The setting is natural for meeting in Pacific style
With hotels in nearly every major U.S. city, why would you bring a meeting to Mexico? You could stay home and host a meeting in your backyard, but when you meet in Mexico, you can take advantage of so much in addition to its first-rate meeting venues.
Some say they come to Mexico for the weather. Others say the culture and cuisine. But one thing that most people say is the exotic setting and dazzling landscapes. The West Coast of Mexico is endowed with the bountiful beauty of its glittering blue Pacific Ocean. “The natural beauty of the Pacific Coast is enormous and it is very different than that of the Caribbean,” says Eduardo Chaillo, CMP, CMM, executive director of the meetings industry for the Mexico Tourism Board.
Each meetings destination along the coast from, Los Cabos to Acapulco, takes advantage of nature’s gift and its magnificent sunsets, powdery beaches, water activities and accompanying flora and fauna. Whale watching is a major attraction from November to March, and the area is home to a UNESCO whale sanctuary. But you can also see seals, sea lions, sea turtles, dolphins, manta rays and vibrant aquatic ecosystems.
In addition to the ocean, the Pacific Coast boasts a wealth of other inviting areas—Mexico has many UNESCO World Heritage sites, protected sanctuaries and eco-parks, and there are more under development, Chaillo adds. From lush jungles and lagoons to mystical rock formations, visitors have opportunities to experience Mexico’s environment in a variety of ways. Natural tourism is a trend that is only getting bigger and may interest your attendees. According to The International Ecotourism Society, nature tourism generates 7% of all international travel expenditure and is increasing at an annual rate of 10–30%.
For these reasons and others, the Pacific Coast has long been a popular destination for American vacations, but now well-frequented locales such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán and Los Cabos are targeting meetings business more than ever. Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán recently debuted new convention centers and Los Cabos has one in the works. “Every destination has decided to go after the meetings business. They were very well known for the leisure side, so they already have the name recognition,” Chaillo says. In addition to convention centers, the region has hosted many meetings-industry events to boost its image as a meeting destination in the eyes of planners.
Bring your group to Mexico’s Pacific Coast, where nature and meetings collide. The following is an overview of some of the Pacific Coast’s top destinations that have successfully melded meeting spaces and amenities with an abundance of natural assets. Go ahead—once the business is done, get in touch with your wild side.
Event set-up at the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort
In the state of Baja California, the region of Los Cabos has an unusual natural setting: cacti-studded desert front the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, which allows for both ocean and desert explorations. The cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo make up the destination that is known as Los Cabos. San Lucas is known for its youthful vibe, nightlife and bar scene set along the marina, while San Jose is the historic center of the area centered around the large traditional plaza.
Arguably the area’s best-known feature is the much-photographed sea arch, a natural rock formation at Land’s End—where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean at the tip of the Baja peninsula. (Insider’s note: Look out for a rock that looks like a map of Baja California on the boat ride to the arch.) The arch is surrounded by a series of beaches including the tiny, yet famous Lover’s Beach and some hot spots for snorkeling.
On the road to La Paz, Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park offers perhaps the best snorkeling in the area and is home to the only living coral reef in the state. The natural reserve was dubbed by Jacques Cousteau as the “aquarium of the world,” and is home to a raucous sea lion colony, manta rays, exotic fish, turtles and pristine beaches. Cabo Pulmo Sport Center is right on the water and takes groups out on snorkeling and sightseeing tours. The company is very respectful of the surroundings and enforces the regulations of the area to ensure that eco-systems are not negatively impacted.
Terramar is one of the best DMCs in the area and often works with American meetings and incentives. The company can take your group to Land’s End, Todos Santos, Cabo Pulmo and other natural areas. Terramar also emphasizes sustainability and corporate social responsibility, partners with local charities and can organize an outreach program for your group.
Major Meeting Venues
Los Cabos has more than 12,000 hotel rooms and is projected to open a new convention center next summer in San Jose. “It is the only thing they are missing,” Chaillo says. The area has several standout name-brand hotels, many of which are concentrated along the hotel corridor that connects San Lucas and San Jose. Top venues in the area include the 375-room Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort, the 249-room Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort and the 237-room Marquis Los Cabos.
