How We Chose the Conrad Punta de Mita For a Pandemic Vacation (And Mostly Enjoyed It)

Miscellaneous, Trip Reports

Since this post isn’t about flights, I’m putting it up on a Wednesday. I will have a regular trip report on the flights themselves in the next couple weeks.


The last time I took an actual vacation was 2019, which I believe was about 248 years ago. Late last year, I started dreaming. Southwest had announced Long Beach – Honolulu flights, and I snagged four $99 one way tickets for March using points. Maybe we could go and maybe we couldn’t; the points could always be redeposited. We chose a different path.

In January, Southwest announced it would fly to Maui, so we switched to go there. Sure, the surge was awful, but maybe it would be better by March. As we all know, it was, but Maui saw a lot of rain right before we were going and the forecast for our trip was iffy. If we were going to go somewhere, we wanted to make sure the weather was good, because a week inside with children sounded like punishment.

So, 4 days before the trip, we started looking at other options. How would we design a pandemic vacation from scratch at the last minute?

The idea was to go on a beach vacation, a relaxing spot where we could maintain distance from others. My wife and I had been vaccinated thanks to a late call from a friend saying that they were about to throw some doses out if they couldn’t find arms to put them in. But still, our kids weren’t vaccinated, and we didn’t want to find ourselves in a crowded place anyway.

We decided that it would be best to look at where we could fly nonstop, and that meant Florida or Mexico were our primary options for warm beaches. Florida was out immediately. The lack of even basic masking rules to try and prevent the transmission of COVID makes it a no-go for me. So, we looked to Mexico.

After perusing a variety of hotels in both Cabo and Puerto Vallarta — the places with the most plentiful and affordable air options — we decided Puerto Vallarta was a better spot with better beaches, sunny skies, and temps in the high 70s all week. Originally we were going to stay at the Hyatt Ziva using points, but they wanted too many points for the 4 of us in a room, being an all-inclusive. We thought about the Sunscape which is also an all-inclusive and had a dirt cheap travel agent rate of under $1,000 for a week, but that made us uneasy. A place like that seemed to thrive on gatherings, and that’s the opposite of what we wanted.

Finally, the Conrad Punta de Mita caught our eye. The property only opened last September with 324 rooms on the Pacific, just past the northern end of the Bay of Banderas. Punta de Mita lies nearly an hour west of the Puerto Vallarta airport, and is fairly isolated. I had been there and stayed a couple nights at the St Regis previously, but that was significantly more expensive than the Conrad, at least 50 percent higher. I couldn’t justify that, so we decided to give the Conrad a try.

I initially reached out to the hotel to see about any travel agent rates. In the end, the rate they offered us for a 1 bedroom suite was actually worse than what we could get through their published Sunshine package which included airport transfers and a $200 resort credit. We went with that instead, choosing the suite because the kids would be in school during the week, and we’d need the space.

Booking the flights was easy, and we were set.

So, how was it? The hotel is beautiful. The main tower has only ocean-facing rooms, and it’s flanked by smaller “casas” on each side. We were in Casa 8, along the north side of the resort.

There are three pools, one for kids with a water slide, one for adults, and one for everyone with a great infinity edge overlooking the Pacific.

There were several restaurants, but with demand down, the opening hours were odd. The only lunch spot was Paleta, located at the pool area. Mezquite was beachfront and open for dinner. Meanwhile, Árbol in the main building was there for breakfast and dinner. We ate at them all and found the food to be mostly quite good. My wife was a big fan of the baja shrimp tacos at Mezquite. The poke at Paleta was delicious. And though we didn’t eat breakfast much, we found it hit the spot on the couple days we did.

The room was big with giant TVs in both the living and sleeping areas. There was a large bathroom with a nice view of the mountains as well, but I cared about none of that, really. Most importantly in my mind, there was a huge patio overlooking the grounds and the ocean where I could spend plenty of time with a book and whisky.

There was also a plunge pool on the patio, which I despised. I just don’t understand the point of them. They aren’t hot tubs, but they aren’t big enough for swimming. Who wants that? I hated this one even more simply because it made a loud gurgling sound that drowned out the waves. We learned we could call the front desk to have it shut off, or least, one person said they could do that while another said they didn’t know anything about it when we tried a day or two later again after it mysteriously turned itself back on. When it was off, the sound of the waves was just about perfect.

