Hidden away on a leafy street two blocks from the beach in Playa del Carmen, Hotel La Semilla is a whitewashed hideaway of tropical plants and Mexican vintage finds. Each room is artfully decked out in pieces culled from Mexico’s top flea markets, a shady garden filled with hammocks awaits you for breakfast or afternoon lounging, an ocean-view rooftop terrace offers the perfect perch for a sundown cocktail and the friendly staff always have a beach kit and a fount of local knowledge at the ready.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of wine. Silver and GoldSmiths also get a handcrafted gift
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £96.23 ($131), including tax at 19 per cent.
Rates usually include à la carte breakfast, refreshments in the garden throughout the day, afternoon wine and beer, laundry services, and 15 per cent off at neighbouring Mahekal Resort’s spa and beach restaurant.
At the hotel
Library; garden; rooftop terrace; bicycles to borrow; beach kits with towels, beach bags, umbrellas and coolers; free WiFi throughout. In rooms: bottled water and organic Yucherbal toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
Each of the nine rooms is distinctly decorated with carefully curated vintage finds from flea markets around Mexico, but if you’re looking to really splash out, room Eight, one of the two suites, is something extra special. Perched at the top of the hotel, it’s not only the largest room, flooded with warm Mexican sunshine, but also has a private terrace (with a glimpse of the ocean) and a private outdoor shower.
The hotel does not have a pool, but the calm, warm waters of the public Calle 38 beach is a two-minute walk away, and the hotel can furnish you with a beach kit complete with towels, beach bags, beach umbrellas and coolers in which to pack your snacks and cervezas for a day on the sand. Should you prefer a private beach club, your hosts can point you in the direction of the Canibal Royal Beach Club, just a few minutes away.
All those books you’ve been meaning to read – in the hotel’s spirit of relaxation, the rooms don’t have televisions or other entertainment, so you’ll want to stake out a sunlounger on the Terraza or a seat in the shady Jardín Copal to settle in for a few hours of reading.
This a strictly adults-only hotel. Only children over 17 are permitted.
If you need respite from the morning sun, settle into a cosy sofa in the Cocina Loft itself while you sip your coffee; for a breezier dining experience, take a seat at one of the wooden tables scattered around the garden.
Sandals and sun-hats; with its rustic-chic aesthetic and intimate feel, La Semilla might as well be your friend’s house, so feel free to even pad around barefoot, if you so desire.
The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant, but an extensive homemade, organic breakfast is served each morning at Cocina Loft, the open kitchen and cosy sitting area that blends into the Jardín Copal, the tropical back garden. The main dish changes daily – put in a request the night before if you have a particular hankering – but the offerings always include fresh fruit, pastries, breads, house-made jams and granola. As your hosts Alexis and Angie make all the food, they are happy to accommodate any allergies with advance notice. The atmosphere is casual and friendly, and you’ll likely find yourself chatting with fellow guests about the day’s adventures.
In the afternoon, wine and beer are available for free in the hotel's garden. If your pick of poison isn't available, a member of staff will be dispatched to pick it up.
Calle 38 Norte mz. 4 lt. 3 entre 5ta. Av. y el Mar
Playa del Carmen
Less than a five-minute walk from the beach, Hotel La Semilla is hidden away in a leafy, well-heeled neighbourhood of Playa del Carmen, just far enough from the tourist hustle and bustle.
Cancun International Airport is approximately 50 minutes away by car, and a number of airlines, including United (www.united.com), American (www.aa.com) and JetBlue (jetblue.com), offer direct flights from and to New York City and other major international cities.
Taxis are available for around $80 one-way from the airport. However, if you’d like to explore the area beyond Playa del Carmen, hiring a car is advisable. There are several reliable car-hire options at the airport. Free on-site parking is available at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
La Semilla might not be on the beach, but, with Playa del Carmen’s stretches of sand just a hundred metres away, you’ll still be spending plenty of time there. Take your beach kit – provided by the hotel and filled with towels, umbrellas and coolers in which to pack your snacks – and head over to the neighbouring Canibal Royal Beach Club, where, for a fee, you can spend the day lazing on sunloungers, swimming in clear blue waters and ordering cerveza after cerveza to your side as DJs spin tunes. If you don’t need the amenities of a club, stake out a space on the equally lovely and close public beach.
If you want to get in the water, the hotel can arrange diving tours and boat trips, including an excursion to the nearby island of Cozumel, and the staff can point you in the direction of cenotes (deep natural swimming holes) within the neighbourhood. For some terrestrial adventures, the hotel can help you plan day-trips to the pre-Hispanic cities of Cobá and Tulúm, and even arrange for an expert guide. Climb the tallest Mayan pyramid in Mexico, discover archaeological treasures and swim in a secluded cenote, many of which are considered sacred. Or, see what some consider one of the seven new wonders of the world, Chichén Itzá, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest and best restored Mayan cities. Marvel at the ancient architecture including a temple dating back to 950 AD and a 75-foot pyramid constructed in the 11th century.