Once you step onto the grounds of the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort, you feel like you are in Mexico. Its colorful colonial-style architecture, open-air buildings and fountains give you a real sense of place in the hotel zone. The waterfront property has 270 guest rooms, a fitness center, a spa and more than 18,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Its sister property down the road, The Westin Resort & Spa, Los Cabos, was inspired by the Los Cabos arch and built into the surrounding cliffs. The hotel is currently renovating its 243 guest rooms and award-winning spa, and offers 11,900 sq. ft. of meeting space. For groups that want to be in the heart of Cabo San Lucas, the Wyndham Cabo San Lucas Resort features Santa Fe, N.M.-style architecture, 286 newly renovated rooms and more than 6,200 sq. ft. of meeting space.
There are also some new hotels in Los Cabos. The first phase of the Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa Cabo San Lucas opened in May and features 119 suites, two oceanfront restaurants and meeting space for up to 250. Newer venues in the area include the 547-suite Barceló Los Cabos Palace Deluxe, which has a convention center with more than 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and the luxurious Capella Pedregal, featuring 44 rooms with plunge pools and event space for up to 80.
Todos Santos is a well-known day-trip option for visitors to Los Cabos. During the hour drive to town—depending on the road conditions—you will pass miles of unspoiled beaches and many popular surfing spots. Once you arrive in the friendly village, you will quickly see the wares on display at shops and art galleries that have given this town its reputation for arts, crafts and pottery. If you want to stay the night, the 11-room Hotel California is a Todos Santos icon in the heart of town. A few blocks away, La Casita Tapas and Wine Bar is one of the hottest restaurants in the area and serves the contemporary cuisine of Chef/Owner Sergio Rivera. Groups of up to 40 can dine on locally sourced cuisine with an international edge.
To the North of Cabo along the Sea of Cortez, La Paz is an emerging tourist and meetings destination, as well as the capital of Baja California. The town has a relaxed vibe coupled with authentic Mexican architecture and offers many cultural activities and natural attractions, including a cactus sanctuary, the Sea of Cortez, Espiritu Santo and other islands.
Last year, the Mexico Tourism Board worked with the hospitality industry to launch a shuttle from La Paz to Los Cabos to increase accessibility. The shuttle departs twice daily from Los Cabos Airport for the three-hour ride up to La Paz. For meetings, the Five-Star CostaBaja Resort and Spa offers 150 guest rooms, a new spa—the first spa in La Paz—a new steakhouse, a 2,477-square-foot ballroom and a 250-slip double-basin marina.
The tented lounge at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita
Called the Pearl of the Pacific, Mazatlán is located on the Mexican mainland parallel to Los Cabos. The city enchants visitors with its historic colonial charm and Pacific Ocean setting. Old Mazatlán, the original section of the city, is a main attraction; the colonial area has a contemporary vibrancy with its lively arts scene and art walks on the first Friday of every month.
The coastline gives way to many water activities, from sailing to turtle-release programs. A popular excursion for nature lovers is Deer Island—part of the UNESCO designated preserve that extends into the Sea of Cortez. Here you can kayak, bird watch or tour the island’s ecosystem with a guide. Mazatlán Tours offers the Deer Island tour as well as other eco-tours including whale watching.
Stone Island is another popular site to experience nature up close. Coconuts, mangos and peanuts are grown on the six-mile-long island, which is also home to many marine bird species, parrots, toucans, white-tail deer and goats.
Major Meeting Venues
The city is now better suited to host groups with the recent opening of the $61-million Mazatlán International Center. The SMG-managed center has 17 meeting rooms, Wi-Fi and a business center, and can host indoor events for up to 3,876 guests. The center also commissioned a striking mural depicting the Sea of Cortez, so you can connect with nature even while getting down to business.
Many of the hotels are located in the Zona Dorada, or “golden zone.” A meetings-friendly property in the zone, El Cid Castilla Beach features 393 guest rooms, more than 10,000 sq. ft. of function space, 13 meeting rooms, a beach and water sports. The brand also has three additional meetings-friendly hotels throughout the city.
Located on nearby Playa Las Brujas, Hotel Riu Emerald Bay is a large, all-inclusive resort that features 716 guest rooms, a complimentary gym and sauna and a 5,164-square-foot ballroom.
Set on 20 acres overlooking the Pacific and a short drive from the Golden Zone, Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa has 345 suites with inviting coastal décor, 7,000 sq. ft. of function space and a spa, and employs green initiatives such as a composting center. New to the area, the oceanfront Las Villas Hotel & Spa is located at Estrella del Mar resort. It was inspired by traditional colonial Mexican design and offers 71 guest rooms, a business center and high-tech meeting space for up to 150 attendees.
