Mayakoba: The Riviera Maya's Chic Eco-Hideaway

Mayakoba: The Riviera Maya's Chic Eco-Hideaway
The Riviera Maya is as idyllic and exotic as it sounds. Nestled on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, this region characterized by powdery white sand beaches, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and lush emerald jungle has been inhabited by the Mayans for thousands of years.

Mayakobá is a new luxury resort enclave, 42 miles south of Cancun, presenting a rare experience for discerning travelers. Pass through the secure main gate into a serene world of privilege and exclusivity that includes El Camaléon, a Greg Norman-designed golf course, and four ultra-luxury resorts – the AAA Five Diamond, Fairmont Mayakoba (opened 2006), the Rosewood Mayakoba (opened early 2008), Banyan Tree Mayakoba (opening February 2009) and The Viceroy Mayakoba (opening next year). Guests staying at any one of the properties in the Mayakobá complex have the rare privilege of sharing all resort amenities, making the only difference where you lay your head at night.

Fairmont Mayakoba main canal. / El Camaleon golf course.

The luxurious Mayakobá development is distinguished from the rampant high-rise hotels of nearby Cancun by a conscious effort to protect and maintain the area's fragile eco-systems, as well as the indigenous Mayan community. Here, you will not stay in a hotel tower. The four resorts are built almost completely below tree-line, with casitas and villas scattered through the jungle with views of the mangroves, lagoons and canals, with just a smattering of beachfront casitas for the privileged few. So even though the resort is huge, the feeling throughout is private and intimate.

Developers made it their utmost priority to study the environment and integrate the resort properties with as little disruption as possible. To successfully complete such a forward-thinking project, they made a thorough analysis to maintain natural balance, and biologists and developers came up with the blueprint for creating the resort. From the mangroves and canals to the beach and coral reef to the hundreds of thousands of plants and wildlife, Mayakobá is and a thriving example of how luxury and nature can live in perfect harmony.

Choose from Beachfront Casitas with private plunge pools or Casitas among the mangroves.

Mayakobá truly offers something for everyone – a mile long stretch of one of the best beaches on the planet, the area's pristine coral reef – one that is the second largest in the world, a world-class golf course that is home to Mexico's premier Mayakoba Golf Classic, indulgent spas offering indigenous and international treatments, nature tours and cultural visits that amaze all ages, kid's clubs, imaginative local and international cuisine, as well as the shopping, dining and nightlife of charming Playa Del Carmen, just 5 miles away.

Kids will love the tour through the resort's crystal clear water canals in a "lanchas" (silent covered motorboats) with an ecology expert to point out the beautiful flora and fauna. We saw many birds including Parrots, Hummingbirds, Kingfishers, Eagles, Herons, Cormorants, Flycatchers and more. Environmentally friendly electric golf carts and bicycles are also available throughout the property.

Lanchas (silent covered motorboats) tour through the resort's crystal clear canals with an ecology expert to point out the colorful flora and fauna.

Many of the most notable Mayan sites are an easy day trip from Mayakobá -- among them are Cobá, perhaps the largest of the Mayan cities, Chichen Itzá, famous for the 91-step pyramid, and Tulúm, a walled Mayan port city perched above scenic beaches on the Caribbean coast.

Another great trip for parents and kids is to the lesser visited UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve where Mayan guides who speak English, Spanish and Mayan, take you through the jungle to see mysterious Mayan temples and then by boat across a lake to a natural “lazy river” where you float effortlessly through crystal clear canals for several kilometres. At the end of the adventure, you are served a delicious lunch of fresh ceviche, artfully presented by a Mayan chef who was taught by the Fairmont Mayakobá staff how to prepare five-star cuisine. The Fairmont Mayakobá actively participates in empowering and revitalizing Mayan village communities, keeping indigenous culture and local traditions alive, by providing training and by purchasing locally made products.

Our Mayan guide takes us through the natural canals of Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. / Chichen Itza is a day tour.

We stayed at The Fairmont Mayakobá which has 401 supremely comfortable and spacious accommodations with huge, spa-like bathrooms that flow open-plan from the bedrooms. The rooms and suites are scattered from the main building to casitas and villas spread throughout the mangroves and along the meandering canals and lagoons. The resort's premier accommodations are the Beachfront Casitas with private infinity plunge pools. The Private Signature Casita Suites with rooftop infinity plunge pools are also spectacular, and the two Presidential Suites, which should really be called villas, are perfect for families offering a luxurious homelike atmosphere.

The Fairmont features some truly great pools, five of them – the main “Island” pool is 10,000 square feet with swim-up bar and it is divided into many private areas, so you feel like you have your own secluded spot to relax. The two infinity pools, one overlooking the beach and one overlooking the lagoon, have the “wow factor” and are for adults only. The children's pool boasts a fantastic waterslide and wading pool adjoining the main Island Pool, next to the Discovery Kids' Camp. There is also the Bambú Pool near the main building for both adults and children.

Fairmont Mayakoba's beachfront infinity pool. / Tropical cocktails at the main 'Island Pool' swim-up bar.

The 37,000 square foot Willow Stream Spa also has a couple of pools on the rooftop where you can ease your muscles with the healing waters of the signature vitality pool, or find energy in the sea-mineral soaking pool. Here, you can indulge in local, indigenous spa experiences based on local Mayan traditions, featuring local herbs, essential oils, and extracts. For chocolate lovers, discover Cacao with The Food of the Gods Body Nourisher . The most popular treatment is the Cha Chac Rain Ritual, based on the Mayan rain ritual.

The Fairmont Mayakoba is an amazing resort, because it is at once a romantic retreat and a great family resort at the same time without one interfering with the other. It is a serene hideaway and yet offers so many things to see and do -- a dreamy beach, an amazing golf course, a world-class spa, creative cuisine, cultural visits to ancient Mayan sites, nature and adventure, as well as the advantage of sharing the luxurious facilities of the other Mayakoba resorts – the Rosewood, the Banyan Tree and coming next year, the Viceroy.

La Laguna breakfast buffet. / Las Brisas beachfront bar.

Insider tip: When you first arrive at the resort and are escorted to your casita, the property will appear huge and maze-like. To get your bearings, know that the property flows out from the main building towards the beach, with casitas set on either side of a center island where you will find the main “Island” pool and La Laguna restaurant with the Lagoon infinity pool next to it. A mangrove separates the casitas from the beach area. It is a fairly long walk to the beach, so it is best to catch a golf cart or pick up a bicycle to get to the beach where you will find the Las Brisas restaurant, bar and beachfront infinity pool adjacent to it.