The white-sand beaches, ancient culture and incredible food of Mexico’s Caribbean Coast make it the perfect getaway.
Writer Brittany Panter
With endless beaches of sugarlike sand that glisten under expansive blue skies and acres of lush tropical foliage, Mexico’s Mayan Riviera is as beautiful as it is appealing. After a development boom in the 1970s the area was known only to adventurous beachgoers and divers, but today bustles with lively coastal towns that are home to a variety of resorts.
The backbone of today’s Riviera are the towns of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum which have all developed, to varying degrees, from backwater villages to havens of luxury that boast multi-million dollar resorts with some of Mexico’s best vistas. While most still visit the area for its stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters, the coast also offers dozens of cenotes, or fresh water diving holes, world-class scuba diving and mouth-watering dishes that showcase incredible regional seafood.
BELMOND MAROMA RESORT & SPA
Tucked away on a stretch of white sandy beach along the Cancun-Tulum corridor, Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa is surrounded by 200 acres of lush, tropical jungle. As you make your way through the dense foliage, it feels like you are entering a private residence, which makes sense because the property was originally built as a private residence.
Offering 33 suites and 30 rooms, each featuring a terrace or balcony with hammock and sitting areas, the resort combines Old World charm with luxurious touches, including coffee delivered to your door every morning by a butler. Constructed from locally sourced materials, the white two- and three-storey buildings that house the guest rooms and other facilities are connected by a winding stone walkway through the jungle which is picturesque when lit up at night.
Among the six room and suite types, the ultra-luxurious one-bedroom oceanfront suite stands apart from the rest. At nearly 2,000sqft includes a separate living area and a spacious outdoor terrace with private plunge pool where you can take in the stunning Caribbean Sea. Suites on the upper floors have access to a fitness room should you not wish to trek to the gym, while lower floor suites feature a separate children’s room. On the stretch of beach in front of the suites, private chaise lounges and beach chairs await and outdoor shower is a nice touch.
There are three modestly sized pools, one being adults-only, as well as a 24 hour fitness centre and the Kinan Spa, which offers treatments based on ancient Mayan healing techniques. There are also tennis courts, bicycles and a water sports marina where guests can try sea kayaking, snorkelling or scuba diving.
Dining is spread across three restaurants: El Sol Tapas & Restaurant, which serves delightful Mediterranean cuisine; El Restaurante, where authentic Mexican à la carte breakfasts are a specialty; and the self-explanatory Freddy’s Tequila and Ceviche Bar. www.belmondmaroma.com
PREVIOUS PAGE: Private dining on the beach at Belmond Maroma is an unforgettable experience. CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Belmond Maroma offers romance in spades; Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun boasts contemporary interiors; unspoilt beach at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun
GRAND FIESTA AMERICANA CORAL BEACH CANCUN
Many hotels along Cancun’s Hotel Zone were built in the 1980s and early 1990s – a period that has perhaps not gone down favourably in the architecture annals – so don’t be too quick to judge Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun by its exterior, as the modern interior and a new, expansive spa make it well worth a stay.
Based around a large hydrotherapy centre, each visit to the 40,000sqft Gem Spa should start with the 10-step guided ‘circuit’ of the wet facilities. The experience starts with a steam and body scrub application and ends with a dip in the co-ed ‘pool of sensations’ where powerful jets of water provide a DIY massage.
On top of the expansive spa, the KidZ Club and Grand Club make the resort a popular pick for families. The Grand Club offers members access to a VIP penthouse lounge on the top two floors of the building which serves refreshments throughout the day. Until sunset, members can also access the Grand Club Beach and Sundeck where refreshments are served.
The 602 all-suite resort is centrally located and a great jumping-off point for a day trip to the nearby Isla Mujeres or to explore the vibrant nightlife of Cancun – but be warned, it may be a bit raucous for some.
When it comes to dining, authentic Mexican cuisine can be found at La Joya, an upscale establishment that serves dinner alongside a 10-piece mariachi band. For a more casual affair, beachfront Isla Contoy restaurant serves fresh seafood and some of the best ceviche in Cancun. www.coralbeachcancunresort.com
LIVE AQUA BEACH RESORT CANCUN
Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun is one of two adult-only resorts on our list. An allinclusive resort, it is a ‘Be Yourself’ hotel, which presumably means you can let loose a little bit as there are no children running around. Sitting on a pristine white beach with the azure Caribbean Sea lapping at it day and night, the accommodations at Live Aqua are modern and comfortable.
The all-inclusive package comes with a good selection of eateries, including Hidden Garden, which is a set among foliage between the property and the beach. MB is the resort’s fine-dining restaurant and offers more formal meals that call for ‘resort chic’ dress. Here Mexican flavours meet a more elegant dining experience. Our favourite is Sea Corner, a beach-side shack that offers simple seafood – ceviche and shrimp tacos – cold beer and the sounds and smells of the sea.
