dinner meal plan included.

Happy travels!  Cindy Grant, travel consultant with Expert Family Travel (located in Frisco/The Colony in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, Texas).  Contact at 972-625-6200 or cindy@expertfamilytravel.com.