Coastal destinations to love south of the border
From the colonial city of Mazatlan and on south to the resorts of Huatulco, between Los Cabos on the tip of Baja and the small city of La Paz to its north, Mexico has hundreds of miles of dramatic coastline. Its western shores are graced with sweeping beaches and the wildlife-rich waters of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez, which meet off Cabo San Lucas.
Lining these shores are hundreds of hotels and resorts, as well as modern convention facilities that draw groups to Mexico for productive—and cost-effective—meetings. Although Mexico has suffered due to headline-making drug-related crime, primarily occurring in border cities and states, the meetings industry remains strong, with good reason: Most visitors to Mexico are nowhere near the violence noted in the news, and towns and cities popular with convention-goers remain blissfully unaffected by it.
Mexico’s largest tourism conference and trade show, Tianguis Turistico, draws some 5,000 attendees annually. This year, it took place in March in neighbors Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit. President Felipe Calderon was among those who attended the event, which went off without a hint of trouble—just as hundreds of conventions and meetings do all over Mexico.
Coastal and colonial—this rare combination puts Mazatlan among Mexico’s most appealing cities. Although the majority of hotels are outside the historic center, an event or function around the colonial square will add an evocative sense of place to any conference. Among the historic center’s most storied buildings is the Angela Peralta Theater, built in the 1870s and later named for Mexico’s most famous soprano. The opera house is a stunning architectural example of its time.
Mazatlan is also a city looking to the future. Construction has begun on a new main entrance in the south by Emerald Bay, and Carlos Berdegue Sacristan, VP of the Mazatlan Hotel Association, says that discussions are underway to increase airlift from U.S. cities. Sacristan also notes that group and convention business is on the rise, up 25% from last year, and incentives, mostly from the U.S., are up 8%. He attributes this increase in part to Mazatlan’s affordability compared to similar destinations.
“Mazatlan has the comparable services, golf courses and fishing as other destinations, but for less money,” he says. “We ask you to let us prove that we are doing a great job.”
Mazatlan International Center opened in 2009. It offers nearly 154,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space and accommodates groups of up to 5,000. Indoor space includes 17 meeting rooms, the largest able to seat 3,000 for a banquet.
The 400-room Hotel Playa Mazatlan, one of the city’s first beachfront hotels, exudes authentic ambience and offers friendly service and a relaxed atmosphere. Included in its 23,000 sq. ft. of flexible space are meeting rooms, flower-filled courtyards and terraces overlooking the water. Up to 750 can be accommodated for a reception.
El Cid Castilla Beach Hotel, one of four El Cid properties in Mazatlan, has 500 rooms, an exposition center and more than 10,000 sq. ft. of space. Thirteen meeting rooms accommodate small boards to events with 1,500 attendees. A plus to staying in one El Cid hotel is access to the others, including golf and tennis at El Cid Country Club. The company also has its own onsite tour company, Pronatours, making off-site adventures a breeze.
Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa is a 345-room beauty in Nuevo Mazatlan, spread across 20 acres of tropical landscaping. The hotel has 7,000-plus sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space and, depending on the venue, up to 370 attendees can attend a function. Event planning, catering and A/V services are onsite.
Puerto Vallarta & Riviera Nayarit
Vallerta Palace, soon rebranding as Hard Rock Hotel Vallerta
Although these two destinations are neighbors, they’re markedly different. Puerto Vallarta is an old city with a central plaza and curving beauty of a new malecon (boardwalk) fronting Banderas Bay. Strolling past intriguing public art along this promenade is a must-do. A variety of shops and restaurants are across the street, with several eateries set up for primo sunset viewing. Puerto Vallarta melds a historic and contemporary vibe, giving visitors a glimpse into its past as a favorite with the Hollywood crowd in the 1950s and ’60s, but offering a slew of new hotels and convention facilities.
Some of Riviera Nayarit’s resorts sprung up only in recent years, including Punta Mita, which debuted in 1999 with one hotel on a mostly wild coastline unfettered by human construction. Nuevo Vallarta, the neighborhood just across the river from Vallarta proper, was once little more than overflow accommodations for PV. Today, Nayarit has come squarely into its own as a destination.