Puerto Vallarta is a longtime favorite among American visitors for its timeless beauty, extensive activities, first-rate hotels and welcoming feel. It has received countless accolades from Best Mexican Vacation Destination to Safest City in Mexico. Puerto Vallarta’s charming Old Town is a must-see with its traditional buildings, arts and fine dining.
Set against the Bay of Banderas to one side and the Sierra Madre Mountains to the other, P.V. is situated at the same latitude as Hawaii, which means it has a warm, sunny climate all year long. The Bay of Banderas—one of the world’s largest bays—has over 40 miles of shoreline along its horseshoe-shaped circumference.
Because of its tropical setting, P.V. offers countless options for ecological explorations. Snorkeling, jungle tours and jeep safaris give attendees a wonderful way to connect with each other and the local habitats. You can also dive alongside massive yet gentle manta rays or swim with dolphins.
Vallarta Adventures is a noteworthy DMC specializing in the group market and participates in many programs that focus on conservation. You can sail out to Marietas Island, a UNESCO protected nature preserve, which is home to 90 bird species and more than 100 types of fish. Groups can also opt to participate in zipline canopy tours, jungle tours and swimming with sea lions.
Major Meeting Venues
Now more than a year old, the new, 161,500-square-foot Puerto Vallarta International Convention Center is the spot for conventions. A much needed addition to the area, the convention center project cost 560 million pesos (about $47 million) and offers 53,820 sq. ft. of exhibit space, three meeting rooms, a business center and a 645-car parking lot.
The city has more than 15,000 hotel rooms and properties that can accommodate larger groups in house. The all-inclusive Velas Vallarta Suite Resort & Convention Center Hotel is set along the bay and offers 345 guest rooms, 16,000 sq. ft. of function space, a spa and many on-site activities. The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta is located near the marina and has 280 guest rooms and 5,872 sq. ft. of meeting space. CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa is another centrally located group option, which features 404 guest rooms, 29 suites, 13 meeting rooms, a fitness center and a spa.
Near but slightly removed from the bustle of downtown, the Sheraton Buganvilias Resort & Convention Center has 477 guest rooms, 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, two swim-up bars, a spa and a fitness center. The 305-room Dreams Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa and the 316-room Barceló Puerto Vallarta are ideal options for smaller functions with several meeting rooms and dedicated meeting personnel.
Just north of Puerto Vallarta, this up-and-coming destination offers 192 miles of coastline, many new posh properties and the beauty of the bordering Sierra Madre Mountains. Dubbed Mexico’s Pacific Treasure, Riviera Nayarit is giving its coastal neighbors a run for their money.
The region is home to tropical jungles that can be explored on foot, on horseback or by mountain bike. The Sierra de Vallejo State Biosphere Reserve is one such forest in a tropical mountain range that is home to jaguars, wild boars and parrots. The San Juan State Biosphere Reserve sits on the base of the San Juan volcanic field and has many fragrant forests teeming with wildlife. La Tovara National Park in San Blas is another important site with a high concentration of migratory and endemic birds, as well as a crocodile reserve and mangroves; check out Banderas Bay Tours & Travel for tour options.
Sea turtles are also a major attraction in the area—so much so that four species of the cute critters are protected and they are the official mascot of the region. Wildlife Connection offers turtle tours to the protected Turtle Camp as well as a host of other eco-tours in the region.
Major Meeting Venues
While the sprawling region offers countless natural attractions throughout, the majority of the hotels are concentrated in the cities of Nuevo Vallarta, Flamingos and Punta de Mita. The area is projected to greatly increase its hotel capacity in the future, with many new hotel brands scouting the area for sites, Chaillo says. A handful of hotel projects are expected to open in the next few years, including a Ritz-Carlton and Park Hyatt.
Marival Resort & Suites Nuevo Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit is one of the largest venues in the area. The Five-Star, all-inclusive beachfront property has 495 guest rooms, an on-site convention center with 9,500 sq. ft. of dedicated meeting space and ample outdoor function space, which includes garden and beach settings.
