Walkways float above dense mangrove forest, terraces cascade leafy tendrils, rooftops bristle with tropical grass… it's easy to imagine that the Etereo hotel emerged fully formed out of its lush jungle setting. And what a setting it is, overlooking the powder-soft coral sands and cobalt turquoise waters that have put the Mayan Riviera firmly in ‘oh-my-god-where-is-that?’ territory. But there’s plenty of manmade beauty to gush over here, too, with artist-led decor and interiors crafted by top New York design talent. The hotel’s name means ‘ethereal’, and whether starfishing on a seafront cabana or swaying in a poolside hamaca, you’ll appreciate this is a rarefied slice of paradise indeed.
12 noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £576.56 ($695), including tax at 16 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 16% per room per night on check-out and an additional room tax of 3% per room per night on check-out.
Rates do not include breakfast, which costs around US$45 a person.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, spa, yoga classes, concierge, private beach, fitness room, kids’ club. In rooms: Minibar, safe, air conditioning, private terrace, satellite TV, blackout curtains.
Our favourite rooms
When you’ve such spectacular surroundings to gaze out upon, you want to be as high up as possible. That’s why we particularly loved the Ocean Suite with Sky Deck, with its guaranteed elevated vantage point and rooftop terrace to make the most of the cinematic vistas. Soak them up in the plunge pool during the day, and by night stargaze around your own fire pit. You have a butler on call, too, to whip up a restorative tequila cocktail while the sun dips over the cinematic horizon.
At the adults-only pool grown-ups can keep cool in peace on in-pool loungers and enjoy poolside pampering in wooden cabanas (for a daily fee which includes drinks). A family-friendly pool includes a hot tub for parents, and both are surrounded by cushioned loungers and Yucatecan hammocks.
The hotel’s emphasis on wellness taps a rich vein of Mayan tradition, with many treatments based on ancient techniques and practices. Choose from honey wraps to crystal healing to cacao scrubs, as well as a good old-fashioned pummelling. They also offer classes in aerial yoga, chromatic breathing and reiki circles.
Leave your ego at home; you’ll want to lose yourself here.
A pared-down spa menu is available for in-room beauty treatments; accessible guest rooms include mobility features and widened doorways.
The hotel accommodates pets in all rooms for a fee (Studios: US$150, Suites: US$200). There’s a maximum of two pets a room, and each must be less than 18kg. You get a free kit for your fur baby at check-in, too, which includes a bed, water and food dish. See more pet-friendly hotels in Riviera Maya.
Cots are available on request; there’s a children’s menu at the restaurant and for in-room dining; and babysitting is $25 an hour, plus a $40 transportation fee.
Two- and three-bedroom suites have connecting options.
Chavito’s Kids’ Club for children aged four to 11 with daily-changing themes and activities. Half- and full-day options available.
Nature walks on the beach and above the mangroves, alebrije (Mexican spirit animal) crafting, scuba introduction, paddleboarding, kayaking and more.
Shallow children’s pool and splash pad next to the kids' club.
Highchairs, kids’ menu, kitchen happy to adapt dishes.
Childcare is available by the hour or overnight. Minimum of three hours; $25 an hour.
No need to pack
Baby monitors are offered free at the hotel.
Welcome and birthday amenities are tailored to kids.
Close relationships with local farmers, fishermen and food suppliers make for locavore-friendly dining. A commitment to supporting the local environment includes a team of in-house botanists to help care for and conserve the protected area and its biodiversity. All activities and experiences are also geared towards being non-disruptive to the surrounding ecosystem.
Sunken walkways lead to the centre of a pool and a squishy couch encircling a fire pit, where specific menus are prepared and served. The edge of the surrounding pool segues into the mangrove canopy and ocean beyond, to dramatic effect.
Sarong-over-swimwear is acceptable attire for lingering lunches; dinner demands something a little dressier.
