Riviera Maya Golf: Iberostar Playa Paraiso

The ninth is the signature hole, a long (455-yd) par-4 with a rocky waste area off the tee and the lobby’s faux Mayan pyramid on the horizon behind the green.

I love the Rivera Maya as a travel destination, and explained why the region is so charming in my last post.

Now it’s time to look at the golf.

Iberostar is a global Spanish chain of higher-end all-inclusive resorts with several properties in Mexico. At this particular location outside Cancun, Playa Paraiso, or Paradise Beach, there are actually four different Iberostar all-inclusives combined into one vast resort, and at each price point you get to use the facilities at your resort and all the ones below you, meaning more dining options, pool facilities and so on. The fanciest is the Paraiso Maya, which opened in 2005 in conjunction with the golf course, and features amenities like an all-suite format, each with complimentary mini-bars, walk-in marble showers and whirlpool baths. Guests choose from a dozen restaurants, 5 bars, several unique pool complexes, a spa, and more. While many all-inclusive resorts miss the mark, this is one I would definitely go back to.

You will also know you are in Mexico: the lobby and several restaurants are housed in an enormous replica Mayan pyramid that manages to come off as impressive when it could so easily be cheesy. The faux-pyramid also becomes a signature view on the golf course, framing the signature ninth hole. The golf is the very best feature of the Iberostar.

A real Mayan pyramid, like this one at nearby Tulum, is one of the chief attractions of the Riviera Maya, a region that offers great golf, great food and great sightseeing.

The course is really good. I give it the edge over the 27-hole Nicklaus designed Moon Palace course nearby, its chief competitor, which I recently wrote up. I had the fortune to tour it at the grand opening years ago with designer PB Dye, son of Pete Dye, and as he demonstrated, the physical work that went into creating the golf course was impressive. Everything was built over a flat and unfriendly field of limestone, requiring an enormous amount of heavy lifting – PB lived over a hundred days on site, something virtually unheard of in an era when top “designers” routinely put their name on course they have spent literally 3 days at.

After returning for a second visit last month, I can safely say the good course has grown up to be very good. Carved through dense jungle, with a lot of habitat left intact for animals, it evokes its tropical setting. There is a lot of movement and contour to the routing, you can rarely see one hole form another, there is a lot of variety to the hole shapes, and in inherited Pete Dye style, numerous tee positions with a lot of relief for the ladies. For example, the sixth a hole is a par-3 that plays over or along a lake, depending where you start, to with a huge, deep green. The runway style tee box is almost 100-yards long, meaning this hole can play form  As a result, the hole can play from as little as 100 to over 200 yards, an enormous range.

The rest of the course is equally interesting, and this is a splendid resort facility. To cap things off, the course, like the resort, is run on an all inclusive basis, so you will never be wanting for a complimentary cold cerveza from the omnipresent beverage cart.

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