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Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Riviera Maya

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Mexico, North America: main lobby, bar, and restaurants of the Banyan Tree Mayakoba are wrapped around a water
Carretera Federal Chetumal–Puerto Juárez, Km 298
Riviera Maya
Mexico 77710
Tel: 800 591 0439 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 984 877 3688
Fax: 52 984 877 3689's insider take:

The Banyan Tree is that rare luxury hotel that provides both the hallmarks of a high-end property—private in-villa pools, beach butlers, rain showers—along with a real sense of place. Local limestone was used to construct the hotel's 132 villas, which start at an enormous 3,000 square feet. The design is a subtle synthesis of Mexican artisanal traditions with the Banyan Tree brand's Asian heritage. Oaxacan rebozos double as throws on the beds, and custom-made Talavera sinks grace the bathrooms, while the architecture echoes the southeast Asian tradition of wrapping sleeping and living areas around an outdoor space. At Mayakoba, the outdoor area includes a swimming pool (at 382 square feet, it seems unfair to call it a plunge pool), a hot tub, loungers, a terrace area, and a hammock. Indoor-outdoor bathrooms have open-to-the-stars soaking tubs silhouetted by walls of candles as well as thoughtful toiletry bags that include just about everything that you'd need during your stay, from organic bug spray to honey lip balm. The villas are arranged around a series of lagoons and waterways; most are a ten-minute bike or buggy ride from the beach (those set on the sand have great views but lack the privacy of the rest of the resort). You can tool about the property on Trek bikes or on silent (and eco-friendly) electric boats. Be sure to take one of the hotel's eco-tours, which float past turtles sunning on rocks and cormorants darting amid the gnarled mangrove trees along the hotel's canals. The Thai restaurant, Saffron, perches above one such canal and is the most atmospheric of the property's five restaurants. Above all, make time for the spa, which specializes in Thai herbal massage and also includes a rainforest complex, a circuit of hydrotherapy and thermal treatments inspired by the Mexican jungle.—Colleen Clark

From the editors of Condé Nast Traveler:
It's the service, rendered by an exceptionally confident staff, that helps distinguish Banyan Tree's first outpost in the Americas from its already impressive neighbors. Staff members remove their shoes whenever they enter your villa—a gesture that's both practical (the powdery sand here is invasive) and considerate. The resort has also been smartly designed, as every villa has a large private pool, carefully positioned for maximum seclusion. This generous detail renders the half-mile between the beach and the Banyan Tree's core (a drawback at the other two Mayakoba properties) a relative non-issue. It even creates a convenient natural division between guests: Couples on romantic retreat need never leave their inland palaces, while families spread out in the two- and three-bedroom compounds that line the beach. The company's Asian roots show best in the spa, staffed entirely with expert Thai masseuses, and at Saffron, where the Thai kitchen crew serve up flawless papaya salad and steamed fish in chili sauce. But in the rooms, the best local handicrafts—embroidered pillows, hand-painted tile sinks, impeccably woven hammocks—remind you that you're at what's now one of the best resorts on Mexico's Caribbean coast.—2010 Hot List

Which room to book: Courtyard Pool Villas are worth the upgrade, as they have larger pools and a separate pavilion across the patio, with a daybed, TV, and bar.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.