Every once in a while, vacationers “discover” a gem. They quickly tell their friends back home about their “find”. On this trip to the Mayan Riviera on Yucatan Peninsula bordering the Caribbean Sea, we discovered the Hope Diamond. The Gran Bahia Principe Coba is a massive resort that delivers 5 star luxury in all aspects: food, accommodation, grounds, entertainment, and a spectacular beach.

We met fellow Canadians from Edmonton, Calgary, Kingston, Ottawa, and Montreal who were unanimous in their view that this is indeed a special holiday resort – one that they were going to share with their friends. During an interview with John Kirwin, the Assistant Food and Beverage Manager, he noted: “Coba has been open for just a year – and we’re already seeing people coming back as repeat visitors.

Repeat trade in the hospitality business is a key indicator that you’re doing things right”.

The company is headquartered in Spain, and they have brought their holiday expertise to a variety of Caribbean destinations. The resort we visited is set up like a village, with over a thousand mini suites spread over an array of three story buildings linked by well illuminated walkways. These are shared by pedestrians and golf cart mini-trains that run every 5 or 10 minutes, picking up guests and whisking them off to the beach, the main lobby, a pool – wherever you want.

Coba, named after the nearby Mayan village and archaeological site of Coba is the most recent addition to the resort, which includes two other sections of similar design. Tulum and Akumal each have approximately 800 rooms. Each resort has its own staff, restaurants, pools, bars, lobbies and lounges; guests are free to use the facilities of the entire resort. While there are administrative divisions of responsibility, as guests you have a seamless run of the entire seaside village.

The climate is temperate – even in November we enjoyed daytime temperatures of approximately 27 – 29 degrees Celsius, and a few degrees cooler in the evening. Short sleeves were as comfortable at 9 pm as they were at 9 am. What little rain we had on two of our seven days came in a period of about 10 – 20 minutes. The weather is so temperate that the major lobby areas – with soaring thatched roofs in the traditional Mayan style – are open.

The walls of the major common areas are sliding glass, allowing them to be open most of the time.

The rooms are large – big enough for a king size bed, a sitting area with a table and chair, a built-in couch, plenty of cupboard and shelving space and a balcony. The ceiling fan provides enough air movement that we rarely used our air conditioner. The bathrooms, completely done in marble, are spacious and equipped with Jacuzzi baths.

While there are wooded areas separating the buildings, we noticed that we hadn’t seen a single mosquito during our stay.

Food is an important part of any holiday, and the quality and quantity offered are outstanding. This is the first resort we have visited that has an entire 20 page glossy magazine in the rooms that provides an overview of the restaurants, their menus, photos and biographies of the chefs, and even some of their recipes. It’s a reflection of the importance placed on the gastronomical aspect of the resort experience. Guests have a vast selection of restaurants and menus. Again, you are free to experience the dining options at the other two resorts. We found a delightful beachside restaurant, Dolce Vita that was open for breakfast and lunch, and was included as one of the A La Carte dining options in the evening. With a view overlooking the pool, with the beach and the Caribbean Sea just beyond, it was like being part of a post card – but the pleasure was very real.

Kukulcan, the main buffet dining room comfortably seats 800 people and has something for just about every taste and diet, including a “healthy” buffet. Each night has a theme, and extra decorations are installed accordingly. Salad bars are huge, as are the dessert buffets. There is a wide selection of fish, poultry (including duck), roasts, Italian, and Mexican cuisine. Children are given special consideration with a Kid’s Corner buffet of their own.

Every thing is set up at kid level – about 3 feet of the ground, and includes hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers and other kid favourites.

Here’s few statistics to give you an idea of the scope of the food and beverage operation. 1250 staff includes 415 chefs, 550 waiters, 135 stewards and 150 bartenders. (These don’t include animation staff, maid service, grounds keepers and front desk personnel.) Each month more than 30 tons of fresh oranges are squeezed to provide fresh orange juice; 432,000 eggs are used for food preparation, breakfast and pastry; along with 25 tons of chicken and 48,000 litres of milk. I also enjoyed a variety of other fresh juices including honey dew and watermelon that were freshly squeezed moments before you drink them – delicious!

We tried four A-La-Carte restaurants, and while they were all excellent, our favourite was Arlequin. Continental cuisine, a lovely setting, and fine service were all part of the experience. Remember when dining out included a dessert cart brought to your table, and waiters preparing flaming Spanish and Irish coffees with panache? You’ll find this service at the Arlequin and other speciality restaurants.

We also dined in Restaurente Mediterraneo, El Pescador (fish and seafood), and Le Gourmet, which also featured fine continental cuisine. Service in all of the restaurants, and indeed throughout the resort is cheerful, friendly and courteous. In all, there are 7 buffet locations, 11 a-la-carte restaurants, four 24 hour snack bars, and 21 bars (no need to be thirsty!).

Four dinners are all part of your all-inclusive package if you purchase the Club Golden option. This is an upgrade that is offered exclusively for Transat Holidays customers, and includes a private lobby with rapid check-in, free internet access (including wireless service if you bring your laptop) free mini-bar in room service, and luxurious cotton robes and slippers. As front desk manager Michaella Holmberg noted during an interview, “We’re already a five star all-inclusive resort – but we thought our guests would appreciate these extra features as part of the Club Golden hotel within a hotel.” You might also be interested in trying an hour of free scuba instruction within the friendly confines of the pool.

While there are seven very large pools within the overall complex, (not including whirlpools) the beach is the focal point for a Caribbean resort. I’d estimate the total beach length at the better part of a mile, and within that space there is a sheltered area that is ideal for children and adults alike – almost like a giant salt water pool. I found that it was pleasant to swim the length of the beach, and then walk back and do a little people watching.

There are kayaks and sailboats available without extra charge, as well as snorkelling equipment if you want to enjoy one of the best examples of sea life in the Caribbean – just a few yards offshore. There are plenty of lounge chairs, and enough beach area that you can be with all the action – or choose a quiet spot a little further down the beach. Ample shade is provided by the permanent thatched beach umbrellas that are located the full length of the beach. The hotel also has bicycles available for an hour at a time, and we found that this was an excellent way to tour the entire three parts of the resort, and to get an idea of its scope. The bike shop also offers various bike tours at moderate rates, which are interesting and not overly stressful.

If you’d like to keep fit, there are three fully equipped gyms with everything you need to tone up. There are also two spas that offer everything from massages and facials to body wraps and other procedures to pamper you.

There is a variety of excellent sightseeing opportunities, including the archaeological sites of Tulum, and Coba (which is an ongoing excavation). You might want to visit Playa Del Carmen for some shopping, and even take a ferry over to Cozumel if you like. The local bus service; called “collectivos” are very clean 15 passenger vans. We tried them on a visit to Tulum, and found that they were fine – as recommended by the local travel representatives. It was just $2 each way to Tulum, about a 20 minute ride from the resort, and a similar amount to Playa Del Carmen. Xel-Ha and Xcaret are also popular destinations. However, with only one week, and the resort as beautiful as it is, we found it difficult to pull ourselves away to do off-site sightseeing. We spoke with several people who were staying for two weeks or more, and we would recommend that you give this serious consideration.

If you go. Gran Bahia Principe is serviced throughout Canada by Transat Holidays, and can be reserved by contacting your travel agent. To visit the resort website, click on www.bahia-principe.com and follow the links. They have some excellent photos and a virtual tour. To visit the Transat Holidays website: www.transatholidays.com Bon Voyage!