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Esencia, Xpu-Ha

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
Riviera Maya, Mexico, North America: Beach at Hotel Esencia
Carretera 307
Tel: 877 528 3490 (toll-free)
Tel: 52 984 873 4835's insider take:

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.

From the editors of Condé Nast Traveler:
Earthy, spartan, luxurious. These words rarely apply to a single property, yet they aptly describe the Hotel Esencia, 40 miles south of Cancún's airport. Guests enter the 11-acre property through a traditional Mayan mud hut, then walk along a jungle path to the main building, which holds 9 guest rooms (the other 23 are in cottages and houses). Scavenged pieces of driftwood, coral, and shells decorate guest rooms; the furniture, too, is elegantly simple, with sitting areas and bed platforms built into the smooth plastered walls. Luxury here is in the details—sumptuous bed linens, pizza-sized showerheads, speaker plug-ins for iPods—and the service. Because the staff know guests' names, signing for charges isn't necessary, including at the excellent Meso-American restaurant Sal y Fuego. Among the myriad spa services is a temazcalli ceremony, a traditional cleansing ritual inside a Mayan pyramid on the grounds. —2006 Hot List

When to go: December through March.

Which room to book: An ocean-view garden cottage or, for groups, a four-bedroom private house with its own pool (doubles, $350–$525).

Amenities: 24-hour Room Service, Bar/lounge, Beach, Pool, Spa

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