Perfectly plunked between sea and jungle, Maroma, a Belmond Hotel, in the Riviera Maya is a whitewashed lesson in the Mexican ideal. Study up on local mezcals at the beachfront cantina, learn traditional Mayan healing techniques at the spectacular spa, take to the kitchen of one of the two restaurants to learn about local herbs and fish or become an ace at relaxing by the Caribbean Sea, beneath a thatch-roof palapa.
Double rooms from £473.90 ($650), including tax at 19 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 10% per room per night on check-out and an additional government tax of $2.00 per room per night on check-out.
Rates include an à la carte breakfast and daily coffee, tea, hot chocolate and a newspaper delivered to your door each morning, from 7am to 9am.
The hotel's already rather excellent culinary offerings are improved upon by a range of themed dining events. Our picks are the chocolate experience (just trust us) and La Parrillada: a grilled meat extravaganza.
At the hotel
Spa with nine treatment rooms, including two for couples; gardens; DVD library; gym; tennis courts; observatory, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: morning coffee service, CD player, iHome station, free WiFi, Illy coffee machines, Mayan bath products. The Oceanfront One-Bedroom Suites have a make-your-own tequila station too.
Our favourite rooms
Spring for a Master Suite, which can look out at the ocean or gardens, and has a private balcony, a soaking tub and extra space. Families should opt for interconnecting garden-view rooms. The Oceanfront One Bedroom Suite (named Sian Nah, meaning 'house of heaven' in Mayan) has the best setup, with a four-poster bed, floor-to-ceiling views, a spa palapa, plunge pool on a private terrace, outdoor shower and pristine ocean view.
There are three. The heated main pool is family friendly, and has garden views. The second pool, which is for over-18s only, is set near the ocean, with prime views; there are no lifeguards on duty at either pool. There is a third adults-only pool, by the spa.
A mellow mood prevails at the exceptional Kinan Spa. Set in the jungle, the spa uses top-of-the-line products in treatments that are native to the region, including a temazcal, or traditional Mayan steam bath. It also has a mud bar with four different types of healing muds for guests to apply before the sauna or steam room, and the signature Kinan Ritual involves a body wrap and scrub followed by a four-handed massage. The spa offers daily early morning yoga sessions in a peaceful garden-facing <i>palapa</i>. Boot camp and TRX workouts are available on request only.
The sun is extremely strong on the beach, so bring armour or stop by the thatch-roofed boutique for anything you might forget, including cover-ups, sunscreen, sunglasses and hats, along with pottery and other souvenirs.
Dogs under 10 pounds are welcome; a $200 fee per pet is required for your pooch to bed down in your room; dogs must be leashed at all times on the property, and are not permitted in the restaurants, spa or pool area. See more pet-friendly hotels in Riviera Maya.
The resort is best suited to adults, but there's an unsupervised games centre and highchairs. Rollaway beds and cribs are available in some suites (fees change seasonally), and babysitting is $30 an hour (for a minimum of four hours), plus transport.
At El Sol restaurant, request a table near the windows to look out at the terrace. El Restaurante’s best tables are outside, with the crashing waves as your soundtrack.
Beach chic: floaty tops, linen trousers and nice sandals will suit perfectly.
There are two, and both serve some of the region's best food. El Sol restaurant is the more upscale option, with a focus on farm-to-table cuisine and fine cuts of grilled meat or just-caught fish. Chef Gabriel Kolofon mans the kitchen, with dishes ranging from kurobuta pork chop to Caribbean snapper to New York strip. Its massive wine cellar ensures a perfect pairing for each course, plus cookery classes and gatherings for botanas (small-plate snacks) are held here. The more casual El Restaurante serves Mexican breakfast (accompanied with seasonal fruit, hand-made jams and marmalade, pastries and yoghurt), lunch and dinner items on the terrace or in the dining room with sweeping sea views. The kitchen's specialties include artisanal pastas, roasted lamb loin and lobster enchiladas.
