Excellent food and friendly staff won us over at the Hilton Playa del Carmen
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Have you ever stayed somewhere that made you say, “I’m never going home”? The adults-only, all-inclusive Hilton Playa del Carmen — while not perfect — was a great place to escape the business of nearby Cancun and relax. And I most certainly wasn’t ready to leave at the end of my stay.
Playa del Carmen is a popular tourist spot in Mexico, located in the Riviera Maya. Despite being just an hour away from Cancun, it has a distinctly different atmosphere. The town itself is more walkable, and in my opinion, there’s a bit more personality to the area.
The Hilton Playa del Carmen offers a perfect way to experience the unique vibe of Playa del Carmen while offering a host of luxury amenities. Here’s what it’s like to spend a few nights at the beachside property.
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I booked the basic suite — the junior suite garden view — for $410 per night. This included all taxes and fees, save for an environmental tax that only added a few dollars to the bill. It is a bit on the pricey end of the spectrum compared to other resorts in the area.
Because of Hilton’s dynamic pricing, pay-with-points prices vary widely. Using the calendar feature on Hilton’s website to look for award night prices is also a hassle. At first glance, you can find standard room awards at 80,000 points per night for two guests in one room in August.
But when you actually click on those dates to book a room, prices jump drastically.
We value Hilton Honors points at 0.6 cents each, so even if you were scoring award nights at that rate, you’d be spending the equivalent of $480 per night in points — higher than you would book with cash. All in all, you’re likely better off using cash to book direct so you can earn points rather than spending them.
The Hilton Playa del Carmen is an all-inclusive resort, so the cost of your rooms includes room service, unlimited drinks and unlimited meals at the resort’s restaurants and bars. Rooms also include free Wi-Fi around the resort, access to the fitness center, aromatherapy turndown service and daily activities.
The Hilton Playa del Carmen is right on the beach in the heart of Playa del Carmen. The resort town is set up like a grid, so you can easily explore the surrounding streets. In fact, my friend and I hit up an awesome vegan spot right across the street after we checked out of the resort before heading back to the airport.
Although there is direct beach access, the area directly in front of the resort is right next to a pier. Additionally, the area by the pier isn’t suitable for swimming — the sand gives way to dangerous rocks once you get past ankle-deep water. However, you can make your way 100 yards or so down the beach if you want to wade into the water to swim.
While Playa del Carmen is more relaxed and a bit more eclectic than nearby Cancun, it’s still quite touristy. Almost everyone speaks English, and you’ll find quite a few popular chains alongside some local shops and restaurants. It’s considered a safe area, but you aren’t exactly experiencing authentic Mexican culture.
Also keep in mind that the closest international airport is Cancun International Airport (CUN), so you’ll have almost an hour drive once you land to get to the resort. We had a rental car during our trip (we thankfully did not run into problems that some people are having finding rentals in other destinations) and enjoyed blasting my favorite Spotify playlist for the drive. Say what you want about modern country music, but rolling your windows down and jamming out to Maren Morris and Old Dominion was just what I needed to get into the vacation spirit.
Shuttle services between the resort and the airport are available at an additional cost and run between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Overall, the location was perfect for the kind of trip I wanted. The resort is within walking distance of local restaurants, bars and shopping while still having easy access to the water. And while it was a drive to get there, the more relaxed atmosphere compared to Cancun is well worth it.
Check-in was a breeze.
Google Maps got us to our destination without hassle. The resort offers self-parking for guests, but there is no valet service. However, they took our bags before we drove to the small parking lot (which you enter from just around the corner), and it was not a far walk once we were parked.
After we dropped off the car, we were greeted by hotel staff, our temperatures were taken and we were escorted into the lobby for check-in. The actual check-in counters are behind frosted glass doors away from any noise from the lobby area, and a concierge took the time to walk us through an overview of the resort map, the restaurants available to us and adjusted operating hours (a few of the bars close earlier than normal because of the coronavirus pandemic).
Once we had our room keys and resort wristbands, someone escorted us to our rooms. It’s a large resort spread out across multiple buildings and courtyards, so the mini-tour up to our room was very appreciated. My sense of direction is terrible in general, so it’s very likely I would have gotten lost on my way otherwise.
One thing to note is that most of the resort isn’t very accessible if you are in a wheelchair, need assistance walking or have issues with stairs. The resort is beautiful and the walkways to the rooms are partially outside overlooking lush courtyards with beautiful artwork — it almost feels like you’re staying at a villa. But there was only one elevator guests can use in our wing of the resort, and it doesn’t go up to the third floor (which is where our room was located).
