Want to experience Mexico’s Caribbean coast in a new way? Perhaps you have been meeting away and doing business deals in the frenetic hub that is Mexico City. You might have worn your proverbial socks off traipsing around Chichén Itzá, Cobá, Monte Albán, Palenque, Templo Mayor, Teotihuacán, Tlatelolco, Tulum, Uxmal, Xcaret … whatever, now take a few days’ break.
From Cancun, I suggest first heading 40 minutes south to Mayakoba, the 650-hectare coastal complex that has 18 hectares of beach, endless miles of inland, mangrove-lined canals, 18 holes of Greg Norman championship golf, an integral arts and crafts village, and four separate resorts.
Andaz Mayakoba is the newest. I knew this brand would have certain touchpoints, and this turned out to be a luxury property that combined the expected wow of colour with the natural beauty of the Mayakoba complex. The arrival is calmingly memorable. You are driven up to a box-shaped 18-metre sanctuary, open front and back. Look down at the 15-metre-diameter pool, into which you are invited to throw a lucky stone. Look ahead at a Mayakoba selfie sign, at the base of a roof-high vertical circle. GM Pascal Dupuis actually appears to run two resorts: some of the 214 rooms are up near the sanctuary, mostly round an inner lagoon, while other rooms are over two kilometres away, down by the beach.
There is a mass of buggies, all emblazoned with such bird quotes as “if you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them growing”, (Coco Chanel). And dotted in between and around all the buildings and buggy-ways are nine forceful coloured-steel sculptures, all part of the Ring series, finished in 2016 by José Manuel Martinez. This whole resort, indeed, is a blend of manicured green lawns and gardens, and square, unpainted concrete buildings, some with brilliant birds on one facet.
I was in suite 2331, on the top floor of one such three-floor block. I strode up 19 exterior steps to a private landing shared with 2332: we had a totally private plunge pool, large enough for aqua-exercise. I had big balconies with stunning views. I loved the signs. Want your room serviced? There is a delicate golden scarf which you can knot or tie creatively, to hang outside your door. For Do Not Disturb I had a miniature hammock, a reminder that full-size hammock-making is one of the many crafts guests can do here when they are fed up with the beach or the pools (they can also try agave mezcal tasting, archery, biking, cigar pairing, flavoured-ice tasting, making guacamole, scuba diving, tennis, tequila tasting and, of course, yoga and watersports). They can also use a 24/7 glass-walled gym.
Do, please, spa time. Director Daniel Escalante is an empathetic Mexican who has spent years in California. He is reassuringly calm: before taking me into Naum spa, he shows me the outdoor Mayan labyrinth, a circular maze of coloured stones set in the sand around a magic tree. Progress from the black outer stones of the underworld to yellow of the earthly world to white of the heavenly world. As at Andaz hotels on Maui and in Tokyo, an apothecary store here allows you to mix your own potions for a Naum experience, a massage and more, with warming volcanic stones along the way.
And then it was time to rush away, down to dinner literally on the beach, our feet in the sand. We drank Mexico’s famous Santo Tomas, Unico Cabernet-Merlot Gran Reserva 12 Vino Tinto, ate wood-cooked steaks off wood platters, and finally, bed.
Hyatt Ziva Cancun
Tomorrow was to turn out to be a mammoth, and totally delightful, learning curve. Most of the wall-to-wall resorts along Zona Hotelera, a vertical strip of land parallel to the main coast of Cancun city, are all inclusive. Hyatt Ziva Cancun, owned and managed by Playa, is unique in having totally private beaches, and offering real luxury.
You eat and drink whenever and whatever you want, and you can enjoy dolphins in one pool. You can gaze, endlessly out to sea – as I did from room #217 in the adult-only Turquoize Tower – and watch the goings-on below. During my short stay one of around 200 weddings every year was taking place (this apparently is not part of the all-inclusive; you do pay extra if you are hosting such an event). The ceremony took place, broadcast over a tannoy, and later the happy couple posed along a boardwalk.
I made use of the well-equipped 24/7 gym, and did a lot of walking, including up and down steps in the public area. There are 547 rooms in all, spread over three separate towers, and I do recommend Turquoize if you feel like a bit of peace and quiet away from kids. Turquoize is butler-serviced and I was looked after by Eduardo and his colleagues throughout my stay: about an hour after my arrival, indeed, Eduardo arrived with a full cocktail trolley and asked if he could prepare a margarita, which he did, with great style.
There was always someone to help, to escort me personally to, say, La Bastille, one of 17 places you can get food or drink from. They are all non-reservation, and even this ‘top French’ turned out to be smart-casual bistro, just right for a holiday market. The menu includes foie gras, fillet and lobster: I was with Playa’s Alex Andrade and he told how accurately they can forecast what people actually do want to eat. A couple were already waiting for our table as we left. We walked past a mariarchi group on our way out. Yes, you guessed it, there is regular live entertainment.
Some like swimming up to a bar for an ice-cold beer, others merely to watch the dolphins being fed. More than a few, during my short stay, could not wait for the opening of the dedicated dessert restaurant, adjacent to a coffee store that has a full range of coffees. The dessert section has colourful cakes and oh, what luscious ice-creams. No wonder people of all ages were sitting with groaning plates and smiling faces. There is, of course, no tipping – that is included in your pre-paid rate.
Yes, I thought, ‘all inclusive’ is very attractive, and to all ages, and all pockets. Alex Andrade explained that not surprisingly there are people who, having paid upfront for everything they think they might need at this luxury resort, when they are actually there they cannot stop themselves buying things, say an even better bottle of wine or a spa treatment or, perhaps, even a wedding dress and the ceremony to go with it.
Two very different Hyatt experiences, both just right for today’s travellers. And the friendly shuttle driver who drove me 20 minutes back to Cancun airport left a happy final feeling.