Simplicity, beauty and pampering await on the Mexican Riviera
At the Amarte bungalow resort in the Mexican Riviera, they don't know what a wake-up call is. When our group of writers asked one staff member, he was genuinely puzzled. The concept had to be explained to him, and he said he'd never heard of such a thing. The manager, Liliana, simply laughed at the request.
Before you assume this is a complaint, let me assure you—it can be a very good thing, indeed. Amarte is the kind of place you come to relax and totally unplug. There are no televisions or clocks in the rooms, no hurries and no worries. You don't come here to be on a schedule.
In fact, the Riviera Maya as a whole embraces this laid-back, very Latin philosophy of living easy, slow and well. To get here you fly into highly-popular, uber-touristy Cancun. But don't let that turn you off; Riviera Maya could not be more different from Cancun if it tried.
But that's sort of the point—it isn't really trying, to compete or to be anything other than itself. Amarte is only about a half-hour drive from the Cancun airport, and when you walk through its gates you enter lush jungle gardens with meandering paths that lead to a handful of thatched-roof bungalows that are all but hidden among the palms, banana trees and tropical flowers. Each bungalow has its own spacious patio with that most necessary of beach resort items: a hammock. This was the first place I settled myself into once my bags were in the room and shoes were off.
The ease and simplicity of the place, however, doesn't mean Amarte isn't modern and elegant as well. There is an exquisite restaurant, Pavo Real, serving tropical gourmet fusion and their signature martini, the peacock. A separate art gallery is surprising in its collection, and the space offers workshops and free concerts every Saturday. A full-service spa is opening in January 2012, offering full spa treatments with a unique blend of Thai, Japanese, Swedish and Mayan methods. And for those (like me) who can't imagine completely unplugging for too long, there is wi-fi in the lobby and common areas, and they'll supply you with an ethernet cable for your room if you ask.
The Amarte bungalows have a nice pool onsite, but you must take their shuttle for the short 15-minute ride to the beach at Maroma Bay. If you have a family or big group, or just want to live large, Amarte also has a few stunning private villas directly on this beach—gorgeous multi-level, three or four bedroom hideaways with full personal service.
It seemed to me that it would take a lot to pull me away from this tranquil paradise, but there is plenty to do around Riviera Maya. Of course, water sports abound in the Caribbean Sea, and you can try your hand at everything from snorkeling and diving to parasailing, fishing, kayaking and kiteboarding. Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park where you can learn about ecology and Mayan history, float down subterranean rivers, swim with dolphins and hike through jungle-shrouded trails. The ancient ruins at Tulum are nearby, with sixty well-preserved Mayan structures and the only such archaeological site where you can swim at its beach.
For complete pampering, don't pass up the area's array of amazing spas; I recommend seeking out those that incorporate Mayan traditions, such as the one at the Grand Velas resort. It's much more than a spa, nearly 90,000 square feet of sanctuary for restoration and renewal. I started off on a "water journey," walking through two calf-deep pools—one filled with warm, jetted water and the other nearly ice cold. Said to be good for circulation, my feet and lower legs were tingling nicely when I emerged. From there you are led into the immersion pools, where a variety of powerful streaming showers pulsate against your neck, shoulders and back. My favorite part of the water journey was the jetted beds; lie back on one of these babies while thousands of tiny jets massage your entire body. I was almost disappointed when I was called into the next part of the procession: sauna and steam rooms, followed by the ice room and then a clay body-scrub.
Finally, I was ready for the massage, which was unlike any I've had before. I began seated in a chair, my feet placed in a bowl of grains and instructed to close my eyes by Gabriela, my therapist. I felt her brushing my hands with flowers dipped in water. "Feel the water," Gabriela said. "It is your mother." Next she held shells to my ears. "Hear the wind; it is your breath." A compress pressed warm against my neck. "Feel the fire; it is your spirit." It was a beautiful way to begin the transformative massage that followed, and I left that day feeling balanced and restored.
Once your days of spa pampering, beach time or adventures wind down into evening, you can take advantage of Playa del Carmen. This fun town is filled with the expected restaurants and shops, all ranging from casual and more touristy to upscale dining and designer boutiques. There are plenty of street vendors, and the place does have a certain amount of charm; it was far less cheesy than I had expected it to be, and it's a fantastic place to have fun, eat and drink, do some shopping or party all night. New spots like Wayan Village go a step further, combining a shop full of local artisan handicrafts and natural clothing with body treatments and a unique restaurant that serves some of the healthiest, most inventive cuisine I've tasted in Mexico. My favorite was the tacos made from hibiscus flowers. And you can even have your feet massaged by fish at Wayan. Seriously. You immerse your feet in a pool of water filled with small fish who nibble away your dead skin; it tickles and is great fun.
One of the beautiful things about Riviera Maya is how close it is to Texas; a short (and usually very inexpensive) two-hour plane ride can take you from all the major Texas cities direct, allowing for an exotic getaway close to home. Don't miss it.
Need to Know Details:
Amarte Beach Villas - www.amartemaroma.com
Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort - www.grandvelas.com
Riviera Maya Tourism Guide - www.rivieramaya.com - which recommends the following 10 Things you must do when visiting Riviera Maya:
- Swimming by the only archaeological site located by the sea... Tulum.
- Spend a day of amazement interacting with Mexican culture in one of the most spectacular theme parks in the world Xcaret.
- Snorkel in the largest natural aquarium in the world Xel-Ha.
- Get the perfect suntan in Akumal silky beaches.
- Explore the mystery of the Mayan caves in Aktun Chen.
- Stroll along "La Quinta Avenida" of Playa del Carmen and enjoy the wide variety of bars, restaurants and shops.
- Return in time and discover a Mayan village.
- Discover the underwater world at the largest coral reef on the northern hemisphere... Snorkeling and Diving.
- Get in touch with one of the greatest biodiversities in the world on the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka'an.
- Relax and experience a Mayan treatment in one of the multiples Spa´s in Riviera Maya.