Situated in the nook of its own private cove, Maria del Mar is a tranquil and traditional Tulum hotel with a thoroughly modern attitude: rustic wood furnishings are upcycled from the remains of reclaimed fishing boats; turquoise Acapulco chairs and shimmering dreamcatchers add contemporary colour to minimalistic rooms; and an eco-friendly conservation project keeps things greener than the neighbouring Sian Ka’an biosphere. Stretch out on feather-soft day-beds beside the palm-shaded pool, take kitesurfing lessons on the beach, and discover centuries-old Mayan relics in the surrounding hills.
Get this when you book through us:
Bottle of champagne on arrival. Goldsmiths also get 15 per cent off in the spa
Noon. Earliest check-in, 3pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability (Smith guests are given priority for early check-in and late check-out).
Double rooms from £326.53 ($452), including tax at 19 per cent.
Rates don't usually include breakfast.
Bendy Smiths should head straight to the tree-shaded yoga deck by the beach, where lessons can be organised to perfect your downward dog. As a reward for finding your inner Zen, you can order drinks here post-class and enjoy the panoramic ocean views.
At the hotel
Private beach, yoga deck, free WiFi throughout and laundry. In rooms: air-conditioning, Bose speakers, free bottled water, a mosquito net, Malaya toiletries, a safe and a beach bag.
Our favourite rooms
All Maria del Mar’s rooms are decorated in classic, beachy style with natural-wood furniture, a neutral colour palette and bamboo accents here and there. Our top pick is the Oceanfront Penthouse Suite which, as you’d expect, is blow-the-budget gorgeous: head from the light, airy room (complete with king-size bed and huge, squashy sofas) onto a sweeping balcony with views of the beach and the pool. Stretch out on the day-bed – it’s almost as big as the one inside – and cool off in your private plunge pool, before its alfresco dining table is set for dinner.
The unheated, L-shaped pool is metres away from the beach, though you’ll feel like you’re there already: it’s surrounded by soft sand and tall palms, with several hammocks strung between the trees. Try to bag one of the pergola-shaded day-beds, which are big enough for two to lounge on.
With just one treatment room, the Ikal Spa is as intimate as it gets – ask for a treatment (we’re fans of the 90-minute couples’ massage), take a dip in the hydrotherapy pool or book a private reflexology session.
Skimpy bikinis are a requisite, but you might want to include a few sturdier swimsuits in your suitcase for kiteboarding and snorkelling excursions. Bring a torch if you're planning night-time walks, as there’s no street lighting in some areas.
Due to steep steps, sandy lanes and winding passages, the hotel isn’t best suited to wheelchair users and guests with mobility issues.
The hotel doesn’t accept under-16s, so leave your sprogs at home: it’s a romantic, adults-only retreat. However, the restaurant and bar accept little ones of all ages and have highchairs and a children’s menu.
The hotel is passionate about environmental protection and uses mostly biodegradable, organic and ethically-sourced products; hydroelectric generators, natural-gas boilers and a water-recycling system keep waste output to a minimum. Most produce (including food and furniture) is sourced from local Yucatán and Quintana Roo cooperatives, and the hotel works with the Art of Conservation organisation, which engages communities in environmental issues through art and education.
For people-watching and ocean views, ask for a table on the front deck – though if you’d rather not sit near the roasting meat, you’re better off going for a spot overlooking the pool.
Kaftans and sandals are your bread and butter at Maria del Mar, but evenings will call for heels and a statement necklace (and a fan, if you can pull it off – evenings on the deck can get stuffy).
Inspired by Mexican-Argentinean methods of grill cooking, Mina restaurant is housed in a private, wood-clad hut right on the beach, with an alfresco terrace for balmy nights. Their giant roasting skewer is the star of the show, flame-crisping suckling pig, lamb and chicken every evening with a host of grilled vegetables, salads and traditional tidbits. In the mornings, this candlelit space transforms into a light, bright breakfast room serving fresh pastries, fruit salads and (we’re reliably told) the best potato pancakes in Tulum.
The restaurant segues straight into a modern, Mexican-influenced chill-out area, where tiled floors and rustic, wood-accented walls add a traditional feel to black-steel pendant lights and the back-lit bar. Those with strong stomachs and a sense of adventure (well, it’s all in the name of sightseeing) should ask for a mezcal tasting; the hangover-shy can ask the resident mixologist to whip up a cocktail based on your favourite flavours – perhaps a long, cooling tipple muddled with fresh fruit. The bar serves the same menu as the restaurant, so if you prefer, you can kick back in these more relaxed surroundings for supper.
Mina is open daily from 7.30am–10pm; the bar serves drinks and snacks from 7.30am–10.30pm.
Situated a few miles south of Cancún along the coast of Tulum, Maria del Mar occupies its own private beach, overlooking the island of Cozumel.
