Riviera Maya Hotels
Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, Km 7
Tel: 52 998 887 5470
Once Tulum's most beloved basic barefoot escape, this complex has slowly but surely grown into a full-scale resort with a freshwater pool surrounded by beach beds and the full-service Om Spa with a temazcal. The 22 suites and a two-story villa have plush white platform beds, sofas scattered with colorful cushions, conch shells covering the showerheads, and—most importantly—an upgrade to 24/7 air-conditioning (not a given in this part of Mexico). The humble hotel Ana and José Soto constructed more than two decades ago even has a soaring wooden entryway, which appeared in 2011, and construction is ongoing. Still, thanks to the family's continued involvement and the loyalty of longtime clients, guests feel as though they've discovered the "real" Tulum as they wander into the palapa restaurant and wiggle their toes in the sand.—Updated by Maribeth Mellin
Carretera Federal Chetumal–Puerto Juárez, Km 298
Tel: 800 591 0439 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 984 877 3688
Fax: 52 984 877 3689
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
Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, Km 7
Tel: 866 550 6878 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 984 151 8754
After a 2010 renovation, this old-timer isn't a rock-bottom hotel anymore. But don't worry, it hasn't gone all froufrou either. The 16 simple white rooms with bright orange and pink accent walls serving as headboards now have AC at night, 24/7 electricity, even Wi-Fi (most times), and hammocks on front terraces. Beachfront cabanas are delightful until the wind blows sand under the shuttered doors—there's a reason the on-site kiteboarding school is popular. Second-story rooms in the back row catch cooling breezes and are more private. Ziggy Beach, a longtime local hangout, has been upgraded, too, and now has comfy chairs, hammocks, and beach beds on the sand and a menu of yummy ceviches from the Bistro restaurant.—Maribeth Mellin
Costera Norte Lote 1
Tel: 52 998 872 8060
In need of some peaceful pampering? Travel 20 minutes south of the Cancún airport to this serene hideaway where masseurs work magic on knotted muscles, butlers slip morning coffee into a niche by your door, and hammocks sway gently outside the 88 rooms and suites. Ceiba eschews fussy design in favor of solid handcarved furniture, cloudlike beds covered in white linens, and sky-blue pillows and accents. The two swimming pools are free of blaring music and shrieking kiddies (no one under 16 is allowed on property), and though all the essential techie toys—iPod docks, Wi-Fi—are at hand, most guests ditch their laptops in favor of scuba gear for the offshore coral reefs. Two restaurants, a large spa, complimentary yoga classes, and trails through adjacent mangroves provide sufficient diversion for guests seeking extreme relaxation. Splurge on one of seven ocean-view penthouses with whirlpools on private rooftop terraces.
Avenida 5 at Calle 12
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 52 984 879 3620
Children are neither seen nor heard at Deseo, chic older sister to the Hotel Básico. The 15 rooms here are super-hip white on white, wherein the only adornments are cascading white window drapes and clotheslines playfully hung with flip-flops, sun hats, and bananas to get you in a beachy mood. The vibe is romantic and sensual; a couple of the suites have bathtubs right next to the beds, and all rooms come with fluffy white duvets and pillows that invite lounging. The most-private rooms have hammocks strung across skinny balconies for afternoon lazing. King-size padded chaises beneath white gauze canopies allow privacy beside the pool, where sunlight filters through wood-slat rails. Deseo feels more sophisticated and relaxed than the Básico, though Muzak-y electronica plays everywhere (you can switch it off in your room, but it never really leaves you alone). It's a welcome escape from the jumble of T-shirt shops and tequila-soused tourists that pack Playa del Carmen's main thoroughfares.—Maribeth Mellin
Tel: 877 528 3490 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 984 873 4835
The entrance to this peaceful hideaway lies on a jungle path off an unmarked sandy road. It's hardly the place you'd expect to find a striking white Italian-style villa. But the Duchess of Ferrari had the home built in the early '90s to entertain world-weary friends, and it's since been transformed into a 29-room high-end hotel. Set on 50 acres of wild land and a broad white-sand beach, white-on-white rooms are split between sea-view suites in the original buildings and newer private cottages facing tropical gardens. Amenities include flat-screen TVs, elaborate sound systems, and electronically controlled shades, making a high-tech contrast with the artful arrangements of driftwood and primitive carved bowls. The best villa rooms are on the second floor and have large balconies overlooking the pool and sea. Families will prefer the multibedroom cottages, which have private pools. Guatemalan chef Bernardo Garcia focuses on local ingredients and indigenous cooking methods. The Aroma Spa also takes cues from local culture, using precious stones, heated rocks, seaweed, and cacao to help melt away stress and balance energy flow.
