Let’s build a resort. Let’s pretend we have Legos and an active imagination and can create anything.
Now, because we’re adults and we’re tired, we’ll add requirements. Everything has to be really nice and leave us feeling relaxed and refreshed. Because we’re lazy, we don’t want to shlep to get there. Because we have high standards, we want the setting to be a stunner. Because we’re spoiled, we want a great spa and delicious meals. Because we’re jaded, we want to discover charming surprises as often as possible. And finally, despite our questionable characteristics, we do have a conscience, so we want to see sustainable features and a sensitive approach to the local culture (also as often as possible).
I don’t know about you, but I’ve just built myself Maroma, the newly refurbished Belmond resort on the Riviera Maya.
I just returned from a few days visiting in early January, exhausted from a busy holiday season and tense stretch of work. A great appeal of the Riviera Maya is its proximity to my hometown, New York City: Many major airlines fly to Cancun’s international airport, and from there it’s a quick drive down the highway to one of the many (many, many, too many to count) resorts that line the coast on the way south to Tulum (a beach destination best avoided — unless your preferred accessories are fringe and feathers — because it’s been absolutely destroyed by rampant overdevelopment).
But I want to talk about the great appeal of Maroma in particular.
Jungle + Beach = Paradise
The lush, low-lying jungle ends when it hits the expansive white sand beach and turquoise waters. Pretty simple, pretty perfect. What makes Maroma extra special is how close to the beach everything is. The structures were originally built in the 1970s by a Mexican architect, who started with a beachside restaurant and added palapas over time as friends started asking for a place to spend the night, lending a small village feel to the 200-acre resort. Recent regulations prohibit building so close to the water, which means luxury resorts of recent vintage are set farther back from the sea and don't enjoy the so-close-you-can-touch-it-from-your-bed vibe at Maroma.
Three quarters of the 72 rooms have ocean views, and there are sixteen different categories of accommodations (another result of the hotel being built slowly over time) — rooms, suites, and the grand four-bedroom Villa Maroma. The rooms are all hacienda-style — pretty tiles underfoot and on the walls, soothing earth tones in all the textiles. Our suite had a well stocked mini bar, a hammock on the patio, and — Virgo bliss! — an outdoor shower. The higher the room category, the more opulent the perks, like a dedicated butler, private yoga classes, a chef cooking your meals in your kitchen, your own pool. (I did morning yoga in the group classes; a different style is offered every day.)
If you've never spent an afternoon swimming around a cenote, you should absolutely do it. The land underfoot in the Yucatan Peninsula is full of these sinkholes (more than 2,500, to be precise), created when the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs crashed into sea off the peninsula's northern coast 66 million years ago. I've swum cenotes before and was very happy to abandon my ambitious get-up-and-go plans and just stay put here at Maroma — engaged in a hot debate whether the comfiest spot was my hammock or a beach lounger. The only time we went off campus was to snorkel with the fishies on the Mesoamerican reef, one of the water activities, along with paddleboarding and kayaking, you can arrange right on the beach.
What else can you do when you're here? So many experiences — stargazing, underwater meditation, sustainable golf, archaeological tours — both on-site and in the area. A dedicated butler looks after all guests and can make any and all arrangements.
Talk to Me About Tortillas
The resort has two restaurants. Woodend, overseen by Michelin-starred Australian chef Curtis Stone, is a fine dining experience that emphasizes wood-fired dishes. Casa Mayor is the more casual (but still impressive) all-day restaurant helmed by executive chef Daniel Camacho. The menus at both lean heavily on Mexican flavors and ingredients, with 90 percent of ingredients sourced from Mexico and more than half from the surrounding Yucatan Peninsula — just another hint that, although the clientele is global, this resort is proudly Mexican. My husband and I ate brilliantly; we especially couldn’t get enough of the tacos at lunch.
On our last night, the hotel had generously arranged a special menu and an intimate table on a rooftop — dinner under the stars is an experience available to all guests — but unusually strong winds sent us back inside for the feast of Campeche shrimp with avocado, coriander, and lime and Oaxaca ribs with Ajusco mushrooms.
