Destination: Mexico: Riviera Maya
Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Vibe: Asian-inspired serenity.
At a Glance: Part of the Mayakoba complex, the Banyan Tree rates high thanks to gorgeous guest villas, a wonderful beach club and excellent spa.
Review: 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 large villas that are freestanding and very private, with a gated entry and high walls surrounding them. Each comes with 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, its 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 short golf-cart ride). 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 do offer a large pool area.
Banyan Tree has never been shy about its Thai heritage, and at times, the very Asian-inspired design, including massive temple-style roofs, seems slightly out of place here. 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, which serves local Mexican specialties, was absolutely delicious every time I ate here on my recent trip. Saffron is the more formal restaurant on property (it serves contemporary Thai cuisine), but it is just as welcoming for families with small children.
Tip: 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 doesn’t have great restaurants to offer and can be quite dodgy and overrun with Cancun tourists at times. If you do decide to venture into the bustling strip of Playa, one notable mention for dinner is John Gray’s Place (Calle Corazón, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, 77710, 984/803-3689).
WHO SHOULD STAY: Families or couples who appreciate amenities of a full-service resort. While there is the option to hideaway in your villa without disruption, there is nothing boutique-like about this property, the resort is grand and can accommodate almost any request. Those who prefer a more modern aesthetic should book the Rosewood. The Rosewood also feels more kid-friendly.
- The set-up is all villas, complete with private pools.
- Wonderful Mexican restaurant and beach club.
- The terrific spa, with Asian-inspired treatments.
MEMBER FEEDBACK: Read a postcard about a stay at Banyan Tree Mayakoba.
Vibe: Modern, sleek, sprawling.
At a Glance: Part of the Mayakoba complex, the Rosewood is built around a network of canals and has an excellent Kid’s Club that keeps fans coming back time and again.
Review: The Rosewood Mayakoba sits within the Riviera Maya’s Mayakoba complex, a high-end gated community that is also home to the Banyan Tree and the Fairmont plus a championship golf course designed by Greg Norman. Water is the main theme here, as the restaurants, three pools and reception areas are located around a lagoon, and the 128 suites follow a network of canals bordered by mangroves.
What are referred to as “suites” are, in most cases, generously sized freestanding villas built with indigenous materials such as limestone and native woods. Interiors are sleek, with paneled sliding doors and luminous bathrooms that have glass ceilings and some with outdoor showers. All suites come with private plunge pools and rooftop patios or a private garden. The prime rooms are those closest to the beach, since getting around the sprawling property requires a lot of walking or the use of bikes, boats or golf carts. Unlike some of the more couple-oriented resorts such as Maroma, the Rosewood welcomes children of all ages. Parents rave about the Kids’ Club, which accepts children as young as age three and is offered free of charge.
Note that if you must be on the sand, the only option is a Beachfront Suite, whose private patio and plunge pool sit directly on the beach. Honeymooners should consider the Overwater Lagoon Suites, which are constructed on stilts in the lagoon. Although they don’t have sea views, they are very private and romantic.INDAGARE LOVES:
- Large guest accommodations with outdoor terraces and rooftop patios
- Two large pool areas, including one beachside
- Excellent Kid’s Club (plus, children under 12 stay for free in their parent’s rooms)
Zoetry (formerly Paraiso de la Bonita)
UPDATE December 1, 2008: It was announced that Paraiso de la Bonita was sold and has been re-branded as a Zoetry resort (for now, it will continue to be called Paraiso de la Bonita). We will keep you updated about any planned changes to the resort. If you have visited since the change and would like to comment, please post your remarks or send us an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Paraiso de la Bonita—a tranquil 90-suite resort some fifteen miles south of Cancún—arriving guests are greeted by two large wooden dragons hailing from Bali. They set the tone for a property that’s decorated with antiques and objets collected by the Mexican owners, Carlos and Elisa Gosselin, on their world travels. Occupying fourteen acres, Paraiso was originally conceived as a private home—Carlos’s nickname for Elisa is bonita—but in 2001, it opened as a secluded getaway mostly for couples (children under sixteen are not allowed). At its heart is a large red-painted hacienda whose thatched-roof palapas and shaded walkways spill into breezy courtyards and at whose center is a magnificent infinity-edge pool lined with white daybeds. There’s a second, saltwater pool in front of the 22,000-square-foot spa, North America’s only certified Thalasso center, but most guests lounge around the main one, close to the funky-chic beachside restaurant, El Chiringuito, and the Hippo Bar, named for its two carved-wood hippopotamus sculptures hailing from Victoria Falls, Africa.
