The Winnipeg Free Press Great Winter Escape contest wouldn't be the same without including the popular Riviera Maya as one of this year's five fabulous prize packages.
When the contest began eight years ago, readers were asked to name their favourite winter getaway. Hands down, it was Riviera Maya, Mexico, formerly known as the Mayan Riviera.
If a survey was done today, the answer would be the same, according to Ixtapa Travel general manager Corwin Kostenchuk.
"We send more people to Riviera Maya than anywhere else, and every year they build new, bigger, fancier hotels and every year we see more and more direct flights from Winnipeg."
This winter, Transat Holidays is offering flights Fridays and Sundays nonstop from Winnipeg.
So what makes this area such a fan favourite? It could be the miles and miles of beautiful white sand beaches surrounded by tropical jungle. Or it could be the proximity to one of the world's best diving areas. Or maybe a choice of golf courses guaranteed to challenge even the best at the game.
Without a doubt, however, one of the main attractions is the quality of all-inclusive accommodation in an area that stretches more than 100 kilometres south from the city of Cancun, and this year's prize resort is no exception.
The five-star Gran Bahia Principe Coba Royal Golden is part of the 2,500-room Gran Bahia Principe Riviera Maya complex situated on an expansive beach an hour's drive south of the airport. The Coba section has 1,080 junior suites in a collection of low-rise buildings surrounded by manicured grounds and a large swimming pool.
The prize package, courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press, Transat Holidays and Ixtapa Travel, includes return airfare from Winnipeg and seven nights' accommodation at the Gran Bahia Principe Coba Royal Golden, including meals, drinks, activities and entertainment, plus transfers and departure taxes.
Accommodation is in a Royal Golden junior suite with one king or two double beds, whirlpool tub, hair dryer, coffee maker, mini-bar, living area with sofa and balcony or terrace.
The choice of food and drink is overwhelming, with five à la carte restaurants plus the buffet, a swim-up bar, a disco and countless other bars scattered throughout the complex and on the beach.
If you choose this trip as your prize package, you also get the Royal Golden inclusions, exclusive with Transat Holidays. This means in addition to the amenities outlined above, you receive extras like bathrobes and slippers in your room, turn-down service, concierge service, 24-hour room service, VIP room amenities (soaps and lotions), access to the Royal Golden Club House (private lounge), a 20-per-cent spa discount, access to most of the services at the two sister properties and much more.
"The Gran Bahia chain does it up really well," says Kostenchuk. "They are one of the top all-inclusive chains in the world, with hotels in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Everything is big, over the top, with large hotels -- lots of activities, 24-hour food and bar service and great hospitality. You can find someplace quiet to slip away or you can be part of the activity. The animation team goes nonstop."
What's not to like? The Bahia Principe Coba is 42 kilometres from the city of Playa del Carmen, so there's easy access to some great shopping, dining and entertainment. Playa del Carmen boasts the best "Fifth Avenue" south of New York City, with name-brand clothing stores, funky jewelry outlets and a wide variety of bars and restaurants, some with upstairs and outdoor seating that is perfect for people-watching.
This area of Mexico has come a long way. In the early 1990s, Playa del Carmen was a sleepy fishing village and home to a few hippies left over from the 1960s. There was one hotel, a few bars and a couple of hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Unless you were a local, you didn't bother to venture into town after dark.
Today, within a few blocks on Fifth Avenue, you will find Carlos 'n' Charlie's (the Mexican version of Moxie's), Bourbon Street (a New Orleans-style bar), Deseo (complete with rooftop Jacuzzi), Glass Bar (for fine wine) and Fly Bar (for the martini-drinking-after-five crowds).
If shopping, eating and drinking are not enough, you can take the ferry to Cozumel from the dock in Playa del Carmen at a cost of about $10 per person each way. Cozumel is home to some of the best snorkelling in the world, right off the beach in Chankanaab Park.
Gran Bahia Principe Coba is also just 26 kilometres from Tulum, where you will find the oceanfront archeological ruins of Mexico's only walled Mayan city. This ceremonial city is rich in history and is best taken in as part of a tour with a guide to provide information on the Mayan culture. Tulum was inhabited between AD 900 and AD 1540 and used as a centre for trading and worship.
The most popular tour in Riviera Maya is definitely to Chichen Itza, once the capital of the Mayan empire and one of the richest ancient cultures in the world. Built in AD 600, it was an important ceremonial and religious centre. Today, Chichen Itza is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, with its unique architecture using surprisingly advanced building techniques.
For those who aren't history buffs, the ocean awaits with no shortage of tours, from scuba-diving expeditions on the famous Palancar Reef to a catamaran cruise to Isla Mujeres (Isle of Women). There are tours to the many cenotes (underground rivers) in the area and a chance to swim with the dolphins, an incredible experience not to be missed.
For land-lovers, there are jungle tours aboard your own ATV, zip-lining over the rainforest canopy and nature hikes to explore the flora and fauna of this unique area.
Once again, the choices are endless, but you can't win this great adventure unless you enter. Simply fill out the Great Winter Escape ballot on this page and drop it off at the Free Press building, 1355 Mountain Ave., or at Ixtapa Travel, #105-3025 Portage Ave., or mail it to Winnipeg Free Press, P.O. Box 1800, 1355 Mountain Ave., Winnipeg, MB. R3C 3R1.
You can also enter online at www.winnipegfreepress.com/contests (limit one email entry per unique email address per day).
If you're a six-day Free Press home subscriber, you will also win a $200 gift certificate for SpaLifestyle & Fashion Boutique, located at 2001 Henderson Highway. Check them out online at www.spalifestylefashionboutique.ca for a full list of services and treatments.
Gran Bahia Principe Coba Royal Golden
* The resort offers snorkelling, sailing, kayaking, tennis and bicycling, plus a disco and gym included in the package. There are seven swimming pools, plus two pool-side Jacuzzis and for a few dollars extra, there is a deluxe spa, a beauty salon and an internet room.
* There are five à la carte restaurants (international gourmet, seafood, Italian, Mediterranean and Japanese) plus another three à la carte restaurants in the Akumal section of the hotel complex and one in the Tulum section.
* The winner also receives the Transat Holidays Royal Golden extras, which include free golf (cart extra), a mini-bar in the room that is restocked daily, a welcome letter and bottle of tequila, beach towels in the room upon arrival, separate check-in, turn-down service, concierge service, access to the exclusive Royal Golden Club House and much more.
Next Week : Punta Cana, Melia Caribe