This was a great way to spend a week. With occupancy ranging between 10 and 30 percent, the place was empty, and we only left to eat in restaurants outdoors a couple times along with one other time to go ride horses. The view below is from the Litibu Grill just up the beach.

It was an ideal setting for a vacation, but that’s not to say it was perfect. This wouldn’t be a worthwhile review if I didn’t also talk about the bad.

Unfortunately, the hotel seems to have yet to figure out how to actually run operationally. I can list all sorts of weird and annoying issues, so skip the bullets if you aren’t interested in that, but here we go….

  • I checked in on the app and picked my room, but it said I had to stop by the front desk to get a digital key after erroring out. At the desk, they had us checking in right next to another family despite several other empty desks, and it took quite some time to get through the process. I’m not sure why they have the app as an option at all.
  • The key to happy children is to have plentiful chicken fingers, pizza, and hamburgers… especially picky children like ours. Yet somehow with the low occupancy, they ran out of cheese for an entire day. I would love to get my kids to be more adventurous, but all efforst have failed. With very little else around, it’s important to have kid essentials well-stocked.
  • With the restaurants open on a reduced schedule, we would have hoped that in-room dining would be able to deliver the same food that was available in the restaurants, especially during COVID. That wasn’t offered, so we found ourselves walking to the different restaurants to order food for pickup, again increasing interactions with staff when it seemed entirely unnecessary.
  • The hotel wanted to encourage distancing by allowing people to opt out of housekeeping. We wanted housekeeping, and we asked for it to be after 1pm because the kids were in school before that. Housekeeping came early on at least a couple of the days. They were apologetic when we asked them to come back later and had no trouble doing so, but why offer travelers the ability to pick their times if you don’t follow through?
  • The housekeepers also did odd things that only forced additional unnecessary interactions. For example, one day they took all the half-used shampoo and conditioner bottles, but they didn’t replace them. We had to call to get more, though really I wish they had just left the ones that weren’t empty in the first place. They also didn’t replace the tea and coffee supply in the room once it was used so we had to call to ask for replenishment to be delivered.
  • The hotel has no filtered water system, and they say they will provide you with up to 4 bottles of water a day, or at least, we think. We had them leave 2 bottles one day, 5 another, and 3 on a different day. Every time we called, they would deliver more, but it was different every time, and we opted not to trust it. We bought a giant jug in a market one of the nights we went to dinner.
  • The navigation paths are not set up well. For us to walk from our room to the lobby, we had to take a path that went out in front of the hotel and in through the front door. We quickly realized that was stupid and started trudging across grass. It always seemed like you had to go out of your way to get where you needed to go.
  • The grass was mostly dead, yet for some reason there seemed to be someone there every day holding a hose and watering said dead grass. I did not understand this.
  • There were multiple days where someone was using a very loud pressure washer on the paths. I can’t really comment on that since I don’t know why they had to do it or if it was necessary at all, but it was just odd… and loud.
  • On one of the “busier” days — 30 percent occupancy — there were no loungers available at the main pool. The adult pool was empty, but we had kids and they wouldn’t open it up for kids to use. Eventually they found us some loungers, but they are going to need to make big changes if that’s how it worked at only 30 percent occupancy.
  • I wanted to use the sauna in the spa, but their COVID protocols said you could only use the facilties if you got a treatment. I didn’t really want a treatment, and that’s probably a good thing since despite having 10 percent occupancy that day, they had no appointments for two full days. I should have suggested they just bring that woman watering the dead lawn in to give me a massage. I never saw the spa and even more shockingly, neither did my wife.
  • There was a little clothing shop that my wife wanted to visit. She went up and they told her it would open at 1. She went up at 1 and they said the woman was on lunch, so it would open later. Eventually it did open, but the hours seemed to be “whenever we want,” because the day after it was open in the morning.
  • When we checked out, the agent gave me the bill and said the kids ate free. I didn’t realize that was a thing, so I looked at the bill in more detail. I went back up to the desk to tell her that I didn’t think kids food was taken off. She looked and said whoops, we didn’t get kids meals for free. Ok then.

I know, I know. It’s a long, whiny list, but I don’t mean it that way. Like I said at the top, we had a great time on this trip. The hotel just doesn’t quite seem ready for primetime, but I suppose that’s to be expected when it has only ever been open during a pandemic.

