Tucked under a canopy of mangroves, palms and other lush foliage, you’ll find Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya. With 401 rooms spread across 45 acres of tropical forest, it’s the largest property in the gated, four-hotel Mayakoba community (it also boasts the largest beach of the bunch), but it manages to still feel like an exclusive hideaway.
Here are some reasons why you should journey into the jungle and check into the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Mexico hotel.
One look at La Laguna’s breakfast buffet and you’ll know that this is a place for foodies. Go straight to the stand where chefs are pressing fresh tortillas by hand, topping them with white Oaxacan cheese and your choice of meats and vegetables, and then cooking them up into quesadillas.
Grab a ceramic mug of café de olla (sweet Mexican coffee with cinnamon), peruse the shelves of pastries and seek out the cream-cheese-stuffed bollos wrapped in a slightly crispy shell sprinkled with sugar, and the pan de muerto (typically served around Day of the Dead and other celebrations), a sugar-covered bread bursting with essence of orange and coconut.
For lunch, try the beachfront Brisas grill for seafood. Served in a coconut shell, the ceviche is bright and spicy with green curry and coconut milk, and avocado toast gets an upgrade with crab chunks, preserved lemon and serrano chili. Order the whole fish for the table and you can pass the fried pargo (in the red snapper family) around and tuck it into tortillas to make tacos.
Adventurous diners should return to La Laguna for dinner to try the chicatana tlayuda. A street food from Oaxaca, a tlayuda resembles a Mexican pizza, with a crispy corn tortilla subbing for dough, refried black beans for sauce, shredded cheese and toppings like diced avocado, tomatoes and flying ants. The bulbous insects are a delicacy in Mexico, adding crunch and a smoky flavor. It isn’t for the faint-hearted, but if you enjoy the bugs, the Riviera Maya hotel periodically offers special insect degustation menus filled with grasshoppers, maguey worms, escamoles (larvae from the chicatanas) and more.
If you don’t have an appetite for critters, there are plenty of creepy-crawly-free options. El Puerto skews more upscale than the other restaurants and specializes in Latin-Asian fare. Sit outside for a view of the canals and nosh on sushi like the angry tuna (spicy yellowfin tuna, avocado, cucumber, chives and wasabi tobiko) and the Filipino-influenced skirt steak with a calamansi (a citrus) soy marinade.
Check out the list of Mexican craft beer or order the country’s go-to after-dinner drink, the foamy carajillo, espresso with Licor 43 on the rocks.
You’ll be tempted to spend your Fairmont Mayakoba vacation sipping strawberry margaritas on the white-sand beach or by one of the five pools. But if you want to get your adrenaline pumping, watersports abound. Lessons in windsurfing, stand-up paddleboard yoga, kiteboarding, a snorkeling tour of the resort’s coral reefs and sailing incur a fee, but kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and snorkeling equipment are all free.
One complimentary activity that’s a must is the guided catamaran tour. An electric boat quietly glides through the eight miles of Mayakoba waterways. Among the more than 300 species living in the area, we spotted diving ducks, iguanas, a great kiskadee (named for the fact that this yellow-bellied bird chirps “kis-ka-dee”) and crocodiles during our trek.
Explore the larger Mayakoba complex for more activities. Play a round on the Greg Norman-designed El Camaleón Golf Course, which hosted Mexico’s first PGA Tour event, or up your game with a lesson at the only Jim McLean Golf School in the country. You can also hop on the shuttle to El Pueblito, Mayakoba’s village square, where you can shop, dine or visit the charming chapel.
The square also is home to La Cocina de El Pueblito Cooking School, a fun place to learn local cuisine. We sat in the kitchen with bright, mismatched patterned tiles as chef Karla Enciso led us through making green chicken enchiladas, chicken flautas, guacamole and molcajete salsa from scratch using fresh ingredients. After toiling over the mortar and pestle and stove, we feasted on our flavorful dishes and received the recipes to bring home with us.
And if you want to venture off the resort, embark on a day trip to lively Playa del Carmen (23 minutes), the coral reefs of Cozumel (30-minute ferry ride from Playa), trendy Tulum (an hour) or the ancient Mayan ruins at Coba (1.5 hours).
While the beachfront accommodations lure most travelers, we reveled in the peaceful privacy of the Signature Casita Suite. Its vibrant colors give it a Mexican sensibility — the bedroom bears a teal wall, an orange upholstered woven chair and ottoman, and the spacious living room has orange walls and a navy sofa. There’s also an expansive balcony facing the lagoon.
Head to the suite’s rooftop for a tiled plunge pool amid the treetops. When you need a break from the intense sun, retreat to the adjoining shaded area outfitted with cushy chaises lounges and chairs.
You’ll want to make time for the beige marble bathroom’s standalone tub, which comes with thoughtful touches, like a jar of bath salts, a wooden stand that will hold your book while dunking in bubbles and even a rubber duck. Other bathroom perks: the complimentary all-natural mosquito spray comes in handy in the jungle, and we can’t get enough of the rose-scented Le Labo toiletries.
If you aren’t one for a soak, a glass-walled rainshower sits next to the tub, and there’s an outdoor shower off of the living room’s bathroom, too.
The two-story Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Mayakoba is a destination unto itself. Arrive early to do the Spa Ritual, a 45-minute circuit (start in the steam room, then the cold Swiss shower with jets at virtually every angle, then the Jacuzzi, back to the Swiss shower and finally the inhalation room) to help you unwind before a service.
Opt for the Chocolate, Food of the Gods treatment. In pre-Hispanic Mexico, chocolate was offered as a tribute to the gods, but here it’s offered to you as a dose of antioxidants and relaxation. Get encased in a delightfully fragrant cacao body wrap, then enjoy a soothing scalp massage and a rubdown with coconut oil and rose essence.
If the scent of chocolate slathered on your skin stirred your appetite, head to the earthy lounge to sip Mayan juice (orange, celery and chaya, a nutritious local spinach) and nibble on a carrot muffin or coconut-pineapple cookie. Or go outside to the tranquil rooftop to take a dip in the two pools — one with waterfalls — or sprawl out on a lounger and bask in the Mexican sun.