This was our third time using the Gran Bahia Principe chain of resorts, mainly because they’re a good value. (Though I must admit I’m ready to try something different next time.) Sian Ka'an is one of four inter-connected resorts in the Mayan Riviera. It's the newest one, and it was designed to be superior to the other three (named Akumal, Coba, and Tulum). As such, it usually costs more. We were lucky to catch it at a good price ($1100 each). If you're choosing between these four, and Sian Ka'an is too expensive, just pick whichever is cheaper out of the other three, because the only difference between Akumal, Coba, and Tulum is location. You can view a map of the complex here: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8158/7224765086_6c5bcd6e94_o.png. Sian Ka’an is located at the centre of the top half of the map. Its only disadvantage is that it’s across the road from the beach, but I found that to be a negligible issue. Transportation (in the form of trolley/golf cart-type things) is frequent and it’s only a ten-minute ride to the beach. I'll go into more detail as to how Sian Ka'an differs from its neighbours below, but one crucial difference is that if you're staying at Sian Ka'an, you have access to all four sections. If you're staying at one of the other three, you only have access to those three, and no access to Sian Ka'an.
Two years ago, we actually stayed at Coba (Sian Ka’an wasn’t fully built back then). You’ll find my review of that one here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g499445-d593981-r55126555-Gran_Bahia_Principe_Coba-Akumal_Yucatan_Peninsula.html. I gave both a four-star rating, but Coba was more of a 3.5, and Sian Ka'an is more of a 4.25.
Thanks to past experience, we were able to dodge tip-seeking luggage helpers at the airport. It's about a 90-minute highway bus ride to the resort. You'll be given a pamphlet, which contains information and a valuable map. You will be given an appointment for a quick and painless orientation session. The one thing I wasn’t happy about was the 3pm check-in. We arrived at the resort in the morning and had to wait for our room.
The rooms at Sian Ka’an are decidedly nicer than the ones across the road. The villas have a less gaudy, more modern look. The bathrooms are elegant and the beds more comfortable. The rooms are spacious, and ours had a small outdoor area (we were on the ground floor). There is a mini-bar, stocked with water, soda, and beer. There is also a coffee maker and a tv. The maid cleaned up every day; we each left her a dollar a day. If you want new towels, put the used ones on the floor. In the minus column, I got some bug bites on my legs at some point. Also, the wi-fi in the room stopped working after four days (it continued to work in the lobby).
The buffet is definitely better quality than it is across the road. The music consists of amusingly lobotomized easy-listening versions of well-known songs (mostly Guns ‘n Roses, for some reason). For the breakfast buffet, I recommend using the "eggs to order" station, where you get fresh eggs/omelettes exactly how you want them. Our package also included dinner every night at the complex's thirteen restaurants (only two of those are on the Sian Ka’an grounds). Other reviews have mentioned this, and it can't be stressed enough: you have to book your dinners at these restaurants ASAP; they fill up fast. There's an area in the lobby called "Guest Services" or something; if you arrive during their opening hours, book the restaurants right then. Sian Ka’an’s asian restaurant (Maiko) was so good we returned twice – spring rolls, chicken teriyaki, and pisang goren (fried banana dessert) were all yummy. I also highly recommend Coba’s asian restaurant, Mikado. The Japanese chef puts on a show as he cooks your delicious food right in front of you. Also excellent were the Brazilian restaurant (named La Gran Tortuga), and the Mexican one (Tequila), both in the Tulum section. At the Brazilian one the waiter comes by the table with skewers of various delicious meats. My favourites were the sirloin beef and the pork tenderloin. At Tequila, a traditional Mexican band goes from table to table to perform. The pork medallions and churros were both very good there. The only bad restaurant experience we had was at Coba’s Italian one, Portofino, where the food quality was cafeteria-level.
The beach is divided in four segments named after each part of the resort. There are varying degrees of rockiness, so I highly recommend getting some water shoes (Google it to know what they look like). If you don't bring any, the Coba segment of the beach (which is the smallest) is ok without them. The water is very clear, and mostly shallow. There are plenty of long chairs with hut-like parasols for shade. Sian Ka’an’s beach is exclusive, which means there’s always a free chair there, but that beach is pretty rocky. Waiters come around to take drink orders, which is not the case at the other beaches. We noticed this year you could get bbq pork on the beach. There are lots of colourful fishes (it’s worth it to bring snorkeling gear to get an underwater view), especially in the quay area, though I was sad to see that a small coral reef we spotted two years ago was mostly dead now. Seaweed washes up on the beach; the staff do their best to rake it off.
OUTSIDE THE RESORT
There are sites you can visit outside the resort featuring various natural or man-made wonders. These include nearby towns, underground caves, golf, snorkelling, and ruins. The last time, we visited the Tulum ruins (see my Coba review for details). This year we decided to check out some cenotes (natural wells formed by the collapse of an overlying limestone crust). You can find my review of Cenote Azul here: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g150805-d153418-r129882152-Cenote_Azul-Yucatan_Peninsula.html. Whatever you do, do NOT take a taxi; you can use the Colectivo transit system for about 10% of the cost – mini-vans that pick you up if you stand at the side of the road.
We weren’t as lucky with the weather this time, even though we went at the same time of year (end of January). There wasn’t much rain, but it was cloudy for about three quarters of our stay, which was a bummer. One mistake I won’t make again was to obsess over the weather forecast for a week before our trip. Each time, the forecast proved to be way off.
*We're not social butterflies, but if group activities are your thing, there are plenty on offer. The pool dj's playlist is slightly less cheesy at Sian Ka’an compared to across the road.
*If, like us, you prefer peace and quiet, ask for a room as far as possible from the main lobby.
*There are gyms and plenty of pools (some with swim-up bars).
*About once a day, a super-loud atv races down walkways to spew insecticide smoke. The low number of insects is nice, but that temporary cloud of thick smoke is a bit disturbing.
*I saw lots of wildlife, which I loved. Iguanas are plentiful. There are also lizards, coatis, crabs, sea urchins, lots of fish, pelicans and other cool birds.
*The staff is eager to please and courteous. Many of them don't know much English, but if that bothers you, maybe you should stay home.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC