The Mayan Riviera

Writer Brittany Panter | September 7, 2017

With endless beaches of sugar-like 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.

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.

Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun

Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun is one of two adult-only resorts on our list. An all-inclusive 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.