When the stresses of life take their toll, you might find yourself dreaming of a tropical escape. Mexico’s La Riviera Maya, a resort area that stretches along the eastern coastline of the Yucatán Peninsula, offers just that. Accessible via direct flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, this sweep of scenic Caribbean coastland offers an array of luxury and leisure offerings well-suited for adventurers looking to get lost for a while.
Playa del Carmen is just a 45-minute jaunt from Cancun, and there’s no shortage of posh resorts between the two cities. Though there are plenty of lowbrow hotspots in the area, too, many properties provide top-tier service that goes well beyond standard all-inclusivity.
During a recent trip I stayed at Paradisus Resorts, which operates two properties in the area, one in Cancun and another in Playa del Carmen—the latter of which includes separate adults-only and family-friendly options. For those traveling without kids, Paradisus Playa del Carmen’s La Perla offers adults-only pools, lounges, and restaurants. On the other side of the resort, La Esmeralda accommodates pint-sized travelers with its “family concierge” experience and a variety of kid-friendly activities.
Opt for “royal service” to up the ante on luxury. Upon check-in, I was greeted with a glass of chilled champagne and French macarons before being handed a mobile phone—my direct line to a personal butler, Sandra, whose attentiveness was appreciated, but at times almost disruptive. She knocked at my door morning, noon, and night to make sure I had been informed about the resort’s happenings and that my room was stocked with ample minibar treats and a fresh bottle of champagne. (Sandra wouldn’t even let a bottle reach room temperature before she whisked it away and ice-bucketed another in its place.) At bedtime, she’d pop by to see if I needed a bath drawn or my pillows spritzed with a relaxing aromatherapeutic mist—she had a whole case full of fragrant choices, and my consistent answer became “Yes, and lavender, please!”
Paradisus’ butlers are also on hand to coordinate dinner reservations, schedule off-site activities, book a spa package, or serve as an escort to activities like a weekly “Mayan pool party,” belly dancing, cigar-rolling lessons, and tequila tastings.
The royal treatment also provides access to intimate yoga, tai chi, meditation, and Pilates classes that are often held on a picturesque terrace overlooking the ocean. For maximum relaxation and Zen, catch a sunrise or sunset class on the terrace and experience the natural soundtrack of crashing waves.
Nearly all of the resorts in the area have spa facilities or in-room spa services available on site. The 20,000-square-foot Paradisus Playa del Carmen Yhi Spa, for example, included a full-service beauty salon, wet and dry saunas, a plunge pool, and indoor and outdoor massage facilities. The spa’s popular water therapy ritual, an ancient practice used to foster natural balance, entailed a seven-step process: a warm shower, a steam bath, a cold shower, a swim in the hydrotherapy pool, a dip in the cold-water Jacuzzi, a dip in the hot Jacuzzi, and a trip to the sauna. (This might seem like a lot of work, but I found the results to be quite clarifying.)
Paradisus Playa del Carmen’s swankiest restaurant, Passion, is headed by six-star Michelin chef Martin Berasategui (and offers more foie gras on its menus than one might expect). I steered clear of the resort’s buffets in favor of its more upscale cuisine, which provided a dining adventure that was, at times, a little scary. The rule among my travel companions was to try at least one bite of everything; though I’m typically a conservative eater, I have now sampled such dishes as roasted squab and scales-on hogfish (and I survived).
La Riviera Maya is flush with tropical cocktail offerings, too. Many are made from some of Mexico’s finest tequilas, and there’s almost always an aficionado on hand to teach the appropriate way to enjoy them. (Hint: it does not entail salt, lime, or a shot glass.) Be sure to try at least one mescal-based cocktail; often described as tequila’s “country cousin,” mescal is made from the fermented juices of other agave species.
Venturing off the resort, try a visit to Tulum, the ruins of a Mayan city. Located about 40 miles south of Playa del Carmen, it was built sometime between 1200 and 1500 A.D. and once served as a seaport for the jade and turquoise trade. Tulum’s most iconic structure is El Castillo (The Castle), a pyramid whose steep stairs ascend 25 feet. For ambitious climbers, the view of the limestone cliffs and turquoise Caribbean Sea make the hike well worth it.
After a day of climbing, diving, and working up an appetite in Tulum, head to Hartwood for dinner, the only meal the restaurant serves. This enchanting open-air restaurant boasts a menu that changes daily, with all dishes prepared in a wood-burning oven and grill by chefs working under kerosene lamps or by firelight. Hartwood doesn’t use any electric appliances (save for a lone blender), and the whole restaurant is powered by solar panels. Directions to the place are vague—on the jungle side of Tulum Beach Road at the 7.6 KM mark—but the freshly caught seafood, natural ingredients foraged from the surrounding jungle, and romantic candlelit locale make it worth the effort.
Sometimes, though, the best thing to do is nothing it all, lounging poolside or on your own private beach. During my stay at Paradisus Playa del Carmen, the benefits of Royal Service were most valuable when considering which pool to visit. The kids were kept occupied by the family-friendly pool’s pirate ship playground, so sun-kissed adults like myself could sip our piña coladas in peace at the private Royal Service pool. When I tired of gravitating between cabana and semi-submerged tile chaise, a quiet stretch of sandy white paradise was within close reach and accessible via wooden bridge stretched over the resort’s dense mangroves. Should you find yourself at Paradisus Playa del Carmen, ditch your flip-flops with the beach attendant as soon as you can. You’ll understand the urgency as soon as your toes dip into the glistening Caribbean.
A version of this article appears in the July/August issue of D CEO. Trip was provided by DKC Public Relations, Marketing & Government Affairs. Photos are courtesy of Meliã Hotels International.