“Riviera Nayarit has over 15,000 hotel rooms and welcomes over 100 meeting and incentive groups each year,” says Marc Murphy, managing director of the Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau and Banderas Bay Hotel Association. “Many of our top resorts provide excellent meeting facilities…and there are a wide variety of year-round activities for [groups] including championship-caliber golf, deep-sea fishing, miles of superb beaches, snorkeling and scuba and whale watching, among others.”
The Puerto Vallarta International Convention Center was built in 2009 by the State of Jalisco to serve both Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit. Not only is it near the airport, it’s adjacent to a protected ecological area supported in part by revenue from the center, a nice twist on sustainability. With a total of 161,500 sq. ft. of space to accommodate up to 5,000 attendees and a kitchen able to serve as many as 1,500 at one time, it’s especially ideal for large groups. Translation booths, medical services and nearly 250,000 sq. ft. of outdoor plaza space add to the mix.
One of the closest hotels to the convention center is the Four-Diamond CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, with 404 rooms and 8,000 sq. ft. of space across 13 meeting rooms. There’s another 20,000 sq. ft. for outdoor receptions, and Ohtli Spa is an indulgent must-do.
AMResorts opened side-by-side hotels this year. The 327-room Now Amber Puerto Vallarta and 271-room Secrets Vallarta Bay Puerto Vallarta share a striking contemporary aesthetic and 7,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, as well as the sumptuous Spa by Pevonia. South along Banderas Bay in Mismaloya, Barcelo Puerto Vallarta is a slice of tropical heaven far from the crowds. The Four-Diamond property has 316 rooms and 9,202 sq. ft. of meeting and function space to accommodate groups of up to 800. While this property is fully self-contained, it’s only a 20-minute drive to downtown.
A truly elegant off-site options is opulent Hacienda Los Santos overlooking Marina Vallarta Golf Club’s course. Lavish details include open-air hallways with graceful columns and exquisitely painted tiles and ceilings, terraces and a lovely courtyard. The five-bedroom, nine-bath villa has 23,000 sq. ft. and accommodates up to 150 for a function.
Among Riviera Nayarit’s more unusual meetings properties is Paradise Village Beach Resort & Spa. Its Mayan-inspired design and setting between the bay and marina in Nuevo Vallarta make it memorable—that and its exotic menagerie, part of a wildlife sanctuary, that includes Bengal tigers, monkeys and an ostrich that takes a morning stroll with its trainer. The resort has 706 guest suites, 11,561 sq. ft. of indoor space and expansive outdoor venues. Attendees can walk to its challenging golf course, fittingly named El Tigre.
It is rare for an all-inclusive to be awarded Five- Diamond status, but one step inside Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit shows the reason. Gracious and refined define everything in this 267-suite hotel, from architecture and decor to food and service. Like the rest of the property, the business services and conference facilities meet the highest standards. The elegant Grand Marissa Ballroom accommodates up to 700.
At the St. Regis Punta Mita, elegance is the defining element. The hotel offers 120 accommodations and eight dedicated meeting rooms. Astor Ballroom, the largest at 2,637 sq. ft., accommodates 128 for a banquet or 175 for a reception.
Also in Punta Mita is Litibu, a resort area still being constructed. Yet the stunning La Tranquila, a 40-suite resort (more suites to come in the future), is open and offers eclectic spaces to meet inside—some suites offer more than 2,000 sq. ft.—and multiple options for functions outside. It’s a superb spot for a meeting without distractions.
Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo
About 150 miles north of Acapulco, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo give planners double the possibilities. The two are just four miles apart but offer a very different, though entirely simpatico, experience. Ixtapa is another of Mexico’s purpose-built resorts while Zihua, as it’s locally known, is a traditional city in which the zocalo or town square is still a central social spot, and a number of the city’s restaurants are located near it, overlooking the beach. Fishermen still go out every day from Zihuatanejo’s harbor each morning—a good photo op for those who want to capture a slice of Mexico—and its beaches draw locals as well as visitors.
While many of the area’s hotels line Ixtapa’s wide curve of beach, Zihuatanejo is not without its own gems. Viceroy Zihuatanejo, on serene Playa La Ropa, is an exquisite collection of 35 hotel rooms and 35 suites, each with a private balcony or terrace. A fine choice for VIP corporate events and retreats, the hotel has six spaces for group functions, including a boardroom seating 12. La Marea and La Villa accommodate up to 200 each, while the Yoga Pavilion, a private beachfront space, is ideal for a welcome cocktail event for up to 150.
