jungle with white stucco building topped with rooftop pool and palapa peeking through the trees
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Hotel Esencia

The boutique Hotel Esencia feels beautifully of the destination, like being invited to a chic Mexican friend’s beach home. Here's our review.

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Exterior of the hotel lit up at night with the pool and two chairs on the beach with a bonfire
Indagare Adored

Rosewood Mayakoba

Situated within a 620-acre complex surrounded by lush mangroves and emerald lagoons on the Riviera Maya, Rosewood Mayakoba is a full-scale private retreat.

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Andaz Mayakoba

Andaz Mayakoba hotel within the Mayakoba resort complex in Mexico's Riviera Maya offers modern accommodations, lush grounds and a strong sense of place. As expected at Andaz hotels, guests will feel fully immersed in the local environment and culture, as Mayan-inspired accents are found throughout the property.

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Pool Villa at Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Banyan Tree Mayakoba

As the place for its first venture outside of Asia, the Banyan Tree hotel company chose the Riviera Maya. For one, because the beach resort destination is close to the U.S., but also because it offers details close to the company’s own philosophy, including an importance placed on the conservation and preservation of the environment. There are no guest rooms at the Banyan Tree, which opened in March 2009 as part of the Mayakoba complex: all the accommodations are freestanding private villas, with individual gated entries and high walls surrounding them. Each comes with a separate living area and a sizable pool, which is nice if you are traveling with family and friends and want to chill out in the privacy of your own villa during the day.

When choosing your accommodation, it is important to decide if you want to be right by the beach or prefer to be based inland (you can reach the beach by walking or via a golf-cart or bike ride, which depending on where you are situated can take 5-10 minutes). You can choose among ocean-view or ocean-front villas, which are next to the beach club, or you can stay in villas closer to the spa and reception, which overlook the lagoon. Both areas offer a large resort pool area, in addition to the private pools in each villa. Families should book a townhouse, with three interconnected bedrooms and a rooftop pool perfect for lounging while children nap. Some of the other multi-bedroom villas have separated sleeping areas that are suitable only for older kids or couples traveling together.

Banyan Tree has never been shy about its Thai heritage, and at times, the Asian-inspired design, including massive temple-style roofs, seems slightly out of place given the Yucatán location. That said, there are thoughtful Mexican details scattered throughout, like custom-made Talavera sinks, hand-crafted sculptures and local handicrafts. The property scores high in the food department, and the beach club restaurant specializes in local cuisine. Saffron is the more formal restaurant on property (it serves contemporary Thai cuisine), but it is just as welcoming for families with small children.

If you fancy a change of scenery, you can also eat at any of the restaurants within the Mayakoba complex and charge it to your room. The transfer from one Mayakoba hotel to the other is no more than 10 minutes and is complimentary. This is especially good to know since the nearby Playa del Carmen can be overrun with Cancun tourists at times.

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pool surrounded by palm trees and a white building backdrop

Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa

The first luxury resort on the Riviera Maya, Maroma, A Belmond Hotel is on the best beach and has an authentic, destination-specific vibe.

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hotel pool with multiple lounge beds and umbrellas and beach in background

Etéreo, Auberge Resorts Collection

Guests arriving at Auberge’s new Riviera Maya resort, Etéreo, the first of the three resorts to open in the Kanai complex just above Playa del Carmen, have the option to receive a brief shaman’s blessing with incense, Mayan chanting and shell blowing to help set an intention for their stay or their lives, a practice that ties to the ethos of the hotel and reflects the connection to the ethereal (and Maya traditions)—to honor the past, stay in the present, create the future. It’s one that also suggests that a stay at a luxury hotel can be transformative. The shaman places a mini shrine on a small shelf outside your door with a Maya figure and two shells, talismans for an auspicious stay. Touches like these are echoed throughout the resort—in everything from design elements to the menus and activities.

With 75 rooms spread across eight towers of three or four levels, this property, which opened in December 2021, feels modern and stylish but not sprawling. Studios and suites feel sophisticated and distinctive, and many come with outdoor plunge pools. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass walls let in the light and invite easy access to the terrace. Local touches, like a carved wooden wall dividing bedroom and bathroom spaces with a recurring O-shaped design represent the zero of the Maya calendar (and the cycle of life); handwoven wall hangings, leather headboards, and striped rugs, pillows and baskets and a straw beach bag made in Oaxaca and the Yucatán add to the sense of place. The largest three-bedroom suites are 2,000 square feet, but even studios feel spacious at 875 square feet, with substantial closet space and well-equipped mini bars. The sky deck suite has its own floor, along with a balcony and plunge pool, a fire pit and somewhat more privacy and a view over the mangroves to the beach and the sprawling space ship-like St. Regis Kanai resort next door.

