A hand-built luxury resort with a secluded white-sand beach and virgin jungle on the Mexican Caribbean's Yucatán Peninsula.
A relaxed, luxurious and romantic mood. Mexican architect Jose Luis Moreno had the property constructed according to Mayan principles -- every building is aligned to astrological settings to ensure good energy flow and to create a feeling of peace. Parrots, peacocks, iguanas and wild birds roam the grounds freely. The laid-back luxury is a draw for celebrity guests such as Cameron Diaz, Minnie Driver, Sharon Stone, Claire Danes, and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The resort has a staff/guest ratio of 3.5 to 1, and bartender Antonio will mix up a frothy margarita -- just the way you like it -- which will arrive at your palapa (beach hut) seconds before you realize you want one. Every evening, some 1,000 votive candles (identical to those in Yucatán churches) are lit, illuminating winding pathways and floating in pools.
The Mayan Riviera is only 48 kilometres south of Cancún along the stretch of Caribbean coast between Cancún and the Mayan site of Tulúm. Maroma, which means "somersault" in Mayan, used to be a coconut plantation. Moreno fell in love with the property in 1976 and bought it as a personal retreat. Four years later, Sally Shaw, a Chicago-based businesswoman, walked into his bar, Bar Brujos, in Cancún. It was love at first sight, and she decided to stay in Mexico. Over the years, their weekend cottage at Maroma grew -- without electricity and keeping the jungle intact -- to accommodate friends and visitors. After a hurricane damaged it, they decided to build a small hotel, influenced by Mayan/Moorish design, as a "protest against mediocrity." (It opened on Valentine's Day in 1995.) Created intuitively without any plans, the buildings were constructed by local masons with local materials -- salmon-coloured stone from Mérida, xit-palm leaves, white stone embedded with shell fossils-and were built around, rather than removing, the trees. Today Maroma comprises 64 rooms located in two- or three-storey villas nestled next to the h ocean among tropical gardens and pools. The hotel recently built six new oceanfront suites with their own massage, spa and fitness rooms to satisfy super-VIP guests who crave complete privacy.
What to do
Although Maroma's serenity encourages sweet idleness, its location near several UNESCO Heritage Sites, the rain forest and the barrier reef makes it perfect for sybarites and sporty types alike. Every morning, Ramón, a marine biologist, takes guests through the adjacent jungle to discover native plants, herbs and jungle inhabitants -- everything from termite nests to the occasional panther to turtle nests on the beach. There are also organized excursions to Tulúm, a beautiful former Mayan trading post named for the original inhabitants whose temple to the sun sits high on a bluff overlooking the sea, as well as trips to historical sites such as Cobá, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and Mérida. If you go in springtime, visit Chichén Itzá on March 21 for the vernal equinox. After you've visited some of the hot spots, the best thing to do is explore the region by car, stopping at little beach-side restaurants and villages. If you're a water baby, snorkelling or scuba diving is a dream on the nearby Great Mayan Reef -- the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere. (Unfortunately, the popularity of the Mayan Riviera is attracting a glut of high-rise, all-inclusive hotel chains, which are destroying the marshlands that feed marine life. The developers swallow the fines for the environmental damage as the cost of doing business.)
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Image courtesy Maroma Resort & Spa
Page 1 of 2There are also eco-archeological theme parks, such as Xcaret and Xel-Ha, where you can swim among a variety of marine life, as well as take tours of cenotes (steep-walled, subterranean natural spring caverns). The Mayans believed these to be sacred places that formed magical windows to the underworld. Human sacrifices to Chac, the Mayan god of rain, were performed in some cenotes. Once you've dried off back at the resort, enjoying a nice cup of Mexican coffee, you can brush up on your Spanish. By wearing a special pulsera, or bracelet, in your room, you indicate to staff that you wish to speak only Spanish that day; they will happily oblige.
What to take
If you are looking for a place to show off your newest Burberry bikini and the latest cool shades from Tom Ford, try another resort. Maroma exudes a refined, laid-back elegance; guests dress up a bit more for dinner, but South Beach it's not. Instead, opt for beach-wear, comfortable hiking boots and summer dresses for shopping excursions in nearby villages.
Eating, shopping and spa-ing
From early morning, when a carafe of hot coffee is left outside your hacienda, to the mid-morning delivery of fresh fruit ices to your beach palapa, simple yet delicious food makes you feel simultaneously decadent and wholesome-the hotel's chef has created a menu based on local and international flavours. The resort also boasts one of the world's top-rated spas, Kinan Spa. And if you can tear yourself away from the property, visit the nearby town of Playa del Carmen for great deals on sterling silver and local pottery.
At breakfast, order the chaya juice. Chaya is a local green plant that is packed with protein, vitamins (A and C) and minerals (calcium, iron and phosphorus). Mixed with pineapple, the juice still looks very green but tastes delicious. Eat authentic, homemade tortillas made in the traditional Yucatán style by Chonita. Reserve dinner à deux with your own private waiter at the open-air El Mirador tower with a view of the ocean and the stars. Book room 23, one of the first rooms built at Maroma, which has the best views of the ocean and the gardens. Farrah Fawcett stayed in room 35, Robert Plant stayed in room 1, and Sharon Stone, a Pisces, reserved -- you guessed it -- the Pisces Villa. h
For more information, visit www.maromahotel.com.
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Image courtesy Maroma Resort & Spa
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