Riviera Maya Bel Air Resort & Animal Sanctuary
On our trip to Mexico last year we used miles for everything. Airline miles for our flights and credit card miles for our rental car and accommodation. As is often the case of booking through miles (and last minute) our options for accommodation were limited in the Riviera Maya region. We had hoped to stay in Tulum, but the options were less than appealing. We ended up choosing the Bel Air Resort in Xpuha, which was mid-way between Tulum and Playa del Carmen, offering easy access to where we wanted to go, but also providing all the comforts we were looking for.
We weren’t sure what to expect since this was our first time to Mexico and some of the reviews were less than stellar. Actually, the negative reviews weren’t for the hotel, rather for the animal sanctuary at the hotel. Many visitors felt that the cages were too small or that it was too much like a zoo. I was worried about how I would feel about this being an animal lover and proponent for seeing animals in their natural habitat. But it was free and met most of our requirements, so we decided to give it a shot.
Upon entering the hotel, we had to drive slowly to avoid the massive iguanas sunning themselves after a quick downpour. We were already excited just seeing the iguanas. We couldn’t wait to find out what else the animal sanctuary had in store for us.
Check in was quick and easy. Personal cars are not allowed throughout the property, instead guests are ushered to their rooms in extended golf cart vehicles you might see at a safari park. This was a huge hit for my son who loves any type of open sided vehicle!
The villas are spacious and well organized throughout the property. The resort felt massive as the cart drove us around the property, but once we got our bearings we realized it was an easy 10 minute walk to most places. Our room was larger than we expected, complete with a two person jacuzzi bath and large covered patio with a hammock. The facility is not a five star, but the staff work hard to provide great service and comfortable modern facilities.
While we were getting situated, our son had fun swinging on the hammock watching deer eat behind our villa and kangaroos bounce past. Normally he would have been bouncing off the walls wanting to know when we could go explore. Having the animal entertainment right outside your door means a lot more relaxation time for mom and dad!
Once we were organized in the room, we headed out to explore the resort. I can see how some people might be worried about the cage sizes for the larger animals (puma, lions, etc), but overall we felt that the animals had pretty open structures with a decent amount of space. What is even better is that in some of the enclosures you can enter and walk around with the animals. My son loved sitting on a rock watching kangaroos hop by. But the bird enclosure was probably his favorite. It felt like a jungle inside, and he loved using his binoculars to search for the elusive toucan!
There are several trails leading through the property with hidden animal enclosures that made my son feel like he was on a jungle expedition. In addition to the enclosures, there are also wild animals roaming the property. We saw an anteater one night and had several interactions with adorable raccoons. Staying in a ‘zoo’ was an excellent choice for our holiday. It meant that I could have some down time every morning while my husband and son ventured around exploring the animals.
The kids pool was fantastic and a hit with all ages. The beach here is small, so to provide more options to guests, there is a free shuttle that will take guests to another beautiful beach nearby with Bel Air services available.
The only real negative for us was the lack of local food options at the hotel. There was almost no local or Mexican food options which was a disappointment. I know that when many families travel they are happy to see an abundance of western food options, but for us, we prefer to have more local fare and especially when it’s in Mexico! Our son doesn’t like typical kid friendly food like french fries, pizza or chicken nuggets and would much more prefer rice and beans, fish and fresh fruit and veggies. Overall the selection was decent, but it would have been nicer to have local options in addition to the western varieties.
That said, the chef went above and beyond for us when we mentioned our disappointment in the lack of local food. They provided us with nicely grilled fish and rice and bean options for my son on request. Our favorite dish by far were the chilaquiles for breakfast. Delicious!
Now the question is, would we go here again and pay for it ourselves? My son says “Definitely!”. I say maybe. My only hesitation is that I wouldn’t mind staying a bit closer to an actual town. The Bel Air Resort is in Xpuha, which is in the middle of no where, literally. Anytime you want to go out, you have to drive. It would prefer to have an option of walking around to cafes or shops. However, if you are looking for an all inclusive, where you can relax, the kids can be entertained by animals, the pool and a beach, this is perfect. And it’s budget friendly too.