Running a big hotel with low occupancy is hard. They don’t want to have full staff in order to save cash, and since it opened during the pandemic, they’ve probably never actually had a full staff. The people were remarkably friendly, helpful, and willing to tolerate my efforts to speak in Spanish the whole time. They just didn’t seem to have the tools to do everything the way they probably would have wanted to do it.

Considering all this, would I go back? Probably. With that weather, the beach, and the spacious grounds, it was a great place for a pandemic vacation. People were masking in all the tourist areas, and we never felt unsafe in that sense. It also never felt unsafe on the grounds or in the surrounding areas. Generally I like being closer to a town, so that it feels like you’re actually visiting that place and not just out on a beach that could be anywhere in the world. But if I needed another beach break, the Conrad would be an ideal, affordable luxury option in that spectacular corner of Mexico.

22 comments on “How We Chose the Conrad Punta de Mita For a Pandemic Vacation (And Mostly Enjoyed It)

  1. Enjoyed the review, but you seem to have a lot of misperceptions regarding COVID. For one thing, if you have both vaccinations (plus 2 weeks) your chances of getting COVID are very, very low. And, even if you do, you won’t be very sick. In all but the most extreme cases, kids who contract COVID don’t get very sick at all. The flu is far more hazardous than that. So, why the fear? Secondly, the Florida bashing has to stop. Florida and California have nearly identical historical case and fatality rates and FL (except Dade County) has vastly decreased case numbers right now. Evidence has shown that lockdown versus everything open hasn’t really made any difference as outcomes go. If you want a place to avoid because it’s a COVID hell, look no further than (locked down) Michigan – which is doing worse than almost any other state right now. (https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home)

    Mexico, on the other hand, never locked down anything and has case rates that are higher than Florida. As far as your trip goes, you gambled because you could have been stuck in Mexico had any member or your party tested positive for COVID. Something that wouldn’t be a problem with a domestic trip.

    1. Florida bashing?

      Did you watch 60 Minutes last Sunday or bothered to read all the news coverage over the last few months regarding Florida’s vaccine roll out? Lakewood Ranch & Palm Beach suddenly had doses to give out, but West Palm Beach officials were rebuffed when they requested vaccines.

      It’s now known the family behind the Publix supermarket chain were at first the exclusive vender for the vaccines & that was do to a $100,000 contribution to the governors reelection. Hmmm, that’s not suspicious at all.

      1. Educate yourself, SEAN, before throwing stones. Watch the full clip of Desantis’ explanation of the Publix rollout, and then read the statements from the Palm Beach County Mayor and the state’s emergency management director (both Democrats) calling the 60 Minutes piece “intentionally false” and “bull****.” The narrative may be nice, the the facts don’t fit.

        Also Cranky, and anyone else interested, it’s far past time to stop with the ‘masks stop COVID transmission’ nonsense. Across the country – even in states without mask mandates – self-reported mask usage tops 90% when outside the home since last summer, and state-by-state waves peak and recede unrelated to mask usage. Or, read the ONLY randomized, controlled trial relating to mask usage and COVID that shows no statistical difference in groups that mask and groups that don’t (https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-6817).

        The entire travel industry would do itself an enormous favor if it were honest with its guests about their actual COVID risk – especially in those that are vaccinated – and stop the safety theater and unnecessary fear. I will gladly give my business to those airlines, hotels, and others who are the first to treat me (and others) like educated humans capable of making their own decisions about the risks we wish to take.

        1. cn_road_warrior: Educate yourself warrior – I invite you to consult with the good folks at the Mayo Clinic
          https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-research-confirms-critical-role-of-masks-in-preventing-covid-19-infection/

          We can make the list of actual proven facts quite long. It seems to me that it is a wise precaution to stay safe is not unnecessary fear, it is a good choice. Here is a nice list of effects that most people would like to avoid:

          I would prefer not to have lung damage: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/what-coronavirus-does-to-the-lungs

          I would prefer to not have heart damage: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/heart-damage-seen-in-50-of-people-hospitalized-with-covid-19

          I would prefer not to renal failure coming due to kidney damage: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-kidney-damage-caused-by-covid19

          I would prefer not to have ED: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/yes-covid-19-can-cause-erectile-dysfunction-in-men/

          Since I would not prefer to have these issues and I can avoid them with a mask, I am happy to wear it. For your sake, I hope you will too and not give in to the unnecessary fear of wearing a mask and stop the disinformation theater of politics. Do the right thing, wear a mask and get a vaccinated.

