Xpu-Ha Palace, Xpu-Ha, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Author: Kyle McCarthy

Tags : All-Inclusive Resort, Baby, Couples, Eco-Tourism, Family-Friendly Hotels, Golf, Kids, Kids Club, Mexico, Multigen, North America, Resort, Spa & Wellness, Teens, Tennis, Watersports

An unusually posh, all-inclusive "eco-resort" again dominates a gorgeous stretch of Riviera Maya coastline, bringing family perks in a green package.

In Cancun's Zona Hotelera, several of the resorts date back to an era when large concrete block hotels were acceptable, marble and chandeliers were de rigeur for a classy vacation, and shade and landscaping seemed passé. Now that many of these same resorts have become timeshares, their lobbies packed with uniformed salespeople, the quieter and seemingly less developed Riviera Maya coastline has come to epitomize relaxation.

 To the rescue of families staying at one of the Palace Resorts' many Cancun hotels comes the Xpu-Ha Palace, a stunningly rustic, luxury resort on a 37-acre former ecological park owned by this Mexican hotel company. In 2001, the Palace group opened a high-end, all-inclusive resort in protected parkland which had only been accessible to day visitors. Xpu-Ha is poised along dense mangroves, a coastline of white sand beach, an estuary and its own large underground watering hole or cenote and is surrounded by local wildlife, flora and marinelife.

Then in the summer of 2005, hurricanes Emily and Wilma struck, reducing the resort to ruins. A year later, the newly refurbished Palace reopened with 144 rooms built four each in clusters of round, two-story stucco huts with thatched roofs.

Not Quite Family-Friendly Rooms

From the outside and inside, guestrooms are all alike, and all priced the same regardless of view: Es la suerte!” claimed our Palace Resorts guide, or “It’s your luck!” to check into one facing the scenic lagoon or the Caribbean Sea rather than the dense surrounding jungle.

Since the interiors are so pleasant and there’s so much to do around the property, you won’t spend much time admiring the view. Every elegantly designed, white-tile, half-moon-shaped room opens onto a large tiled balcony with hammock and dining area. They are private and romantic; spare furnishings include an upgraded, pillow-top mattress on the king or two double beds and, on a raised platform above the sleeping area, a Jacuzzi tub for two, marble vanity with twin sinks and a separate toilet and shower room. Standard amenities include a hairdryer, ironing setup, coffeemaker and 24-hour room service. In keeping with the resort’s all-inclusive pricing, minibars are refilled daily by the housekeeping staff.

Families with children should note that there are no adjoining rooms, but rollaways or cribs are available so that a family of four can share one room. However, you’ll have no privacy. We think the resort’s enormous sprawl and rugged eco-feel are more suitable for travel with older kids, so if you can afford to, you should book the kids into another room in the same cluster. Within the clusters nearest the main lobby are a total of four handicapped-accessible rooms, each on the ground floor with all facilities on one level.

Stunning Grounds & Natural Wonders

Among the tangled mangrove and palms, concrete or rough limestone paths wide enough for passing golf carts, bicycles or the free resort trams create an unusual layout for the widespread manmade facilities. Xpu-Ha (Mayan for the mix of sweet and salt water which combine at the estuary) uses its natural beauty to great effect in a variety of wildlife displays. It's authentic too. In 2008, Xpu-Ha Palace was awarded the Certificado de Calidad Ambiental Turística,  from Mexico’s environmental protection agency PROFEPA, for complying with the environmental regulations audit. It

On your way to one of the dining palapas, bars, kayaking, snorkel lagoon or other recreation facilities, you may pass the enclosed natural habitat of small Mexican deer, a tigrillo (jungle cat), crocodiles, monkeys, flamingoes, a pond of turtles, aviary or even the serpentarium. While we dined, a small and harmless garden-variety snake was entertaining everyone in the beachfront restaurant.

Eco-Activities & Wellness

Guests can take a 50-minute, guided eco-tour daily, or participate in any of dozens of scheduled activities, from kayaking eco-tours to shopping excursions in Cancun. At our visit, most older children were involved in watersports at the small sand beach, where there’s a lifeguard, at the pools (no lifeguard) or playing with their parents.

We saw few children enrolled in the free Xpu-Ha KidsClub. It has, however, been recently upgraded to encourage activities that take into consideration the environment. While children 4 years of age and younger romp in the kiddie pool (parents must be on hand), ages 4-12 can use the larger children's pool with water slides and flumes, or follow the supervised programs.

Eco-oriented activities include planting seeds of endangered native species, visiting the animal clinic, exploring the local centoes, and handcrafts with local materials. Kids can also participate in table games, water play, and borrow bicycles (helmet, knee and elbow pads are provided). A Palace certificate, with the photo of the child, is issued after an activity is completed. The club operates daily from 10am-5pm and, three nights per week, for an evening movie party. Private babysitters will attend to younger children (for a fee) any time so adults can book treatments at the nearby spa, or use the facilities and restaurants at any of the six Palace Resorts in the Cancun area, all of which are all-inclusive. A shuttle bus service runs between them.

(Notes one FTF member: “The concierge staff seemed to be pushing hard to get us to try the spa facilities at the Aventura Palace. Our resort - Xpu-Ha - was so gorgeous that we had no desire to leave it, except for some tours of local Mayan ruins.”) Other readers have commented that the bustling and much larger Moon Palace resort, with myriad pools and water features and a crowded Riviera Maya beachfront location, may appeal more to families who want non-stop action.

Entertainment & Dining

Since some European families stay for three weeks, Xpu-Ha keeps the experience fresh by allowing the ever-changing natural environment to dominate the days, then offering manmade entertainment at night. The resort organizes expensive excursions to the nearby eco-parks of Xel-Ha and Xcaret or free ones to Cancun or the lively port at Playa del Carmen. As well, guided adventure tours involving rappelling and caving in local cenotes can be booked through the local operator, Alltournative Tours.

At meal time, Xpu-Ha creates varied dining options by alternating styles of cuisine (Italian, Asian, International, Mexican) with bountiful buffets or gracious a la carte service at the many restaurants. The company has made efforts to upgrade the cuisine and quality of alcoholic beverages, and has added a Concierge Level wing with more dining options. Evening meals are followed by a live show nightly in an open air theatre near the sea. One of our favorite spaces is the enormous Main Bar palapa with a striking wrought iron chandelier of rings and globes meant to emulate the Mayan concept of the universe. It is the center of card playing by day and live music by night.

Details, Details

Families traveling with young children or the elderly will find Xpu-Ha both exhilarating and exhausting. At first, the property’s size and variety are confusing so, much like Disneyworld, there are marked tram stops and billboard-sized maps around the pathways.  As we toured the grounds on a golf cart, we passed many adults with tricycle-age riders who begged us for a ride.

After some time, of course, families will get their bearings and those with older children can certainly make use of free bicycles to get around. However, because of its size, the property is best recommended to visitors above 8-years who will delight in the many opportunities - from parrot sightings to snorkeling with manatees - to stay alert and active within this natural paradise.

New for 2009 is a pet-welcoming policy: guests can bring a maximum of two pets at least five-months-old and less than 40 pounds to the resort. The first pet is free of charge and the second pet is charged $50 per stay; each receives a welcome treat, special bedding and personal water/food bowls, access to the supervised Pet Club for exercise, and a relaxing grooming session that will be provided once at the end of the pet’s stay.

The Xpu-Ha Palace is located at KM 265 Carretera Chetumal Puerto-Juarez, Riviera Maya, Mexico 77710. According to the management, since our visit the property has been redesigned to "present a more intimate and personalized experience" to guests. We've been told there are fewer guestrooms, new facilities and expanded service, as well as a new layout that brings the estuary (used for snorkeling or kayaking) closer to the manmade guest facilities. We hope they haven't spoiled its magical ambiance, and won't contradict its environmental policies or sustainable practices. Please challenge resort staff during your visit and let us know if they're being the good stewards they claim to be.

In summary, Xpu-Ha Palace is an interesting choice for ecological and nature lovers who don't want to rough it. For reservations, contact your travel agent, visit the Palace Resorts website or call their agents at +52/984-875-1010.

Resort Report Card

Name: Xpu-Ha Palace
Address: KM 265 Carretera Chetumal Puerto-Juarez
Riviera Maya
Phone: + 52 (984) 875-1010
Seasonal Rates: $$$ - $$$$
Hotel Setting: A+
Hotel Staff: B+
Choice of Activities: A-
Quality of Amenities: B+
Bonus: Environment and location are so striking, and wildlife so abundant, you may never have to take the kids on safari.
Note: Resort could be too hot, too far and too rustic for families used to more pampering.