Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Wed May 27 2015

Opinion Home | Magic of Mexico

  • Greg Custer | May 27, 2015 2:00 PM ET

    7 Things You Didn't Know About Luxury In Mexico

    7 Things You Didn't Know About Luxury In Mexico

    It’s been said the next best thing to being rich is traveling as if you were. And what an era we live in to make this axiom a reality. If there’s one thing that’s indisputable about 21st Century international travel it’s the abundance of once-exclusive experiences that are now within grasp of us common folk.

    Within a single generation, exemplars of status and extravagance are now enticingly accessible to the masses. Cocktails on the jungle veranda? Safari, servants and the Serengeti? River cruises past storybook medieval castles? No problem. Let me email your trip confirmation.

    Luxury Defined?

    Travel industry marketers use imagery — not words — to evoke luxury. Just flip through any travel magazine to see this practice in action. But what really defines this elusive and highly personal concept?  Treats, extravagance, indulgence, bonuses, amenities, frills? Pleasurable self-indulgent activity?

    Often displayed but rarely defined, luxury too often swoops our minds toward media-driven hyperbole: fast cars, sparkling jewelry, and skinny, beautiful people usually standing (or lying) about doing nothing but looking “luxuriant.”

    If luxury’s real meaning weren’t enough to ponder, agents are also reminded that luxury means different things to different travelers. One man’s floor is another man’s ceiling. A simple guestroom upgrade or club level floor can be all that’s needed for most travelers.

    Others may only be fulfilled having conquered the next “it” attraction or securing the impossible dinner reservation. So like all effective client interaction, some probing is needed to distinguish floor from ceiling.

    It’s likely your business doesn’t cater to the “one percent” client base. So approaching the sale of luxury via its broadest definition (an experience that’s special and in some way indulgent) will yield the most for your bottom line. And in the case of Mexico, the opportunity to treat, indulge and surpass your client’s expectations is becoming easier and easier. If you harbor doubts about Mexico’s luxury credentials here are some easy-to-research travel opportunities to consider for 2015.

    You may face truly incredulous clients: how can there be real luxury in a country that falls victim to stereotypic and outdated imagery? When this happens, smile, look them square in the face, and armed with these ideas as your luxury compass, start sharing Mexico with new enthusiasm. And if you need some handholding there’s always your resource center.

    High Class in the Highlands

    While coastal Mexico has a renowned assortment of top-shelf luxury options, it’s the country’s interior states that deserve renewed attention. Historic homes, mansions and estates have opened their doors as boutique inns – most combining the latest in room amenities with antique appointments and classic European styling.  States like Michoacán (Morelia, Pátzcuaro), Guanajuato (San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato), and Querétaro (Tequisquiapan, Querétaro) have both proprietor-managed, intimate hotels and sprawling estates.  A good place to start exploring is Mexico Boutique Hotels and their inventory of over 40 unique properties.

    Heritage, History & Haute Cuisine

    If there’s any one state of Mexico that abounds with assets surpassing many countries, it’s the utterly fascinating Oaxaca. Its jaw-dropping cultural and culinary diversity is nicely packaged with some of Mexico’s loveliest small inns. These treasures include places like the Quinta Real — a 91-room former convent in the historic center, or the elegant Palacio Borghese.

    Oaxacan cuisine varies widely due to a mountainous landscape and extremely varied climates in which foods are produced. Oaxaca’s gastronomy is known for its “seven moles,” chapulines (dried crickets), Oaxaca tamales in banana leaves, and mescal (a rebellious cousin of tequila). Get your clients a table at restaurants like Chef Alejandro Olmeda Ruiz’ Casa Oaxaca, or Los Pacos for a traditional Oaxaca style mole sampler, or Cathedral for regional seafood. Spend days with a private guide touring the region’s craft villages or stroll Mexico’s most colorful indigenous markets.

    Hecho en México

    If you’ve toured Spain or France you’ve probably seen the “Denominación de Origen Protegida” (DOP) – a EU designation referring to food products specific to a particular region conveying a particular quality or characteristic of the designated area. You’ll see it on Spanish olives, wine, cured ham and French champagne and truffles.

    How does Mexico fit in? Foodies from around the world come to explore and taste Mexico’s current “DOP” delicacies. There are 11 of these unique (and is some cases endemic) “foods of the Gods.” What would be more delectable than an itinerary taking in three of the world’s luxury food leaders: vanilla, coffee, and chocolate?

