When I think of a Mexican all-inclusive I think of boisterous parties, gigantic properties that require a golf cart to navigate and sunburned people wobbling in their flip-flops from too much of the liquid portion of the all-inclusive. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But sometimes you want a quieter place with more of a focus on natural beauty. That’s when you need to check out Villa del Palmar Beach Resort & Spa in Baja, Mexico.
About 45 minutes from the town of Loreto, Villa del Palmar is nestled in Danzante Bay about 300 miles north of Cabo San Lucas. The area has been compared to Cabo 20 years ago before the laid-back fishing village became a celebrity party destination.
Cabo is beautiful and I have great memories of my trips there, including one where our group of women went barhopping. The most amply endowed woman went first, ensuring we bypassed all the lines. That evening included dancing with a bunch of 15-year-old girls celebrating a quinceanera, deflecting advances of septuagenarians and sending my husband a photo of me posing inside a cage. The memories, and photos, I made at Villa del Palmar are much different.
A quiet resort doesn’t = inactive, however. During our stay I downward-dogged with a view of the mountains, hiked on the scenic golf course, dined on fresh Mexican fare (chilaquiles for breakfast!) kayaked in Danzante Bay, explored the cute town of Loreto and saw a superpod of dolphins – one of the most spectacular natural sites I’ve ever seen.
Select from a variety of accommodations at Villa del Palmar
After our 30-minute drive from Loreto International Airport, we were greeted at the resort with a refreshing margarita (first of several to come) and treated to a ritual hand washing, a perfect way to refresh and wash off the airplane juice.
We were given a wristband that was also our room key. I was thrilled – no more lost or demagnetized keys to worry about. I have a talent for losing hotel room keys and once set a record for losing two of them approximately 87 seconds after checking into B Historic Savannah.
My room was more like an apartment, and some guests do stay for weeks at a time. It had a spacious, well-equipped kitchen, large living area and nice-sized bedroom. The bathtub was just steps away from the bed, a bonus if you wanted a view while bathing. I was on the ground floor so closed my curtains when I took a bath. I had a large patio with chairs and a table overlooking the pool.
In addition to the bathroom off the bedroom, I had a full bathroom off the living room as well, making the arrangement great for families who can use the sleeper sofa for their little ones.
The words “Welcome Back Home” were laid out on my bed with small colored rocks. I know they were rocks because on the chance they might be bubble gum I put one gently between my teeth.
Other options for accommodations include deluxe suites, two- and three-bedroom suites, and two-, three-, and four-bedroom penthouses.
One note: Wi-Fi did not work in my room, but there was a wifi lounge a few doors down so I could check email and download my newspaper every day.
Dine well at 5 restaurants with the all-inclusive option
While many guests cart in their own groceries and cook in the kitchens, Villa del Palmar has an all-inclusive option. It includes a breakfast buffet or a la carte at Market Restaurant, lunch at Market or Casa Mia and dinner at Market, Mexican Corner or Casa Mia. Unlimited cocktails (other than premium brands) and specialty drinks are included.
I’ve been to a few all-inclusives where the food was just, well, meh. That’s not the case here where the food was a highlight of our visit.
The breakfast buffet is huge, including some of my favorites like omelets, salmon and cheeses. But what made it extra special, and so tempting to pile my plate multiple times, was the Mexican selections like quesadillas and enchiladas.
The best were the chilaquiles, a traditional Mexican breakfast item. It took every ounce of my willpower not to go back for seconds. Okay, maybe it was thirds.
Another day I had French toast, but not just any French toast. This French toast consisted of huge slices of the best French toast I’d ever had.
The lunch buffet was good as well, although one day I opted to order a la carte and had awesome sea bass served over vegetables. It was so fresh, and a bit of a welcome change from the cheese-laden items I’d been piling on my plate. Another day we enjoyed wood-fired pizza from Casa Mia for lunch.
Dinners included an Italian-themed meal in Mexican Corner, a seafood meal at Market and a fine dining experience at Danzante Bay Restaurant, a steak and seafood restaurant, on our last night. Danzante Bay requires a small additional fee for all-inclusive guests, but is worth it for the surf and turf and grilled options. Our evening ended with flaming drinks and hanging out by the firepits overlooking the beach.
There is a sizable market at Villa del Palmar to pick up food, alcohol and other items you may need during your stay. Be sure look up the exchange rate if you want to know what you are spending.
Explore the Sea of Cortez – the aquarium of the world
We had been warned – wear shoes you can get wet. Our boat would come right up to the resort, but not all the way to the beach as it was too shallow. So we tied up our swimsuit coverups, placed our shoes and bags over our heads, and waded through the clear blue water to the boat, shuffling our feet to dispel any lingering stingrays.
We each found a spot to perch and set off out of the secluded cove through the mountains to open water, taking quick stops to see other beaches only accessible by boat where guests could be dropped off.
Our guide Juan was taking us to find some blue whales in the Loreto Bay National Marine Park in the Sea of Cortez. We were lucky enough to be there during prime whale-watching season, January to April, when the blue whales migrate here.
His patience was rewarded as we spotted a few, but they only raise up slightly out of the water to breathe so we had to focus carefully on the dark surface of the water to catch a glimpse of the giant creatures, the largest animal ever to roam the earth.
You can’t help but be awed by the sight of a creature that can grow to 90 feet – park three buses in a row and then you get an idea of its massive size.
I was thinking we had had our thrill of the day with the blue whale sighting when all of a sudden we noticed hundreds of frenzied dolphins furiously swimming, then realized our boat was surrounded by them – it was a super pod of white chested dolphins in a feeding frenzy.
Our captain Juan estimated there were around 5,000 of them. We were all squealing like little girls, but you wouldn’t have noticed it as the sound of thousands of dolphins splashing through the water is really rather loud. It was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen in my life. I captured a decent short video, despite my long-standing policy of not trying to photograph marine animals.
Loreto Bay National Marine Park has more than 800 species of fish and marine life. I may have only seen a few of those 800 species, but they were the ones I wanted to see. Now I understand why the Sea of Cortez is called the aquarium of the world.
Golf, hike, kayak and play: Other activities at Villa del Palmar
I am not a golfer but I could admire the stunning views from this par 72 golf course when we took a walk one day, not the easiest walk given the elevation changes of the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains.
Reese Jones designed it, calling it one of the best sites for golf in the world. “You’ve got the desert, the dunes, the cliffs, the mountains, the canyons, the valleys, the arroyos. There is nothing comparable to this anywhere in the world,” he said in an interview with Golf Advisor.
Views from the front nine were of the Islands of Loreto and the mountains, while holes on the back nine hang over the Sea of Cortez and Danzante Bay. Eleven of the holes face the ocean.
There are several other hikes guests can take, including a 35-minute trek to a private beach where you’re likely to get a glimpse of a grey whale. Or try the 45-minute Osprey Hike to view the birds’ nests and views of Catalina Island.
Guests are given a list of the week’s scheduled activities at Villa del Palmar. These include dance classes, horseshoes, hiking, bocce ball, Mexican crafts, Mexican bingo and aqua aerobics. Some activities do have a fee, such as the ATV tour and Danzante Island Tour.
Water sports available include kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling and scuba diving. I spent a blissful afternoon paddling around the bay in a kayak. The resort also has tennis courts.
Along with theme nights at Market Restaurant there are shows put on by the staff, which include “Cats” and “The Lion King” complete with full costumes. Other themes include Aztec Night, Dance of the World Night, Taco Night and a Beach Party.
We had dining plans the night of the Beach Party but I wandered down for photos and to check out the setup. Staff members were dressed as pirates, offering leis to the guests. Chairs were set up on the sand and I saw pigs and the largest shish kebabs I’d ever seen (whole peppers!).
Kids are welcome and treated special at Villa del Palmar, with in-room camping kits, kids’ menus and crafts. There’s a Kids Club with trained staff so mom and dad can enjoy a bit of vacation on their own.
Staying fit at Villa del Palmar
I was there during one of the two annual Wellness Weeks at Villa del Palmar, which feature additional activities such as yoga classes, detox sessions and spa treatments. Our mornings started early.
