Updated: Oct 30
When the time came to book an all-inclusive for myself and my young son, there were a number of boxes that needed ticking. I wanted a short flight, warm weather, good food, a family-friendly atmosphere, and lot's of activity options. The Iberostar Playa Mita has historically been a favourite for many of my west coast clients, so in the interest of 'research' (and attempting to earn the badge of 'Best Mom Ever'), I decided I needed to experience this resort for myself.
Booking the Iberostar Playa Mita
As a travel advisor, I have access to certain discounts (thank goodness for perks), so I tend to book these types of trips in separate components. For travellers who have airline points, you too may want to book your flight and resort separately, and if that’s the case, the best place to get a resort rate is directly on the Iberostar website. That’s if you don’t use the services of your friendly neighbourhood travel advisor of course *cough, cough*. But most Canadian travellers book their all-inclusive vacations as a package: Air Canada Vacations, Sunwing and Westjet vacations are the usual suspects.
Where Is It & How Do You Get There?
It’s a bit of a trek to get to the Iberostar Playa Mita, but if you’re after a hideaway of sorts, on the beautiful stretch of beach, then it’s worth the 43km drive. If you’re booked on a package, a pre-arranged transfer will bring you to the resort. If you’re on your own, you can either book a taxi from the airport or book a company like Vamanos Vallarta (check out my TripAdvisor Review) Taxi’s run anywhere from USD $90 to USD $140 one-way. If you're looking for a resort that's within walking distance of, well, anything, this is not the resort for you. It's tucked away in a gated complex, next to the Conrad. The next closest town is Sayulita to the north, a twenty-minute taxi ride (which is recommended side-trip!)
Because my son and I arrived via private transfer, we didn’t have to contend with a large bus of new arrivals. But even if the lobby was crowded, there were four, very efficient staff members on hand who made quick work of assigning our room and getting us all sorted. My son and I were adorned with resort bracelets, and mine doubled as a key to our door which proved to be extremely convenient when I had to come flying through the door with an unwell six-year-old! (a blog article that will be aptly entitled, 'What do Do When Sh*t Hits the Fan on Vacation)
Have friends staying further south in Puerto Vallarta? For USD$100pp they can join you and spend the day dining and using the facilities of the resort.
Iberostar Playa Mita Room Categories
There are 8 room categories to choose from at this resort. I believe only 4 of those rooms are accessible, so there is much room for improvement on that front. The room categories are as follows:
Premium Golf Course View
Two-Bedroom Family Room (Connecting Door, Accommodates 6)
Premium Sunset View (Overlooks part of Resort and Sunset)
Premium Oceanfront Sunset View (Higher Floor)
Oceanfront Junior Suite (Located on Floors 1-3)
Junior Suite Beach Access (Ground Floor)
Junior Suite Oceanfront Sunset View (Higher Floor)
My son and I were originally booked into a Premium View and were upgraded to a Premium Sunset View. Our room was simple but spacious, with one king-size bed, and a large balcony (this room category can also be configured with two double beds). The amenities are not fancy, so if you’re looking for high-end toiletries, you won’t find them here. We were located in building 2, on the third floor, close to the beach. There are elevators on either end of each building block and an elevator in the middle of the resort that will take you straight down to beach level. Our room had a connecting door and I could see it being perfect for families or friend groups who want (or need) a little separation. As for the sunset and beachfront rooms, they’re perfectly located if you want to enjoy spectacular ocean views, and quick access to the beach, pools, and La Bahia Buffet (the go-to lunch spot). As for the noise factor, this is not a party resort. The entertainment around the pool shuts down at dinner time, and the evening activities occur closer to the front of the resort. Unlike other resorts, where noise carries, the layout of the Iberostar Playa Mita is well laid out so that families can enjoy quiet time at an appropriate hour.
Restaurants I’m going to preface this part of the review by declaring that food is undoubtedly the most subjective aspect of any review, and while I think of myself as a well-travelled foodie, I am no Gordon Ramsay. And to be even more honest, I was only able to enjoy ONE of the four specialty restaurants at the resort. My son fell ill less than 15 hours into our trip, (we brought a tummy bug with us) so I was only able to try out Pacific Express, a train-themed French restaurant. The meal was absolutely delicious.