307 Carretera Federal
Manzana 7, Lote 1, SM 11
Tel: 866 540 2585 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 998 872 8579
"From the moment you enter the inviting lobby, you know it's going to be a good vacation." The all-inclusive sits on a white sand beach. Warm-colored, Mediterranean-style rooms with private balconies "are luxurious yet put you at ease." Agave's Mexican food "is uneven, sometimes bland, other times nice and spicy." Expect "top-notch service." "You can swim into the spawhat can beat that?"
Carretera 307, Km 298
Tel: 52 984 206 3000
The Fairmont may be a small step down on the luxury ladder from its neighbors around the pricey Mayakoba development (Rosewood, Mandarin Oriental, Banyan Tree). But the size and the variety of activities on offer make it a great choice for active types and families. Oceanfront casitas have stairways leading to the white sand beach, while most of the 401 expansive rooms and suites are perched over lagoons where croaking cormorants nest in the trees. Electric carts and long wooden lanchas (boats) transport guests between the lobby, a central island with several swimming pools, the beach, and the rooms. There are a wide range of dining options on offer, from the Mexican-inspired fare at La Laguna to the global cuisine of the more formal Las Brisas, which has live jazz nightly. The Willow Stream Spa overlooks the tropical forest canopy.
Carretera 307, Km 62
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 866 230 7221 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 322 226 7930
Leading the pack of luxury all-inclusives popping up along the coast, the Grand Velas opened in 2009 and gives a huge bang for the pricey tab. The 491 suites, many with pools on private terraces, have dark wood furnishings that stand out against clean white walls, plus extra touches like Molton Brown toiletries and espresso machines. Most of the bougainvillea-draped buildings face the sea, but for privacy and tranquility consider those tucked amid lagoons and jungle. Those in the inland building have decks with padded lounges facing lush lagoons where white herons nest in mangroves. Don't expect the usual all-inclusive buffets at the eight restaurants. Azul, the main poolside eatery, features sushi, sashimi, and ceviches at lunch; truffles and Champagne sauces get good play at the French restaurant Piaf; and aromatic Basque dishes are offered at Cocina de Autor. Hydrotherapy pools bubble and spout in the two-story spa (alas, services are not included in the rate); allow at least one extra hour for splashing about.—Maribeth Mellin
Calle 10 at Avenida 5
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 52 984 879 4448
In the mood for rubber and latex amusements? You'll love the Hotel Básico, a high-concept, adults-only creation from Carlos Couturier and the Micha family, owners of Deseo and the ever-hot Hotel Habita in Mexico City. Tire treads cover the reception-area floors, and the industrial minimalist furniture—all metal and fiberglass—is almost too cool for a Mexico beach, especially one like Playa del Carmen, which has lately been invaded by the fanny-pack crowd. Style takes priority over comfort—vinyl poolside chaises grow slick under sweaty sunbathers, privacy is nonexistent in the 15 guest rooms, and street noise is a constant companion. On the other hand, you're sure to meet like-minded, semi-exhibitionist compadres in the hot tubs and pools, which are made from renovated water storage tanks. The restaurant, Marisquería, makes a mean taco, too.—Maribeth Mellin
Bahía Punta Soliman
Tel: 52 984 139 5131
Secluded hideaways like this are rare in the Riviera Maya. A shallow reef protects Punta Soliman's see-through aquamarine waters, where angelfish swarm around white coral, and there aren't many neighbors to interrupt the tranquility. To the north lies a mangrove lagoon; a few homes dot the beach to the south. Stylishly minimalist, the best of the 15 rooms at Jashita take in sea views from the platform beds draped in white gauze. Rooftop suites with horizon pools blend into the sky; glass walls bring in stunning views and blinding sunlight. There is a small spa, and the Balinese-inspired Sahara restaurant serves fish carpaccio, fragrant seafood soup, and family-recipe pastas. A pool is nestled into palms, and kayaks await guests beside the tempting iridescent water.—Maribeth Mellin
Avenida 10 between Calles 12 and 14
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 52 984 873 1484
Front desk clerks greet new guests as if they'd just arrived home at this 51-room charmer just a block from Playa's busy Fifth Avenue. Affable porters, housekeepers, and bartenders attend to individual quirks, quickly offering fresh water, beach towels, and bug spray (pests emerge around the gardens at sundown). Slip straight into the courtyard swimming pool from terraces outside ground-floor rooms, or survey the town from a rooftop suite—even many of the basic accommodations have small balconies. The simple white rooms have TVs, coffeemakers, AC, and fans, though bathrooms are small, lack tubs, and have sinks designed for tall people. However, at little more than $100 a night, this hotel is a steal, especially considering the adjacent Itzá day spa—one of Playa's finest—and the margaritas in the communal lounge. Rates also include complimentary Wi-Fi in public spaces and passes to the wildly popular Mamitas beach club a few blocks north. The quiet back-street seclusion, friendly staff, and 16-and-over policy strike the ideal note of affable mellowness that appeals to couples and singles alike.