As you enter the hotel’s main restaurant, Itzam, for breakfast you’re met with the earthy aroma of freshly cooked tortillas and maize, fire-roasted on a huge circular comal grill. Much of the morning menu follows this pre-Hispanic theme – mole eggs, fried chilaquiles, and exotic juices – while also offering more familiar breakfast favourites. The restaurant opens again for dinner, with dishes that dig deeper into ancient Mayan recipes and with a focus on super-fresh local ingredients that borders on the fanatical (they say all produce travels no more than an hour to the kitchen). Che Che restaurant offers a more casual dining experience, taking Japanese flavours and giving them a Latino twist – the seaweed-taco sushi pretty much sums it up. Completing the trio, El Changarro epitomises laidback toes-in-the-sand, dining with simple Mexican classics. Does it get better than ceviche on the beach?
Most remarkable about the hotel’s bar is its commitment to Mexico-made drinks. And we’re not just talking about tequila and mezcal here, but also Mexican vodka and gin (even Mexican sake is served in the Che Che restaurant). El Carrito café-bar also opens early for morning coffee and warm churros. Later, grab a zingy margarita here on your way to the terrace in time for sundown.
The hotel overlooks the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, about 15km north of the resort of Playa del Carmen.
Cancun International Airport is a 45- to 50-minute drive from Etereo; the hotel provides an airport transfer service to and from the airport (US$198 one way for up to five guests).
If you’re keen to explore the area, car hire is by far the best option. Arrange it through the hotel or pick up a deal at the airport. Valet parking is available at the hotel free of charge.
Worth getting out of bed for
We understand you could happily spend your whole stay shuffling between sunlounger and spa, but this corner of Mexico has more to do than you can shake a (shaman) stick at. The surrounding sites of the ancient Maya, with their superbly restored temples and carved stone effigies, should top anyone’s list. The ruins at Tulum are worth a visit for their dramatic clifftop setting, but a couple hours inland Coba impresses with its soaring pyramids and cooling subterranean cenotes. More watery-adventures can be had at nearby Xcaret, a cross-between eco-theme park and archaeological site. Alternatively, grab a paddleboard or kayak, and head out to the barrier reef a few hundred metres from shore for kaleidoscopic snorkelling.
Besides those belonging to the other resort hotels scattered along the coast, you won’t find any eateries until you get to Playa del Carmen – but it’s definitely worth the short (20-minute) drive. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone with a bad word for La Cueva del Chango, found in the quieter and leafier part of town. A secluded jungly environment sets the mood for abuela-approved Mexican cooking. If you like fresh-from-the-net seafood that is flamed-cooked to perfection, seek out Ictio Fish House. This unpretentious street-corner eatery takes its mariscos seriously, with a pared-down menu featuring oysters, shrimp, and whatever has been pulled from the deep that morning. A little further down the coast, and along a bumpy trail, is perennially popular The Traveler's Table. It’s a five-course ‘dining experience’ showcasing ancient Mayan flavours through gastronomic theatrics, storytelling and tequila.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this eco-deluxe hotel in the Mexican Caribbean and unpacked their hunk of incense and carved mezcal cup, a full account of their Quintana Roo break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Etereo in the Maya Riviera…
It’s been over two decades since the infinitely more elegant ‘Mayan Riviera’ was dreamt up to replace the clunky ‘Cancun-Tulum corridor’ to describe this dreamy stretch of the Mexican Caribbean. And despite many hotels here weaving elements of the region’s ancient heritage into the experience, few do it with so much dedication and aplomb as Etereo. It starts upon arrival, with a trumpeting conch shell by your personal guía. Next an in-house shaman wields smoking copal incense – a ritual to help you leave one world behind and enter the ‘ethereal’, or etéreo in Spanish.
On its physical plane, it’s part of the Kanai complex of over 400 sprawling acres of coastal mangrove forest, and the first of four hotels that will eventually occupy this protected area. Although this may sound incongruous, nature and the natural environment are paid utmost respect. Most of the hotel stands on elevated platforms above the jungle canopy and eco-sensitive policies are adhered to…well…religiously. Local materials like lava stone and tzalam wood add to a sense of integration with the unspoilt, swoon-worthy surroundings, complemented by works by revered Mexican artist, Manuel Felguérez, and a team of home-grown artisans. A spa offers a multitude of Maya-infused treatments too, and dining is a masterclass in innovative indigenous cooking. It all adds up to a bar-raising addition to the Mayan Riviera, and one worth conch-trumpeting about.