RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico — I finally made it to the Riviera Maya last weekend. I don't know what took me so long, given that it's only a three-hour flight from NYC to Cancún. I was invited down to preview Aquí Me Quedo (translation "here I stay"), the playful new adults-only beach club at Rosewood Mayakoba.
I had been warned that Rosewood Mayakoba was an incredible resort, but I was unprepared for how wonderful everything was. The first impression was grand and somewhat imposing: Mayakoba is a 1,600-acre jungle, lagoon, and beach complex comprised of four luxury resorts: Banyan Tree, Andaz, Fairmont, and Rosewood. You pass a gated entrance flanked by enormous walls where a nice lady checks your name and lets you pass. Casual beaching this is not.
But this being over-the-top luxury, everyone and everything was warm and lovely, despite the hefty price tag — which, in full disclosure, as hosted media I did not pay. The service began before we even arrived, as Rosewood had arranged for me and my husband to visit the underground river and cenotes at Kantun-Chí eco park with 4 Worlds Expeditions – easily one of the most incredible nature experiences of my life. At the resort, we checked in and were escorted — or rather, glided — via skiff through mangroves and waterways to the lagoon entrance of our villa, where a warm, outdoor plunge pool was waiting, as were flatbreads and guacamole and a mezcal cocktail setup, just two of the many thoughtful touches we'd enjoy throughout the weekend. Others in the room included pillowcases and cocktail napkins embroidered with our initials.
(I mean, come on, Rosewood. Stop spoiling me.)
(No, actually, don't.)
We would later learn from chef Juan Pablo Loza and managing director Daniel Scott that the flatbreads were imported from Oaxaca — just because they thought they were that good, too good not to take with them. (They are right, and we would eat our weight in them throughout the weekend.) Dinner that night — herb-infused cocktails, octopus with jicama, grilled lobster, striped bass with chile guajillo, cochinito acuyo, spiced lamb — was at Ceiba, at long picnic tables set up between the open grill and the herb-and-vegetable garden. Rosewood hosts this dinner regularly, where staff sit with guests and food is served family-style.
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Early to bed, early to rise — for a 9 a.m. workout called Float Fit, wherein I tried, and spectacularly failed (and flailed), to balance myself on a large board in a pool while doing jump squats, push ups, and sun salutations. And that's all I will say about this hideous and humiliating hour. I recovered with a sublime yoga class under a palapa surrounded by the lagoon. (The whole Riviera Maya is serious yogaland.)
You're immersed in nature throughout Rosewood. Every villa has its own bicycles, which you ride through the complex, over bridges spanning lagoons, past rose gardens, and onto islands that connect in ways that eluded me. (Welcome to Venice meets Mexico.) Within the ridiculously impressive Sense Spa, in addition to that yoga palapa, is a large cenote, one of thousands of limestone sinkholes of varying sizes located throughout the Yucatan peninsula. (Thin of limestone as geological Swiss cheese, porous and quick to pool from water flowing through the network of underground rivers.) Two lounge chairs are arranged nearby for relaxing. Not that I needed to be any more relaxed than I was after my 90-minute massage. Bless you, Paola, and your strong and caring hands, which made short work of my aching lower back. On my way out of Sense, I walked through the Kuxtal Sensory Garden, which looks like a pretty open space surrounded by plants, seeds, and apothecary jars, but that I learned was a complex healing center created with a shaman according to Mayan principles of architecture, healing, symbology, and spirituality. Look deeper, right?
It was time to join my friends at Aquí Me Quedo. I found them having lunch in the open living room, where board games and books were stacked on open shelves. Everyone was too busy with the margaritas. A food truck and bar on the beach make for easy snacking in beach chairs, and lazybums could easily spend a day reclined, having everything delivered, including sparkling sunglasses, courtesy the gent who comes around to clean them. (My Ray-Bans never had it so good.) But you'd be a fool to stay out of the water — clear and turquoise and smooth as glass. The world's second largest reef sits right off the coastline, stretching down to Honduras. Prime snorkel and dive territory.
Hotels to Know: Hotel Esencia + Chablé Maroma
We had arrived a few days early to explore the riviera, starting with a night at Hotel Esencia, a cool, charming, warm, and wonderful hotel halfway down the coast between Mayakoba and Tulum. The former home of an Italian duchess, we loved so much about this hotel. Yoga at 8 a.m. was a perfect way to start the day, and lazing between the pool and the sea was the way to spend the afternoon. The food is amazing, with options including Mistura, a traditional Mexican restaurant in a beachfront palapa where I ate way too many plantain chips and discovered that I absolutely love the wines of Casa Madero, and poolside Café Esencia, serving international fare. Tea is served every day in the living room of the main house. The garden restaurant will open this month as a new outpost of the international chain Beefbar. Accommodations are in villas or in the main house, which is where we stayed, along with the world's most adorable baby gecko. The design at Esencia is fantastic, seen in everything from the illustrations on the website to the curation at the gift shop.
We spent another night at Chablé Maroma, the brand-new sister property to the legendary Chablé Yucatan, where the prime features are the pool, the palm-tree strewn beach, and the three restaurants overseen by Jorge Vallejo, whose restaurant Quintonil in Mexico City is currently ranked #11 on San Pellegrino list of the Best Restaurants in the World.
While scouting the area, I stopped into Jashita to see the many terrific updates since we published our report shortly after it opened — and made a mental note to go back to stay longer.
New in Tulum
I spent a day in Tulum. It was a little too Burning Man for my tastes, but I can see the appeal if you're a fringe-and-feather type. Here's what's new and noteworthy:
- Habitas Tulum, an outpost of the global Habitas club, sits at the north entrance of the hotel zone. I found it appealing, primarily because you're very near the go-go Tulum action but not immersed in it. It also felt more sophisticated than the average other hotels in the area.
- I liked Papaya Playa Project next door for its expansive jungle vibe. Legendary Paris hotel Les Bains has opened a pop-up beach club and cabaret this season — probably because Mexico is a nicer place to be than France at this time of year. (Smart, Les Bains, smart.)
- When you get hungry, Mur Mur is giving Hartwood a run for its money as everyone's favorite restaurant.
- Casa Malca, Pablo Escobar's former home, may be art-filled and grand, but it's also kinda tacky — a little too '90s, a little too Philippe Starck wannabe — and the crowd isn't who I'd want to spend vacation around.
It was my first time on the Riviera Maya, but not at all my last.