Mayakoba, north of Playa del Carmen, Mexico
The newest hotel within Mexico's beachfront and lagoon-side Mayakoba complex, on the Riviera Maya, is youthful and vibrant, with sleek modern buildings and massive colorful murals of local wildlife from Mexican graffiti-artist Senkoe. There are plenty of ways to get active or to kick back and relax, alongside some memorable and creative dining experiences.
There's a youthful, energetic feel to Andaz Mayakoba, which perhaps makes sense as the hotel is the newest and youngest of four luxury properties that make up the sprawling Mayakoba resort on Mexico's Riviera Maya. One member of staff referred to the hotel as the "baby" of the complex.
Just a ten-minute drive north of the lively city of Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean oceanfront, the hotel is set among lagoons and canals that are populated by colorful birds and turtles, iguanas, and little crocs bathing in the sun.
You'll get that youthful feeling immediately on arrival, as you check in inside the Sanctuary (lobby), where young men and women in matching denim mill around busily, serving welcome cocktails of hibiscus, tequila, and lemonade, before driving guests by golf cart to their suites.
"Youthful" here doesn’t mean loud or a party atmosphere. The sizeable grounds, full of neat lawns and lots of greenery, are sedate and relaxing. If not getting around by golf cart, guests cycle between beach, lagoon, spa and restaurants on free-to-use bicycles. There are modern abstract sculptures at various points along the trails, while many of the sharp, white buildings across the resort, including blocks of rooms and individual villas, are brightened up by Mexican graffiti-artist Senkoe’s large murals. These depict many of Mayakoba's colorful birds, jaguars, and, next to the beachfront swimming pool, an octopus. That large pool, one of three swimming pools, is a beautiful sky blue and surrounded by brightly colorful seats and loungers. It takes a good eye for design to be able to fill a resort with so many different bright colors and still keep things feeling classy, but here they've nailed it.
The colorful modern approach continues in the rooms. We stay in a Beachfront Villa, which is bright inside, with white walls and a large window looking out onto palm trees, sand, and ocean, allowing the room to fill with natural light. It's a long, spacious room, and feels very private, away from other guests, and almost silent inside, except for the faint hum of AC. There's a fridge stocked with cold drinks (additional charges apply, depending on what package you’re booked on) and plenty of drawers and wardrobe space. The rug is colorfully striped, as are wiry beach chairs and the recliner out on the balcony, where there's a private little plunge pool overlooking the beach. Inside the room, there are more references to Mayakoba's birdlife, with a colorful wooden sculpture of a Yucatan Jay wooden sculpture by the bedside and a quirky blue mask of a bird on the wall.
The bedroom is slightly more classic and muted, with lots of cream marble, twin sinks, a brightly lit mirror and a rainshower. You find Malin + Goetz products throughout, including fragrant rum soap, peppermint shampoo and cilantro hair conditioner.
Down on the beach, close to neat lines of more colorful sunloungers, there are kayaks and paddleboards, all free to use, as well as mini-cats (catamarans), with staff on-hand to give hour-long rides along this stretch of coastline, counting off the luxury hotels along Mayakoba's beachfront as you go. There's also an eco-boat tour that travels through the lagoons and canalways, the driver/ guide pointing out the creatures along the way, from white and blue herons, orioles, eagles Yucatan Jays, woodpeckers and green parakeets through to iguanas, turtles and small crocodiles (at a certain size, they're relocated, to avoid any risk to guests).
There's plenty to do within the Mayakoba complex beyond the hotel too, including a PGA golf course with a fine reputation, more restaurants and boutique shops. Many of those are set around a mock-up of a Mexican village, complete with a chapel and colorful flags.
On the plaza, there's also a El Pueblito Cooking School. We headed up there one morning for a short education in Mexican cooking from chef Karla Enciso. Over a few hours, we chopped colorful veggies, ground ingredients and stirred sizzling pans. The equipment was top quality, shining and looking largely new, with plenty of space for a class of seven people to move around, prep and cook at the same time. Assistants poured strong cocktails, including margaritas with passion fruit, tamarind and chili. We made several classic Mexican dishes, including guacamole, tacos el pastor (marinated pork), chili peppers stuffed with cheese, beans, chaya and veggies, and a cactus salad. It was variously a fun morning, a pleasant introduction to Mexican cuisine and ingredients and, perhaps most importantly, lunch, as we later got to sit and eat what we'd made, accompanied by a few glasses of a Mexican red wine.
Despite our very satisfying efforts, the expert chefs at Andaz itself take food to the next level. Breakfast each morning can be had down at Olla Taco, next to the beachfront pool, which has playful Lucha Libre mask designs in the décor, and a selection of pastries, meats, cheeses and an a la carte menu of hot dishes to order from. Or you can choose Cocina Milagro in the main lagoon area, next to another large swimming pool. There, the selection is more extensive, with a large cooking station where chefs prepare eggs, omeletes, and Mexican dishes to order, such as motuleños or chilaquiles.
There's another restaurant, Olla Ceviche, next to Olla Taco, where the atmosphere is laid back, with comforting beach fare. But the star of the show when it comes to Andaz' food experiences is Casa Amate, up in the lagoon area. It's a brilliantly executed concept with the look and feel of a warm, Mexican home, albeit an extremely plush, comfortable, luxurious home with a bar, courtyard and several rooms, allowing lots of space for guests to have their own dining area. By a fireside in the living room, we were presented with menus containing dishes from across Latin America, from Peru to Brazil, Venezuela right back home to Mexico, from starters of beetroot salad or Cuban soup through to prime beef steak or Tikinxik fish (snapper in a warming red vegetable sauce). It's all hearty and warming, expertly cooked and presented. The wine menu is global, but has plenty of selections from Chile, Argentina and across Latin America too, including Mexican wines, which have an ever-growing global reputation. Throughout the meal, service is impeccable and fast, with waiters happy to explain local ingredients, talk through dishes or suggest cocktails.
Service is friendly and thoughtful, from check-in through to speedy deliveries of ice buckets to the room or engaging conversation from drivers of the golf carts. That continues through to thorough and professional therapists up at Naum Wellness & Spa. Treatments are personalized, with questions about any specific preferences or requests. There are six treatment rooms, as well as hydrotherapy circuits. Treatments take place in private cabins overlooking the lagoon, including cabins for couples' treatments, which is what we went for. It was one of the best massages I've had in some time, firm pressure expertly applied, so relaxing it almost sent me to sleep. Like plenty at Andaz, this kind of experience leaves you feeling relaxed, energized and perhaps just a few years younger.
Web Address: www.andazmayakoba.com
Total Number of Rooms: 214
Published rates: $500 USD to $2,500
Review and photos by Graeme Green.