Carretera 307, Km 298.8
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 800 526 6566 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 984 877 3888
Art and architecture enhance the natural expanse of this tranquil 36-acre enclave, where emerald grass pyramids echo the local Mayan culture, and the 128 white-on-beige rooms form a neutral backdrop for the lush vegetation surrounding them. The decor is a lesson in luxe minimalism, with bamboo floors, glassed-in showers, and sleek wood and rattan furnishings. Twenty rooms are situated beside the region's dreamiest destination spa, with a watsu pool shielded by trees and vines; an outdoor lap pool framed by lawns; and a peaceful, shady café—and that's just the outdoor amenities. Indoors, therapists and trainers soothe and strengthen muscles with Thai massage, jet-lag herbal wraps, and intensive yoga classes. On-site restaurants include the Mex-Asian Ambar, which rises like a UFO above a languid lagoon, and Aguamarina, a casual oceanfront seafood restaurant. One caveat: The exclusivity of the resort can make it feel a bit cold. Couples looking for an ultraprivate getaway might not notice, but social travelers will want to opt for the more friendly Rosewood Mayakoba.
Carretera 307, Km 51
Tel: 52 998 872 8200
Tel: 866 454 9351 (toll-free)
José Luis Moreno created this beloved barefoot-luxury resort long before the Riviera Maya became the hot destination it is today. After being acquired by Orient-Express Hotels in 2002, it was expanded, and the jungle-lush estate (a former coconut plantation) is now a sleek operation with 65 rooms, including spacious Sian Nah oceanfront suites with plunge pools and private fitness rooms. The 7,000-square-foot Kinan Spa has architecture based on "Mayan sacred geometry," and offers temazcal, massage, a meditation pavilion, and yoga retreats. The food—even the calorie-reduced spa cuisine—is wonderful. Candles are lit throughout the 25-acre resort at night, leading the way along winding paths. Inside the rooms and suites, sconces, archways, and nightstands built into curving walls create an old-world Mexican ambience; some units have heavy wooden tables and chairs on private terraces and casement windows to let in sea breezes. But pyrophobes and claustrophobes beware—flickering votive candles and oil lamps are part of the turndown ritual here, as is a voluminous gauzy mosquito net draped around the bed.
Carretera Tulum-Punta Allen, Km 7
Tel: 888 515 4580
Yoga bunnies, look no farther: This place inspires near-cultish devotion among its fans, and word of it has spread through the yoga community like wildfire (after all, how many Hatha, Jivamukti, and Bikram devotees can you put under a palapa before they talk?). Accommodation is in little individual huts, very basic, but bathroomed; the best ones are on the beach. It's all exquisitely laid-back, with one apparent drawback: The food is only so-so in the huge wooden dining hall where meals are "celebrated," and it feels like a members-only club. But then you take a class or two (not included), and—bam—you're hooked, too.
Carretera Federal Cancún-Playa del Carmen, Km 298
Tel: 888 767 3966 (toll-free)
The staff at the Rosewood Mayakoba achieves the perfect service-to-friendliness ratio. Cart drivers meet guests at their doors with open umbrellas during tropical rain showers and waiters quickly memorize cocktail and coffee preferences. The service sets the tone for guests, making the vibe here far more social than at the Mayakoba development's other chichi options, the Banyan Tree and the Fairmont. Much of the development is a protected reserve, and the outdoor Yucatán limestone showers, waterside plunge pools, and sunken tubs in indoor gardens in the 128 suites (none smaller than 800 square feet) play off that nature-focused bent. The stark cubist buildings, on the other hand, seem to shimmer against the azure sky. Though it's tempting to cocoon in your luxe retreat, guests are easily lured out by the contemporary European fare at Casa del Lago, the casual Mexican meals served pool and beachside, and the primo tequilas at the Agave Azul. Even more enticing is the Sense Spa, whose waterside treatment rooms and spa café reside on their own private island. This is, in short, the ideal way to experience Mayakoba.