Also in Nuevo Vallarta, the Four-Diamond Dreams Villamagna Nuevo Vallarta has 229 guest rooms, 6,652 sq. ft. of dedicated meeting space, several swimming pools and a full-service spa. The Five-Diamond Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit is an all-inclusive resort and provides 267 suites, five restaurants, a 20-room spa, a fitness center and 25,321 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Punta de Mita also has top meeting venues including two luxury hotels. The Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita has 173 guest rooms done in the style of chic Mexican beach houses, 3,718 sq. ft. of meeting space and many on-site activities such as horseback riding, tennis, sailing and hiking. The Five-Diamond St. Regis Punta Mita Resort has 120 guest rooms, a Remède Spa, two Jack Nicklaus Signature golf courses and a handful of meeting rooms including a 2,657-square-foot ballroom.
Outdoor event at Meliá Azul Ixtap
Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo (pronounced eeks-TAH-pa and zee-wah-tah-NEH-ho, respectively), are twin destinations north of Acapulco. Ixtapa, purpose built as a resort, is the more posh of the two with a high-end marina, two golf courses and luxurious hotels. Not to be eclipsed by Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo started out as a traditional fishing village, an ancestry that still adds charm and bona-fide Mexican flair to the town today. Both destinations offer gorgeous beaches, a tantalizing culinary scene and colorful arts and crafts.
The area has many gifts from Mother Nature that visitors can explore with an emphasis on conservation and education. One buzz-worthy post-meeting jaunt is a bike trail that starts at Marina Ixtapa and takes you through the Aztlán Ecological Park, a reserve with crocodiles, iguana, heron and other exotic birds, until it reaches Playa Linda. Playa Linda is a known spot for observing local animals, especially crocodiles.
Roughly 35 minutes south of Zihuatanejo, Barra de Potosí is a small beachside village with a handful of restaurants that is known for its Playa Larga, wildlife sanctuary and expansive saltwater lagoon. It is an important jumping-off point for eco-tourism in the area and other activities such as hiking, horseback riding and boating. Just north of the village, El Refugio de Potosí is a private, nonprofit ecological park in the coastal tropical dry forest. The two-year-old park is committed to promoting conservation and is replete with native species. It also offers an observation tower with panoramic views and butterfly and iguana observatories. Park Bio La Escollera is another conservation-focused site, which has a botanical garden, a wildlife reserve and an insectarium—only for the brave, with tarantulas, snakes, scorpions and other creeping, slithering inhabitants. A new eco-park is under development in Playa Larga, and once it is completed visitors will be able to enjoy the mangroves and the natural inhabitants.
Sunnyside is a full-service DMC that caters to meetings, conventions and incentives and can organize dolphin excursions, sunset cruises and horseback-riding, canopy and bird-watching tours, as well as ground transportation and A/V equipment.
The area has more than 6,000 hotel rooms in properties of all styles and sizes. Located right on the beach, the all-inclusive Barceló Ixtapa Beach is well-suited for meetings with a dedicated conference center with meeting space for up to 400. Tesoro Ixtapa is another elegant, beachfront venue with 203 guest rooms and one meeting room. Other options in the area include the Las Brisas Ixtapa, Casa Sun & Moon and Meliá Azul Ixtapa.
Opening in this fall, the waterfront Sunscape Dorado Pacifico Ixtapa will have eight restaurants, more than 9,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 285 guest rooms including 20 oceanfront suites.
Scuba diving in Acapulco
Acapulco was once the vacation hot spot for the Hollywood elite, and today the city is rebuilding the glamour of the past. “Acapulco is the tourist destination that started everything in Mexico. The people, the attractions, the ecological highlights, the service and the whole essence of Acapulco Bay mixed with new developments and traditional tourist destinations set us apart. You don’t see it in any other part of Mexico,” says Daniel Martinez, meetings and incentives director for the Acapulco Destination Marketing Office.
Local business owners have started a campaign to boost the image of Acapulco following reported episodes of violence that have plagued the city. Visitors will see signs saying “Habla Bien De Aca,” Spanish for “speak well of Acapulco.” This has been an important mission for the locals. “Acapulqueños are spokespeople for the city, talking about the new attractions and the positive things here. Visitors will go back to their city and say what is really happening in our destination,” Martinez says. “It is a normal season for Acapulco, and we have even seen an increase in visitors.”
Acapulco is almost like two cities set along two different bays. One side of the city, where the downtown, Hotel Zone and majority of the developments are, is built around the larger Acapulco Bay, and the quickly developing Diamante region is located on Punta Diamante and surrounded by the Puerto Marquez Bay. Acapulco also has a few natural lagoons. The Tres Palos Lagoon is one of the largest and closest to the city, and encompasses miles of waterways filled with birds and other wildlife. The mud found on the lagoon floor is used in spa treatments at a few of the local hotels.
