For many people, a beach holiday in Mexico means vast, sprawling all-inclusive resorts, but that’s not all that the Riviera Maya has to offer.
I recently visited three of our boutique hotels and couldn’t have been more impressed. I already knew that Mexico is generally better value than the Caribbean, but this trip confirmed it – you can stay in a large suite with a plunge pool on the Riviera Maya for the same price as a standard room at an equivalent hotel in the likes of Barbados.
I stayed at Maroma Resort & Spa, part of the Belmond group (previously known as Orient-Express), Viceroy Riviera Maya and Esencia, all of which are situated between Cancún and Tulum, with a stretch of stunning white sand to one side and tropical jungle to the other. The hotels all make the most of their natural habitat, rather than chopping it down, which really gives you a sense of place. Maroma is a former coconut plantation and private hacienda, Viceroy is a collection of jungle villas and Esencia was originally the home of an Italian Duchess, so there are certainly no towering blocks of homogenous purpose-built rooms here! In fact, on the Riviera Maya, no building is allowed to exceed four floors in height, to preserve the serene feel of the area.
At Maroma and Esencia, having both begun life as homes not hotels, every single room is different. That’s where our travel advisers come in handy, to advise you not just which room category to go for, but which room number too. At Maroma, relax on a hammock under your thatched-roof terrace, where rooms come complete with kaftans and nightly aromatherapy turndown service. At Esencia you’ll either get an ocean view or a private plunge pool and simplicity is the key word; lots of white, with splashes of colour and the occasional dream catcher for decoration.
At Viceroy the Luxury, Royal, Signature and Premium Villas are completely private and perfect for honeymooners, whereas the Ocean View and Beachfront Villas boast beautiful views but are less private. Their Luxury Villas are one of the most incredible lead-in categories I’ve ever seen, anywhere. Each one of the 41 villas boasts a plunge pool and an outdoor shower. Two things I always judge a hotel by are their bathrooms and their sun loungers – Viceroy passed my test with flying colours.
Maroma and Viceroy are located within an easy taxi journey of Playa del Carmen, and the exclusive Mayakoba complex (home to the Fairmont, Rosewood and Banyan Tree hotels), so dining out is effortless. Esencia is a little more out of the way, but I guess that’s the price you pay for being on such a tranquil stretch of beach.
Service levels on the Riviera Maya are very high, but at these hotels they really go the extra mile to ensure that your stay is perfect. At Viceroy, hats are provided by the pool, and Pepe will bring you chilled fruit skewers and even clean your sunglasses for you. At breakfast on our final day we were even presented with a plate of biscuits wishing us a nice trip. At Maroma and Esencia you’ll have fresh tea or coffee delivered to your door each morning at the time of your choice to get your day off to a good start, and maybe a margarita by the pool later in the day! If you’re looking for a child-free zone, then Viceroy is the one for you, whereas Maroma and Esencia welcome children (but without the all-singing, all-dancing kids' club type vibe).
I could happily write a whole article on the food I ate in Mexico, but I’ll try to keep it brief. Each of the hotels has a fine dining restaurant, but they’ve also added more relaxed dining experiences too, such as the 'Antojería' evening at Viceroy’s beachfront Coral Grill on a Tuesday evening, where guests can sample traditional Mexican street food. Maroma has adopted an 'eat wherever you like' concept, which further enhances the feeling of being a guest in someone’s home. So if you feel like eating ceviche and sushi from Freddy’s Bar, by the pool, you can. They also have La Cantina, a bar boasting a very extensive selection of tequilas, which can be accompanied by botanas, the Mexican equivalent of tapas. Sombrero wearing is optional!
The food at Esencia was exquisite, and I can honestly say it’s some of the best I’ve ever eaten. I’m still dreaming of their sea bass, salmon and tuna tostada, and having withdrawal symptoms from my daily dose of guacamole...
I hope the above encourages you to visit the Riviera Maya, because it truly is a special place!