    2. Stogieguy – I’m not sure if you have kids, but for us, putting them in any real danger makes us pause. Even though COVID has little to no impact on children, there have been well documented, serious cases of MIS-C in kids who have had the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It can lead to death.
      https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/children/mis-c.html

      There is not a huge number, but the link between SARS-CoV-2 and MIS-C isn’t well known, and that uncertainty makes it an outsized concern. As for the two of us that are vaccinated, just getting vaccinated doesn’t erase an entire year of fear and concern. Sure, the numbers show that we are likely safe and it is a huge relief, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to feel anxious being in large crowds of people. There is a psychological component to this virus. This was a vacation. The last thing I wanted to do was go somewhere that we’d feel uncomfortable, regardless of the actual risks. That isn’t relaxing.

      As for Florida, I will not let up on Florida. I did not suggest anything about lockdowns in this post. I want a basic mask mandate. I have no interest in arguing this point. That is simply a basic requirement for us. I find great fault in what Florida has done, and I also find fault in what California has done. That’s not the point here.

    3. CF is your typical Covid Californian. While the rest of us enjoyed life, he chose to keep his family home and remained fixated to the Tele watching his Wise One on mainstream media lockdown his state.

      1. David is your typical Covid denier. Not paying attention to the experts in such matters & relying on alternative facts for his world view.

  2. The way this conversation is going, I’m making a big bag of popcorn to sit back and watch.
    Where is Tim Dunn when you need him to throw some hand grenades’ to really stir up the natives?

  3. I am glad they didn’t open up the, “Adults Only Pool”, being two DINKS, had we showed up to use the kid free pool we would have been pretty disappointed!

    Curious to know, why don’t you rent an AirBNB? Looks like there are several in Punta de Mita for $150/night with their own pool? We have started doing AirBNB and bagging the poor customer service hotels and looking forward to our trip to Todas Santos, MX in October. Car rentals are only $20/day so you can go out to eat at authentico restaurants in town and go to a grocery store and make your lunch/breakfasts in the AirBnB.

    Glad you guys had a good time! Got my 2nd shot yesterday and looking forward to travelling again!

    1. Ken – I can understand that. Certainly the better option would be to bring over loungers from the adult pool to another one, but there was literally nobody at the adult pool so that’s why I suggested it as an option. With even one adult there, I wouldn’t suggest it. I know how much it sucks to have screaming kids running around!

      As for Airbnb, we really didn’t want to have to think about meals. We would have had to do a lot more work to figure out food at an Airbnb, and normally I’m all for it. But in this case in a foreign country during a pandemic, we figured the more we could stay self-contained the better. I would definitely do an Airbnb during normal times though.

      1. Glad the kids got to “eat free”, LOL! Seems like many people just look past the bullet points you named. We love getting STR, no need for poor service or pressure washing and watering dead grass.

  4. Thank you, Cranky.

    I used to love to take trips on airliners to places far away, bringing back pictures, absent my face being the be-all,-see-all.

    I was there; I took the picture; I brought it back; Memories forever!

    Now, reading the comments of others taking vacations is my vacation.

    Thanks, Cranky!

  5. I’m not sure why you had the experience you did, because I went with two friends last November after Thanksgiving and had an utterly perfect experience from beginning to end. 100% seamless, great oceanfront upgrade from Diamond status, consistent housekeeping with attention to detail, personalized service at the pool and on the beach. My list of examples of perfect service might be even longer than your list of gripes. Perhaps it’s the family trip vs friends trip dynamic that was different, but I honestly can’t believe this kind of place would exhibit the issues you raised. Conrad Punta de Mita is my favorite beach hotel in Latin America, full stop.

  6. Looks like a nice place. I’m guessing the hotel didn’t overseed the bermudagrass which goes dormant in the winter.

    1. DesertGhost – On the grass, that’s entirely possible. It wasn’t the dead grass that bugged me as much as the person just standing there watering it. That was so strange!

  7. We just booked the Garza Blanca in Cancun for over New Years, and were told all the resorts are only allowed to book at max capacity of 60% through the end of the year. Our rep said that was true in PV also. Don’t know about Cabo.

    1. Phllax – They told us 50%, but maybe it was 60%, not sure. Either way, there is some cap in place, but they weren’t anywhere near it.

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Cranky Flier