Checking In and Checking Out

Not Just a Facelift, Fairmont Mayakoba Finds a Fresh Start

by Kyra Shapurji
Photo courtesy of Fairmont Mayakoba.

MAYAKOBA, Mexico - A mere few weeks after celebrating a wedding anniversary at the Rosewood Mayakoba in Mexico's Riviera Maya, I landed, once again, in Cancun, and headed toward the same resort enclave to check out the newly renovated Fairmont Mayakoba. From my NYC home base, it's a quick, direct flight and a seamless 45-minute drive. Those simple travel logistics equal vacation gold and make Mayakoba an easy-breezy vacation choice when a sunny, international getaway is necessary STAT.

Checking In


As the first property to lay a stake in the ground over 15 years ago in Mexico’s Mayakoba region, a private community rich in cenotes and mangroves, the Fairmont’s historic resort was due for an overhaul. Near the town of Playa del Carmen and 30 miles south of Cancun’s airport, this Riviera Maya resort has invested in a multi-million dollar revamp. Going well beyond a swap-out of decor, there’s now a modern feel with natural color tones and soft textures, a mélange that pairs well with the beckoning sandy beach you can see just beyond the open-air lobby. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a space untouched and that doesn’t live up to its star-rating and luxury price range.

Lay of the Land

The Fairmont sits within an enclosed and gated community that includes three other resorts built around the natural lagoons (traverse these by boat or kayak for a low-key tour of the full area) and a world-renowned golf course. Everyone gets around by golf cart, but there are also well-maintained and clearly marked bike paths. From my two wheels it was easy to check out the cenote (a fresh water pool within a cave), access the other resorts, and drop into the beachside restaurant.

What’s New

What’s not new? The 45 acres of transformation can be experienced throughout various room offerings and a plethora of dining options. It's a breath of fresh air — and not just because it sits seaside. The resort's crown jewel is the new beach club, Maykana, with panoramic views and five restaurants featuring a variety of menus reflecting natural elements of water, fire, and earth.

A lagoon view. Photo by Kyra Shapurji.
Checking in. Photo by Kyra Shapurji.
Hix lobby lounge. All other photos courtesy of Fairmont Mayakoba.
King room.
King suite lounge.
Jungle bathroom.

What’s On Site

Major highlights include a PGA-approved golf course, the Willow Stream Spa for relaxing treatments, multiple pool areas, bike paths, and mangrove-waterway activities like hydro bikes and kayaking. Keep your eyes open for local wildlife like coati, an adorable omnivorous mammal, or an Anhinga Americana water bird flying about, or even spider monkeys. Local to the Mayakoba private resort community and just a bike ride away is El Pueblito, an on-site “village” where cooking classes, boutiques, and an arcade for kids sit around the central square.

Room with a View

With 401 guest rooms, including 34 suites, there’s a multitude of options for a luxe stay. Beach-side casitas, over-water lagoon suites, standard resort hotel rooms, and residential long-term rentals accommodate a wide spectrum of traveling groups. Atypical to your standard beachfront room are lagoon-view suites. Snag one of these for a true Mayakoba experience and take your breakfast al fresco overlooking the tranquil water. All rooms have been redesigned with a focus on integrating the exterior with the interior to evoke the natural surroundings. Think: outdoor showers, light natural wood materials, and a color palette mixing natural whites, creams, and blues. 

Breezy dining at Maykana.
Waterfront lounging at the beach club.
The steakhouse.

The Food

Fairmont went all-in on their restaurant investment, and it pays off. You can spend a full week here trying the variety of menus with a different option every day. For an all-inclusive (optional when booking), it has raised the bar on expectation. The menus I sampled offered high-quality and fresh ingredients — such a relief from those soggy breakfast buffets and lackluster produce options standard to most all-inclusive resort fare. 

Start off with light bites from Brisas, a Mediterranean-inspired pool beachside hang, or try out the Tulum-inspired Fuegos, an open-fire grill where you dine with your feet in the sand. Don’t miss signature restaurant Gaia for an indulgent seafood-based menu with options of local fish caught daily prepared with international culinary methods. I was smitten with the seafood tower and local oysters. Begin the evening with a memorable sunset at Cielo, taking in Caribbean sea views and sipping on a signature mezcal cocktail around a fire pit. For a carnivorous meal, there’s Tauro Steakhouse, the spot for dry-aged Argentinean prime cuts and a martini bar boasting “the coldest martini” around. Other options to quench all hankerings include Italian, traditional Mexican, and sushi.

The Place Is Perfect For

Families and multi-generational groups who want a healthy mix of activities and dining options without leaving the premises. Parents who need a true break with the kids in tow. Water enthusiasts who enjoy exploring the natural surroundings. East Coasters craving a quick, satisfying, Vitamin D-filled winter escape.    

But Not So Perfect For

Travelers who enjoy a major city to anchor their schedule and activities. 

Maykana at night.
The best way to get around.
Stretch of beach to yourself. Photo by Kyra Shapurji.
Underground at a cenote. Photo by Kyra Shapurji.


The Vibe

Inclusive and luxury are intertwined in this Fairmont stay (should you choose the all-inclusive option) which sets it apart from the rest of the Riviera Maya crowd. Getting your bearings is easy and makes for a vacation with little decision making and simple planning. Relaxing is the only daily agenda.

What to Do Nearby

Cenotes and Mayan temples, and did I mention cenotes? Peppered throughout the area, I consider them a must-do so you can see a natural wonder either by swimming, scuba-diving, or snorkeling. I especially enjoyed the Dos Ojos cenote for a legitimate experience. Visit nearby Cozumel or the secluded “secret beach,” Punta Maroma, by organizing a private sea tour on the VanDutch 55’, The Ferrari of Boats. The tour comes with a personalized lunch menu and an up-close view of the clear, blue ocean via snorkel, scuba-dive, or “sea-bob.” On my next visit, I’ll book the boat to snorkel all over again. This immersive tour was a highlight, and now I can say I’ve seen a spider crab in the wild. 

Natural Surroundings

Be sure to explore the coral reef restoration project that Fairmont and the non-profit Oceanus embarked on: a five-year commitment to install ten new coral nurseries and plant 1,000 colonies each year. If you visit during Reef Week, you can catch a team of biologists transplanting the coral.

What to Know

Plan for extra time when trying to get around the property — catching a golf cart can take a while, especially during high season (November through May). When tipping for services, try to tip in pesos, as the staff appreciates local currency. There’s an ATM on-site for convenience. 

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