Barra del Tordo, Tamaulipas is paradise close to home
You can stop looking for paradise. It's only 5 hours south of the Texas/Mexico border at McAllen or Brownsville. Most guidebooks dismiss the Gulf Coast uninteresting. They couldn't be more wrong. El Paraiso Resort at Barra del Tordo, Tamaulipas is an ecological cornucopia.
To get there, drive down Hwy 97 or 101 to Hwy 180 and keep going south towards Tampico. At Aldama (240 miles or 390.5 KM south of McAllen, TX or 68.7 miles or 110 KM north of Tampico), take a left and head towards the Gulf of Mexico for 29 miles (46.5 KM). The scenery changes dramatically from the flat land you've just traversed to gentle rolling hills. You turn left again at a sign that says, "El Paraiso" and go through a pasture. Watch that cow! The parking lot is a grassy field shaded by hundred year old trees, with 24 hour security.
From there, you take a small launch upriver. As the outboard motor drones, you can watch eagles, egrets, hawks and parrots overhead and on the banks. Ducks abound in the winter. Birdwatchers will go ga-ga. I did, but most people say that I'm that way naturally.
The lodge is set on a bluff overlooking the river, about one hundred feet up. You first glimpse the thatched roofs of the cottages. Don't despair, it's not a primitive camp. Each of his dozen cottages has electricity, air conditioning, comfortable beds and tiled bathrooms with plenty of hot water. They are built in a semi-circle around one of the clearest swimming pools I've ever seen. The "big house" has family-style dining setups, and private tables for more intimate situations. His chef prepares honest-to-God gourmet meals!
He offers boat rides down lagoons for catching glimpses of dozens of species of birds. Farther downriver, is the Gulf of Mexico and miles of truly deserted beaches. Imagine you and your sweetie frolicking on fine white sand with miles of pounding surf and driftwood your only companions. The endangered Kemp's Ridley's sea turtles use the area to nest, up the coast a ways.
For kids, Francisco offers several camps, with activities to teach them and keep them occupied for a week at a time. For adults, he offers privacy and luxury. For adventurers, he has miles and miles of river to explore. One place he took us was an island with a small banana plantation and a nursery with hundreds of brightly colored plants of the region. The caretaker can tell you the name of each one. Nearby, is the deepest hole in the earth (except for the ocean, of course). There is a cenote or natural well there that is the deepest on earth. Two divers from the University of Texas discovered its bottom, but sadly, one died from the bends on the way up. The water is as turquoise as any cenote I've seen in the Yucatan. There is also a sulfur spring and a cave in the neighborhood.
It's hard to match El Paraiso for a great get-away. For reservations, call 1-800-908-800.