The Grand Velas -- set on over 80 acres of mangroves that meet a postcard-perfect beach of white sand and turquoise waters -- is one of Riviera Maya’s most sophisticated properties. It features 491 top-notch suites spread out in three different buildings (two family-friendly, one adults-only), all with their own stunning pool complexes, gyms, and restaurants. The property is so huge guests will need to take a three-minute shuttle ride from the farthest building to the beach, but the hotel’s spotless service, outstanding food, luxurious spa, and wonderful amenities make it a great pick for discerning (and well-heeled) travelers.
A top-notch all-inclusive with a luxurious spa, multiple dining options, and high-end suites
The Grand Velas is one of the top three hotels in Riviera Maya, a region known for its luxury resorts and gorgeous beaches. It is set on 86 acres of beachfront mangroves outside Playa del Carmen -- but the jungle is so thick and the path to the main road so long that the resort feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of more touristy areas in Playa del Carmen, located just a short drive away.
The resort is comprised of three separate areas -- Zen, Ambassador, and Grand Class -- all hidden away amid the lush grounds. The Zen section is the first one off the road (but that means it’s still a two-minute drive from the main entrance), and has a hushed vibe despite being family-friendly, with dimly lit pathways covered with palapa roofs, a stylish pool complex with low music playing in the background, and the hotel’s top-notch spa. It’s the least luxurious of the three sections, but here that only means rooms are a tad smaller (1,100 square feet) and overlook the jungle instead of the sea.
Down the road, right on the beach, are the Ambassador and Grand Class sections. The Ambassador is home to the largest pool complex and to several restaurants, both casual and formal. It’s busier than the Zen building because of its proximity to the beach, but the hotel’s stretch of sand is 1,000 feet long, the pool is huge, and the room count is relatively low (491 suites spread out in three buildings), so the resort does not necessarily feel crowded.
Unlike the Ambassador and Zen sections, the Grand Class is adults-only. It’s the most luxurious of all buildings, with three restaurants, a beautiful infinity pool, and private plunge pools in every room. The 90 huge suites also feature contemporary Mexican artwork, large terraces, and stunning bathrooms with dark wood sliding doors.
The Grand Velas is located on a gorgeous white-sand beach off the Cancun - Chetumal road that runs along the Riviera Maya coast. There is nothing within walking distance aside from a handful of resorts, but a 15-minute cab ride gets you to dining, shopping, and nightlife in Playa del Carmen.
It used to be the home of the ancient Mayans, and after that a small fishing village, but now Playa del Carmen -- or "Playa," as the locals call it -- is full of exciting nightclubs, popular restaurants, cute boutiques, and resort hotels that sit on lovely white-sand beaches. Because many of the businesses are European-run, the rest of the town retains a hint of European flair. The main tourist thoroughfare of Playa is the cobblestone-lined, pedestrian street Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), but there are plenty of fun outdoor activities for visitors, too, such as snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, and sailing. The offshore reef is part of the second largest reef system in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.
Beautiful rooms with terraces, luxurious bathrooms, and high-end amenities
The Grand Vela’s 491 suites are housed in three separate buildings (Zen, Ambassador and Grand Class), each with its own characteristics and decor. The Zen section is the only one in the jungle and does not offer ocean views. It houses the hotel’s convention center and the spa, but it’s the least transited of the three buildings, and the vibe here is hushed and romantic. While families are welcome at the Zen and Ambassador buildings -- both featuring kids’ clubs and plenty of connecting rooms -- kids under 12 are not allowed in the Grand Class section. In-room amenities are comparable in all buildings, and all rooms have terraces, but the largest and most luxurious units can be found in the Grand Class building.
A pristine beach with bar service and free non-motorized water sports
The hotel is right on a gorgeous white-sand beach a few minutes north of Playa del Carmen. It features tons of loungers, several cabanas, and bar service from early in the morning until sunset. There are also two restaurants a few feet from the sand, and a couple of poolside bars for those who want to sit at a table instead. The beach has been awarded the Clean Beaches certification of the Environment and Natural Resources department of Mexico.
Three stunning pool complexes, two of them with ocean views
The Grand Velas has three separate pool complexes, all absolutely stunning. Probably the most striking fact about the pools is that they’re made with marble brought from Thailand, which gives them the color of the Caribbean seabed; they truly look like an extension of the sea. There’s bar service at all three pool complexes, and unobtrusive music plays in the background. The most relaxing pool might be the one found in the Zen area, but the Ambassador’s is the largest, and the Grand Class’ is the only one that's adults-only. Guests can access all three pools, not just the one in their section of the resort.
The Ambassador and Grand Class pools have ocean views, but Zen is surrounded by the jungle.
The hotel features two fitness centers: one in the Ambassador building and the other one in the Zen section. They’re both well-equipped with a wide array of cardio and strength-training machines and feature personal trainers. Pilates, yoga and meditation classes are available.
The hotel’s 89,000-square-foot spa is one of the world’s top wellness centers and a member of the Leading Spas of the World. It features 40 treatment rooms -- including some for couples, and some with private whirlpools -- as well as relaxation areas, a meditation room, a beauty salon with services for brides, and a hydrotherapy circuit. Service here is top-notch, with a dedicated spa concierge, welcome drinks, and tea service after each treatment.
The salon offers fish manicures and pedicures, as well as a wide array of hair services and facials
Traditional Mexican, Maya and Indian treatments available
Very family-friendly, with many connecting rooms, two kids’ clubs, and activities for children and teens
The Grand Velas is a very family-friendly hotel. It features two kids’ clubs with daily activities, a shallow pool area at the Ambassador section, and many connecting rooms. Note that children under 12 are not allowed to stay in the Grand Class section, but families are welcome in the Zen and Ambassador buildings.
Kid-friendly menus at most restaurants
Wide array of fun activities for kids and teens, including beach Olympics, movies, Wiis, treasure hunts, crafts, and painting
Two kids’ clubs: one at the Zen building and one in the Ambassador section
Eight restaurants serving outstanding food in stylish spaces
The hotel features eight restaurants, all included in the all-inclusive rate. There are casual poolside spots for a light bite and fine dining restaurants with a stricter dress code, but all serve outstanding food, including Mexican, pan-Asian, French, Italian and molecular cuisine. Reservations are required at all restaurants except for Azul and Chaka.
Piaf serves French cuisine for dinner in a sexy space with red and black velvet decor. Guests must be at least 12 years old.
Sen Lin is the hotel’s Asian restaurant and features outdoor seating; open for dinner only; family-friendly
Frida opens for dinner only and serves fine Mexican food in a family-friendly atmosphere.
Cocina de Autor is the hotel’s star restaurant, serving molecular cuisine by renowned Spanish chefs Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso in a sleek all-white space with just a few tables. Open for dinner only; the menu changes daily.
Lucca offers an Italian menu for dinner.
Azul is a casual spot open for all three meals for buffet-style and a la carte dining. There’s indoor and outdoor seating, both with ocean views.
Bistro is an adults-only French restaurant located in the Grand Class section of the hotel. It is open for all three meals and offers ocean and pool views.
Chaka is a casual seasonal restaurant located near the pool at the Zen section. It offers an international menu for breakfast and lunch.