Most major European and US airlines (including British Airways, www.britishairways.com) fly direct to Cancún International Airport, a 90-minute drive from Maria del Mar. The hotel can organise return transfers from US$190; one-way taxi rides from the airport can run the meter up to $190.
If you’re confident behind the wheel (but beware, driving in Mexico can be tricky), hire a motor from an airport booth and follow the 307 south to Tulum. When you reach the hotel, there’s a valet and free parking to greet you.
If you fancy a more impressive arrival, tender a yacht; Maria del Mar has a small jetty to receive waterbound guests.
Worth getting out of bed for
Stick to the grounds of Maria del Mar, and you’ll find it hard to get bored: there’s yoga on the beachside deck, kiteboarding, paddleboarding, snorkelling and diving available (the hotel can organise private lessons). If you’re not much of a water baby, explore the Sian Ka’an biosphere; with more than a million acres of untouched natural beauty, it’s earnt its Unesco World Heritage status. Explore its coral reef, miles of untouched forest and keep your binoculars primed for sightings of its protected animals, including jaguars, ocelots and pumas. Book a private boat tour along the Mayan channels, and you may even spot a few flamingos at the water’s edge. Visit the Aktun Chen Natural Park for subterranean adventures you’ll be bragging about for months: snorkel in the underground river (which is said to have youth-enhancing powers) and hike through the underground caves, sprinkled with stalactites. Take a day trip to Xel-Há and Cobá, both just under an hour’s drive from the hotel. These ancient Mayan archeological sites date back to the seventh century, and – incredibly – the slate-grey stones still stand. In Tulum itself, test your credit limit in the many independent boutiques. We like Josa Tulum for kaftans, sandals and straw hats; the Coqui Coqui parfumerie for candles and incense; and KM33 for Mexican-crafted leather bags.
Inspired by head chef Maya’s childhood in Mexico and cooking career in San Francisco, Arca (a five-minute drive along the beach from the hotel) serves a modern menu in designer-rustic surroundings. Order seared fish and grill-blackened vegetables alfresco at long, polished wooden tables, shaded by a pergola and lit by copper-tinted pendant lamps. If it’s traditional Mexican fare you’re after, go to much-loved (by locals and visiting gastronomes alike) Hartwood, where the daily-changing menu features locally-sourced market produce. Just outside the hotel, Mateos serves the self-proclaimed ‘best fish tacos on earth’ (trust us, they’re not far off). For the ultimate in authentic beach bites, Chamico’s, a no-frills fish shack on Soliman Bay, dishes up ceviche and ice-cold beers right by the sea. On Thursday nights, don’t miss the ‘jungle parties’ at Casa Jaguar, where the catch of the day is roasted under the stars and local bands provide the beats. Missing European cuisine? Try Posada Margherita, a hotel and Italian restaurant that does a spaghetti pomodoro that wouldn’t be out of place in Rome.
If you’re nothing without a cup of coffee in the mornings, make Ki’bok your go-to pitstop: brewing everything from classic Joe to cups with a Cubano kick, they also serve up eggs, enchiladas and sticky pecan bars. For super-thin crêpes and freshly-ground Arabica beans, try the Italian-run Café K’uun.
Head to Gitano, an alfresco bar and restaurant lit by thousands of fairy lights, twinkling over ikat-print sofas and dancing off a tree-hung disco ball. Tipples are whimsically named; we like ‘kissing in the car’, a heady blend of mezcal, passion fruit, tangerine and habanero, and the simple-but-effective ‘emergency cocktail’ – just prosecco, on the rocks. For something more traditional, make like the locals and grab a seat at Batey (+52 1 984 143 3616), a ramshackle, roadside hut with a tin roof and sinfully strong mojitos.
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 beachside hotel in Tulum and unpacked their snorkelling gear, hand-painted ceramics and embroidered sombreros, 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 Maria del Mar in Mexico…
Maria del Mar is postcard-perfect from head to (expertly-manicured, flip-flop-ready) toe: from the tips of its bamboo-thatched umbrellas swaying lazily in the coastal breeze, to the handcrafted, Mexican tiles tessellating on the floor of its beachside restaurant. You may be in the heart of the action – Tulum is famous for its Mayan relics, fine-dining scene and diving spots – but at this tranquil, boutique hotel, you’ll feel as if you’re on a private island. And that’s because you very nearly are: Maria del Mar has a little cove to call its own, shaded by palms and lapped by clearer-than-clear Caribbean waters.
When you’re not sun-worshipping by the sand-surrounded pool, flash the plastic at the hotel’s independent boutiques, which sell a selection of souvenirs, handmade clothes and trinkets. Though it’s especially hard to drag yourself away from a pad as peaceful as Maria del Mar, Tulum tempts with traditional bars, colourful markets and cultural highs.