Lote Hotelero No. 6, Desarollo Playacar
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 52 984 873 4500
Fax: 52 984 873 4506
This pricey all-inclusive brings Maui to Mexico—minus the leis and mai tais. It was the first adults-only resort in Playacar and benefits from a generous 13-acre layout of lawns, streams and sand. Whirlpool bathtubs, walk-in closets, and couple-friendly king beds hit all the right marks for those seeking the optimum bang for their bucks. Lavish coffee and tea spreads, complimentary room service, mini-bar, beer, soda, and a DVD library up the all-inclusive ante. However, many rooms lack even a peak at the horizon pools, narrow beach, and aquamarine sea. Although dining options abound, management still clings to a closed-toe shoes for men rule in the Asian and Mediterranean restaurants. Excuse me? In flip-flop territory, even the priceiest of resorts nix dress codes. No matter—the beachside grill sports candlelight after sunset and serves hearty seafood and steaks. The all-inclusive nature makes this largely the province of weddings, honeymoons, and incentive groups, and Mexico neophytes find the comfort they crave in the gated Playacar setting.
Carretera Federal 307, Km 306.5
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 52 984 877 3600
This two-year-old Playa del Carmen newcomer has "coral on the walls and magnificent marble staircases." Surrounded by 12 small swimming pools, "beautiful suites" in warm tones showcase views of the beach. "Sit under a palapa with the pool on one side and the ocean on the other" at Oceana, which specializes in seafood. "For an all-inclusive, the restaurants are very personal."
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 888 230 7330 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 984 877 3000
Thirty deceptively earthy villas dot deep jungle trails along the beach at the Tides. The Viceroy Hotel Group (of the Avalon Beverly Hills, and Viceroy Palm Springs and Viceroy Santa Monica fame) took charge of the eco-friendly retreat in 2006 as the first phase of its Riviera Maya invasion (Next up: residences by powerhouse architect Ricardo Legorreta in the nearby Mayakoba development). Mayan carpenters constructed thatched villas with all the comforts of a rustic billionaire's cottage: bathrooms with marble showers and Molton Brown toiletries, canopied beds with 500 thread-count sheets, and outdoor living rooms with private plunge pools, hammocks, beach beds, and the occasional butterfly. The beach is narrow and long, and the spa heavily devoted to native traditions like temazcal (Mayan sweat lodge). Well-selected wines and high-end tequilas accompany Mediterranean-Mayan dishes at the on-site Azul restaurant—indulge in delicacies like the caviar-topped swordfish sashimi. For getting back to nature without skimping on frills, the Tides is ideal. But be forewarned that noise from nearby construction could cause trouble in paradise.
307 Carretera Federal
Playa del Carmen
Tel: 800 232 8316 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 984 206 3660
The fountain-flanked entrance and courtyard of this adults-only resort make it feel "like an old Mexican plantation." White-and-red buildings with palapa roofs house suite-style rooms in neutral colors with cherry woods, each with a fully furnished terrace or balcony; the Golden Junior Suite has a swim-up pool. Eight restaurants offer diverse cuisinesall "a gourmand's delight!"
Carretera 307, Km 328
Tel: 888 496 3879 (toll-free)
The enormous, adults-only Paraíso has become a Zoëtry Wellness & Spa Resort, the first in a new brand from the company that owns the region's many Dreams and Secrets resorts. However, the only thing that has changed is the name: The 90 massive suites and a 22,000-square-foot thalassotherapy center and spa remain as before. The hotel may profess to be about relaxation, but the rooms themselves have been designed to within an inch of their lives, with an overwhelming number of ethnic objets d'art and antiques. Thankfully, the rest of the hotel hits the mark: The navy freshwater pool begs to be jumped into; the beach is quiet and pristine; the restaurants are varied and all worth taking seriously; and the toiletries have the right Italian names. The sheer luxuriousness is a bit over the top—and yet so easy to get used to.