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The phrase “What’s not to like?” went through my mind when I was invited to attend the inaugural Fiestas Del Mar at Hotel Coral and Marina in Ensenada, on Mexico’s Baja California coast. The event showcased the region’s burgeoning wine country and its Baja Med fusion cuisine, with a special emphasis on ceviche. The fiesta was held outdoors on the grounds of the hotel, adjacent to the marina. I did my best to judge 42 varieties of local wine from Valle de Guadalupe and Valle de Santo Tomas and a score of dishes presented by local chefs, while being serenaded by dueling Mexican cover bands — one channeling the Beatles, the other the Rolling Stones. The hotel was sold out for the event, and Fiestas Del Mar signaled a great direction for Baja California’s tourism suppliers to pursue.
Hotel Coral and Marina is located on the Bay of Todos Santos, an easy drive south along the coast from the San Diego/San Ysidro border crossing. The hotel has 147 ocean view suites and 357 dock slips for vessels up to 110 feet. Amenities and features at the hotel include Bistro & Cava restaurant, a full-service spa, three pools, a children’s playground and ample event space. All rooms have complimentary Wi-Fi access.
On arrival at Hotel Coral and Marina, I was met by Lizette Sanchez Osuna, the director of public relations for Hotel Coral and Marina.
“All rooms have ocean views,” said Osuna. “But since the six-story hotel is shaped like a horseshoe, the rooms ending in either 01 or 30 have the finest views of the Pacific and the marina.”
Osuna explained that the hotel has been open for 16 years and remodeling is currently underway, principally to the hotel’s decor. The hotel will also see the addition of flat-screen televisions to the rooms.
“Our typical guest is age 45 and up,” said Osuna. “60 percent are couples, and 40 percent are families with children. We’re a kid-friendly hotel.”
Osuna noted that many of the hotel’s guests opt for its Vineyard Tour Package. The package begins at $155 and includes one night in an oceanview standard suite, breakfast for two people and a tour of three local vineyards.
Bistro Cava restaurant serves up regional cuisine with an emphasis on local cheeses and wines. The restaurant’s wine cellar has a variety of 130 Mexican wines, all from Baja California. The breakfast buffet had the customary mix of Mexican and American items, along with some unexpected options, including a mole chicken dish, a sushi station and fresh tamarind juice.A nice stroll is the 3.5-mile walk along the marina and boardwalk.
There are also complimentary Zumba and yoga classes, held in the Marina Coral Clubhouse.
Nightly non-package rates average $90 to $130 on weekdays and $150 to $180 on weekends.
One of the sticking points for U.S. visitors in enjoying a self-drive vacation to Baja California is the long wait at the border going back into the U.S.
“Bit by bit, the self-drive market is coming back, although not as quickly as we’d like,” said Osuna.
To address this issue, some regional hoteliers, including Hotel Coral, are offering a Fast Track Program at no extra charge. This pass — which cannot be sold, only presented to guests — allows hotel guests to enter a special lane that speeds them through the border crossing.
On checking out of the Hotel Coral and Marina, I drove to the U.S. border to try the Fast Track pass firsthand. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the line of cars was over 100 deep in each lane. There was so much traffic that even finding a way to get into the line would have been challenging if I didn’t have a Fast Track pass. Without the pass it would have been at least a three-hour wait. Instead, I zipped down the medical line, presented my pass, was waved through and in 15 minutes I was across the border on the U.S. side. The Fast Track pass is a huge perk that should never be passed over by any visitor with plans to drive across the border into the U.S. It eliminates one of the main obstacles to enjoying a brief weekend in Baja California.