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South  of the Border

Sunny Mexico has a vacation that fits your personality and budget.

The snorkeler was exploring the scene under the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez off Baja, Mexico’s Isla Carmen. He felt something bump into him. Then he felt it again. And again. Turning, he realized it was a four-foot-long baby sea lion wanting to play.


Above: The dramatic stone arch is at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. This area, called Land’s End, is where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez. It’s adjacent to popular Lover’s Beach. ©teddyh/ photo

Below: Visit Manatees swim-up bar at Secrets Vallarta Bay resort in Puerto Vallarta. AMResorts photo


An experienced world traveler approached the ancient temple that looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Armed with a good map, sturdy shoes, and his camera, he was headed off the beaten path to structures that have stood thousands of years. Here, mysterious gods were worshipped and humans were sacrificed.

Beautiful beach, gorgeous ocean view, attentive service. Yes, this is what carefree feels like, he thought.

Chicago-based travel writer John Handley, a frequent contributor to this magazine, experienced all of this in Mexico, a destination that can offer something to every traveler.

“I’ve traveled to Mexico more than 20 times over the years, mainly for two reasons–to lie on the warm sand at its famous beach resorts and to explore the mysteries of the ancient Mayan civilization,” Handley said.

“Few destinations offer as much value for the vacation dollar as the Mexico beach resorts,” said Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, an affiliate of AAA Missouri. “Travelers will find convenient and affordable air service, breathtakingly beautiful beaches, a wide range of all-inclusive resort accommodations to suit every budget, gracious hospitality, and attentive service.”

But with so many choices, how do you decide on the right Mexico vacation? The experts at Pleasant Holidays suggest deciding on a vacation based on your interests. Do you want to relax on the beach, explore historical places, or be active pursuing adventure? It’s all waiting for you in Mexico.

Puerto vallarta Riviera Nayarit

“The resort areas of Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit offer the best of all possible worlds for the classic beach getaway,” Richards said. “There’s so much more than just the two basic ingredients of sun and sand.”

Resorts tempt with fine dining, active nightlife, luxurious spa treatments, and challenging golf courses. Stroll beaches that line emerald waters and take in what Richards describes as the best sunsets in Mexico.

Riviera Nayarit is nestled in the western Sierra Madre. The area is a 192-mile stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline backed by jungle-clad mountains. For those who want to explore a more rustic side of rural Mexico, there is plenty of backcountry here.

Banderas Bay on the southern edge of this area is a great spot for viewing humpback whales in season.

Planning tips In Puerto Vallarta, AMResorts has two new all-inclusive properties on Banderas Bay. Families may want to check out Now Amber Puerto Vallarta, while the posh Secrets Vallarta Bay Puerto Vallarta is for adults. Both are near the Malecón boardwalk. During the day, stroll the boardwalk and people watch, shop, or observe sandcastle builders on the beach. At night, adults will get into the restaurants and active nightlife.

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit is the only all-inclusive resort in the Mexican Pacific to be awarded AAA Five Diamonds. Guests have all-suite accommodations with ocean views, expansive patio balconies, and a world-class spa. Championship golf is nearby.

Los cabos

Consisting of the towns of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, in Baja California Sur, Los Cabos is for the active spirit. Its coastal waters are known as the Aquarium of the World and offer plenty of adventure for snorkelers and divers. Or explore out in a sea kayak for memorable coastal views.

Land-based adventure here can include the newest tour of camel rides along the beach. Explore the desert outback in a 4X4 vehicle and see ancient cacti and wildlife.

Eco-tourism is a big draw to Los Cabos, and the migration of gray whales remains a popular experience. The whales spend winter (December to April) in the coastal lagoons of the southern Baja peninsula.

“On a whale-watching cruise to Baja’s San Ignacio Lagoon, I petted–actually, just touched–a 20-foot-long gray whale that was motionless just under our inflatable raft,” said Handley. “The whale, rubbery to the touch, seemed to be enjoying the attention.”

Planning tips You’ll enjoy the attention and service at these all-inclusive resorts, just two of the many choices offered by Pleasant Holidays.

“Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Resort and Spa is an enchanting adults-only oasis, while Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach Resort and Spa offers spacious condominium-style accommodations ideal for families,” Richards said.

Remember that Los Cabos is located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula. The water here gets very deep very quickly. Much of the coastline is open ocean, meaning some beaches are good for surfing and others for swimming. Los Cabos’ most popular beach is Medano in downtown Cabo San Lucas. Plenty of recreation, good swimming, and lots of restaurants and bars are here, including the Baja Cantina Beach Club. Dinner is at the water’s edge and includes a wide selection of fresh local seafood, local organic greens, Mexican, and international cuisine.

Riviera Maya

“Cancun and Riviera Maya are the ideal choice for those who want to dive into history and immerse themselves in cultural encounters,” Richards said.

Here, you can visit one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Chichen Itza archaeological site. But be prepared for large numbers of tourists.

“For a truly memorable experience, visit during the spring or fall equinox when the angle of light and shadow give the appearance of a giant serpent descending the towering stairway,” Richards said.

There are more than 30 Mayan sites in the Yucatan state. Tulum is the remains of a pre-Columbian Maya walled city situated on 40-foot cliffs that overlook the Caribbean Sea.

Off the beaten path, Dzibilchaltun, located about 10 miles north of Merida, is known for its Temple of the Seven Dolls, which was built with mathematical precision so that the sun shines through its doors on the first day of spring and autumn.

More surprises waited for Handley in Celestun, located west of Merida, the capital of the Yucatan state.

“At the Celestun Biosphere Reserve, a boat tour on the Rio Lagertos cruised to pink heaven as thousands of flamingos formed a band of pink across the river,” Handley said.

Planning tips There’s a dizzying array of resorts and hotels in Cancun and along the Riviera Maya.

The all-inclusive Occidental Grand Xcaret is adjacent to the Xcaret Park, an eco-adventure attraction. Resort guests can easily access the park via walking paths. Packages with the resort and park are available. This is a great choice for families.

The AAA Five Diamond Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita Riviera Maya combines luxury with wellness components, and is a great choice for couples.

In Cancun, the all-inclusive Hyatt Zilara Cancun is for adults only and offers all ocean view rooms and attentive service. “For a truly romantic experience, reserve one of their swim-up suites,” Richards said.

Romance, history, and adventure are waiting for you south of the border, down Mexico way.

Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Midwest Traveler and AAA Southern Traveler magazines.

July/August 2014 Issue


Stop by your AAA Travel office to learn more about special offers from our most popular Mexico travel providers, such as Pleasant Holidays. Offers may include exclusive member benefits, discounts, complimentary sightseeing excursions, and more. Call (800) 453-6122 or visit

Read about John Handley’s Mayan adventure.


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