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Mexico’s Puerto Aventuras Beach, Marine & Golf Resort development, located a 20-minute drive south of Playa del Carmen, was just a small village in the 1980s, but it had one differentiating feature — a bay large enough for a deep-water marina. By the mid 1990s, just as the region was beginning its tourism boom, Puerto had the Riviera Maya’s only marina, sheltering private yachts and tour boats. Large swaths of grass were carved from the jungle to create the coast’s first golf course, designed by Thomas Lehman in 1991. Fancier championship courses have since opened in the area, but Puerto’s nine-hole, par 36 course is less expensive and just as fun for the casual duffer. Today, Puerto (as the locals call it) has enough distractions to keep your clients happy for at least a week.
Designed with both full-time residents and vacationers in mind, Puerto is now the Riviera Maya’s second largest community, with an international melange of residents in the townhomes and condos that line the golf course and marina. In the tourism area, a small shopping and dining complex includes several restaurants, coffeehouses and other services. Several medium-sized, casual hotels line the bay, offering the kind of laid-back, moderately priced accommodations that have become scarce in the increasingly ritzy Riviera Maya.
Settling InThe first hotel in Puerto remains one of its loveliest, on a small white cove bordered by jungle. With only 30 rooms — all with large balconies spiffed up with hammocks, hot tubs and daybeds — the Omni Puerto Aventuras is so special that it made Conde Nast Traveler’s 2012 Gold List. But it’s not glitzy and glamorous; instead, the rooms and suites are all about comfort and fun. Glass-walled showers face views of the outdoors and ceiling fans stirring sea breezes negate the need for air-conditioning (though it’s available). The five restaurants and bars are rarely crowded and the pool areas have plenty of lounging room. Snorkeling is great right offshore and the on-site dive shop offers tours to nearby reefs.
Though far larger, the 305-unit Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort & Spa also maintains a feel of privacy thanks to its location on a small beach. Like other hotels in the chain, it offers the all-inclusive Unlimited Luxury service with plenty of extras, including Jacuzzis in some rooms and suites, six restaurants and tons of activities.
With 526 rooms and suites, the all-inclusive Catalonia Riviera Maya offers several levels of service, including its recently remodeled Privilege superior rooms with extras including higher-quality furnishings and amenities and a private lounge.
Condo and fractional ownership properties are also available, along with several larger resorts, including the Aventura Spa Palace and Aventura Cove Palace (transitioning to the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya in early 2013), located nearby.
On and In the WaterPuerto’s marina is its main attraction, offering various tours and activities. With one of the outfits, Fat Cat Sailing, snorkelers sunbathe on a Catamaran while sailing to gorgeous reefs full of tropical fish. After guided snorkeling excursions, the crew serves lunch and, in an unusual twist, hooks willing passengers to a large net where they bop along in the water as the boat heads home.
Captain Rick’s Sportfishing takes anglers out to sea in search of sailfish, marlin, dorado and wahoo. Peak season runs March through July, but snapper, grouper and barracuda are abundant year-round.
Puerto Aventuras is located near Akumal, home to Mexico’s earliest dive shops and underwater expeditions. The diving in this area is exceptional, with eels, octopus and turtles visible amid swarms of tropical fish. Aquanauts Dive Shop, located at the marina, offers dive trips to coral reefs and canyons with nearly two dozen great sites within 10 minutes of the marina. They offer certification classes for beginners and dive trips to the many exciting cenotes (underground rivers) in the area.
Dolphins were among the earliest residents of Puerto’s marina as part of the Riviera Maya’s first Dolphin Discovery program, which opened in the mid 1990s. These days, nearly all the program’s dolphins were born in Puerto Aventuras rather than taken from the wild. Clients staying in the area have easy access to the dolphins whether they choose to partake in up-close programs or simply watch them playing in their habitats. Along with various dolphin encounters the center now has four manatees and several rays as well.
Clients interested in marine history should visit the Museo Sub-Acuatico CEDAM, on the second floor of the marina’s shopping area. Exhibits cover the booty collected from the area’s shipwrecks, as well as early dive gear and Maya artifacts from caves and cenotes.
Aquanauts Dive Shopwww.aquanautsdiveshop.com
Fat Cat Sailingwww.fatcatsail.com
Puerto Aventuras Beach, Marine & Golf Resortwww.puertoaventuras.com