All it took was one visit. One visit and I was hooked on more than a feeling for the Riviera Maya, Mexico’s Caribbean coastline spanning from Cancun to Tulum.
The lush jungle, sugary sand, salt-kissed air, high design, villa-style quarters, and fresh food—I could go on, do you have 45 minutes?—is so intoxicating it’s impossible to stay put at one hotel. So, during my first visit, every night at sundown, I’d walk along the shore more interested by the cluster of cool hotels than the sexy hour of power that gives the region its je ne sais quoi.
An embarrassing amount of visits later—I like luxury and hand-crafted margaritas, OK?—I’ve checked into the sandy stretch’s most refined stays (in the name of research), and it’s these edited escapes that give add the word “riviera” to Maya.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya
As the only all-inclusive resort in the bunch, don’t let “all” and “inclusive” scare you into thoughts of less-than-savory buffets, activity directors with overactive loud speakers, and watered-down drinks you wish were water. Grand Velas Riviera Maya (pictured above) brings class, world-renowned cuisine, high-end design, and exclusivity back to this resort genre. Case in point: When I stayed at the hotel in late 2015, an ELLE Magazine photoshoot had just wrapped.
Set over 205 acres and built with a price tag of US$250 million, the resort features three unique enclaves: Grand Class marked by its adults-only serenity and beachfront locale, Ambassador Class touting suites with oceanfront vistas and a lake-sized pool, and Zen Grand Suites, a jungle-posh sanctuary set in the Mayan jungle.
Couple this with a roundup of restaurants—one helmed by the winner of Iron Chef Canada (2014)—24-hour room service with food that makes you salivate; a three-to-one staff-to-guest ratio; and suites bigger than your average city dwelling touting jet tubs, private balconies, no-holds-barred minibars (a Snickers a day is good for you, right?), and your view of an all-in vacation just got sweeter.
Banyan Tree Mayakobá
A hop-skip up the beach from Grand Velas, the Banyan Tree Mayakobá looks more like a tycoon’s tropical home splashed across the pages of Architectural Digest than a 107-villa resort.
Thankfully, the Banyan Tree’s brand of chic is understated meaning you won’t see Saint-Tropez-bronzed men clad in yacht-wear or women wrapped in sequinned beach coverups. Instead, the hotel’s village-on-water setting edging an intricate series of natural canals invites a more subdued scene.
Combining Thai taste and Mexican mi-casa-es-su-casa hospitality, the resort has all the fixings of a world’s best escape—a rainforest spa, restaurants with white-glove service, 3,000-square-foot villas with private plunge pools and Italian espresso machines, and an attached PGA Tour site golf course—and still manages a boutique hotel feel.
Also part of the master-planned and ultra-plush Mayakobá development, the Rosewood Mayakobá is a where you go to lay low and sit in the lap of luxury like past guests U2, Paul McCartney, and Tory Burch.
Viewfinder Tip: Visit in shoulder season to score a highly discounted rate on these luxurious Riviera Maya resorts.
Because of its lush and secluded setting designed with an A-list clientele in mind, this elite retreat manages a far-flung feel—enter nearby cenotes or snorkeling in the Yucatan’s crystal clear waters—coupled with the comforts you’d expect at a haute hideaway: a raw bar for beach-conscious bods, an infinity-edge pool overlooking the Riviera Maya’s sprawling shoreline, and a spa situated on its own island.
Complete with modern, whitewashed pavilions hovering over a series of lagoons, at first it’s unclear if you’re in the South Pacific or Mexico until you spot the property’s Tequila Library or notice the elegant local lanterns throughout. Olé.
Viceroy Riviera Maya
If you’re looking for the Yucatan’s most foxy plot, check into the Viceroy Riviera Maya. A perennial pin on the Los Angeles and New York City tastemakers maps, the 41-villa hotel mixes boho and natural beauty—just like the people who visit.
Spread over six acres of jungle giving way to the ocean, the resort is an ode to its surroundings with thatched-roof buildings, beach-hued interiors decorated in earthy wares, and a curvy lagoon pool mimicking the location’s meandering estuaries.
In keeping with its upscale-natural vibe, yoga classes invigorate the muscles while the menu’s local ceviche feeds the soul. And since you’re in Mexico, wash it down with a tarty-sweet salt-rimmed margarita from Coral Grill + Bar—you earned it.
P.S. Feel free to bring Fido, but you’ll have to leave the kids home while at this adults-only stay.
What hotels are you pining to stay at in Mexico?