The Club Lounge on the fifth floor adds a level of exclusivity to your stay, offering top shelf spirits, canapés and personalised service, it is worth the extra charge. Speaking of extra charges, cabanas on the private beach are also extra.
Feel Harmony Spa has been designed to continue the beach-side feel inside. Treatments on offer include the signature coffee ritual which kicks off with an exfoliation followed by a body wrap and massage. www.liveaqua.com
THIS PAGE AND OPPOSITE PAGE: Unwind by the infinity pool and enjoy treatments al fresco at Live Aqua’s Feel Harmony Spa
BANYAN TREE MAYAKOBA
A little further down the Riviera Maya, just outside Playa Del Carmen, is the purpose-built resort development of Mayakoba. Home to four hotel brands, including Banyan Tree Mayakoba, it is a haven away from the hardcore revellers prevalent in nearby Playa Del Carmen.
Built in an area of freshwater lagoons, mangroves, coral reefs and de rigueur pristine beaches nearby, Mayakoba is its own well-maintained ecosystem thanks to an abundance of indigenous fish and bird species. Representing the premium resort sector, Banyan Tree brings iconic Asian hospitality reputation to bear on the Riviera Maya.
The rooms are, as you might expect from Banyan Tree, beautiful, with the Bliss Pool Villa offering a very comfortable stay for two with a private pool and views over the mangroves as well as nice touches like Talavera glazedearthenware sinks and rich wood panelling.
Dining at Banyan Tree comes in the form of Thai food at the resort’s signature restaurant, Saffron. A nice respite from Mexican food for those staying in the country longer, dishes at Saffron are expertly crafted by Thai chefs brought to ensure authenticity and quality.
Anyone expecting an award-winning spa will not be disappointed with the Banyan Tree Spa Mayakoba. Utilising the rainforest-like environment, the spa has what is described as a hydrothermal circuit comprising alternating hot and cold thermal cabins, and a Rainforest Trail that features eight different hydrothermal therapy experiences. www.banyantree.com
OPPOSITE PAGE: Banyan Tree Mayakoba is built in an area of freshwater lagoons and mangroves; explore the beautiful nature surrounding Banyan Tree Mayakoba. THIS PAGE: Rosewood Mayakoba offers stylish villas; Rosewood Mayakoba’s suites can be accessed by boat
Sharing Mayakoba with Banyan Tree is luxury brand Rosewood.
A unique touch at Rosewood is the small passenger boat that traverses the lagoon’s waters. The short ride from check-in to your suite provides a taste of what is to come during your stay. For those looking to relax, your assigned butler will take care of all requests at any time of the day or night.
Suites at Rosewood are stylish with contemporary furniture, while at the same time staying true to the environment with plenty of greenery. There is a heated plunge pool, outdoor deck, boat dock, and quite possibly a very welcome complimentary bottle of tequila.
There are four dining options at Rosewood Mayakoba: Casa del Lago, which serves Italian-inspired dishes with Mexican flavors; Punta Bonita, which offers everything from light lunches and pizzas to regional Riviera Maya specialties alongside views of the Caribbean Sea; and Agave Azul Sushi and Tequila Library that offers more than 100 premium tequilas alongside Asian-inspired fare. The sweeping views of the lush mangroves and the main pool make Agave Azul the ultimate choice for pre-dinner cocktails, appetisers or even a light dinner. There are also several culinary programmes offering immersive experiences.
Another interesting option for either a light meal or a few hours of exploration is El Pueblito. Shared by all properties at Mayakoba, it is essentially the recreation of a town square with a church, cafes and restaurants. A short distance from the resort, it can be accessed by bicycle or even golf cart. www.rosewoodmayakoba.com
SANDOS CANCUN LIFESTYLE RESORT
Popular with young people, Sandos Cancun is another all-inclusive resort that blends fun with a laid-back atmosphere. A big draw is its multi-tiered outdoor swimming pool set against the backdrop of pristine beaches and the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea. The three infinity pools serve as a focal point, and both here and Bar One, the resort’s lobby bar, are highlighted by live entertainment.
For à la carte dining, Gaijin is a popular pick, and reservations highly recommended. The intimate teppanyaki restaurant serves as a show kitchen where guests watch performing chefs cook their dinner with a range of theatrics. Other trendy dining offerings include Frattini’s Italian restaurant; Seasons, an international eatery by day and steak house by night; and the resort’s buffet restaurant Zango which offers authentic Mexican delights.
The resort boasts a very sizeable fitness centre with spinning and yoga classes on offer. Below the gym is Spa Del Mar, the 15,000sqft spa fuses Old World European charm with cutting-edge technology to deliver a wide range of treatments including an after-sun facial, which is popular for those who have spent all day lounging on beautiful beaches. www.sandos.com
THIS PAGE: Sandos Cancun Lifestyle Resort blends fun with a laid-back atmosphere. OPPOSITE PAGE: Getting pampered at Sandos Cancun’s Spa Del Mar