Dramatic elevated walkways lead guests from the main buildings across the 400-year-old mangroves to pretty pools or the beach, both of which have crisp white umbrellas and comfortable outdoor beds and cabanas.

Sleek design with Maya accents also carries through in the spa and fitness pavilions; the Sana Spa has its own (if man-made) “cenote“ in the form of an indoor soaking pool designed to look like a natural limestone cave pool. There is also a bath house with a sauna, steam room and sound room, along with an assortment of  Maya-inspired treatments using local herbs to promote healing. There are a range of yoga and HIIT classes, along with suspension workouts, too, and Jésus, the resort trainer, couldn’t have been friendlier or more engaged. As for the rest of the attentive, warm staff, aside from the guias (your host-guides during your stay), much of the team moves around the site by underground tunnels and in separate elevators, so guests have the walkways between the lobby pavilion, spa, restaurants and rooms mostly to themselves.

You will not want for food here: Multiple restaurants include Itzam (Mexican, with its own wood-fired comal for homemade tortillas) and Che Che (for ceviche and Japanese-Peruvian inspired dishes); El Changarro (beachside tacos and other light bites); Alberca (a particularly tasty poolside tuna poke bowl, ceviches, salads and sandwiches); or room service; and Chu Chu (a cute truck for coffee outside the well-curated boutique, serves coffee and good pastries from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m.; iced coffee or tea is complimentary). Guests can also make reservations at the other Kanai properties. 

Activities on- and off-property seemed substantial and designed to reflect Yucatan culture, including the weekly Maya calendar reading with local astrologer and storyteller Itzel Castillo. Guests can also take a class with a local chef, artist or ceramicist; enjoy paddleboarding, scuba, snorkeling, sailing, cenote visits; and visit Tulum or Chichén Itzá. There is a kids’ club on-property, though we saw mostly couples and families with either infants or older children during our visit. Overall, the only drawback is that the beach feels a bit too spotless, perhaps because of the sustainability requirements to protect the mangroves, and there are no bathrooms or changing areas at the beach, so you have to walk to the pool area or back to your room. But the sand sculptures of sea turtles and dolphins that seemed to magically appearwith messages of hope and peace are guaranteed to brighten your day.

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External view from Bedroom at Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Fairmont Mayakoba

Part of the Maya Riviera’s Mayakoba resort community, the Fairmont Mayakoba has 401 guest rooms located in casitas of various sizes scattered around the forty-five-acre property. Most rooms have views of one of several natural lagoons, which guests can travel across via complimentary lanchas, small covered canal boats. The rooms are spacious and well designed for families. The Signature Casita Rooms, for instance, feature a large master bedroom with huge marble bathroom and dressing area and a living room, which can be outfitted with twin cots and second bathroom. The rooms and bathrooms are attractive, with sleek, contemporary furnishings - not likely to offend anyone but not particularly specific to Mexico.

If the rooms are as nice as those in the best resorts, the service and the crowded feeling of the public areas remind you that what really sets the top properties apart from the next level down is not the infrastructure but the people. Although there are five pools, families tend to pack in around the pool that is not near the beach, possibly because of its popular water slide. At peak holiday times, it gets so crowded that you may not find a chaise if you don’t stake one out early. All restaurants feature a kids’ menu but service can be exceedingly slow.

In addition to a fantastic Willow Stream Spa and 18-hole Greg Norman golf course on the property, the Riviera Maya offers a spate of family-friendly activities from diving or snorkeling in Cozumel (the world’s second largest coral reef) to zipline riding though the jungle or exploring the Mayan ruins of Tulum—many of which can arranged by the hotel. Bottom line: At first glance this looks like a true luxury resort but its size and service give the experience a slightly mass-market feeling. On the other hand, it is only forty minutes or so from the Cancun airport, which is easily reached from both coasts, so for a quick fix of sun in winter, it’s reliable and can be reasonable. Tip: The nicest rooms are the ones on the beach in a private area of the resort. Each of these comes with butler service.

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white hotel hallway with wall of glass on right and hotel room doors on left

The St. Regis Kanai Resort

Suspended above the mangroves, the ultra-modern St. Regis Kanai Resort sits on two miles of pristine beach.

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