Returning to golden sands and starry nights is so easy
Who isn’t yearning to dip toes in that warm water again, to feel those fair breezes off the azure Pacific, a margarita in hand perhaps, or maybe a refreshing coconut water? We’ve missed the brilliant colors, the vibrant culture, the food that tastes even better in the land where it was conceived.
We’ve missed Mexico.
It’s familiar and close, a few hour’s flight from most of the United States, so where better to venture internationally again? The borders are open. The welcome mat for groups is down. And nowhere is that more true than on Mexico’s west coast—in particular, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit.
Our borders never closed for air traffic. As of press time, though, visitors returning from Mexico had to present a negative Covid-19 test result taken no more than three days before travel—or documentation of recovery from Covid-19 in the previous three months. Major resorts on Mexico’s west coast are following stringent hygiene protocols to protect guests and staff, and many are offering Antigen testing (which yields results in 40 minutes) at discounted prices or as a courtesy service for guests. (Check for the latest guidance, as it is a fluid situation with different risks in different parts of the country).
The southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, remains irresistible for groups drawn to its beautiful beaches, exciting nightlife, world-class deep-sea fishing and first-tier meetings resorts and hotels. Published reports indicate Los Cabos had recovered 80 percent of all travel activity by last December.
Cabo San Lucas is where the world-class shopping and partying never stop, not to mention award-winning accommodations, golf courses and spas. San Jose del Cabo is the quieter, more cultured neighbor, a charming colonial town with its main plaza and Art District with excellent traditional art and local creations. A Sea of Cortez location also gives it gold-sand beaches where marine birds swoop overhead and sea turtles dig nests to lay eggs.
Los Cabos’ desert backdrop edged by coastline offers open and uncrowded spaces and a host of options for meetings. In addition to the more than 290,000 sq. ft. of spaces suitable for hosting events, planners can mix in a range of sun and beach fun, water sports and cultural activities for their attendees.
Los Cabos with Care-A Safer Way to Get Away, a layered health and safety protocol system, has been implemented across the destination by partnering with London-based Intertek Cristal, a quality assurance provider to hotel groups around the world, and Sharecare—which created Sharecare VERIFIED with Forbes Travel Guide—to validate health security.
In addition, Los Cabos Tourism Board created a manual of meetings health measures for attendees, organizers, venues and providers to promote a higher standard of care at in-person events. The manual encompasses three phases: pre-event, during event and post-event.
“We anticipate Los Cabos meetings to follow this manual through 2021 and even into 2022,” says Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of Los Cabos Tourism Board. “While guidelines may change over time, we’ve seen that it has helped to instill confidence in our meetings visitors. It’s clear they are looking for careful and structured gatherings, and they know we are providing a higher standard of service, caring at every step.”
Connectivity from the rest of North America is simple. More than 500 direct flights link the United States, Canada and Mexico. And over the next six months, a 22 percent increase in the number of seats scheduled from the U.S. is planned, as well as added connectivity from airlines like Frontier, Spirit, JetBlue and JSX.
Where to Meet
Los Cabos does not want for meetings hotels and resorts, most of them on the beach and with amenities like swim-up bars, secluded villas and suites with private plunge pools and on-site entertainment.
Grand Fiesta Americana Los Cabos All Inclusive Golf & Spa, a luxury beachfront property in Cabo San Lucas, is owned and operated by Grupo Posadas, the biggest hotel company in Mexico, which has rolled out a Travel with Confidence program that partners with 3M for deep cleaning, sanitation and disinfection. Renovated in 2018, the resort offers 248 guest rooms and 13,844 sq. ft. of meeting space, as well as its renowned Jack Nicklaus Ocean Course for golfers.
Grand Velas Los Cabos, a AAA Five Diamond ultra-luxe resort, is a memory-maker for incentive groups, with striking architecture surrounded by jaw-dropping views. Its 304 suites with ocean views from private terraces boast over 1,000 sq. ft. of living space as well as three-tiered infinity pools. This all-inclusive also has Los Cabos’ most modern convention center, where two ballrooms totaling 16,370 sq. ft. divides into 20 rooms. The resort also offers an expansive oceanfront terrace, gardens and ocean-view spaces.
Another solid meetings choice is Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort, a luxury fixture on a prime stretch of swimmable beach now offering a Small Meetings, Big Perks package (30 rooms per night or less booked by June 30 and used by year-end). After a recent redo by famed interior design firm Hirsch-Bedner Associates, its 375 guest rooms have never looked better. The ballroom can accommodate 800 guests, and picturesque terraces and beachfront spaces—at the edge of Tequila Cove, need we say more?—await for outdoor celebrations.
Like the Hilton, JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa is family-friendly and not far from San Jose del Cabo. Located in a master-planned residential development, Puerto Los Cabos, its 299 guest rooms are complemented by 32,485 sq. ft. of meeting space, with a convention space that can host up to 800 attendees.
Nearby, Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort, Los Cabos, offers the largest indoor-outdoor meeting space of any luxury property in Los Cabos—a total of 20,000 sq. ft., including 3,400-square-foot Cousteau Ballroom and the expansive 11,000-square-foot Calypso Ocean Front Deck overlooking Sea of Cortez. Six floors house 128 guest rooms.
Architecturally stunning Viceroy Los Cabos (198 guest rooms, plus 59 residences for rent) in San Jose del Cabo has a new Great Ballroom that includes boat and car entry; it adds 7,609 sq. ft. and a 2,187-square-foot foyer to 14,566 sq. ft. of meeting space. The property was renovated in 2019.
Enter through the private Dos Mares tunnel for all-out luxury at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal, a Forbes Five Star resort and spa set on 24 beachfront acres. Each of the 118 guest rooms (including oceanfront casitas with butlers) has a private plunge pool and Pacific terrace views. Indoor-outdoor spaces can accommodate up to 200 attendees, and a 1,700-square-foot meeting room is perfect for board meetings and retreats. Resort buyouts are available.
What to Do
Here is a sampling of the unique food and culture experiences groups can enjoy.
“Sea Foraging” at Esperanza, Auberge Resorts Collection (59 guest rooms, 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space) brings small groups to the resort’s private beach, where guests join the chef in foraging sea urchin, blue stone crabs and snails among the rocks. The chef then prepares chilpachole to serve on the beach with the fresh seafood.
An “Art to Table” tour is an immersion of art with dining. The experience includes a visit to the painter Leonora Carrington in Puerto Los Cabos and then to La Revolucion restaurant, where the artist’s and a chef’s expertise intertwine. Viceroy Los Cabos’ new Art Gallery features Art Workshops, where groups can be inspired by the Sea of Cortez while using found or collected objects, watercolors and textiles to create their own art works.
At Grand Velas Los Cabos’s Atelier Spa, Self-discovery Workshops are inspired by local Mexican culture and based upon the principles of ancient Ayurvedic medicine to aid a variety of ailments and needs. They include mandala meditation, tea discovery (based on traditional Mexican herbal teas), and a beauty care workshop that begins with aromatherapy and DIY body scrubs.
One&Only Palmilla (174 guest rooms, 3,456 sq. ft. of meeting space) offers experiences ranging from a Mixology Master Class that begins in the resort’s herb garden to a shaman-led Sunset Purification Ceremony with traditional burning of copal incense and medicinal herbs, to a surfing lesson that ends with a beachside picnic.
“PV”—as the regulars know it—has certainly grown up since it was a sleepy hamlet on Mexico’s Pacific coast and a lover’s hideaway for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960s and, later a favorite port of call for TV’s The Love Boat in the 1980s. But it’s still a place full of color and charm, with a whitewashed colonial downtown and the 11-block El Malecon (esplanade) along the edge of the sea, where tourists mingle with locals by day and partiers wander from bar to bar by night. The city is edged by natural protected areas, hidden beaches and rugged, mountainous jungle. Artists and artisans thrive, as do musicians and talented chefs of many stripes.
Massive Banderas Bay arcs over 25 miles, and offers a multitude of salty diversions, like boating above Los Arcos’ reefs, snorkeling and scuba diving with manta rays and paddleboarding off hugely popular, if direly named, Playa Los Muertos (Dead Men’s Beach).
With 15,300 hotel rooms and more than 480,000 sq. ft. of space equipped for events, including Puerto Vallarta International Convention Center (47,211 sq. ft.), this city welcomes with a winning combination of hospitality, gastronomy, cultural and ecotourism activities, making it one of the most appealing of Mexican destinations. Travel + Leisure magazine dubbed it The Friendliest City in the World, and for good reason.
Where to Meet
No surprise, the best meetings properties afford stunning views of lovely Banderas Bay, which means spectacular sunsets and all the extra fun a beautiful beach nearby can bring. To the east, the Sierra Madre Mountains loom, adding to the drama and tropical splendor of the setting.
Fiesta Americana Puerto Vallarta All Inclusive & Spa, a AAA Four Diamond hotel just five minutes from El Malecon and steps from a prime stretch of beach, has 291 guest rooms and 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. If the family is along, be assured it’s extremely family-friendly, with many daily activities like cooking classes. A step up in ambiance is Grand Fiesta Americana Puerto Vallarta All Inclusive Adults Only on lovely Playa Punta Negra, with panoramic ocean and sunset views in each of the 443 modern guest rooms (with marble bathrooms with walk-in rainfall showers). Ten restaurants and six bars keep the nonmeeting hours interesting, as does the full-service spa and well-equipped fitness center. Meeting space rings in at 12,000 sq. ft.
Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa is in the exclusive Marina Vallarta golf community, a haven of resort hotels and posh residential buildings just south of the airport. All 433 guest rooms have private balconies, and the open-air lobby leads to manicured gardens, where agave plants are harvested to make a house-brand tequila. Meeting space totals 8,880 sq. ft., with 12 recently renovated meeting rooms; outside, 20,000 sq. ft. of reception space comes with boundless Pacific vistas.
Contemporary with stylish Mexican accents and decidedly upscale, newly renovated Sheraton Buganvilias Resort and Convention Center is equally popular with business and leisure travelers, but its 16,145-square-foot convention center is a PV go-to for larger events; it can handle up to 1,200 attendees. The Exhibit Hall can accommodate 30 trade show booths. In all, event space totals 27,534 sq. ft. Some of the 473 guest rooms feature terraces and hammocks, and the Sheraton Club adults-only area has butler service, lounge access and a private VIP beach area.
The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta sits on 14 acres of a former coconut plantation, so, appropriately, plenty of palm trees grace the pristine grounds. True to the brand, wellness and sustainability are on offer, with a modern fitness center and a beachfront spa, plus environmentally responsible practices like energy and water conservation, waste minimization and responsible purchasing. On the meetings front, the largest space, Pintores, accommodates up to 676 guests in a theater setting. The 25,000 sq. ft. of event space includes beachside venues. Guest rooms number 280.
What to Do
Souvenir shopping at Puerto Vallarta’s many markets hones bargaining skills. Among the best is Rio Cuale Flea Market, where eager vendors peddle handmade jewelry, wood carvings, glass- and beadwork, as well as many traditional Mexican crafts. On Saturday mornings during high season, groups love strolling Olas Altas Farmers Market, in the so-called Romantic Zone, to find one-of-a-kind items made by local artisans, fresh produce, local and international bites and live music.
Nearby is Cuale Cultural Center, which offers painting, sculpture, dance, drama and music workshops, as well as free access to the Cuale Archaeological Museum, exhibiting archaeological treasures unearthed in the area and a general overview of Mesoamerican history and art.
Another authentic experience awaits at Vallarta Botanical Gardens, ranked as one of the 10 best in North America, with its cactus garden, tropical fruit orchard and Conservatory of Orchids and Native Plants, with almost 300 species native to Mexico, including brilliant orchids, bromeliads, agave plants and wild palms. A forest walk crosses a hanging bridge and is an atmospheric jungle trek. Finish at the restaurant, for local favorites and views of the Sierra Madre. The gardens are a 30-minute drive from downtown PV.