    Two of these are native to Mexico and all three are grown, harvested, cured and consumed along Mexico’s seldom-visited Gulf Coast (states of Veracruz and Tabasco). And with non-stop flights from Houston to Veracruz and Villahermosa, what are you waiting for?

    Palate Pleasures

    Chef Enrique Olvera is the newest celebrity chef to gain the attention of the American media. A recent issue of WSJ Magazine featured the 37-year-old chef and owner of restaurant Pujol in Mexico City. With 48 seats and 27 chefs, Pujol has cracked the world’s S. Pelligrino rankings as No. 36 in the world.

    Mexico City serves as Mexico’s culinary capital and dining is a grand, multi-course, dress-up affair. Then there’s the Riviera Nayarit’s Gran Velas Nuevo Vallarta — home to not one but two AAA Five Diamond eateries.

    Other leading gastronomic destinations include Puerto Vallarta. There are so many fine chefs and award-winning restaurants here that a great place to start is the November gourmet festival. Zihuatanejo touts its “Cost meets Culture” nouvelle cuisines, and La Quinta Avenida in Playa del Carmen has so many great restaurants you could spend a month there and dine somewhere different every night. Or consider Mérida with its unique blend of Maya, French and Lebanese cuisine. Dine on gourmet regional cuisine at Nectar with award winning chef Ernesto Solis.

    Deserts Make Dreams

    There’s something that makes luxury in a desert setting seem almost innate. Maybe it’s the stark, hardscrabble landscape coupled with cozy amenities and fine dining. Or broad vistas, solitude and searing dryness surrounding an outdoor spa. There’s something that draws luxury leaders to places like Sedona, Scottsdale, Santa Fe and St. George.

    Mexico’s Baja deserts must have the same magnetism. Baja Sur serves visitors a silver tray of the world’s most renowned purveyors of luxury. Ritz-Carlton, Auberge, One&Only, and Rosewood all call Cabo home. The destination has two AAA Five Diamond winner and an amazing 15 properties earning the AAA Four Diamond ranking. So look no further than the Baja tip for Mexico’s grandest gaggle of award-winning digs.

    Mexico’s Happy Coast

    Unbeknownst to many Mexico experts, there’s a stretch of Pacific shore that seldom finds its way into tour operator brochures or web seller specials of the week. It’s Mexico’s exclusive and environmentally pristine CostAlegre.

    South of Puerto Vallarta, beyond the shores of Banderas Bay is a 100-mile stretch of estuaries, coves, plantations, and secret resort hideaways that see more private jet and helicopter traffic than the rest of Mexico’s Pacific coast. Google places like Costa Careyes, Quemaro, El Tamarindo, and Isla Navidad to explore this area’s luxury options.

    Or better yet, our take our online lessons at

    Cortés Slept Here, So Can You

    Sometimes luxury assumes an air of historic grandeur. While Europe has it castles and the Caribbean its plantations, Mexico has haciendas. Two regions of Mexico excel in offering working ranchos turned luxury accommodations. The state of Morelos (south of Mexico City) was once the private domain of Conquistador Hernán Cortés.

    The Hotel Hacienda Vista Hermosa was founded by Cortés in 1529, abandoned during the Mexican Revolution, and reopened in the 1940’s. Cortes’ former bedroom can even be rented! There are other choices across Morelos State – all former sugar cane estates that today espouse lovely gardens, aqueducts, golf courses, wedding chapels and genuine Old World artifacts.

    Mexico’s other key region for living like a Spanish Count combines the adjacent states of Campeche and Yucatán. Here the hacienda experience is infused with Mayan culture both old (nearby ruins) and new (the chance to interact with a local community or school). Look to the Starwood Luxury Collection or Mexico Boutique Hotels and you can’t go wrong.

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Greg Custer Magic of Mexico

Greg Custer Greg Custer is a California native with more than 35 years working in various international travel industry capacities. He spent 14 years in aviation (TWA, Mexicana, Aerocalifornia). With a love for studying all things Latin America, (BA/MA UCLA, Latin American Studies) he is a leading authority on travel agent educational programs for Latin American tourism boards. Greg is fluent in written and spoken Spanish and has conducted hundreds of training workshops for travel agents. He is an accomplished travel photographer and author (with wife Jane) of the “Magic of Mexico” travel agent study guide. He resides in Ajijic (Jalisco) Mexico, enjoying one foot in the modern world and the other in Mexican pueblo life.
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