Mexico may be getting a bad rap these days as the center of the swine flu epidemic, but the latest hotel opening on Riviera Maya is worth a stay nonetheless. Edging a protected nature reserve of freshwater lagoons, canals, and mangroves, five-star Banyan Tree Mayakoba echoes a traditional Asian village, except the perks it hides in its earthy-colored villas are contemporary to the rafters. Intimate and private, each villa comes with a spacious swimming pool; sun deck with loungers; a landscaped garden; and a hot tub or sunken bath. The décor is a seamless fusion of Mexican and Asian design, a balanced nod to the Phuket flagship of this Singapore-based hotel chain and the host country of their latest Banyan Tree opening. Mayan-inspired furnishings and black and white talavera bathroom sinks blend perfectly with the Far East-style courtyard design of each villa, enclosed with a verdant garden.
There’s a mythical aspect to the Banyan Tree experience, as if reality slides away the moment you enter this sanctuary for the senses. And it positively does at the award-winning Banyan Tree Spa where treatments are based on Asian folk remedies featuring aromatic herbs, spices and oils. The signature Thai Herbal Detox package is a soothing three-hour delight not to be missed. Eating options are wide and varied – from contemporary Thai fare served on the pretty pontoons of the signature restaurant, Saffron; to Mediterranean-inspired specialties at Tamarind; modern Mexican cuisine at Oriente; and delectable seafood at Sands on the beach. The in-room villa dining is a great option for a private meal, as is the elegant La Cava wine cellar where creative epicurean treats can be sampled.
The Caribbean Sea is a ten-minute ride away on your very own bicycle parked outside each villa; alternatively, reach the beach in an electric-powered boat along the scenic waterways. Golfers can tee off at Greg Norman-designed El Camaleon, the second golf course in Mexico certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, one of the world’s leading environmental certifications. Environmental is the keyword at Banyan Tree; the hotel chain’s Green Imperative Fund backs excellent projects such as reforesting the mangroves of Mayakoba; funding an orphanage in Playa del Carmen; and reviving the area’s endangered melipona bee population.