There are four specialty restaurants at the Iberostar Playa Mita:
Pacific Express (French)
El Cuate Pancho (Mexican)
La Bahia (American Steakhouse)
A few tips regarding specialty restaurants:
Bring your smartphone (and your spectacles!) - Menus are only found using a QR Code on the dinner table
Make your reservations in advance - As soon as you check in, head straight to the concierge desk and get your dinner reservations sorted.
The chances of getting same-day reservations are slim to none in this very busy resort. And if you’re thinking of rocking up and hoping for empty seats, good luck - We failed at every attempt. So, that leads me to the El Nopal, the buffet which is where my son and I ate most of our meals. The Iberostar brand is a Spanish brand, and the Playa Mita in particular caters heavily to local families. This is great news if you love great Mexican food, but not so great if you like to switch it up every now and then. What I personally loved about this resort, is the commitment to 100% locally sourced ingredients and sustainable seafood harvesting practices. Personally, I don’t travel to eat French fries and burgers, so bring on local cuisine.
If you love fresh seafood, salads, Carnitas, huevos rancheros, tamales, mole poblano, and just about every Mexican dish you can dream up, then you’ll have no trouble with the food here. In saying that, you may find it under-seasoned, so don’t be afraid to ask for the hot sauce! The food in the main buffet does have different theme nights, but it's mostly local fare.
Room Service Full disclosure, I did not order room service, on purpose. Honestly, it didn't look very appetizing, and in my experience, room service isn't necessarily a great demonstration of a resort's culinary prowess. On this trip, I was travelling with a friend of mine and her two children, and they did order room service - the verdict was as I expected; Not good. The food was cold and soggy. I don't want to write off the entire menu service, based on one review, but I generally like to stick to dining out in the buffet or specialty restaurants.
Cocktails & Caffeine
As a solo mom up most nights with an unwell little guy, you can imagine which of these two vices I indulged in the most. The staff working the day shift at the Star Cafe, knew my order by heart, and I am eternally grateful to them for fuelling this exhausted Mama Bear. So if you find yourself hankering for a latte, mocha, or espresso, the Star Cafe is just off of the front lobby, near the front desk.
As for cocktails, there are three bars on site; Adelita (lobby), Marea (swim-up), Sea Soul (terrace), La Duna (on the beach), and then there's Litibu (theatre), and La Tabla, the Disco. The swim-up bar can be a tricky one for service and money talks. So if you frontload the bartender, you'll have a better chance of never going thirsty. My overall review of the drinks in general is, that they're not as strong as other resorts, and they certainly weren't as potent as what was being poured into my glass in the Dominican. In all honesty, day (and night) drinking wasn't a big factor. I was a mom on 24/7 duty with a kiddo.
There are four pool areas. A large infinity pool, which is zero entry, complete with a shelf so Moms and Dads can play with the wee ones. The infinity pool spills into a lower pool which was a little quieter but didn’t look very clean, so we avoided it. There’s a sports pool for water volleyball and water polo. And finally, there’s a kid’s splash area complete with a pirate ship, waterslides, fountains, and water cannons. You’ll receive a couple of towel cards when you check in, so bring those to the pool deck and snag yourself some fresh towels every morning.
If your airport transfer is collecting you after check-out at 12pm, the front desk will provide you with you a no-fee resort pass so you can enjoy the facilities up until 3:00pm
One of the things I loved about the pool deck was the number of covered cabanas available. Even on a full day, it was easy enough to find ourselves a shaded oasis. I also appreciated having two sets of washrooms near the pool deck - One off of the buffet restaurant and one in the building where the towels are distributed.
Children’s Activities - Star Camp
This is one of the main reasons I chose Iberostar for my first solo mom trip. I wanted a family-friendly resort with great kids' activities. It’s also why I try and suggest Iberostars first for my families across Mexico and the Caribbean. And even though my little guy was only well enough for a few hours of Star Camp, he had a blast and made some new friends. The kids club opened at 9am every day and the clubhouse closed at 5pm . There was an option for care from 5:30pm - 9:30pm for a surcharge of USD$25.00
The program is a mixture of outdoor time in the splash pool and inside the air-conditioned clubhouse where a jungle gym, kid's kitchen, and playroom await. The facilities are clean, and the staff highly engaging with the children. I watched the staff bring the little ones into the lunch buffet every day at 1pm. And in the afternoons, different activities like obstacle courses, and water carpets would be brought out to the main pool where little kids and big kids (adults) could partake. Those were my favourite afternoons; gathering with other families in the pool, laughing and cheering on eachother’s children.
