Historically, all-inclusive resorts haven’t exactly been foodie destinations. They still have the reputation they developed in the ‘80s and ‘90s for cutting costs on their dining programs, offering buffets with weird ice sculptures, white dinner rolls, and spaghetti for the kids. But in the world of luxury travel, fatty steaks and shots of Smirnoff in tiny plastic cups are so thirty years ago. As Sally Smith of the travel agency The Travelsmiths says, “people want experiential travel and that includes food. You can hardly scroll through social media without seeing ‘food porn’ and many resorts have caught on to the trend.”
Here are four all-inclusive resorts on Mexican beaches with the most interesting and delicious dining programs.
Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Golf & Spa Resort
At Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Golf & Spa Resort in Los Cabos, executive chef Octavio Hernandez, who specializes in cuisine from the Baja Peninsula, loves to share his culinary knowledge. That passion is one of the underpinnings of his dining program – the guests can help to prepare, and even procure, their own food. “Everything we teach you to make is practical and simple enough to make at home,” he says. If you participate in “Hook and Cook,” Hernandez will take you fishing and then show you how to turn your day’s catch into ceviche. (He’s the first chef I’ve ever seen use beet ink and carrot oil in his ceviche salsas.)
Guests can also check out the sunset clam bake on the beach, where Hernandez will demonstrate how to roast clams to perfection using wood and dry bushes, and then direct you to a garnish bar stocked with roots and cacti native to Baja. My personal favorite Pueblo Bonito offering is Hernandez’s cooking class, which he teaches beside the property’s organic garden. You’ll get to cut your own herbs and vegetables, including a fusion plant called lemon-basil (spoiler: it’s lemon and basil), and he’ll show you how to cook tuna using nothing but a river stone and a flame.
Ventus at Marina El Cid Spa & Beach Resort
You know those fancy artisanal markets that have been cropping up in cities? The ones where you can buy all the best food from local venders and chefs, but you don’t because everything is so over-priced (hello, $30 jar of cashew butter!) that you can’t justify it? Ventus at Marina El Cid Spa & Beach Resort, in the Riviera Maya, has Mercado de Dolores, an artisanal market built into their all-inclusive program. They’re not handing out $30 jars of cashew butter, but they are offering seven distinct cuisine options that all look and smell so good, you won’t be able to choose. (And you don’t have to.) The first aroma that will hit you is pizza baking in a stone oven, but if you’re not in a pizza mood, you can head over to the wok shop and have a stir-fry or pad thai made to order. If you’re craving something sweet, you can design your own crepe for the pastry chef to prepare. Everything I tried (and I tried a lot) was delicious.
Also full of delicious cuisine was Trattoria D’Gulio, an Italian fine-dining restaurant on Hotel Marina El Cid Spa & Beach resort, the sister property (all restaurants on that property are available to guests at no extra charge) that serves homemade pasta and over fifty Italian wines. There’s also an adorable Italian café next-door to Mercado de Dolores where you can get the best cappuccino in Mexico.
Beloved Playa Mujeres
Every detail at Beloved Playa Mujeres, a luxury resort near Cancun, is geared toward your “wellness” – the idea that you should be not just physically healthy, but fulfilled in mind, body, and spirit. The wellness philosophy extends to the spa (when you finish your massage, you’re taken to a recovery room where you actually get into bed with hot tea and chocolate cake), your room (your pillows will be spritzed with a different essence every night before bed), and, of course, everything you eat. Have lunch overlooking the ocean at Isla Grill: Your waiter will hand you both the regular menu and the vegetarian menu. (Try the “tofu cheese” sandwich or the pepper stuffed with vegetables and tofu.) While you’re waiting for your meal, you can hit the salad bar that offers a rainbow of vegetables (every color pepper, purple cabbage, bright white jicama), fresh mussels, five different kinds of olive oil, and a variety of sea salts, including fennel salt. Later, have dinner at Lupita, the resort’s Mexican restaurant that offers dishes from all the regions of Mexico and a selection of Mexican wine. Part of “wellness” is enjoying our surroundings, celebrating where we are, and Beloved makes a point of incorporating Mexican traditions – at Lupita, during the Mayan ceremonies they host, and with live salsa music at night.
Grand Velas Los Cabos
The dining program at Grand Velas Los Cabos is among the most unique in the world of luxury travel – not just in Mexico, but internationally. This resort is the creator of the $25,000 taco (obviously not part of the all-inclusive price, but too compelling not to mention). The $25,000 taco generated quite a bit of buzz when the news broke last spring because, well, what is a $25,000 taco? I’m a 20-year vegetarian, but reader, I ate one. It’s pretty much every top-of-the-line ingredient you can imagine – langoustine, Kobe beef, Almas Beluga caviar, black truffle brie cheese – in a gold flake-infused corn tortilla. The resort also offers a taco bar for those of us who can’t shell out $25,000 for, um, anything – and yes, it’s included. Fill your tortilla with al pastor and roasted pineapple, Poblano peppers with corn, Cochinita Pibil, fried Baja fish, or octopus, and leave room for the Choco Vanilla dessert taco.
You should also make sure to leave room for the most interesting and impressive culinary feature of Grand Velas’s all-inclusive program: the fine-dining restaurant Cocina de Autor, headed by two-star Michelin chef Sidney Schutte, who prepares eight courses with wine pairings every night. Think red snapper served over mashed Tonka beans, garnished with oysters and lychee foam. Think goat cheese ice cream with hibiscus.