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Mexico's condos, villas are pleasant alternatives

A limited budget shouldn't stop you from planning a great family vacation. Two excellent options are renting condos at a resort or villa residences from private owners. Both types of accommodations typcially have air conditioning, sitting and dining areas beyond the bedrooms, and kitchenettes _ which also help save on food costs by cutting down on restaurant meals.

Mexico's coastal resorts have many condo and villa rentals _ some places are mentioned below _ and these usually are near convenience stores or supermarkets. In Puerto Vallarta, for instance, there are many mini-markets as well as supermarkets, with a range of nonfood items, in the Gigante, Villa Vallarta and Plaza Marina shopping malls.

If you want sandy beaches as well as a fine swimming pool, stay in one of the resorts along the Playa Norte shore, which stretches south from the municipal marina toward downtown Puerto Vallarta. A five-star resort on the beach is the Villa del Palmar. The condos are modern, attractively furnished with immaculate kitchenettes and provide purified tap water. Offered at no cost are Spanish lessons, cultural and craft classes, water aerobics and children's programs.

On the grounds are three restaurants and a fitness center. Beyond the pool area is a sandy beach with a magnificent view of the mountain range. The Gigante Shopping Mall is across the street.

Another choice for an inexpensive vacation is to rent a villa and share expenses with family members or friends. Many of these rental villas in Mexico are located on hillsides overlooking the ocean or on sandy beaches. Some of the villas come with swimming pools or Jacuzzi.

The advantage of staying in a villa is that you don't have to cook or clean up, because these homes are typically staffed with a cook, maid and houseman.

Choosing a villa to fit your budget and needs isn't difficult: First, decide where you want to visit. Next, tell your travel agent about any special meals or catering requirements.

Always inquire whether the rate includes the staff when you are renting a villa. And double-check rates before making your plans final, because quoted rates change depending on season and availability. You can save a great deal of money by visiting from May through October.

Some villas can be rented directly from their owners, often at substantial savings over prices charged by management firms. For leads, check the resort rental listings in newspapers' classified ads and watch for airline and condo/resort specials. Following are some choices for rental vacations in Mexico _ rates shown were charged last winter _ as well as a list of questions to ask before you rent.

Cabo san Lucas:

Miner's Villa is located within walking distance to town, swimming beaches and entertainment. Two bedroom, 2.5 baths, pool, BBQ, stereo/TV; $963/wk. For a brochure or more information: EARTH, SEA & SKY TOURS (800) 745-2226.

Casa Roca Grande is a three-bed, three-bath home with a pool and Jacuzzi. Elegantly furnished. About 200 yards to the beach. $300-$400 per day. For a brochure or more information: VILLAS OF MEXICO (800) 456-3133.

Villa Casa Blanca offers a spacious living area, privacy wall and tropical garden. Three bedroom/two bath. Ocean view. Bicycles and car included in price; $875-$1155/wk. (800) 745-2226.

La Jolla de Los Cabos has suites and apartments, kitchens, air conditioning, two pools, fitness room, restaurant, golf and shopping nearby. Beachfront. $102-$270 a day. (800) 426-6367 for brochure or more information.

Bahia Condominiums are oceanview studios, with a pool, spa, restaurant, room service, AC, TV. Steps away from Medano Beach. $95-$105 a day. (800) 745-2226.

Cabo Bello

Villa Milagro. May be rented as a two-bedroom home, or as a three-bedroom by utilizing the studio with separate kitchen. Ocean view and pool. $165-$240/nt. (800) 745-2226.

Villa Serena Condominiums are situated on a high ridge over the ocean and the famous Arch rock. Pool, spa, restaurant, tennis, gym, AC, TV. $95-$275 a day. (800) 745-2226.

Cancun

The five-star Hotel Cancun Palace, on the beach, is lushly landscaped and has a pool with waterfalls. Rates: $600-$1,400 weekly. For a brochure or more information: (800) 733-4445.

Club Casamaya is a beachfront resort with a pool, tennis courts. Studios and one bedrooms rent for $600-$1,200 weekly. For a brochure or more information: (800) 733-4445.

Puerto Vallarta

Casa Valerie is a villa open to the sun and sea breezes. Built in a series of tiled terraces on each of several levels of the villa. Large swimming pool set in a landscaped terrace. Three bedrooms, four baths. Full staff. $250-$300 per day. (800) 456-3133.

Casa Cielito Lindo, two bedroom, two bath. Located two blocks from the cathedral. Pool. $132 per day. Maid service. (800) 426-6367.

Villa del Palmar, mentioned above, is a top resort offering satellite color TV, central air conditioning, five bars and tennis courts, boating, fishing, and scuba diving. $75-$240 daily, depending on season. For a brochure or more information: (800) 44-UTELL.

Suites De Claudia are ocean-view suites with full kitchens. Pool. Close to town. $90 to $130 daily. For a brochure or more information: (800) 456-3133.

La Jolla de Mismaloya, a popular resort, is located on the Mismaloya Bay beach. Spectacular views, pool, fitness room, restaurant. $72-99 a day for one bedroom. For brochure or more information: (800) 426-6367.

Ixtapa

Villa Ixtapa is on the grounds of the Palma Real Golf Course. These villas feature garden views, spacious rooms, handpainted tiles, pool and nearby swimming beaches, restaurants and shopping. Three bedroom, $440 (Winter rate). (800) 426-6367.

Acapulco

Las Brisas Villas are located in the gated residential neighborhood of Las Brisas. The villas feature pools, open-air living/dining areas and a staff. Beaches, restaurants and shopping nearby. Two bedroom, $297-$320; three bedroom, $363-$506, depending on season or prime holidays. (800) 426-6367.

Villa Olinala Princess. Deluxe condos, full kitchen, two bedroom, two bath across from golf course. $90-$135 daily. (800) 638-4552 for more information and brochure.

Plaza Holiday Club at Acapulco is a high-rise condo resort on Acapulco Bay. Seven restaurants, pools, three bars. One-bedroom units (sleeps four), $800-$1,800 weekly. For more information or a brochure: (800) 733-4445.

Cozumel

Puesta del Sol is an oceanfront resort with panoramic views and great snorkeling in the clear ocean water close to the swimming pool. Restaurant and shopping nearby. Two-bedroom oceanfront and two-bedroom penthouses rent for $237-$385 daily. For a brochure or more information: (800) 426-6367.

Matzatlan

The Inn at Mazatlan is on the beach and includes a pool, tennis courts and restaurant. One- and two-bedroom units rent for $500-$1,200 weekly. For a brochure or more information: (800) 733-4445.

Pueblo Bonito is a five-story, pueblo-style building surrounded by lush gardens and two large pools. Each suite is furnished with rich wood and tile and opens onto a private balcony overlooking the ocean. Junior suites and deluxe suites with kitchenettes rent for $116-$154 daily. For a brochure or more information: (800) 426-6367.

Questions to ask before you rent

1. Number of bedrooms and baths? Full or mini kitchen?

2. Does price include the staff?

3. Seniors or off-season discount?

4. Ocean view? On the beach?

5. How far from town, from the airport, the market, restaurants, night life?

6. Can staff arrange car rental, fishing trips, cruises, golf or tennis, child care?

7. Is villa accessible for handicapped or the elderly?

8. Telephone, stereo, cable TV, air conditioning?

9. Swimming pool or Jacuzzi?

Freelance writer Helene Vorce-Tish frequently visits Mexico from her home in Cameron Park, Calif.

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