There’s Mexico, then there’s Mayakoba. Tucked along the Riviera Maya not far (but just far enough) from bustling tourist hot spot Cancun, this 595-acre eco-friendly enclave combines the best of all worlds. Seriously: There are four luxury hotels tucked amongst the natural wonders, plentiful pristine beachfront, 25+ culinary experiences, out-of-this-world wellness offerings, countless adventures to be had, and Latin America’s first PGA Tour golf course. What more could you ask for?
Globetrotters of all kinds will find the right fit among the Andaz, Banyan Tree, Fairmont and Rosewood resorts, which cater to couples, families, large groups and solo travelers alike. Best of all, this private community features easy, readily available transportation and reciprocity across the entire destination — meaning you can eat, drink and indulge to your heart’s content.
This tropical paradise feels a world away from the rest of Playa del Carmen. Meaning “village over water” in the Mayan language, Mayakoba is situated upon one of the world’s largest underground rivers, with six miles of freshwater canals weaving throughout a protected mangrove forest that’s home to abundant wildlife. The master plan for this ambitious project was drawn up in the nineties, with construction kicking off in 2003 and the hotels and other elements debuting in the years since. Today, RLH Properties is the visionary brand behind this gated complex that has been recognized for its impressive sustainability efforts by the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations World Tourism Organization and Mexico’s environmental protection agency, PROFEPA.
While you can’t go wrong at any of the resorts, we opted for a stay at Banyan Tree, the AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five-Star outpost from the renowned hotelier. Opening in 2009, it represents the Asian hospitality group’s first foray into the Americas and offers a unique blend of pan-Asian and Mexican influences. Upon entering the sprawling open-air lobby, you’re immediately drawn to the showstopping banyan tree adorned with lanterns and surrounded by the destination’s namesake waterways. Here, 162 private villas (each with its own plunge pool) and beachfront suites beckon you to relish in the lap of luxury.
Really, there’s no need to do anything, thanks to supreme personalized butler service that ensures your every need is met. But if you choose to, there’s plenty to do. Part of a recent $50-million expansion, the new Sands Beach Club — replete with its blissful Mexican Caribbean beachfront, infinity pool and waterside restaurant — is a wonderful way to wile away the afternoon and lose total track of time. Among the several onsite dining options, signature eatery Saffron is an absolute can’t-miss, bringing the flavors of Thailand to a floating peninsula on one of Mayakoba’s many lagoons.
For self-care enthusiasts, each hotel has its own unique take on world-class wellness. We were particularly impressed with Sense, a Rosewood Spa, which feels secluded on its own petite island. The indulgent offerings here draw upon Mayan tradition and herbal medicine to heal the mind, body and spirit. The must-book Kuxtal Sensory Garden Ritual, for instance, awakens all five senses and takes you on a wellness journey of your choosing. The award-winning Banyan Tree Spa, meanwhile, boasts massages, facials and body treatments that blend Asian rituals and local expertise. Another favorite here is the rainforest hydrothermal trail, which features 10 hot and cold experiences.
Adventurers and nature lovers are sure to be satisfied thanks to a wide range of activities available to all Mayakoba guests. The 2.5-mile Nature Trail, prime for walking, running or bicycling, weaves throughout the entire enclave. Kayak trips, hydrobike outings and leisurely boat tours (with a three-course meal, if you so desire) meander along the property’s canals, with a naturalist on hand to describe the location’s history and resident wildlife. There are also cooking classes, tennis lessons, and tee times to be had at the Greg Norman–designed 18-hole golf course, El Camaleón (the recent site of Mexico’s first LIV Golf tournament). Out on the open sea, you can enjoy a private yacht charter, a scuba or snorkel excursion along the world’s second largest barrier reef, and plenty of other favorite water activities. Custom itineraries are the norm here, so you can create your own adventure.
But we encourage you to resist the urge to over-plan, as Mayakoba is the ultimate Mexican hideaway to disconnect from our busy world and let the relaxing, rejuvenating vacation unfold before you. Can’t bring yourself to check out? You can also put down roots thanks to luxurious private residences. No matter how you choose to spend your time here, it’s just another day in paradise.