Valentin Imperial Maya

  • 01 of 10

    Valentin Imperial Maya in a Nutshell

    ••• The sprawling main pool at Valentin Imperial Maya. © Jane Borden.

    By Jane Borden

    If this place is, as advertised, “Paradise,” then none of us will have to go to hell—the Valentin Imperial Maya is big enough to fit the sinners and the saints.

    The all-inclusive 540-suite resort for adults only fans out over 136 acres of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the area between Cancun and Tulum where the tourism industry is exploding.

    The Imperial Maya, first in the Valentin chain of hotels to be built outside of Spain, features its parent company’s Hacienda-inspired architecture, but its amenities, activities, and service more closely resemble other local all-inclusives.

    The property’s biggest draw is its natural resource: a half-mile stretch of gorgeous beach, much of which is fit for swimming (the same cannot be said for every resort in the area). So if you go, book one of the oceanfront suites—even if it’s a 10-minute walk from the lobby.

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  • 02 of 10

    Suites at Valentin Imperial Maya

    ••• Junior suite, the standard option at Valentin Imperial Maya. © Jane Borden.

    There are six levels of suites among the 540 at Valentin Imperial Maya. In addition to varying in size and appointment, the rooms overlook either the ocean, a natural lagoon, or a narrow swim-up pool running the length of the building (separate from the central, communal pool). Even the smallest rooms have a couch and table and a big Jacuzzi tub.

    In my Emerald Suite was a full-sized tile hot tub situated between a separate rain shower and windows that looked out onto the ocean. It took forever to fill, but was well worth the wait.

    Satellite TV, wired Internet service, a DVD player, and an iPod dock are standard; Europeans will appreciate the bidet.

    All of the rooms are clean, attractive—neither hyper-stylized nor boring—and comfortable; I found mine to be a welcome escape from the cacophony of the pool area in the back of the property, and the entertainment of the Plaza up front.

    I enjoyed taking the cold cans of local beer from the minibar (unlimited access is part of the all-inclusive...MORE deal) onto my terrace for an afternoon libation overlooking the sea.

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  • 03 of 10

    Dining at Valentin Imperial Maya

    ••• Shrimp entrée at La Hacienda. © Jane Borden.

    The problem with the food at the Valentin Imperial Maya is the scope of its ambition. To woo guests with variety—and, one assumes, feed 1000 people simultaneously—the property offers seven different dinner spots. Unfortunately, during my visit at least, the chefs could not achieve quality across the board.

    If you go, let common sense be your guide: the local fare was good, while recipes from far-flung countries missed the mark. I devoured my guacamole and shrimp fajitas at the Mexican restaurant, La Hacienda, but could only push around my plate the pad Thai and palak paneer at the Indonesian spot, Taman Sari.

    If not wowing, the scallops and filet at the French restaurant, L’Alsace, were at least worth the visit. But the predominantly cream cheese-centered sushi menu at Ginger only led me to wonder, Why would anyone want sushi in the Caribbean?

    I can say that every breakfast and lunch was delicious. However, this may be because, being a buffet, I could choose what looked good, which was...MORE almost exclusively Mexican: fresh juices, homemade salsas, stewed cactus, and local squash with onions and tomatoes were my staples.​

    The hit-and-miss dining experience is especially frustrating because the Valentin Imperial Maya is all-inclusive; guests buy their meals in advance. But for those willing to revisit a handful of dishes, again and again, this might not be a problem.

    Less negotiable is the wine situation: Oenophiles won’t enjoy the house white and red, yet a bottle from the extensive wine list costs extra.

    Drinkers of bottled beer and liquor will fare better, although it is worth noting that often by the end of the night only rail liquors remained (mid-tier brands are the standard; top shelf is available for extra).

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  • 04 of 10

    Destination Weddings at Valentin Imperial Maya

    ••• The only consecrated chapel in the Riviera Maya. © Jane Borden.

    There were two weddings on the property during my stay. While headed to the beach, I caught a glimpse of one ceremony by the waves, secluded at the far end of the property.

    Fabric-covered folding chairs sat about 30 guests facing an arch made of greenery, while a musician plucked, and a photographer and videographer stood sentinel. Later, I accidentally wandered through the couple’s reception—thinking I’d found that night’s live entertainment in the Plaza. A small dance floor had been set up in the Valentin’s expansive entryway; a band played standards for revelers.

    A couple of days later, I spied another bride and groom taking photographs at dusk in the empty Plaza; I never ran into their celebration (lucky for them), but heard the ceremony had also been on the beach.

    Other options for the exchanging of vows include a non-denominational minimalist gazebo (which might otherwise double as a post-ceremony cocktail area) or in the Riviera Maya’s only consecrated chapel, an open-air structure...MORE that gets beautiful natural light during the day.​

    The Valentin offers several wedding packages; most include a judge or minister, a cake, and champagne, a bouquet and boutonniere, along with various upgrades and discounts.

    If you want to go the whole hog, they can also provide a photographer and seated dinner. The upsides: the grounds are beautiful; your ceremony would be accented by local flora, and perhaps a lizard would be one of your witnesses.

    The down side: strangers might accidentally wander through your reception (another guest, who’d arrived that night, said he felt awkward traipsing through with his bags). Also, as mentioned before, I’d recommend that oenophiles oversee the beverage selection and be prepared to spend more.

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  • 05 of 10

    Honeymoon and Romance Packages at Valentin Imperial Maya

    ••• The Emerald Suite's private hot tub with a view. © Jane Borden.