There was a seal on our door indicating that the room had been cleaned and undisturbed since that cleaning — a nice touch that gave us peace of mind before we even entered the space.
The room itself was spacious and well-designed. We booked a room with two double beds, but you can choose the same suite with a king bed instead. There was a small seating area in the corner of the room and a curved couch. The room also had its own Jacuzzi tub situated on the opposite wall. Had I been visiting Playa del Carmen on a romantic trip, I probably would have been more excited about the Jacuzzi in the room, but we never used it and found the placement to be a bit odd.
There is a balcony that overlooks the courtyard, and each balcony — and patio for the ground-floor guests — has a hammock to hang across the space.
My personal favorite part of the room had nothing to do with the beds (which were very comfortable) or the hammock (which I definitely spent time reading in one afternoon) — it was the small tablet docked between the two beds.
The tablet gave us all the information we needed about the hotel, from dining information on each bar and restaurant at the resort (including updated hours of operation, dress code and digital menus), room service menus, a daily activities schedule, spa treatment options, pool information and more.
The bathroom had a double vanity with basic amenities. While the lighting wasn’t exceptional, there was a wall-mounted mirror to help with makeup. The shower had a rain showerhead as well as a hand-held showerhead mounted to the wall. Everything was exceptionally clean.
The closet held a small safe, a hairdryer, a scale (entirely unnecessary) and an iron and ironing board.
There was a small fridge stocked with water, soda, Tecate beer and some snacks. But with room service available 24/7 and a variety of restaurants just a few minutes outside our door, we ended up not using our mini bar at all.
Food and beverage
The food was without exception excellent. I loved everything I had across all of the restaurants. Hilton Playa del Carmen has seven restaurants and five bars and lounges, but since my friend and I only stayed two nights, we weren’t able to try them all.
Note that many of the more upscale restaurants require reservations and more formal wear, so you’ll want to plan out your evenings ahead of schedule if you want to check out the traditional Mexican restaurant or some of the other fancier spots around the resort.
Here’s a quick rundown of what we did check out during our stay.
Spice — buffet dining
There’s a buffet restaurant, though it isn’t self-serve because of COVID-19 precautions. We ate here for breakfast one morning. There are two omelet stations, a griddle, a lineup of traditional American and Mexican breakfast foods, a fruit bar, a bakery section and more.
The food was great — the fresh fruit was mouth-wateringly good including some options, such as papaya, that are harder to find fresh back home. It wasn’t the best food at the resort, but it was excellent for a buffet.
Pelicanos — Caribbean fusion
This beachside restaurant was incredible. You eat just steps away from the beach and can feel the breeze and hear the waves.
The food was excellent — the calamari, the salmon tostada, the steak, the coconut shrimp. It was all great.
We even ordered dessert (I highly recommend the lime pie with strawberries).
Because the restaurant is outdoors, you can see some local cats wandering around. They keep to themselves mostly, but they were extremely cute to spot.
Keep in mind that you can’t wear swimsuits if you want to eat here. Neither of us dressed formally — I wore jean shorts, a tank and a shawl while my friend wore a casual sundress — but you won’t be able to go directly from the pool or beach to this restaurant.
Aromas — coffeehouse
I am not the kind of person who can function without coffee, so I was glad that there was a coffeehouse near the pool area. It offers your typical lineup of espresso and coffee drinks — hot and cold.
You can also get gelato, assorted bakery items and a few takeaway lunch items such as sandwiches.
Barefoot — snack bar
When you’re under the sun at the pool or beach all day, sometimes having a heavy meal isn’t exactly the most appetizing idea. That’s when the small snack bar right by the main pool area came into play. In the mornings, you can order smoothies, muffins and fresh fruit. And at lunchtime, they have grab-and-go fare that you can eat while lounging at the pool.
We did order room service for lunch one day. While you can check out the full menu on the tablet, you do have to call to order — you can’t place an order directly through the tablet.
It took less than 30 minutes for our food to arrive — we went all out after a morning at the beach with tacos, a Mediterranean pizza, and more — and it was all still warm when it arrived. The food was good, though not as delicious as the restaurants around the resort.
When you’re done with your food, there is a window by the door where you can place your dirty dishes and a switch to let housekeeping know to grab them from the other side — which was a great feature of the rooms.