While much of central Playa del Carmen has become a nightlife hotspot, La Semilla’s quiet, well-heeled neighbourhood is better know for its excellent restaurants. Just down the street is the acclaimed Restaurante La Cueva del Chango, which serves all-natural, locally sourced Mexican cuisine in a breezy atmosphere (+52 984 147 0271); meals are 10 per cent off for Smith guests of La Semilla. A few blocks away, down the main Fifth Avenue, Maíz de Mar, the latest project from one of Mexico’s top young chefs, serves an inventive, seafood-focused menu with traditional local flavours (+52 984 803 1808). Lively and elegant, Almirante Pech, just a block further down the Quinta Avenida, offers tasty Yucatán-style bites and an impressive drinks list well into the night (+52 984 169 2807).
Our tropical vacation was starting out a little rocky, to say the least. We arrived in Cancun after a red-eye from Los Angeles to find that the banks had locked us out of local ATMs despite me putting travel notices on our accounts and I’d misplaced La Semilla hotel’s address in Playa Del Carmen. To top it off, we landed in the middle of a tropical storm.
I felt like a rat that had washed up from a shipwreck, not the worldly jetsetter that I like to think I am. Plus, as someone who prides themselves on having an encyclopedic knowledge of every destination, booking a trip to the Caribbean in the middle of a tropical storm was doing nothing for my travel cred.
To say La Semilla was a sanctuary from the storm would be clichéd… but I’m going there. Opening the door to our room, a little cuarto on the third floor, I instantly felt calm wash over me. The hotel works in light colors – whites, time-worn woods – and I’m told most of the furniture is, impressively, sourced from flea markets across the country (a fact that makes me bemoan my lack of luck and/or patience for flea-market sourcing).
Every little detail of the room – from the headboard cleverly cobbled together out of two twins, to the re-upholstered theater seats, to the nightstand composed of a glass table and old trunks – was effortlessly chic. The windows opened up onto the street, but it was felt like a little slice of jungle, with a beautiful tree outside in full bloom. The natural light was streaming in and I quickly wore my phone battery down snapping pictures from every angle.
On our first morning there, Mr Smith and I headed down to breakfast in the garden. I was promised breads and homemade jam, but what I got was much more. The breads and jams were present, of course, but accompanied by fresh fruit, homemade juice and a tasty dish of organic eggs. (The second day, there was chilaquiles! I think I ate my weight in chilaquiles on that trip.) Mr. Smith went crazy for the house juice and drank glassful after glassful.
After breakfast, we lay in bed with the windows open. Mr. Smith read and I just watched the breeze blow the curtains and the condensation grow on the jug of purified water. As a city-dweller, it can be hard for me to relax sometimes, even on vacation. When you’re a business owner, there’s always an inkling in the back of your head that perhaps you should be doing something. But not here: I could have lay in that room forever, staring at the white-washed ceilings and the red blooms peeking in the window.
Many people fly to the Maya Riviera to stay at one of it’s many cookie-cutter resorts. Relaxation is the top priority in this neck of the woods, and it’s screaming at you from every beach chair and bar stool. Hotel La Semilla isn’t shouty like that at all, but the air of peace is pleasingly inescapable. It’s like staying at your coolest friend’s beach house – it’s comfortable without being dowdy, stylish without being overly groomed. And the staff is sweet and professional, ready to help at every turn.
We ate our way round many of the recommended restaurants and bars, but one of the best dinners Mr Smith and I had was at Almirante Pech. Sitting at a low table surrounded by the best looking people in Playa Del Carmen, we ate tuna tartare, barbacoa panucho (fried corn masa with barbacoa, beans, pickled cucumbers and red onion) and relleno negro – pork with black Yucatan spice mix. And then, because we were on vacation, we had burnt-milk cheesecake. We picked surprise cocktails for each other… and somehow both picked the same thing – the Don Margarito (Blanco tequila, cherry tomatoes, dill and coriander). Ah, vacation, forever reminding you that, after several years of marriage, you’re basically the same person.
Back at La Semilla – tucked away behind the tiled entryway – is the garden, filled with lush plants and a sweet burbling stream, and dotted with little tables and mismatched chairs where we breakfasted each morning and sipped wine and Coronas every afternoon. On our second morning in residence, I noticed owners Alexis Schärer and Angie Rodriguez tending to a teeny model house, tucked away just off the garden path, cleaning the miniature furniture and replenishing the little gift of food left carefully beside it. The house is there to appease the 'Alux', Alexis explained, an energetic little sprite who love jokes and tricks. When a landowner adds a little house on his property, according to legend, the alux is kept busy and happy and will bring good luck to your family. It seemed to be working: everything at La Semilla seemed spectacularly well cared for – no detail was too small or unimportant.