First, a word about the Tripadvisor reviews. They were instrumental in helping me decide on this vacation destination for us. Reviews are inherently subjective, and each person/couple/family will have a different reaction based on their personal experience during their stay. I will try to be as objective as possible, but we had a fantastic vacation and were very happy with the resort choice. Although we are from Canada, we are fluent in Spanish…which adds to our overall experience when visiting Mexico. We are a small family: I, my wife, and our 8-year old son.
We arrived for our April 14-21st stay around 8 PM. We were immediately attended at the Front Desk, there was no line up. As we were registering, a waitress brought champagne for us and a fruit cocktail for our son. Check-in took less than 5 minutes, and we were on our way to the room. As noted, this is a huge property, and our room was about 5 minutes from the lobby area. The bellboy was very pleasant.
Our 3rd floor room was clean, cool and comfortable. I saw other reviews that stated the bedding and pillows were hard, but for us they were perfect, and we all slept very well every night. The in-room safe was large enough for us to store all our valuables. The TV was an older style CRT, but we weren’t there to watch TV. The bathroom was clean enough that my wife did not complain, as she is generally very picky about the sanitary facilities. The balcony was large, and although we didn’t have a view of much more than the tops of the palm trees and manicured lawn directly below, it was a nice spot for me to steal a quiet cigarette. We were facing the theater (as at least 50% of their rooms do), and yes, the shows were loud until 10:30 – 11:00 PM. With the sliding glass door closed, though, the noise was barely perceptible. At no point during our stay did we have any issues with the room, A/C, or bathroom fixtures. The mini-bar was stocked with sodas, juice, beer and peanuts, and promptly refilled daily.
The pools are beautifully designed, clean and well-maintained. We immediately noticed a lack of chlorine smell, which tells us they must use some other method to keep the water clean and clear. The Tropical/Colonial pools were the ones we used (as well as the kiddie water park once). The area around the pool bars gets a bit messy, but we felt it understandable. We had a few drinks ourselves, and the bartenders were happy to make any cocktail we could come up with. Our son enjoyed an orange juice/soda/grenadine concoction in a fresh-cut coconut. Lots of pool activities led by hotel staff for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing.
The beach is very nice. Several rows of palm trees just after you hit the sand provide some mid-day shade. The bay is large, at least two miles across (you will have access to the entire range of beach, from the Maya Beach up through the Palace). The beach directly in front of the Tropical/Colonial property has some rock and some clear areas. The beach further down to the MayaBeach/Caribe side is much more sand-only. The Palace end is mainly rocky. The first couple of days were a bit windy, and although the waves were fun, it wouldn’t be so much fun if you had toddlers or the very elderly. Subsequent days were much calmer, and the snorkeling right off the beach was decent. We even took a banana with us one morning and had schools of fish all about us in waist-deep water. If you do decide to snorkel here, I would recommend aqua-socks as we did see stingrays at least three times during our stay. As well, black sea urchins live in the crevices of the rocks where you might step. No jellyfish at this time of year, though. If you like beach-combing for shells, you might be disappointed…not much to be found except small bits of coral and the occasional small seashell.
The resort offers several different activities included in the price. There are two-person kayaks, giant water-tricycles and Hobie Cats (small catamarans). For a fee, you can get jet-skis, take dive lessons (a free introductory scuba lesson in the pool is done at no charge), or go on a scuba dive to the nearby reef. Unfortunately for us, the two days we booked the Hobie Cats were too calm to sail, so we never got to try them out. There are dozens of schools of fish just off the pier, in about 12 feet of water, which made for a nice safe way to introduce our son to snorkeling. The beach buffets (more about restaurants/food later) were placed well and never full. The lunch fare was acceptable (burgers, dogs, tacos, salads, soups, seafood). The beach was kept clean, very little seaweed, but of course we were not there during a stormy season.
The gardens and lawns are impeccable. The gardeners work diligently to clean up any mess left by overnight winds or hotel guests. All the trees and flowering shrubbery was lush and well-cared for. We were surprised by the lack of insects; no mosquitoes, very few ants. Nevertheless, there are numerous iguanas on the property, it will be impossible to NOT see one during your stay. The lobbies of the Tropical and Colonial were spotless, with cool breezes, beautiful art and statues, lovely fountains and ample seating areas. The shops were well-stocked (and overpriced). There was a plaza with several shops which we did not visit, preferring to buy our souvenirs and other essentials off the resort. The walkways to and from the various buildings and restaurants were maintained well, and the fountains/reflecting pools you walk past are clean, clear and sparkling in the sun.
