At Least There Are Free Margaritas: Hyatt Ziva in Los Cabos, Mexico
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Baja California Sur may be experiencing a development boom of massive proportions, but not every hotel and resort peppering the coastal strip is new. The all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos reopened in 2015, after extensive repairs and renovations following Hurricane Odile a year earlier.
Hyatt's Ziva and sister Zilara brands have long been known to deliver pretty impressive value for points travelers, who can snag all-inclusive suites for as little as 20,000 points per night. But with so much competition popping up, including the relatively new Solaz, a Luxury Collection Property, the just-opened Nobu Los Cabos and forthcoming Zadún, Ritz-Carlton Reserve and Four Seasons, I was curious how well Hyatt Ziva would stack up.
Of course, Hyatt Ziva doesn't pretend to be an ultraluxury property. But what it does do is promise an incredible Los Cabos vacation for the price. Oh, and though I'm embarrassed to admit it, this was my first-ever stay at an all-inclusive. So you'd better believe I was curious to see how those "free" margaritas compared to the $13 cocktails I was sipping up the road earlier that week.
We redeemed points for a two-night stay in a Master King room with a private balcony. Redemptions for standard rooms require 20,000 points per night (5,000 less per night than the Hyatt Ziva Cancun) on a single- or double-occupancy basis, worth roughly $360 based on TPG’s current valuations. Should you have kids or friends in tow, there’s an additional 10,000 points required per night per guest for the third and fourth guest sharing the same room. Valued at about $180, that may not be the best deal, considering children probably aren’t consuming that much in food and drinks on a daily basis. Fortunately, children up to 3 years old can be added at no additional charge.
Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer with a 1:1 ratio to World of Hyatt, you could score three free nights at this property just by signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which is currently offering a 60,000-point sign-up bonus after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. Considering the all-inclusive nature of this property, that’s really a phenomenal deal.
A 20-minute drive from Los Cabos International Airport (SJD), the Hyatt Ziva is on the outskirts of San José del Cabo. Unlike many of the beach resorts in the area, this one isn't so secluded that you can't easily walk into town (or at least around the corner to the nearby supermarket, Avis car rental or Starbucks).
The Hyatt Ziva fronts a pretty stretch of white sand beach, though like much of the area, swimming isn't really a big sell — black flags waved from the beachfront every day during my stay. Read: Do not swim.
To be transparent, big resorts like this one (which has 591 rooms) aren't really my thing. I typically find them overwhelming and hard to navigate. But the layout of this Hyatt Ziva was extremely logical and thoughtful — the area for little kids was distinctly separate from the big family areas, which was distinctly separate from the adults-only portion of the resort. No, this was not the child-free Zilara, but it did have plenty of areas that felt genuinely separate for grown-ups like me, more interested in margaritas than splash zones and foam parties.
I arrived at the Hyatt Ziva just in time for check-in. But, my room still wasn't ready. I was told to check out the property and come back in a few. Ultimately, my room was ready about 40 minutes after the standard check-in time.
Thanks to Explorist status, I was upgraded from a Master King to a Ziva Suite at check-in, and I received a fancy gold wristband, which was supposed to give me some sort of exclusive access or special treatment. I never saw the wristband do anything of the sort, but it did look much nicer than the neon wristbands most guests were sporting.
When I opened the door to my 620-square-foot Ziva Suite, I was impressed by the layout, which felt more like an apartment than a hotel suite. The entryway opened into a living room with a flat-screen TV, pullout sofa bed and small seating area, and there were two full bathrooms. The bedroom had a narrow Juliet balcony overlooking the main pool and the beach beyond.
The bedding was a genuine negative for me. It was thin, not especially soft, and the comforter seemed too small for the bed, even when I loosened the severe tuck. Bedside controls operated the ceiling fan and reading lights, and there were two USB ports and a standard outlet on both sides of the bed.
The style was vaguely beachy, but the rooms (excluding the bathrooms), felt mostly new and modern. The sofa bed, to be sure, could use an upgrade.
Designers were smart to choose such a timeless look, because the Hyatt Ziva wasn't showing its age as quickly as some other properties.
But we do need to talk about the bathrooms. Neither would pass the TPG shower test (he's 6 feet, 7 inches tall), and they were horribly dark. Even with all the lights on and all the curtains open, the bathrooms were dim enough even to make my overcooked lobster sunburn look like a nice tan.
Fortunately, the bathrooms were stocked with enough amenities to qualify as a miniature convenience store: bug spray, mouthwash, sunscreen, after-sun gel among them. The room also had a coffee pot, tea bags and a mini-fridge with Pepsi products, Tecate beers, 7up, bottled water and apple juice boxes. (As a first-time all-inclusive guest, I was delighted to learn these were free. So I even ate the single bag of potato chips that seemed to qualify as the snack portion of the mini-bar.)
Though my room didn't have direct pool access, Hyatt Ziva guests can book one of 34 swim-up rooms that have a pretty obvious perk, along with even more spacious floor plans.
Food and Beverage
No, all-inclusive food and drinks aren't technically free. But they certainly feel that way when you don't have to put down a credit card or sign your name on anything after you've ordered. And that definitely makes everything taste better.