Instead of numbers, the spacious one- and two-bedroom suites bear the names of places the Gosselins have visited—from Marbella, Mykonos and Positano to Malindi, Petra and Isfahan. The accommodations are all located in a two-story wing that snakes along the beach and all have sea views. Like Paraiso’s common spaces, the rooms mix Mexican architecture with international finds, their furnishings sourced from Bali, Indonesia, Africa and India as well as from the Yucatán Peninsula. Beds are elevated so that waking guests open their eyes to the sea. Bathrooms are spacious, with square sunken tubs reminiscent of Roman baths, handcrafted marble and glass sinks and Bulgari bath products. Each suite has a private terrace equipped with a daybed, hammock or small plunge pool, depending on what floor it’s on.
When some locals found out where I was staying, several remarked that the whimsically global design of Paraiso was not representative enough of the area. It’s true that my Amman suite, with its blue-and-gold drapes, white stone archway and silk wall hangings, did not scream Mexico. But Paraiso is not trying to be the ultimate Mexican fantasy. It’s a deeply personal place, and I loved the fact that every piece on display, from the Indian chandeliers in the so-called bird court to the canoes suspended from the ceiling in the main restaurant, had a tale of travel behind it. I also appreciated the warm and efficient staff, many of whom are Yucatán natives and greet you with the Mayan expression bix-a-bel (pronounced bish-a-beel), which means “how are you?”
The beach at Paraiso is not as picture-perfect as that at Maroma or the ones in Tulum, so most guests stay by the two pools, and when the resort is fully booked, getting loungers in the best spots can be difficult (the somewhat removed saltwater pool by the spa is more peaceful). There are three restaurants, including La Canoa, which has a 5,000-bottle wine cellar and serves delicious Mexican-inspired cuisine, but Cancún and Playa del Carmen are also close, if you want a night out. In terms of activities, Paraiso offers the full range of water sports, as well as a 48-foot catamaran for cruises along the coast, and Mayakobá’s Greg Norman–designed golf course is nearby. But most people come here for total relaxation and pampering. I overheard one guest approach the general manager exclaiming, “There’s nothing to do here!” This sounded like a complaint, but her face lit up as she continued, “And that’s exactly what my husband and I needed.” Rooms from $900.
WHO SHOULD/SHOULDN’T GO: Paraiso is all about couples. Romance is definitely in the air, and if you’re not part of a twosome, you may feel out of place. Children under sixteen are not allowed most of the year (at certain times the age limit sinks to twelve, but frankly teenagers would find few activities that would entertain them). Apparently even Gwyneth Paltrow was politely told that unless she booked the entire resort, she couldn’t bring her two children.
Situated close to Cancún, Paraiso is about an hour-and-a-half drive from the archeological sites of Tulum and Cobá and a two-hour trek from the Biosphere Sian-Ka’an, so if extensive exploration of these sights is important to you, you might want to be based farther south. The main activities are pampering spa treatments, spending quality time with loved ones and catching up on the classics you’ve never had time to read (I saw three fellow guests absorbed in One Hundred Years of Solitude).
ROOMS TO GET: The suites are arranged in four clusters that are quite spread out. If you prefer to be close to the main pool, restaurants and spa, be sure to request a suite near the main facilities; those located at the tail end of the wing are better for guests who appreciate privacy and don’t mind having to stroll down a stone pathway to get to the public areas. I loved being on the third floor, not only because of the prime views but also because my terrace came with a double daybed. Rooms on the ground floor have private plunge pools, and although these are great in theory, the surrounding greenery, planted to replace the vegetation Hurricane Wilma destroyed, hasn’t grown enough to shield bathers from prying eyes. Best to go for first- or second-floor accommodations.
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