The breakfast/dinner buffet was excellent for an AI. Large selection of anything you could want. There was enough variety to keep you interested, and indeed by the end of the week we were almost tired of eating so well. By the end of the week, we were having some fresh yogurt and fruit for breakfast…the service was occasionally spotty, but there was always a way to catch a server’s eye if we needed anything like dishes cleared or a refill of water. We had reservations for 4 of the 7 a la cartes on the properties, and we unfortunately missed our reservation for the Japanese sit-down. We had the Mexican (at the Maya Beach, 3 out of 5), the Seafood at the Colonial (4 out of 5) and the Steak House at the Tropical ( 4 out of 5). Here, the service was more attentive…although the night we ate at the Steak House, it was really loud (no fault of the property, just loud patrons).
As I mentioned, we are fluent in Spanish, which makes our interactions with the resort staff much easier. This resort is large, and you may not see the same housemaid/bartender/server twice during your stay. While we never had a single complaint about the service staff, we also would not call anyone particularly memorable. Everyone was efficient and friendly, which is as much as we would ask for. One note about the concierge: it can take him/her 20 minutes or more to make all the reservations for each person or family who wait in line. We noticed there are other concierge stations besides the one in the lobby…like in the elevator foyer of your room building. The lineup there will be non-existent. Quite a few of the tour companies have desks just off the lobby area, where you can book an excursion if you wish.
So, this goes beyond the scope of a review of the Barcelo Maya Beach, but if you’re reading this review you might be interested in our off-resort excursions as well. We did a couple of the typical things: Tulum, Xplor and Xel-Ha. Tulum is an interesting place, although we did not join a tour guide. Not much to hold an 8-year old’s interest, but we saw a few neat things like a hawk or falcon that had caught a fish and was perched on top of a tree eating. The beach was quite nice, too.
Xplor, which is a fairly new attraction, was all about 3 levels of adventure: zip-lines above the jungle canopy (2 different tracks, that takes about 45 minutes each to complete), open-air jeeps through jungle trail and underground caverns (also 2 tracks, about 5 km each), and finally a subterranean river that you swim and hand-paddle a raft through. A little too expensive for what you get ($275 U.S. for the three of us), but still a lot of fun. You will be tired once you get back to the Barcelo, and should sleep well.
Xel-Ha is a huge brackish lagoon teeming with sea life. Your adventure starts at the head of the Xel-Ha river (where the fresh water comes from), and as you float or snorkel down the river you can stop off and do cliff jumps or some small zip-lines. Once out in the larger part of the lagoon, there are literally thousands of fish to take in. The most exciting for us was a school of Rainbow Parrot fish, which are quite impressive in their size. There are conchs, stingrays and uncountable numbers of other fish hanging around the rock and coral formations. Our day was ended when we happened upon a barracuda…fortunately, we had done everything else already and it was a half hour before the park’s closing time.
One side adventure gave us a real highlight: Akumal beach. It’s about 10 minutes south of the Barcelo, with a nice public access point. The beach is a federally protected biosphere reserve for sea turtles. They are numerous, and you will find them. Do a search for Akumal Beach on Tripadvisor, and I cannot recommend this outing highly enough if you’re looking for a snorkel adventure. Unforgettable.
PERSONAL NOTES ON MEXICO
I recall reading a review where it was suggested that a two-dollar tip goes a long way. Please try to remember; although $2 is approximately $23-25 pesos, it’s still only two dollars. Some things in Mexico are cheaper than in Canada/U.S., yes, but mostly it’s all the same. If you can afford it, or want to reward exceptional service, just think about leaving a bit more for your server/bartender/housekeeper. Their hourly rate and wages are way below the level of North American resort workers.
At no time on or off the resort did we feel unsafe. In fact, we weren’t pestered as much by the time-share sales force as the last time we were in QR, which was in 2002. Playa del Carmen has really grown up in the last decade, and the Carretera Federale 307 has been improved a long way down the peninsula. Still, as with any foreigners in a foreign land, you should practice caution with your valuables and keep your wits about you in public.
I hope you found my review helpful; here’s a few select pics from the resort.
Ask for a room that does not face the theater, if you wish to sleep before 10:30 PM.
See more room tips
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC