The thought of traveling to some exotic location can be so expensive that many people don’t realize there’s an affordable alternative they’re passing up. While we’d all love to see Paris, Honolulu or Tahiti on a limited budget, there’s a Montreal, San Juan or Boracay Island that give as memorable of an experience at a cheaper price point.
When the inexpensive alternative to an expensive destination is located in the same vicinity, even better. Take Cancun, for instance. The world-famous resort town’s high prices don’t command the entire Yucatan Peninsula. Just 50 miles south of Mexico’s most luxurious tourist spot is a Caribbean jewel called Riviera Maya, one of the only places along the coast where travelers can vacation in high-end Cancun style at a low cost.
The following seven all-inclusive Riviera Maya resorts can be booked for under $150 a night.
1. Magic Blue Boutique Hotel ($144 a night)
Magic Blue’s quaint, exclusive charm is what puts the boutique in its name, offering visitors to Playa del Carmen amenities that cost a fraction of what you’d find elsewhere. Relaxation and exhilaration are the yin and yang of this Riviera Mayan resort: In the morning, chill out on your terrace’s hammock, visit the spa for a therapeutic massage and take that zen with you to the pool bar or beach club down the street.
The hotel markets itself as an ideal matrimonial spot, thus the honeymoon-like atmosphere for the bride and groom is paired with a vibrant local nightlife for the wedding party. Downtown Fifth Avenue has enough restaurants, bars and clubs to extend your stay or keep you returning year after year.
2. Riu Palace Mexico ($99 a night)
A party resort if there ever was one, Playa del Carmen’s Riu Hotel is great for the nightlife set looking for raucousness instead of relaxation. You’ll know from the moment you check in, since your room has what CNN called its own free tequila drip attached to the wall; how’s that for all-inclusive? Take a shot or two and then check out the La Pinata Club or Bar Cubano for dancing, drinks, live shows and music; stroll onto the sand for a beach party; or hit up Krystal to dine on some local catch.
Looking to get over last night’s party? According to the resort’s website, spend the day at the solarium-terrace, Jacuzzi or wellness center. Of course, there’s still room for families and the excursion-minded: The hotel suggests visiting the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an, Croco Cun Zoo, botanic gardens or any number of local Mayan ruins.
3. Oasis Tulum ($71 a night)
Modernist Oasis Tulum is the type of all-inclusive resort with no real reason to leave the grounds at any point during your stay because everything under the Mexican sun is there at your disposal. Seven restaurants and seven bars (including a swim-up bar) leave palates and stomachs satisfied.
Buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner is included every day. Unlimited tennis court and health club access keeps you fit in spite of the indulgence. According to CNN, each room at the Tulum comes with its own terrace or balcony; guests choose.
4. Bel Air Collection ($75 a night)
All-inclusive doesn’t need to mean complicated. Some of the best exotic locations show their true beauty through simplicity, and the Bel Air Collection resort is one that conforms to its natural surroundings, not the other way around. This is the nature lover’s resort, with a nearby animal park and 14 sprawling acres of Caribbean flora and fauna situated just 10 miles from the Tulum archaeological ruins.
The family- and pet-friendly resort features only nine minimally styled villas, where most water activities — scuba, snorkeling, swimming — are free of charge. If you like themed visits, check into the resort’s gourmet, spa or romance packages.
5. Sandos Caracol ($75 a night)
Playa del Carmen’s Sandos resort is the place for visitors with an environmental, ecological and health-conscious attitude. Look at it as an all-inclusive vacation and retreat in one; where else can you do your asanas, eat gluten-free and embark on tours and treks to see rubber trees, mangroves and spider monkeys?
Kids get in on the action, too: They get their own private indoor playground, an aqua park with 17 water slides and a theater with nightly entertainment. But the real draw is a jungle tour exploring the Mayan area known as Xcalacoco. Eat local or stay continental with three buffet options, ranging from Italian, Mexican and international fare.
6. Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya ($84 a night)
Spa junkies will find heaven at the Grand Sirenis, especially for the four-star treatment at budget prices. There is an extra charge, but it could be worth it for visitors looking for services not normally found at your downtown health club. Traditional Mexican steam baths, hydrotherapy pools, pediluvium and sensations showers, three body wrap treatments, and four-handed massage create the ultimate pampering experience.
If you’re not ready to get all spa’d out, there are more traditional resort features, like three swimming pools, two buffet dining rooms, eight themed restaurants, seven bars — including one swim-up — and a theater, among others.
7. Iberostar Paraiso Beach ($95 a night)
Sometimes, going all-inclusive means having to go all out, which can be a challenge for budget-minded vacationers. This Mexican colonial mega-resort at the center of the Mayan Riviera has 424 rooms. It’s one of five locations from a bigger-named chain resort, so visitors looking for a hotel with high standards can find it here.
Food and drink are available around the clock, but it’s sports and activities that seem to rule at Paraiso Beach. Indoor or out, novice or expert, you can get everything from aerobics to archery, target shooting to bocce ball, and ping pong to windsurfing. Try swimming the resort’s pool in one stretch; it’s one of the largest on the Riviera Maya at 3,280 feet long.