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When Tinseltown's elite want to trade the harsh glare of the paparazzi for the soft glow of a moonlit massage, they head straight for Mexico's Mayan Riviera.
Considerably more refined but just as conveniently located as Cancún, the Mayan Riviera is luring high-profile Hollywood visitors (and the hoi polloi, too) with its soft white sand beaches, upscale hotels, charming beach towns and luxury spas offering everything from Yucatan sweat rituals to open-air moonlight massages. Ever since Maroma opened in 1995, other luxury hotels have followed suit on the Playa del Carmen coast, drawing both stars and civilians aspiring to celebrity-level pampering. Fortunately they’re doing it in ways that are sensitive to both the environment and to their guests’ desires for decadent escapes.
The newest spa to make its debut is Sense, part of the eco-luxe Rosewood Mayakobá hotel on the beach in Playa del Carmen. The Mayakobá property is lush, with 128 suites—each with its own plunge pool—arranged between mangroves and lagoons. Built on its own island, the 17,000-square-foot Sense, which just opened last month, is connected to the rest of the property by a bridge. Treatments range from the traditional—body firming, facials and massages with products from Carita Paris, Epicuren and Ligne St. Barth—to the native, with indigenous ingredients like aloe and agave cactus. The Mayakobá signature ritual is a two-and-a-half-hour body treatment and massage using local herbs.
The spa island itself has subterranean hot springs feeding a natural limestone pool, therapeutic plunge pools, steam grottos, saunas, outdoor showers, a meditation platform, sand and herb gardens, a lap pool, an organic foods cafe and a relaxation deck. True hedonists should book one of the eight spa suites: Each has a private treatment room, a bathroom with outdoor shower, a terrace with plunge pool and a rooftop sundeck. In a shameless appeal to amorous couples, the “Love” package includes a couples’ moonlight massage, facials, moisturizing body treatments, a Champagne toast at the beach and a candlelit dinner on the spa suite’s private deck.
Rosewood Mayakobá’s vibe may be chic simple luxe, but it’s hardly Spartan. There’s an 18-hole Greg Norman golf course, small boats to ferry guests among the mangroves and a team of 40 full-time butlers to attend to most whims. In the evening, the hotel’s tequila experts hold forth at the Agave Azul Raw Bar and Tequila Library, pouring cocktails and serving ceviches. A plus to bedraggled parents looking for a break: Mayakobá’s children’s activity club.
The spa takes center stage at The Tides Riviera Maya. Since reopening last January, the 30-villa Tides (formerly the Ikal del Mar) has devoted itself to serious skin treatments. The Maya Spa, set in a dense jungle, specializes in herbal and mud treatments and has its own Mexican sweat lodge on the beach. Consider booking the Lava Shell Therapy, during which therapists apply essential oils (basil, Bulgarian lavender, geranium, grapefruit and jasmine) and then use heat-retaining tiger clam shells (warmed by sea kelp, Dead Sea salts and self-heating minerals) in a Swedish massage.
If that sounds too intense, the hammock massage, performed in a spa suite in the middle of the jungle, allows you to literally dangle, while a massage therapist lies on the ground beneath you, applying pressure with her feet, one vertebra at a time. More focused, the Ritual de Fertilidad (or fertility ritual) is geared to couples trying to conceive, stimulating the senses through a full-body massage with folic acid-rich chia seeds, symbols of fertility to the ancient Maya. Guests lie in traditional tubs carved from tree trunks and soak in the seeds while a shaman offers ritual blessings and plays drums and maracas.
For a more sybaritic experience, try a four-hands massage and an outdoor shower, fed by a waterfall, in the romantic Jungle Suite, or book a jantzu water massage in the privacy of your villa’s plunge pool. The hotel is really geared to relaxation, so guests can order meals whenever and wherever they wish.
Cell phones and motorized vehicles are completely banned, as are children under age 16.
Luxury, however, is welcomed: Villas have louvered mahogany doors, hand-stitched Egyptian linens, terraces, hammocks and small plunge pools. If you’re feeling indulgent, loll under a beach palapa umbrella while a “tropical butler” brings you iced face towels and cool drinks, or have cocktails at the The Lounge at Azul, which has amazing sea views and overlooks Cozumel Island. For the more ambitious, there’s horseback riding, fishing, boating, snorkeling and scuba diving. Don’t be surprised to run into a few bold-faced names during your stay: Holly Hunter and Kenny Chesney were recent guests.
Maroma, the grande dame of Mayan Riviera boho-chic hotels, opened its doors in 1995, immediately drawing heavy hitters like ex-British prime minister Tony Blair and Sharon Stone. Founded by a Mexico City architect bent on preserving the region’s natural beauty, the property was built entirely by a single family of local artisans. Each of the 65 suites has oversize, handcrafted tubs (shaped like horseshoes, circles and diamonds) and artisanal tiles. Book suite 40 for the tub with the best view of the ocean, or one of the eight “Sian Nah” (Mayan for “House of Heaven”) ocean-front suites, which have rooms for spa treatments, fitness equipment and large terraces with private plunge pools.
The hotel, long a lure to celebrities like Minnie Driver and former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, is known for its luxury and discretion. Romance is encouraged: During high season, no children under 16 are allowed, although the hotel does welcome pets. All suites have private terraces with double hammocks or sofas, and at night, thousands of candles illuminate the walkways. The three year-old Kinan spa features an authentic Temazcal, an ancient sweat lodge where guests have a steam bath (heated by lava rocks) and mud treatments before drinking a ginger, hibiscus and natural sugar tea and splashing into the ocean.
For those who prefer to apply mud themselves in the sauna or steam room, the spa’s new mud bar offers four options: moisture-rich Mayan clay, anti-inflammatory black mud, refreshing red mud and astringent green mud. More decadent, the Purifying Body Kinku treatment starts with a corn, cucumber and tamarind exfoliating scrub and a contouring body mask made from ginger, long pepper and cloves. It ends with a cool banana leaf wrap and a detoxifying massage. If the treatments sound a little hippie-dippy, consider the resort’s bohemian cred: Though owned by the extremely posh Orient Express group, Maroma’s “resident artist” Bertrand Castelli was the executive producer of the original Broadway musical Hair, and parrots, peacocks, ducks and iguanas roam freely.
Rosewood Mayakoba: Ctra. Federal Cancún-Playa del Carmen Km. 298, Solidaridad, Quintana Roo; 888.ROSEWOOD; rosewoodmayakoba.com. Rates start at $490.
The Tides Riviera Maya, Playa Xcalacoco Frac 7, Quintana Roo; 800.578.0281; tidesrivieramaya.com. Rates start at $585.
Maroma Resort and Spa, Carretera 307, Riviera Maya; 866.454.9351; maromahotel.com. Rates start at $510.