For example, our 7:30 a.m. fitness classes. These worked out well for me – I was on east coast time, I’m an early riser anyway and I could finish a workout early. Although other hotel guests were welcome to join us, only a few did – probably due to the early hour.
The first morning I attended a special fitness session at Sabila Fitness Center with Rebecca Broxterman, a celebrity trainer from Los Angeles. I’ve never wanted to have a personal trainer – just not for me – but if I did it would be someone just like Rebecca. She is sweet, encouraging and knowledgeable about fitness.
We went through three circuits of exercises, interspersed with two laps around the outer perimeter of the fitness center. Fortunately for me, the fitness center was small because I do not run. Like ever.
Rebecca also led some fitness wellness talks, which were way more fun than that sounds and consisted of learning to make healthy cocktails one day and superfood snacks another. We made delicious mint lemonade and oh-so-good superfood bites another day. (See recipe below.)
We also had yoga sessions with Beth Manos, a certified nutritional therapy practitioner and yoga Instructor. The classes were down on the beach in a wooden beach pavilion, the perfect setting for a yoga class as it was private, quiet except for the cries of the seagulls, and had an ocean-and-mountain view. The stretching felt great and Beth had a wonderful, soothing voice.
The fitness center is inside the Sabila Spa and Wellness Center, a beautiful 39,000-square-foot facility with views of the mountains, ocean and golf course from several vistas. In addition to a menu of spa treatments and a salon, the spa has a meditation room available for a guided meditation or to visit on your own.
I showed up for my massage early so I could take advantage of the hydrotherapy circuit. A spa attendant guides you and times you at stations that include a jacuzzi, plunge pool, sauna, steam room and shower. While I’m rarely known for my speed, I may have set a record in the plunge pool. Cold water is not for me. In fact in you ever wanted to torture me, make me run then plunge into cold water. I’ll do whatever you want.
Villa del Palmar has packages available for unlimited golf, spa, fishing or adventure. In addition to the Wellness Weeks, a seven-day Health & Healing package is available year-round.
But a vacation isn’t all about wellness and activity, right? I made it down to the beach a few times and loved that there was always a chair and umbrella waiting for me. There’s a bar on the beach for any refreshments you desire and the views are unsurpassed. Because it’s a bay, the waves are gentle.
The resort has five pools and again, I could always find a lounge chair. I got a bit of reading time in, made much more enjoyable due to the lack of blaring pop music so prevalent in many resorts. How can you relax when the ice cubes in your drink are rattling to the throbbing bass?
Spend a day in Loreto, Mexico
It’s worth carving out an afternoon of a stay here to visit Loreto, a town of around 13,000 located 45 minutes away. Shuttles run regularly from Villa del Palmar for a small fee.
You won’t encounter hordes of tourists in Loreto, a quiet town on Loreto Bay, but you will find small shops, art galleries, a canopied shopping street and affordable food served in small, colorful restaurants. We stopped into one for a margarita, chips and guacamole, a combination that never gets old. I found a pair of leather sandals for just $20.
After a stop in the well-preserved Mission of Our Lady of Loreto, the first mission church in the area founded in 1657, we wandered down to the malecon, a wide walkway along the bay. With wind threatening to blow us straight into the bay, we didn’t linger long.
Getting to Loreto, Mexico
We flew on Alaska Airlines from Los Angeles International Airport, about a two-hour flight.
It’s the only airline that flies directly to Loreto from the United States.
Villa del Palmar is about a 30-minute drive from the airport, along a scenic coast-hugging path with mountain vistas.
Recipe from Wellness Week: Superfood Bites
This recipe is from a class we took from Rebecca Broxterman.
12 ounces dark chocolate (72% or higher cacao)
1 tablespoon spirulina powder
1 tablespoon maca powder
1/3 cup goji berries
1/3 cup cacao nibs
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
Unsweetened coconut flakes
Melt dark chocolate. Slowly stir in spirulina and maca powder. Pour melted chocolate onto parchment paper to make chocolate dollops. Top each dollop with rest of ingredients. Place in fridge to harden.
– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief