From Jackie Magid, who recently stayed at Esencia with her husband and two daughters, aged 3 and 6
We first learned about Esencia from the wonderful reviews from other Indagare members, but were hesitant to book because the hotel (the former residence of an Italian Duchess) lacked a gym, sports activities and kids club for our daughters aged three and six – things we previously thought were necessities. But we decided to give it a try because we were looking for a place during Spring Break that was small and authentic- and alternatives such as the Banyan Tree Mayakoba and Rosewood Mayakoba are anything but that.
You arrive at Esencia on an unassuming dirt road to a small Mayan hut, which is the reception of the hotel. After a quick check-in and encounter with our first iguana (there were to be many sightings of iguanas during our stay and the girls made a game of naming each one them on our daily walks to the beach), we were whisked away in a golf cart to our two-story villa for the week – Puesta Del Sol – a gorgeous white-washed villa complete with media room, full pool and two bedrooms. There are only two such villas on the property but the other 30+ suites are just as beautifully decorated. Most suites and villas are in the rain forest, but still just a two-minute walk from the beach. For families though, we recommend the villas.
We booked activities outside the resort in advance thinking that we would need those diversions for the kids since there was no kids club or kids activities, but the girls quickly found other friends and were more than happy to spend their time alternating between the pool (there are two), beach and their friend’s suites. And we were happy to relax on the gorgeous beach, do a little yoga (offered daily in the mornings) and walk along the beach during the day. We ended up cancelling most activities outside the resort except doing a dolphin swim at nearby Dolphin Discovery, spending a few hours in Xcaret (an eco-park- mixed reviews on this) and dinner in town of Playa Del Carmen, which is a 25-minute cab away. Once you are here, it is hard to leave, but if you need a lot of resort activities and events as part of your vacation, Esencia is not the best choice.
Esencia offered two unique activities for the kids, a chocolate massage (exactly what it sounds like), which my elder daughter loved, but frightened my three-year-old a bit, so I would recommend it for ages five and up, and a private one-hour cooking lesson with the head chef of the resort. This was a huge hit – the girls made chocolate covered strawberries, cookies, salad and quesadillas. They were so proud to show us their results and loved the junior chef hats and aprons they got to take home. Our only wish is that the resort provided a few more of these types of unique offerings for children (ie. making authentic crafts). The food at both of the restaurants was excellent, especially the home-made ice creams and freshly made guacamole, plus they will make anything not on the menu for you. The restaurant service was prompt, and all the staff at the hotel were extremely friendly and gracious.
Tip: Esencia provides a wonderful complimentary nanny service when you want to dine at one of the resort’s restaurants without the kids or get a massage at the spa – most of the nannies work at the hotel and are lovely. Highly recommend anyone coming here with kids take advantage of this.
Tip: Each morning, hot coffee, orange juice and fresh pastries are brought to your door. If you don’t get to it immediately, it will be whisked away by the birds or other animals (there are some strange looking animals on the property – one looks like a miniature pig and the others look like lemurs. They are perfectly harmless but alarming when you first see them). Only about half the time did we make it to get our breakfast in time before it disappeared, as hard as we tried!
Read Indagare’s full report on Riviera Maya