Special events populate the year. Especially noteworthy: Art & Market Marina Vallarta happens every Thursday, October through May, with local crafts, clothing, art, plus food and music; Restaurant Week (Sept. 15-Oct. 10) has PV restaurants offering innovative three-course menus at affordable prices; and the International Gourmet Festival (Nov. 12-20) brings in 30 chefs from all over the world to celebrate wine and food, as well as jazz and even a polo tournament.
The coastal region known as Riviera Nayarit begins just 10 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta’s Licenciado Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR), and it’s become quite a MICE hotspot over the past decade. With more than 200 miles of largely undeveloped Pacific coastline, dotted with seaside towns and pueblos, nature sanctuaries, golden sand, palm-fringed beaches, and, most of all, an excellent collection of luxurious resorts—several especially well-suited for incentives—it’s easy to see why.
In all, nearly 15,000 hotel rooms are available, half of them upscale to luxury, and they offer 170,000 sq. ft. of first-class meeting and event spaces. Add to this eight golf courses, three marinas and many excellent restaurants.
Where to Meet
Conrad Punta de Mita Resort Hotel opened in late 2020 in a gated community on Litibu beach as a 324-room luxury resort with 54,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. As part of the Hilton family, it participates in Hilton CleanStay’s rigorous hygiene standards. The hotel also offers contactless, digital-key check-in and check-out. All guest rooms feature a private balcony with ocean views, and guests can also try out a traditional Temazcal Mexican steam bath.
Another can’t-miss choice in these tony environs is Four Seasons Punta Mita, a Forbes Five Star property built in 1999 on nearly 1,000 acres at the very tip of the peninsula. It has two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses and outstanding Apuane Spa. There are 177 guest rooms and 11,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
One of the best in the Velas Group, all-inclusive Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit in Nuevo Vallarta (just north of PV) is the epitome of luxury throughout, from the 267 1-3 bedroom suites (1,000 to 3,000 sq. ft. each) to the splendid gardens, to the multitiered infinity pool and spa. This AAA Five Diamond winner has more than 10,000 sq. ft. of indoor convention center space for up to 1,300 guests; the gardens, terraces, and beach can also be put to use, for a total of more than 32,000 sq. ft.
You know what you’re getting with this brand, and Hard Rock Hotel Nuevo Vallarta has found a sweet groove. Its 348 guest rooms and suites play with colonial Mexican touches and edgy rock-star verve. And, of course, endless entertainment keeps your attendees’ pulses racing between sessions. Meeting space totals 21,441 sq. ft. The hotel is also EarthCheck Silver certified for eco-friendliness.
St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, another Forbes Five Star winner, is an incentive dream—designed by Hill Glazier Artchitects to be a megastar magnet, its exclusive atmosphere and attention to detail has won a loyal clientele of the super-rich. Only 120 ultra-luxe guest rooms spread out over 33 casitas give it an intimate feel. Six inviting restaurants and bars, three outdoor pools, a luxurious spa, two golf courses, and tennis courts are steps away. There is 4,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Another cozy but luxurious property expresses its brand playfulness with colorful, funky decor influenced by Huichol indigenous culture, which is based in the region. Panchito, a life-size Huichol totem, serves as the mascot at W Hotel Punta Mita. A mosaic tile Huichol-styled “carpet” starts at the front desk, descends to the lobby bar, then leads guests outside to the Wet Deck to a glass-enclosed viewing deck. The hotel boasts 13 unique suites and 119 hotel rooms, each with a private ocean or jungle view from a balcony or patio, to complement 2,583 sq. ft. in meeting space.
What to Do
The resort beach for sunning and watersports. Unforgettable rounds of golf. Tennis. The indulgence of the spa. Most visitors to Riviera Nayarit prefer hang at their resort or hotel and chill, deluxe Mexican style. But there are definitely more adventurous choices, like bird watching, ATV excursions and zip-lining tours, horseback riding and, at the right time of year, watching baby turtle releases.
While the resorts all have their Mexican touches, your group may also crave a local experience. In which case there are coastal spots nearby where the surf is usually up and there is culture and color to be savored. Among these are the fishing-surfer mashup of Sayulita, tranquilo San Francisco (called San Pancho by the locals), bustling Banderas and the fishing village of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.