In addition to its beach and water sports, Ixtapa also has excellent shopping, attractions including various dolphin experiences with Delfiniti Ixtapa, miles of bike path and a nature preserve. And the resort area has a slew of meetings-friendly hotels.
Las Brisas Ixtapa is tucked into a hillside above the beach, its meeting and function space able to accommodate up to 1,500 attendees. The Vistahermosa Ballroom is divisible by seven and offers more than 10,000 sq. ft. of space. Among the resort’s services for planners is a selection of theme parties ready to go.
Low-key, friendly and centrally located, Barcelo Ixtapa Beach has 398 rooms and 7,227 sq. ft. of space. When not in meetings, attendees can relax and network around three pools or walk to many of Ixtapa’s shops and restaurants.
Barcelo Huatulco Beach
This government-planned community grew from one tiny fishing village into a multi-property resort set along a series of 34 beaches and nine bays in the state of Oaxaca, south of Acapulco. Unlike Cancun, the government’s most highly visible and arguably successful planned tourist destination, Huatulco (pronounced wah-tool-koh) is not elbow-to-elbow hotels. In between many of its resorts, the dramatic, natural beauty of this coastline shines through. Still gaining traction as a major tourism draw, Huatulco is sublimely relaxed and relatively uncrowded. It’s an ideal destination in which to keep groups together in one resort.
Several resorts overlook Tangolunda Bay, including Barcelo Huatulco Beach with 351 rooms and more than 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, as well as multiple restaurants, bars, tennis courts, shopping and a fitness center. Across its 50 beach-to-hillside acres, Las Brisas Huatulco has 484 guest rooms and a conference center able to accommodate up to 800 attendees. The sprawling property has numerous outdoor venues as well. Six pools and a slew of water-based activities make Dreams Huatulco Resort & Spa inviting, but the 421-room hotel is ideal for small or midsize corporate groups or incentives, too. Dreams offers nearly 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting and function space; the largest, Oaxaca Grand Salon, is 4,840 sq. ft. and accommodates up to 500.
Peaceful San Jose del Cabo and perpetually lively Cabo San Lucas together form Los Cabos and are connected by a 20-mile stretch of road called the Corridor. Before choosing a hotel, planners must decide which area is their ideal base. San Jose del Cabo offers a taste of authentic Mexico and tranquility at its 2,000-acre estuary. The Corridor’s self-contained resorts make the job of keeping attendees together easy, while a group in Cabo San Lucas can walk to numerous restaurants and attractions, including the marina from which many tour and fishing boats depart.
Along the Corridor, the architecturally striking Westin Resort & Spa, Los Cabos has 243 rooms and nearly 12,000 sq. ft. of space across 15 meeting rooms. Its appealing Ballroom Under the Stars overlooks the Sea of Cortez and accommodates up to 450 for a gala reception. The Westin is a good choice for those combining a meeting with family vacation. Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort is a Four-Diamond property featuring 249 rooms, 115,000 sq. ft. of space and Somma WineSpa, where grapes and wine are incorporated into treatments. The 270-room Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort provides more than 18,000 sq. ft. of space. Like the Westin, it’s a good choice for attendees with family in tow.
In Cabo San Lucas, Pueblo Bonito’s collection of hotels includes Rose Resort & Spa, with 260 rooms and more than 15,000 sq. ft. of space. The property offers full-service meeting support and a range of indoor and outdoor venues, including a terrace accommodating 200 for a reception and 180 for a banquet. Also in play for groups is the beach, where a reception can be set up for 500 attendees—a fine choice at sunset.
Few resorts can match Capella Pedregal, an utterly private luxury boutique property with just 97 guest rooms. Three meeting rooms total 3,450 sq. ft., but multiple outside areas are available, too. The resort’s Meetings Service Manager functions as a personal assistant for planners from start to finish. According to the hotel, “the goal of the Meeting Service Manager is to exceed the expectations of the meeting planner and his or her guests.”