Star Camp caters to three age groups: Monkey (4-7), Dolphin (8-12) and Eagle (13-17), and each resort has its own unique program that incorporates local culture, art, music, cuisine, and fun.
There is both a theatre and a nightclub on site. The theatre is sizable, and my friend and I took our kids to a fantastic, all-ages Karaoke night (good laughs were had!) I wasn’t able to peek inside the nightclub because it was closed during daylight hours (and bedtime for my six-year-old was relatively early). There is also a kid's show with an entire storyline and cast of characters that takes place on certain nights.
In the lobby bar one night, we gathered to watch one of the best mariachi bands I’ve ever heard. Other nights included live music, sixers, dancers,
and musicians. If you’re looking for a big, splashy, Vegas-like production, you’ll not find it here. The focus is on local culture and local music.
During peak season, there are three cultural shows to look forward to: Mariachi by the lake, the Wixárika Ceremony, and the Sunset Circus. These performances share folklore and tales of deities and their connection to mother nature.
Beach Life There is no question, this beach is one of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the region. The beach can be accessed either by stairs, elevator, or a steep ramp on the left-hand side of the resort. A simple boardwalk leading down to the sand makes it easy for those on wheels to access. The Junior Suite Oceanfront rooms open up to a grassy lawn, steps away from the boardwalk.
To your left, there is a small collective of vendors. The odd vendor may wander over to your chair and strike up a conversation, but it's with a smile and very little persistence. It's a rather quiet stretch of beach, perfect for beachcombing or 'sand safari' as my son called them.
But be warned, the surf here is rough, and in hurricane season (now), it can be unforgiving. So while the waters are bathwater warm (yes, the Pacific, THAT WARM!) keep a keen eye on the little ones and don't let them play in the waves alone. Stick to sandcastle-making, crab-spotting, and sunset viewing.
Around the Resort
The resort grounds are beautiful, clean, and well-kept, And a key feature that was much appreciated during the rainy season was being able to walk from our building, all the way to the lobby and never having to wade through torrents of rainwater. I also felt the resort was easy to navigate, in terms of accessibility. I brought a small utility wagon with me which ended up being a saving grace when I had to cart around my six-year-old. With elevators and ramps, there was nowhere my son and I couldn't go.
The resort never felt crowded (which is why it was so shocking to hear there were no same-day dinner reservations!) The two buffet restaurants were carefully monitored for crowd flow, ensuring the staff-to-guest ratio was manageable. And if you need information regarding excursions, taxis, or in my case, a courier for antibiotics from the nearby town, there are several concierge desks throughout the resort with English & Spanish speaking staff on hand to bring your every wish to fruition.
Staff & Service This was one of the most difficult vacations I had ever experienced. Our trip began with my son falling ill only hours into our trip, and it ended with us sheltering from a category 4 hurricane (thank you Lydia!) We spent the better part of the week either in our room battling fever, nausea, and various other 'explosive' symptoms, or venturing out, but staying within running distance of a bathroom. Absolutely every single member of staff, from the housekeeping staff who made little towel animals specifically for my son, the clinic doctor who checked on us every other day (for no extra charge), to the maintenance staff who didn't even blink when they were helping me clean up 'accidents' while comforting a stressed-out Mama in tears. The staff at the Iberostar Playa Mita are exceptional, and I will never forget their kindness.
On-Site Medical Services I really wish I wasn't having to review this part of the resort, but perhaps one of you will benefit from this knowledge. The clinic itself was very clean, and was staffed by Dr. Carlos, a jovial Cuban gentleman. The clinic offers a number of services, and an initial consultation will run you USD$175.00. There is a charge for follow-ups, but my little guy was in a bad way, and he offered us free follow-up consultations. He prescribed my son two different medications and phoned ahead to a nearby pharmacy to ensure they were in stock and able to provide the correct dosages. I was then instructed to take the scripts to the Concierge Desk, and for total price of USD$40, they arranged a taxi to pick up the prescriptions and bring them back to the hotel. This all happened in under three hours and yes, that included the cost of the meds!
If I were to give the Iberostar Playa Mita a rating, I would give it an 8.5 out of 10, and mostly because I wasn't able to experience a number of the amenities like the spa, the gym, the Tequila Tasting, and the million other things. But the most important question of all is would I return, and the answer is a resounding yes! But I'll stick to travelling outside of hurricane season!