All of the alcoholic drinks I tried were fine — surprisingly strong and usually garnished — and, because I was really trying to sample as much as I could during my stay, I can definitively say to just stick with the margaritas. The Bloody Marias tasted cheap and watery, whereas the former tasted like your standard premixed margarita.
But then there was the food, which was, by all accounts, really not great. During my stay, I ate at as many restaurants as I physically could stomach. Hyatt Ziva has 16 bars and restaurants, one to represent pretty much every imaginable cuisine. So you could be poolside in Cabo during the day and dining on Japanese ramen or Italian at night. And if that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it was.
My first night, for example, I grabbed dinner at El Cortijo, the signature Spanish restaurant. The decor was a bit tacky, and the food wasn't awful, but I'm certainly glad I didn't pay extra for it. Also alarming? Half the menu was dedicated to Indian cuisine, which definitely felt like some sort of last-minute compromise from some well-meaning but misguided member of the management team.
And then there was the Japanese restaurant, DoZo, which had one of the prettier designs but some of the worst food on the property.
The ramen soup, well, wasn't ramen, and just trust me when I say the sushi trio of the day (a California roll, spicy tuna and an ungodly combination of avocado, cream cheese and some kind of cooked meat) was offensive. I didn't expect all-inclusive fare to win any Michelin stars, but I'd hoped it wouldn't be so bad I'd have to go for a second dinner.
Out of all the places I dined during my stay at Hyatt Ziva, I thought the poolside bars were the best. Fresh ceviche and fish tacos are hard to screw up, and the service was always friendly and quick.
Another solid place to eat, surprisingly, was the French restaurant. The adults-only Bon Vivant served flavorful (maybe a bit salty) French classics such as salad Nicoise and duck breast. You could also spend extra money on the wine list, where a bottle of prosecco started at 1,100 pesos (about $60).
During breakfast at La Plaza (the international buffet open for breakfast and lunch), I was impressed by all the options, which included two omelet stations, a kids station, cured meats, a mimosa and Bloody Mary bar, fresh-baked breads and custom waffles, a salad bar, hot foods ranging from traditional Mexican to Chinese takeout — you get the idea.
But there were plenty of inconsistencies about hours (posted signs promised El Molino, a Mexican-focused buffet, would open at the same time a La Plaza — but it didn't), and the property-specific app I downloaded on the second day of my stay seemed to provide the most accurate information.
A lot, it turns out, is included in an all-inclusive. At the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos, that meant access to three pools (the massive freeform infinity-edge main pool and hot tub; the adults-only pool with obligatory swim-up bar; and the "KidZ" pool with a mini waterpark featuring waterslides and two dump buckets).
When I first arrived at Hyatt Ziva, I was a bit panicked. All the pool chairs had been claimed (it was late afternoon, after all), there was a full-on foam party happening in the main pool, there were a lot of kids screaming and squealing, and all those feelings of calm I'd cultivated at the Solaz, farther along the coast, seemed to evaporate like watered-down sunscreen.
But once I discovered the adults-only area, behind the second main tower, I relaxed.
The property also has tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, a 24-hour fitness center and a variety of daily, complimentary fitness classes. Both mornings, I joined other guests for beach yoga, which was pretty low on the exercise scale but also relaxing, and I could see it being a fun space to meet other travelers.
At 9pm every evening, guests can also enjoy free, live entertainment — something that seems way more appropriate on a cruise ship than at a beach resort. Depending on the day of the week, you might see traditional Mexican dance and costumes at the Viva México show, or catch 70s and 80s disco music. Performers solicited attendees every night at the restaurants, which made me feel rather guilty for not filling one of the more than 500 seats at the Grand Theater.
The good thing, I suppose, is that you're not financially invested the way you might be with Broadway tickets. So if the "Blee" or "Tropicalísimo" shows disappoint, you can always just leave.
To get access to the massive two-story Zen Spa — which features water beds, hot and cold plunge pools and bucket showers — I booked one of the most inexpensive treatments on the menu (a polish change). The salon was small and poorly lit, my designated locker didn't secure shut and the shared facilities were surprisingly crowded. I wouldn't go out of my way to book a treatment here if I ever return.
In addition to the spa, travelers can also pay extra to reserve poolside cabanas, which, I was told, range from $60 to $90 per day, depending on the package.
Was my first all-inclusive experience a success? That's a story for a different day. No, really, check back soon. But was my stay at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos a success?
When I tried to decide how I would answer this, I thought about a lot of things that I loved — an adults-only section of pools and complimentary morning yoga — and the things I didn't (namely, the mediocre-at-best and sometimes downright bad food).
But there was another thing that irked me about the resort. It was extremely lush, with electric green grass and towering palms. Which is great, in theory, except when you remember that the Hyatt Ziva is planted firmly in the middle of a desert. That, coupled with the Spanish-Indian hybrid restaurant and weekly disco entertainment, really bothered me — at least in part because it didn't feel remotely like a Los Cabos resort. It felt like a generic "tropical" resort.
So, for travelers who want a sunny beach retreat with gorgeous weather and excellent cash-and-points value, Hyatt Ziva is hard to beat — especially in an area so quickly becoming dominated by ultra-expensive luxury retreats. But if you want an authentic Los Cabos experience with delicious cuisine, you'll have to at least venture beyond the property. And doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of an all-inclusive?
All photos by the author.