    If you've just spent the last six months of your life planning a wedding, you might find the play-by-ear attitude of an all-inclusive honeymoon attractive. In fact, thanks to the no-reservations policy at the Valentin's restaurants (beepers are distributed if there's a wait), you won't even need to plan dinner. My favorite aspect of the vacation was that I once went 24 hours without looking at a clock.

    What you can't escape, however, are your fellow guests. And the Valentin wants it that way; they encourage mingling by the pool, in the plaza, and at the property's various bars. Gregarious couples will enjoy the social atmosphere. But for those seeking solitude, Valentin Imperial Maya will pose a bit of a challenge. There are definitely romantic escapes—lounging in the oversized in-room hot tub, looking for shells by crashing waves, strolling the beautifully landscaped grounds in the afternoon, drinking a sunset cocktail on your terrace—but you'll have to be...MORE the ones to seek them out.

    Regardless of how you aim to spend your time there, the resort offers perks to honeymooners, such as a fruit basket, a dinner for two on the beach and a 10 percent discount on spa services.

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  • 06 of 10

    Activities at Valentin Imperial Maya

    ••• Guests play volleyball on Valentin's beach. © Jane Borden.

    If you let them, the staff at Valentin will fill every second of your stay with games, sports, and entertainment. A bulletin board near the lobby lists each day's schedule (a copy is also delivered to the room): yoga, dance lessons, water polo, Texas hold 'em, rifle shooting, cocktail classes, and something called "crazy game," by the pool, the aim of which is to thrust a ball-on-a-string through a basket tied to the waist.

    Rigorous activities also abound. The beachside volleyball court was gleefully occupied at all times. Guests can play tennis, hit the fitness center, snorkel, kayak, and sign up for diving expeditions (for an extra cost); an 18-hole golf course is five minutes away. Alternately, the full-service spa with sauna and steam rooms offers a respite from the action.

    When the sun sets, the entertainment begins. Live music—mariachi, for example, or top 40 covers—fills the communal plaza each night, while purveyors sell local handicrafts in a makeshift...MORE traditional market surrounding it.

    After dinner, the theater puts up circuses and live shows, such as homages to Grease and Mamma Mia.

    Night owls can catch a shuttle to the Vegas-show-style party spot Coco Bongo; due to a partnership, its flyers paper the resort and its promoters run the poolside games. For fans of the spectacle (think Madonna impersonators and confetti guns), Coco Bongo will not disappoint.

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  • 07 of 10

    Nearby Valentin Imperial Maya

    ••• © Jane Borden.

    The resort is located between Cancun to the north and Tulum to the south, so nightlife seekers will be about 30 minutes away from the former’s parties and about 90 minutes away from the latter’s ancient ruins.

    The most impressive ruins in the area are the Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza; getting there and back will take about six hours, but early rising culture seekers might find that to be a fair trade-off in order to experience a Mexico beyond Valentin’s colonized gates.

    Less of a time commitmen is a trip to Tulum. The ruins are not as preserved and no longer as extensive, but the beach at the site is open to the public, so you can swim in the same spot that the Mayans did 1,500 years ago.

    Also within driving distance, are the theme parks of Xcaret and Xel-Ha, which offer museum exhibitions, zoological habitats, and water activities.

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  • 08 of 10

    What Could Be Improved at Valentin Imperial Maya

    ••• Lagoon-view suites, with a private swim-up pool. © Jane Borden.

    Valentin Imperial Maya’s size is both its biggest asset and hurdle; the resort wants its guests to do and eat different things each day, but in so doing it’s created an enormous amount of upkeep: the light bulb on the terrace was burned out, the toilet wouldn’t flush, the glasses ran out on the buffet line, day-old room-service leftovers were still in the halls.

    Maintaining the sprawling property is an enormous staff—all of them were cheerful, helpful, and capable—but it’s impossible in such an environment to keep things from falling through the cracks.

    Also, I wish I could have taken care of gratuity at the beginning or end of my trip, rather than keeping a wad of one dollar bills in my pocket or beach bag at all times; one of the draws of an all-inclusive is the removal of money and transactions from daily life.

    But the biggest improvement to be made is in the kitchens. The restaurants would be wise to focus on what they do well, rather than aiming to do everything. But, as I said...MORE before, if you let common sense be your guide, you should be able to keep your palate happy.

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  • 09 of 10

    Is Valentin Imperial Maya Right for You?

    ••• The Valentin's manicured grounds. © Jane Borden.

    If you're one of those couples that have trouble going from 60 to 0 on a getaway—or never slows down at all—Valentin can provide you with constant stimulation. There are music and games by the pool, lively conversation at the bars, and friendly hellos at every turn. It’s not a singles’ haven; it’s not Club Med. But neither is it serene. The Valentin is for people who like fun, but not necessarily for those seeking a retreat.

    Rather than authenticity, the Valentin traffics in convenience. You won't need to research an area, navigate its customs or plan an itinerary in advance; Valentin has taken care of everything, allowing you to play your vacation by ear. From the brand names on the sodas and booze to the amplified rock'n'roll by the pool, everything will be familiar.

    This resort is for people who want to take it easy, for those who want to enjoy the beauty of Mexico’s natural resources without the feel of being in a foreign country.

    And for the record, I liked my...MORE 10-minute walk to and from the restaurant area. I did get lost on a few occasions, but that only gave me more time to digest.

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  • 10 of 10

    Where to Find More Information on Valentin Imperial Maya

    ••• The sky and the sea, Valentin's biggest assets. © Jane Borden.

    Valentin Imperial Maya
    Carretera Federal 307 Chetumal
    Puerto Juarez KM 311 500
    Playa del Secreto

    Valentin Imperial Maya Web site

    As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodation and meals for the purpose of reviewing those services. While it has not influenced this review, believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.