Beachside in San Jose del Cabo is the new Barcelo Los Cabos Palace Deluxe. A luxury all-inclusive, it has 619 guest rooms and more than 115,000 sq. ft. of space, including a conference center, ballroom, meeting rooms and banquet facilities. Among the niceties in guest rooms are iPod docking stations and Egyptian cotton linens; hotel amenities include seven restaurants, a spa and cigar lounge. Another fine choice on the beach is Hola Grand Faro Los Cabos, an all-inclusive with 333 rooms and 20,650 sq. ft. of meeting space. The hotel’s Grand Faro Ballroom accommodates up to 1,000 for a memorable event.
The big news here is construction of a 653,400-square-foot convention center, slated to open this month for the G20 Summit and its expected 6,000-plus attendees. The center will raise the bar for meetings in Los Cabos, making it attractive to large conventions and associations.
Capella Pedrega, Los Cabos
Laid-back La Paz remains far more authentic than touristy. While its most compelling draw is its status as gateway to the vast ecosystem of the Sea of Cortez and to Espiritu Santo and nearby islands where divers, kayakers and others revel in nature, it’s also a fine meetings destination.
CostaBaja Resort & Spa is within a 550-acre master-planned community and is the city’s only Five-Star resort. The mixed residential and hotel community has a championship golf course, state-of-the-art marina, tennis courts and five restaurants. The 115-room hotel has meetings facilities accommodating up to 140 for a sit-down dinner or 230 for a reception. Steinbeck’s Restaurant, named for the famed author who was inspired to write The Pearl after visiting La Paz, is available to groups. La Concha Beach Resort, 10 minutes from downtown La Paz, has 100-plus guest rooms and three spaces for meetings and events. The divisible ballroom accommodates up to 180 attendees, the terrace up to 250. Hotel Marina is located in front of the city’s popular Marina walk. The 90-room property offers five master suites ideal for executives as well as meeting space composed of four conference rooms accommodating 25–600.
Main image: Arch, Los Cabos, courtesy of Los Cabos CVB
–Group: Aramark Uniform Services, 650 attendees
–When: October 2011
–Based at: Barcelo Los Cabos Palace Deluxe
–Planner Perspective: “Cabo San Lucas is a great location for incentives from the West Coast, easy to travel to and the all-inclusive options make it affordable. The best part about Cabo is that attendees have nothing to fear!” —Patty Baillie, Sterling Travel
–City of La Paz: lapaz-tourism.com
–Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo Convention and Visitors Bureau: travelixtapazihuatanejo.com
–Los Cabos Convention & Visitors Bureau: visitloscabos.travel
–Mazatlan Hotel Association: gomazatlan.com
–Mexico Tourism Board: visitmexico.com
–Puerto Vallarta Convention and Visitors Bureau: visitpuertovallarta.com
–Riviera Nayarit Convention & Visitors Bureau: rivieranayarit.com
Negative publicity related to crime in the area has hurt Acapulco, but that’s about to change. In March, the Acapulco Destination Marketing Office, in conjunction with the office of the Secretary of Tourism for the State of Guerrero, announced the launch of a new campaign to promote visitor confidence. Components include a new English-language website called Remember Acapulco (rememberacapulco.com) and support for government tourist programs launched late last year, including a trio of intitiatives designed to underscore safety in the city: Safe Nightlife, Safe Road, Safe Taxi.
Continuing its partnership with Hard Rock International, a collaboration that has already resulted in the first all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel (in the Dominican Republic), Palace Resorts announced its new All-Inclusive Collection in January, which will include a number of Palace properties rebranded as Hard Rock. Among the hotels getting the hip new look and name is the Vallarta Palace in Riviera Nayarit. The renovation, including the incorporation of Hard Rock’s distinctive pallette, is scheduled to be complete in August.
–General Rafael Buelna International Airport (MZT) is a 30 minute drive from Mazatlan.
–Huatulco Interational Airport (HUX) is 15 minutes from the resort area.
–Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo International Airport (ZIH) is about 10 minutes from downtown Zihuatanejo and 15 from Ixtapa.
–Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) is 20 minutes from San Jose and 50 from Cabo San Lucas.
–Manuel Marquez de Leon International Airport (LAP) is 11 miles southwest of La Paz and 7 miles from CostaBaja.
–Puerto Vallarta Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR) is six miles north of Puerto Vallarta.