I will never go to another all-inclusive resort again. Growing up as a middle-class Canadian, I’ve had the luxury of fleeing the winter family vacations and rowdy friend getaways at all-inclusives, and they’ve definitely not been bad experiences. And, sure – they’re primo convenient. But their excess is mind-boggling, from the wasteful, plentiful buffets (just read “American Wasteland” on food waste) and power-blasted air-con, to over-elaborate interiors (one room I had had a three person jacuzzi in the bathroom….seriously!). Not to mention the culture of Drink! Drink! Drink! Nope, its no longer for me. At least that’s what I resolved after my holiday last week in Tulum, Mexico at the La Zebra Eco resort.
La Zebra is actually not so much a resort as a grouping of beach side cabanas for hire. Sure there’s a helpful concierge that sits behind a cut bamboo desk and a great little restaurant (open to the public but that guests can start a tab at), but its not by any stretch of imagination a packaged deal. And its really nice to know that they use a combo of wind, solar and generator energy, compost all of the restaurant’s food waste in their on-site garden (where they grow herbs used in meals) and also are very local-centric, to the point that they make coconut cream for dishes and drinks from coconuts grown on the premises. This was a highlight for me, as I had my share of fresh coconut juice right from the coconut – but you had to order early in the day because La Zebra only picks a few coconuts a day (I imagine for sustainability reasons) and they sell out fast.
Furthermore, in your cabana, there is no air-conditioning, no television and no telephones. And beyond missing a few amenities, you also need to reconcile that the water they use in the washrooms is river water (salty) and they use septic tanks, so its no flushing toilet paper. Though, the ample sea breeze did not make AC missed even on 30 degree days, and while the salty river water made my hair a bit crunchy, it was hardly a deal-breaker. Plus the rooms are kept VERY clean. The toilet paper thang is a little bit ickier if you’re a germaphobe like me, but if you’ve been to a cottage up North, you know that it takes no time getting used to. The resort also isn’t very well-lit for obvious reasons, so its pretty dark at night – I did find that I wished I brought a flashlight when walking around.
And there are plenty of extras to enjoy that you don’t get at other resorts. First of all you’re right near a gorgeous beach as well as the biosphere – though the rainforest squawking birds can be really annoying in the morning (if you’re a light sleeper, bring ear plugs or do what we did, go to bed early and let them be your natural alarm clock). Secondly, they provide you with ipod speakers upon request (yes there is a power outlet in the cabanas, but using them for hair dryers is not permitted). And, I loved how the beach is lined with at least 20 other eco and yoga resorts, each with their own restaurant and activities, so you didn’t get that all-inclusive stuck on the compound. But we tended to eat at the La Zebra restaurant – partially because we wanted to taste the food for our upcoming wedding there, but also because its convenient. It didn’t hurt that our meals were always made with super fresh ingredients, and that they only use organic agave or hand-pressed sugar cane juice for sweetener.
The downside? Well, its probably more expensive than an all-inclusive. Room rates vary depending on season and the type of room you want (from $130 per night to $400..but the $400 is for a luxury suite that sleeps up to 5 people). And ordering your food a la carte is also more costly, but also deters you from eating more than you need (and is gentler on the ol’ digestive system). But there are also ways to cut costs – you can rent a bicycle and cycle into town where food (at very clean establishments) can get you lunch for $5. Or taking a shared airport shuttle ($35) instead of a private taxi to the resort ($100). Of course, there is also the argument that any travel is bad for the environment and that staycations are the way to go. And I completely agree – but if you’re likely to go on a down south getaway anyway or are hosting a wedding like us with guests from all over the globe, its a not a bad option. And if you aren’t already feeling better knowing you’re vacationing in a more conscious alternative, a good mojito (laced with hand-pressed sugar cane juice) will.