We did try to order breakfast room service one morning, but it was unavailable during our stay.
There are two main pool areas available for all guests, and one has a swim-up bar that was open until 6 p.m. The pool areas are open daily until 8 p.m. when they close for nightly cleaning.
The pools are both a bit dated in terms of tile work, but they were clean and never too busy. During the day, the larger pool hosts activities such as water aerobics and dance classes. While neither of us participated, we did have a fun time cheering on those who did alongside the other poolside watchers.
There are cabanas available to rent at an extra cost, but there are also plenty of standard lounge chairs to choose from that are available at no additional cost.
Like the rest of the resort, the pool areas aren’t very wheelchair accessible. In order to get to the second pool (where the swim-up bar is located), the beach and Pelicanos, you have to cross over two bridges that each have a small set of stairs on either side.
The beach is just steps away from the pool area, and there are rows of lounge chairs and cabanas where you can relax beachside.
Typically, the cabanas must be reserved (and there were a few that had obviously been pre-booked because they had suite numbers attached to them) at an extra cost. We planned to spend our time in the standard loungers, but one of the bar attendants came over as we got settled and told us to go ahead and take one of the cabanas. While the pool areas had plenty of people, the beach was pretty empty. (And I think he saw my friend’s lobster-tinted skin from our snorkeling excursion the day before and took pity.)
The service was excellent, and we spent an entire morning relaxing on a cabana bed reading. I could have easily spent an entire week listening as the waves crashed against the shore, my drink being refilled every time I neared empty.
If you’d rather stay moving while on your vacation, the resort does have a nice fitness center. As of the time of writing, only 10 people are allowed inside the gym at a time to allow for proper social distancing, and the hours are limited from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. An attendant is at the entrance to the gym to take your temperature before entering as well.
The gym is near the spa on the bottom floor of the resort, and you have pretty much everything you could need for a great workout. There is a cardio room with treadmills, stationary bikes and ellipticals, free weights, machines and a room for stretching and core work.
You can also check out a full spa menu on the tablet in your room. All guests are able to use the spa’s hydrotherapy circuit from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. included with every package. But you can also book specialty spa treatments — from basics such as massages, waxing services, manicures and more to unique treatments such as a “nine leaves divine bath” (meant to treat what the Mayans call “the spiritual diseases of the soul”) or a Temazcal experience (an ancient Mesoamerican steam bath).
The resort does host events for guests — they were actually setting up for a special fiesta on the main lawn the morning we checked out. So if you time your stay right, you could also have the chance to book a unique experience.
Guests staying at least three nights are able to schedule a complimentary COVID-19 test during check-in for reentry into the United States. We only stayed two nights, but we were able to get walk-up appointments that cost $30 each without issue.
The test is taken in a repurposed guest room on the same level as the lobby.
Because most guests schedule their tests, there wasn’t a wait. We were able to get in and out in under 15 minutes, and our test results were emailed to us within 12 hours.
Every staff member we interacted with — from the greeter at the front entrance to the concierge who checked us in to each and every person we passed by in the halls — was friendly and attentive.
Service at all of the restaurants was great, and we were never waiting too long for anything we requested, be it food or drinks or even just an extra towel out by the pool.
Housekeeping was available daily upon request, but we passed by one of the housekeepers on our way out one morning who asked us if we wanted our room cleaned while we were out and she was already on our floor even though we hadn’t scheduled service.
I’m not kidding when I say I did not want to leave. Between the excellent food, the beautiful resort grounds and the friendly service offered by the resort staff, I was extremely happy with the stay.
If you’re looking for a relaxing place to enjoy everything Playa del Carmen has to offer, you can’t go wrong with the Hilton Playa del Carmen. It is a bit on the pricier side compared to some of the other resorts in the area (especially if you want to pay with points), but I’d argue that it’s worth it for the level of service we received while there and the amazing food available around the resort — which is not always something you can count on at all-inclusive resorts.
My one complaint is that the resort — while beautiful — can be a bit confusing to navigate and is definitely not easily accessible if you have a wheelchair or have issues with stairs. But if those are concerns you don’t have to worry about, this is an excellent all-inclusive choice for your next Playa del Carmen getaway.
I’m already planning a way to visit the resort again, and I’ll be dreaming about that beachside cabana in the meantime.
Featured image courtesy of Hilton Playa del Carmen/Facebook
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