Freddy’s Bar is a waterfront beach hut serving light fare and potent drinks, made from over 120 different tequilas and mezcals. Test your tolerance with the Tolok, made with tequila, cucumber, lime, serrano chili and a salt rim. Pair cocktails with a snack from the bar menu, which ranges from crispy shrimp to tacos and flatbreads. The more casual La Cantina pours homemade beer, offers guided mezcal tastings and hosts a weekly home-style Mexican dinner.
Freddy’s serves from 9am until 11pm. El Restaurante serves breakfast each day from 7am to 11am, lunch at 11.30am to 5pm and dinner from 6pm to 10.30pm; El Sol restaurant serves dinner from 7pm until 11pm.
A selection of Mexican classics, salads, soups and American fare is available 24 hours a day.
Maroma, a Belmond Hotel, is set on the Riviera Maya, outside Playa del Carmen on Highway 307.
Cancun International Airport is a 35-minute drive from the hotel. From here, you'll be able to fly to cities all over the world, including Miami (www.aa.com), New York (www.united.com) and Paris (www.airfrance.com). It's also served by some charter flights from the UK.
If you plan to leave the hotel, a car is advisable. Cancun airport has several rental kiosks. From the airport follow the signs to Playa Del Carmen and follow highway 307 until you reach Puerto Morelos. Go past the Vidanta and Iberostar hotels, then make a U-turn at the exit when you see a sign saying 'Secrets Maroma'; then pull all the way to your right, take the safety lane, and slowly continue about 100 meters until you come to a wooden gate and a palapa-roofed white structure.
Worth getting out of bed for
There's plenty to keep you occupied here. Hike through dense jungle to the remains of a lost civilization, swim alongside gentle whale sharks, or set sail in a private yacht. When you’re ready to unwind, enjoy a rooftop yoga class with panoramic views.The spa at Belmond Maroma is one of the best tension-busters in Mexico, with self-serve muds, meditation pools, a moon-and-stars nighttime massage by the ocean, and treatments that use local herbs and fruits.
After you’ve steamed and soaked your way to relaxation, join the chef for a cookery demonstration, where you'll master three different recipes, which you can then recreate back home.
Some of the Riviera Maya’s most spectacular reefs are right off Maroma’s shore, so the lifeguard-surveyed beach is ideal for snorkels and dives. Beginners can get their PADI certification at the marina and resort staff can also arrange deep-sea fishing.
Rent a four-wheel drive to check out the local ruins and cenotes near Chichen Itza, Coba and Tulum. Sian Ka’an a lush biosphere near Tulum, is dense with vegetation, home to beautiful animals and one of the most pristine Unesco World Heritage Sites on the continent. Between May and September, it’s home to giant marine turtles who come onto the beach to lay their eggs. Guests can glimpse the spectacle (no photos allowed) from a safe distance of more than 10 metres.
The area surrounding Maroma doesn’t have great dining, so head to Playa del Carmen for the best flavour. Nab a spot on the roof of La Casa del Agua in Playa del Carmen for Caribbean lobster, plenty of steaks and a pork dish that slow-cooks for 10 hours in sake and mirin. Just over 20 minutes' drive away Italian restaurant Cenacolo serves up hand-made pasta and trusty sea-to-table fare.
‘Dude, this is gonna be awesome,’ the fellow next to me in a tequila-branded T-shirt crows (along with some intermittent shouts of ‘woohoo’) as we begin our descent into Cancún International Airport.
Mr Smith and I swap a quick smirk. ‘Bet our awesome beats his,’ Mr Smith whispers. We have a feeling that our definitions might be radically different from our seatmate’s, as we’re set to bypass bustling Cancún in pursuit of the serene Maroma, a Belmond Hotel, on the Riviera Maya.
A mere 30 minutes south of the airport – we zoom up to the collection of whitewashed, thatched-roofed buildings perched on a secluded stretch of shore on one side with dense acres of rainforest on the other. All of it is blissfully removed from the tourist masses.
