When you think about Cancun, the party vibe of the Hotel Zone, with its rows of glitzy resorts, buzzing nightclubs, shopping malls and sizzling restaurants, immediately comes to mind.
But roughly 30 minutes north of this famous strip on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula lies a new tourist development that shows off the region’s rustic side, where sand dunes, protected plant life and wide-open spaces are the life of the party.
Costa Mujeres, a laid-back coastline sitting some 13 km across from the idyllic island of Isla Mujeres, entered the scene some five years ago when developers broke ground and, working around rainforest and mangroves, constructed a new community of modern resorts.
Among the handful of properties to claim this prime piece of seafront real-estate, which some industry insiders have dubbed the “New Cancun,” was Catalonia Costa Mujeres All Suites and Spa, which opened in February 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
As was the sitch with most resorts in 2020, this multi-generational family hotel temporarily shut its doors that March and reopened later that July with a reimagined approach to pandemic-era health and safety through a program called “Clean and Safe.” (Click here for the details).
In addition to this, antigen and PCR testing can be purchased on site for an extra fee.
PAX, in collaboration with Air Canada Vacations (ACV), stayed at the lush, all-inclusive, 496-room resort in late July to see, taste and touch everything that Catalonia, a Spanish brand, is bringing to this booming new neighbourhood.
“Mother nature” greenery
Built from scratch, Catalonia Costa Mujeres All Suites and Spa, which is part of ACV's Spotlight Collection, has the five-star fixings that make luxury-minded guests gush.
The modern, all-new property, at first glance upon stepping into its soothing, cream and wood-coloured lobby, gives off the impression of something immense in scale.
But with just four low-rise buildings, connected by an easy-to-navigate network of stylish hallways and whimsical bridges, the resort is pleasantly intimate and boutique-like.
This is not a place where golf carts and shuttle buses zip around, carrying folks from A to B.
As Dai Jimenez, regional sales and marketing manager for Catalonia Hotels and Resorts, put it: “You can get from the lobby to the beach in just three minutes walking distance.”
Blending Caribbean and European design elements, the property exudes sophistication without being stuffy.
Back in the lobby, guests are greeted by hanging plants, rock walls holding back-lit gold discs and vivid seating areas with pastel pink, baby blue, muted green, yellow and beige furniture pieces.
But “Mother Nature green,” if we could call that a colour, is the main shade here – tropical plants, yellow flowers, vines and other forms of greenhouse life dominate the grounds, curling around contemporary buildings, arching over walkways and, in one case, forming a lush grassy knoll on top of a curved roof.
With greenery bursting at the seams, the nature-kissed property, in some ways, feels like an ancient ruin that has been transformed into a high-end, all-inclusive Secret Garden.
Adding to the eco-inspired experience is a commitment to sustainability – 40 per cent of the resort’s energy is generated by solar panels and the property, also, utilizes a rainwater collection system.
Families & romance
But what’s in it for guests, especially for those seeking a sweet retreat that checks a lot of boxes?
For starters, the rooms (let’s call them suites) are super spacious and can accommodate up to six people.
With leafy, tropical-print décor, the contemporary spaces feature partial ocean or pool views (depending on your location), a walk-in closet, a living room with sofa, a long desk, a furnished balcony or terrace and other must-haves, like rain showers.
There are perks for “Privileged” guests, an upgrade that delivers beach towels to your suite, and attaches other bonuses, such as turndown service, access to exclusive beach areas, bars and restaurants, one pass to the wet area at the spa, Alegria, as well as discounts on other amenities, like at the shops.
Within the property’s interior, there are two massive pools (one for relaxation, one for activities), a kiddie pool, as well as a range of chic swim-up suites that offer a more private pool experience.
While designed with multigenerational families in mind (there’s a kid’s club, a teen lounge and “Grand Family Suites” that come with bunk beds), Catalonia Costa Mujeres is set up for weddings and lovey-dovey adults, too.
Privileged Romance Deluxe Suites (an adults-only category), for instance, include a 30-minute couples massage, romantic dinner, deep bathtub, welcome amenity (sparkling wine and chocolate, anyone?), a spacious terrace and private pool with ocean views.
The beach, an unspoiled landscape of shrubs and plants, achieves a unique balance of vacation life and care for nature.
To access the beach, guests leave the developed areas of the property and walk towards the turquoise Caribbean Sea via wooden boardwalks, passing over sand dunes and protected land.
This beachfront, which is tucked away from other resorts in the area, feels like a private community, and it is home to three breezy venues: Maloo, a fresh juice bar, the “Beach Bar,” which is open to everyone, and “Pure Bar,” an exclusive spot for Privileged guests.
Upgrading clients to Privileged, by the way, has its pros, especially if your clients appreciate having diverse culinary experiences.
Privileged guests can access five weekly à la carte diners at “themed” restaurants Adelita (Mexican), Grill (steak), Ayami (Asian), BO (Barcelona Origens – vegetarian), Memories (a Chef’s Table experience that costs extra) and BLoved, a delightful ocean and beach-facing eatery (exclusive and unlimited to Privileged guests at breakfast and lunch) that serves spectacular specialities like vegan paella, Master Chef-level fish tacos, spaguetti nero di sepia (with “fruits of the sea”) and tasty “tuna crackers.”
For regular guests, the number of times you can dine at à la carte restaurants depends on the length of stay, room category and availability, so going Privileged, essentially, saves you that seat.
There are outdoor snack venues and a sprawling, upscale buffet, Gran Caribe, which has semi-private sections for Privileged guests and families and, notably, has an exclusive area for kids with shortened tables and chairs. (So cute).
Welcome to Fifth Avenue
But perhaps one of the most unique elements at Catalonia Costa Mujeres All Suites and Spa is the “Fifth Avenue,” a boulevard – built directly in the heart of the property – where guests can access five outdoor food courts (serving Italian, Asian, Peruvian, Mexican and “Catalonia Burgers”), casual seating and boutique shops.
(Yes, this hip thoroughfare is inspired by Playa del Carmen’s famous Fifth Avenue, the pedestrian-friendly Quinta Avenida, where local bars, restaurants, shops, cafes and entertainment venues are found).
It’s neat to visit this section during the day (once on the strip, you forget, for a moment, that you’re at a resort), but the scene comes alive at night for the magical “show of lights,” where giant martini glass-shaped garden sculptures, and walkways, illuminate the boulevard in glowing neon colours.
Good vibes only
There’s also something to be said about a resort that attracts good guests.
While it’s hard to sum-up a brand’s clientele based on a single stay, the mutual guests at Catalonia Costa Mujeres, that week, were beyond friendly, striking up fun conversations at bars, exchanging cheerful “haaays!” with one another from their swim-up suites and balconies while, overall, contributing to a safe atmosphere with a clear sense of mutual respect.
People were in a goooood mood and loving every sun-soaked second.
I mean, after all that has happened, who can blame them?
For more info on ACV's Catalonia Costa Mujeres All Suites and Spa offer, click here.
Watch PAX’s exclusive on-location video from Catalonia Costa Mujeres All Suites and Spa!