It’s still pending approval on Trip Advisor but I thought I might as well post my review of Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort, the all-inclusive we just stayed at here as well (with bonus photos, external links, and a few other edits/additions)…
[Edit: This might not end up being my Trip Advisor review after all. I got a message that they weren’t publishing it because they have a rule against “commercial links”. As far as I can tell, it’s because I included the web site of Pack For A Purpose – a charity. I hate stupid, petty shit like that so will have to think about whether I want to make this, admittedly, small edit or just leave it as it is and keep the review here instead. My long-standing analogy of the “big” sites being like apartments with lots of information/noise/neighbours and my blog being like a private acreage in the country holds and part of me isn’t too concerned about adding to the noise on Trip Advisor and would prefer to leave this info here for those “deep diggers” who seek it out!]
But even if you do that, you’ll eventually have the realization of the dirty secret of all-inclusive resorts – at their base, they’re all essentially the same. All will have pools and an ocean, all will have buffets and a la cartes, all will have daytime activities and evening shows, and so on.
So then, the only thing that makes them different is how well they do in each of these areas.
And you don’t have to read very many Trip Advisor reviews to realise that this is, ultimately, a matter of personal opinion. Even the highest rated all-inclusive will have people who hate it and even the lowest rated will have people who find something to love.
So why this long preamble?
When my family, including my wife, two kids aged 9 and 3 plus my retired parents, visited Sandos Caracol during the last week of February 2017, I realised we found the rarest of rarities among all-inclusive resorts – a truly unique experience.
Yes, Sandos has ocean and pools, buffets and a la cartes, activities and shows. But they have truly embraced their commitment to being an eco-resort with a focus on Mayan culture and history, which results in all sorts of additional features that are rare or non-existent at most resorts.
* animals in their natural habitat (including monkeys which we spotted daily and couldn’t get enough of watching!)
* rescue and various other animals you can interact with, either in the wild or in captivity
* numerous things that would be a paid excursion at any other resort – cenote swimming, authentic Mayan ruins, waterslides, bike riding
* there is decent snorkeling right off shore
* a river you can swim in that runs through the mangrove forest
* a romantic river boat ride
* really high quality theatre shows but also a rotation of three outdoor shows that are educational and entertaining.
* numerous other activities that highlight and educate about the Mayan culture
* a great authentic Mexican meal before the amazing “Fire of Life” show on Saturday night
* a full waterpark with slides tiered by height for very small, young, and older kids
* herb and botanical gardens
That’s not to say this is a perfect resort. We knew going in from Trip Advisor reviews that the ocean was rocky and not great for swimming but this turned out to be more of a negative than we thought it would be. Luckily, a ~$25 USD one way cab ride took us to sister resort, Sandos Playacar, which has perhaps the best beach I’ve ever seen in my life. We enjoyed Playacar’s beach so much, we went twice during our one week stay at Caracol!
I also wasn’t a fan of the layout of the main pool which is rather small and stretches to another connected pool via a long “river” but which means many of the seats are quite far from the pool bar and main areas of activity (although obviously some will prefer that.) The quieter pool by the Mexican restaurant was small too but more like the type of pool I was hoping for – less crowded but still fun for swimming.
A few other thoughts…
* did I mention how much we liked seeing the monkeys every day? The rules say “Don’t feed the animals” and we followed that important guideline. But they didn’t say anything about watching others feed the animals which gave us many close-up views. (If you do this – and you shouldn’t – but if you do, watch your kids closely. We saw a coati bite a girl’s finger drawing blood.)
* the standard rooms aren’t supposed to have Internet at all but we got inconsistent signal in our room (#4821) which seemed to work best early in the morning or late at night. The lobby also had decent Internet and I read that the pool areas do too though I never took an Internet-enabled device with me to find out.
* this resort has been rated the best resort near Playa Del Carmen for families and I agree – so much for kids and families to do!
NOT SO GOOD
* We had asked for adjoining rooms with my parents three times (when they booked then a month out by e-mail and then a week out by e-mail) but still ended up in separate (but nearby) buildings. Not the end of the world and we got upgraded to Standard Deluxe which gave us a giant jetted tub in our room that I don’t think we would’ve had otherwise.
* There were some very minor issues with the room – the switch for the bathroom light/fan had to be held for a couple seconds before it would flip on, the fan stopped rotating once but we were able to get it going again by giving it a “jump start”, one corner of our bed had a piece of plastic cover loose and sticking out that could’ve scratched the leg of someone walking by. (Unlike many reviewers, we understood why – and appreciated – that we might end up with geckos in our room!) 😉
* The various soft ice cream machines, both in restaurants and outdoors, were often out which was disappointing.
* All resorts divide you in certain ways – adults-only sections, Elite/Gold/Privilege member, Regular/Standard guest – but some do a better job at “hiding” these divisions than others (especially if you’re in the regular category.) I felt like Sandos Caracol made those lines a bit more obvious to us as Standard Guests – our balcony was tiny with hard chairs, no coffee maker in the room, not even a full-length mirror.
TIPS, SUGGESTIONS & OTHER THOUGHTS
* You can change money at the front desk. (Side note: I never knew this before but my local branch had small amounts of various currencies including pesos that I could walk in and buy without having to go to our main branch or order them in advance.)
* They give you pool cards but aren’t too concerned (we were able to get additional towels from an unstaffed room in the waterpark without giving our pool cards)
* I liked that they used plastic, reusable cups at pretty much every bar. We’ve been to other resorts where they give everyone, even small children, real glasses at certain bars and it always made me nervous these would get dropped or broken
* they have lots of bacon on the buffets! 😉
* Take a decent-sized stroller if you have a little one. We were going to take a small umbrella stroller but were happy we took a bigger one that had storage underneath, a zippered pocket and drink holders plus lots of places to hang our towels, Bubba Cups, snorkel masks and so on.
* I like that they partner with Pack For A Purpose and have bins where you can leave any gifts or donations. At other resorts, it’s often unclear about the best way to ensure any gifts or donations you take end up in the right hands.
* We read lots about aggressive timeshare approaches but didn’t have this ourselves at check-in – just a phone call later in the week about a “free gift” which was likely a pitch to buy a membership or something and which we ignored.
* I’m pretty sure they said guests can take out hobie cats by themselves but it’s $30 USD for a guide, something that’s always been included for free at any other resort we’ve visited.
* It was a great idea to have various concert videos playing before the theatre shows started (Katy Perry, Santana, U2) but perhaps turn down the volume a bit so this is more of a background effect and people can still visit before the main show starts?
* We had really great service from all staff but I have to specifically mention Jesus on the romantic river ride and Moses when was our guide for the Jade River swim and let us slide into a Cenote Swim even though we hadn’t pre-registered. He was incredibly good with both my daughter and son in each respective activity.
* We went to four a la cartes and would rate them like this:
1) Mediterranean (great view, especially if you show up early)
2) Steak House (best meal – slightly confusing as it’s in the Royal Elite area so we weren’t sure if we could go or not at first)
3) Japanese – we’ve been to a few in other resorts and in our home city and this was the best show we’ve seen. So much food too!
4) Vegan – wanted to try it as something very different from what we’d normally try. It was okay but not as good as we hoped. (But going back to my original point – most resorts have the same mix of a la cartes but how many even have a Vegetarian – well, actually it was even Vegan! – restaurant?)
AND ONE LAST SUGGESTION
* I understand why they don’t have a full bar at the waterpark – both because they don’t want the water filled with spilled sticky drinks and/or parents getting drunk. But it’d be nice to at least have cerveza on tap to enjoy while sitting in the sun watching the kids.
(And one last photo of a couple of monkeys…)