Ready to enter vacation mode, we find that the friendly staff awaiting our arrival with icy anise-flavored margaritas (made with the Mayan liquor xtabentún) are one step ahead of us. ‘Now this is awesome,’ Mr Smith chides. The sun is setting as we clink glasses, check in and make our way to Pescado, the Ocean View Junior Suite we will call home for the next two nights.
Set on the north edge of the property with pristine ocean views, our second-floor room has a canopy bed with hand-loomed bedding, a soaking tub big enough for two in the tiled ensuite and a private hammock-slung balcony facing the shore. It’s a travel brochure sprung to life. Rose petals are artfully arranged on our downy bed and aromatherapy tinctures are displayed near the pillows.
‘Maroma? More like Maromance,’ I joke to Mr Smith. He shoots me a ‘how corny?’ look. In this setting, I’d probably fall in love with the party-boy seatmate from my flight. Worried the room will lull us into missing round two of pre-dinner margaritas, we swap our travel gear for breezy linen dinner attire and beeline for the oceanfront bar.
Before we’ve even taken our seats, it’s evident that Maroma knows how to ensure a good time: the end barstool is emblazoned with the name of a trusty regular, who returns each year for his share of margaritas from the barkeep, Victor, who, it would appear, is the world’s foremost tequila expert. Victor directs us to seats next to the regular’s chair, asks a few questions about our tastes and shakes us jalapeno-spiced cocktails with expertly salted rims. As with any top bartender, he also shares a few bits of wisdom on what to order (lots of guacamole) and how to spend our days (doing nothing, except maybe a bit of snorkeling). We nod obediently, already planning our next visits. Mr Smith and I make a pact to have our own regular barstools before the decade’s up.
Mediterranean-inspired Mexican restaurant, El Sol lures us outside for dinner, where we feast on ceviche and pasta with local lobster, not to mention a few more margaritas. Though we’ve been on the ground less than two hours, we feel an eternity away from real life.
The beach is completely deserted as we make the short stroll back to our room. Feeling a bit naughty and emboldened by Victor’s potions, the Mister and I take full advantage of the seclusion, stripping off and dashing into the warm, placid water. Giggling like kids, we splash and float and try to spot constellations that even the Hubble telescope couldn’t locate over our home in light-polluted New York City. It feels like we’ve been here a week already.
Mornings are bustling at Maroma. After all, only fools – and the very hungover – would skip the excellent breakfast, which includes options like chilaquiles, chilli rellenos, homemade tortillas and papaya juice. It’s also an ‘early bird catches the sunloungers’ race to nab prime spots on the sand.
Enchanted by just how far this breakfast is from our usual grab-and-go oatmeal, we linger and miss reserving the chairs nearest us and end up a bit down the beach, beside the snorkel shack. Clearly it’s a sign. Booking a boat trip out to the reef, we spend the morning spotting tropical fish, holding starfish, scouting baby sharks and working up an appetite for guacamole.
Following our ambitious life-aquatic morning, we commit to an afternoon of quality time sun-lounger time. The gracious staff – or beach butlers as they are called – offer us free refreshments of ice pops and fruit, and are speedy with the guacamole and cervezas we order.
Glorious as this private playa is, there are few reasons to leave the beach at Maroma. And one is Kinan Spa, a tree-surrounded open-air space that has a few open-air pools and several secluded treatment rooms that face east-to-west to channel positive energy.
Having romped in the night sea, snorkeled, hammocked and overdosed on guacamole and margaritas together, Mr Smith and I opt to do this as a duo. We choose the couple’s treatment room for one of the spa’s messy-but-relaxing signature mud massages, using custom-chosen muds from the special bar. Detoxifying, soothing and sun-burn-busting, the treatments feel almost as naughty as our night swim, especially at the end in our 10-minute post-massage Jacuzzi plunge. The hot tub – with rainbow lights that flash red most often – is meant to amplify the Maromance.
But if there’s anything we’ve learned so far, it’s that Maroma doesn’t need any help setting the mood. The mood is set. And it’s awesome.