Just outside of the city, Paraíso de los Manglares, Spanish for “mangrove paradise,” is a one-of-a-kind natural attraction. The site is an eco-hotel, lagoon, nature preserve and wildlife sanctuary. The facility takes in abused animals, including an alligator that was kept in a Jacuzzi whose nose grew straight up and a tiger that was kept as a pet, and rehabilitates them. Visitors can trek through mangroves, where they can sample termites—to build survivals skills—zipline, see crocodiles upclose, hold a snake and learn about the local creatures.
Not quite wildlife related, but definitely a wild experience, La Quebrada Cliff Divers is Acapulco’s signature event. Many of the professional divers have been leaping off of the towering cliffs for years and perform multiple times a day. The best time to see the show is at night, where a video is projected across the rocks and spotlights are flashed on the jumpers as they scale the cliffs before they plunge into the water below. Manuel Barrera Ramos often works with American groups and can take your team to the lagoons, divers or create a custom tour. (The best way to reach him is at +744-530-7013.)
La Quebrada Cliff Divers
Major Meeting Venues
Located in the heart of downtown Acapulco and within walking distance of many hotels, the Acapulco International Convention Center hosts the city’s many conventions. The center will soon be undergoing renovations, but official details have yet to be released. The Zona Dorada is nearby the convention center and includes dozens of hotels. One fun option in the area, Copacabana Beach Hotel Acapulco offers 430 rooms with views of the Bay, a variety of restaurants and bars and a conference center for up to 800 people. For small events of up to 150, the Hotel Boca Chica Acapulco recalls the Hollywood glamour of its past and just completed a top-to-bottom renovation of the entire hotel, including its 36 guest rooms.
As you drive along the cliff to Acapulco Diamante, you will encounter a few boutique hotel options for groups. The 260-casita Las Brisas Acapulco is one of the area’s most iconic hotels; it is situated high on the cliffs overlooking Acapulco and can accommodate indoor events of up to 280 and outdoor functions of up to 500 people.
There are many developments taking place on the Diamante side of Acapulco and a few new hotels are rumored to be moving into the area. The most massive development in the area, Mundo Imperial is a $420 million combination hotel, resort, convention center and entertainment complex located next to the high-end shopping center, La Isla, which is slated to undergo an expansion. The entertainment venue is now open and has welcomed many top performers, from Santana to Yanni. The convention center is opening this fall with more than 355,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and four exhibit halls. The entire complex is set to come online in 2013 and will feature an 800-room luxury resort, a promenade with six restaurants, and a wellness center and spa featuring traditional Chinese medicine and deluxe spa treatments. “Mundo Imperial is going to be the most important venue in Latin America,” Martinez says.
Down the road, The Fairmont Acapulco Princess is fresh from a $30 million renovation and features 1,011 guest rooms, a convention center, golf courses, beach access, fine dining, five swimming pools and a full-service spa. Alongside the Princess, its sister property, The Fairmont Pierre Marques, has 229 guest rooms, meeting space for up to 500, 36 holes of championship golf, three pools, an exclusive beach, five outdoor tennis courts and water sports. In nearby Punta Diamante, the Banyan Tree Cabo Marques opened last March with 47 villas, one meeting room, a few outdoor event sites, a gym and the Banyan Tree Spa.
- Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) is 30 minutes outside of Cabo San Lucas and 10 minutes from San Jose del Cabo. It receives direct flights from several U.S. cities including San Diego and San Francisco, as well as connections from cities such as L.A. and Phoenix.
- Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR), located 4 miles from downtown, has direct flights from many U.S. cities, such as Chicago, Denver, Houston, Seattle and Los Angeles.
- Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International Airport (ZIH) is 15 minutes from downtown Zihuatanejo and 25 minutes from Ixtapa. It offers service from such North American cities as Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Vancouver, B.C.
- Acapulco International Airport (ACA) is about 25 minutes from downtown. Direct flights are available from Dallas, Houston and Chicago among others, and it is only a short hop from Mexico City.
- Mazatlán International Airport (MZT) is about 25 minutes from Old Town and is served by American, Aeroméxico, Volaris, Continental, United and US Airways.