Bambuco, the zero waste bar, serves cocktails that honor different Mexican states and a vast selection of mezcals and tequilas, including the resort’s own, a bottle of which you’ll find waiting in your room. Bambuco is empty during the day, and I spent an afternoon in the lounge getting quiet work done.
It's a livelier scene on the beach at Freddy’s Bar, named in honor of a long-time barman. That's nice, right? And fitting because the staff here deserve all the praise they receive. If the World's Best Hotels gave out awards for warmth and friendliness, this team would take the prize.
The most fun we had at the restaurants was the Nixtamal Journey, a tortilla experience with executive sous chef Emmanuel Coatl and master tortilla-maker Olivia Cortes, who we first spotted making the tortillas for the day at breakfast at Casa Mayor. A master class in everything corn and tortilla, we learned how corn lies at the heart of Mexican cuisine, and how with a few variations — in the hand, on the griddle, in the fryer — a taco becomes a flauta becomes an enchilada becomes a quesadilla. We got to eat the food we prepared — so tasty! — and even learned to make pozol, my new favorite beverage.
Locally and Thoughtfully Made with Incredible Style
Maroma’s boutique is stocked with Mexican finery — clothing and crafts from designers like Oriana Rodriguez, Kuu, Si’kuli, Taller Maya, Juun, and Agua d’Ma. If this shop relocated to Madison Avenue or Via Montenapoleone, it would put its luxury neighbors to shame.
The garment I put on (and took home because I couldn’t bear to leave something so comfy behind) was the simple kaftan that was hanging in my closet. Made by Collectiva Concepción and hand-embroidered by women artisans in Chiapas for the hotel, it is but one of the many thoughtful touches guest find waiting for them. Organic room and beach slippers are made in the Yucatán from palm and cotton. Hats are made by Campeche communities. Maroma plans to do a collection and release a new design every year. The bath amenities are all made in Mexico by the fragrance company Xinú, and will soon come in four scents guests can select, though the one to choose is honey bees. Bees are the Maroma motif you’ll see everywhere, but the cutest creature I spotted was a loofah shaped like a turtle.
What guests won’t find is plastic anywhere in the room — the topstitched “leather” boxes and trash and recycling bins are made from nopal cactus. Another box in the closet is accompanied by a note letting guests know that they can leave behind gently used items to be passed along to one of the local foundations Maroma supports. The resort employs a sustainability manager, and this is but one of the many initiatives he looks after.
A Brand New You
Does your back hurt from a lifetime hunched over a keyboard? Is your skin feeling the ravages of winter/stress/pollution? Step right up to Maroma Spa by Guerlain, and lie back while everything gets fixed. The first Guerlain spa in Latin America offers treatments inspired by the four elements (fire, water, earth, and air), ancient modalities, and the Melipona bee that is sacred to the Maya people. (Maroma works with the organizations Fundación Selva Maya and Mayahuum on initiatives to help save the endangered bee.) The Purifying Cenote treatment incorporates water; Talisman of Immunity, earth; Spirit of Mayab Music, air. I was subjected to the Bee Healing Ritual, two hours of pure and ultimate pampering — facial, body exfoliation, massage, and scalp treatment with Guerlain's Abeille Royale products. I topped this off with back-and-forths between the steam room and cool pools and a final splash in the plunge pool under a towering mangrove. I don't know what I did to deserve this, but I'm very, very grateful for it.
A beachside Temazcal Ritual at sunset was a more spiritual experience guided by a thoughtful, mystical shaman. He was very fit, and he was very smiley. We spent a long time together, talking and chanting amid piles of herbs and steaming lava stones in a small hut. It was a Sunday, and I felt I had been to church. At the end of the session, as we thanked the heavens for the experience we had had, we saw a light — a star? an asteroid? a UFO? — streak across the sky, then disappear. The shaman promised me this was an excellent omen.
I couldn't have designed a better ending.