Early in January, I (Becky) conducted site inspections with a few Travel Experts colleagues from the Southeastern region. I just love hanging with these smart, savvy ladies who are top-notch business women and some of the best travel advisors in the country. There’s always something to learn and the margaritas flow–as does the laughter. Our trip to Cancun, Playa Mujeres, Maroma, and Mayakoba was extremely beneficial to me.
When I initially read the itinerary, I did a happy dance because many resorts were on my must-see list. We toured ten properties: Atelier Playa Mujeres, Estudio Playa Mujeres, Excellence Playa Mujeres, Finest Playa Mujeres, Beloved Playa Mujeres, Belmond Maroma, Roswood Mayakoba, Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Andaz Mayakoba, and Nizuc. Although the weather was a bit chilly and it rained most of the time (my job isn’t always glamor and glitz—sometimes it’s waterlogged shoes, humidity hair, and umbrellas), we turned over every stone, saw the beaches with our own eyes (everyone wants to know about the beaches!), did all the things, and brainstormed with each other about the best rooms and the best resort for each type of traveler. I definitely have some new favorites!
What I love about this area is feels a bit off the beaten path. Playa Mujeres is north of Cancun. If you are concerned about sargassum (seaweed), then Playa Mujeres is a great choice. Since Isla Mujeres is in front of Playa Mujeres, there is little churned up seaweed washing up on their beaches. The water is stunning for that same reason–all calm and quiet, making it an excellent choice for some R&R.
It was my first visit to Atelier, and I tell you, it will not be my last. To say I loved this property is a complete understatement. The hotel is adults only and all-inclusive except for a couple of restaurants. The drinks were top notch as was the food. We had a lovely tasting-menu-style dinner at Maria Dolores, which was amazing (comes at an extra cost). The hotel is set back from the beach behind an area of dense mangroves. You have to walk through and over the beautiful mangrove area to get to the pool and beach, but the walk adds to the charm and sense of adventure.
Atelier is great for those wanting a higher quality food and beverage program than the normal all-inclusive hotel. It’s for those who love art, play golf, and enjoy a more service-oriented boutique-style all-inclusive experience.
The sister hotel to Aterlier is Estudio. The resorts share restaurants and room types, but Estudio is family friendly. The beach at Estudio is a bit small, but they have a great pool area. Estudio is perfect for families wanting a boutique-style all-inclusive experience.
I’ve sold Excellence Playa Mujeres for many years. It’s a client favorite, and for good reason. The grounds and the rooms are gorgeous and the food is of high quality for an all-inclusive. It’s adults only. I highly recommend the Excellence Club suites for the better beach area alone. The Excellence club suites have a better mini bar and other inclusions, but seriously, the Excellence Club Beach chairs and beds rock my world! Excellence Playa Mujeres is great for those wanting a more sophisticated all-inclusive experience in an adults-only atmosphere.
The Finest Playa Mujeres is a family-friendly all-inclusive near the Excellence resort. It has a more contemporary style of furnishings and building style. The main dining area looked a bit like a commissary, but that was intentional with the modern-style simple furnishings. There was a pub style bar and some fun hangout areas for everyone. The kids club offers a splash pad area for the littles, and a pool area with water slides and fountains for the older kids. The beach area is beautiful. The Finest is great for those wanting a family-friendly all-inclusive experience in the mid-range budget.
Beloved Playa Mujeres really impressed me. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. A very good client of mine just loves it. It’s a boutique hotel with lots of light, breezy spaces and some of the nicer suites are in small units giving a great sense of privacy. The beach is beautiful and there are lots of mangroves and vegetation around. Beloved is perfect for couples who want to have a feeling of privacy with quality dining options with an all-inclusive experience.
What a spectacularly beautiful beach! Think quiet, luxurious, azure waters, white powder sand…. Yeah, that’s Maroma. It’s an easy 30 minutes away from the Cancun airport, but a world away in terms of experience. To get to Maroma, you go down this really long road through the mangroves. You’ll seriously think you are going to a country home or you’ve gotten lost. As you continue to drive, you’ll pass through a security gate and drive a bit more on this really small gravel road. I actually loved the drive. It made me feel as if I was discovering a secret gem. Arriving to the Belmond felt very private and exclusive, which made my heart happy.
Belmond Maroma. Oh man, I feel as if I should write a sonnet: Ode to the Belmond Maroma! This property was the superstar of all my tours. Gorgeous—and I mean gorgeous beach! The white stucco buildings reminded me of Mykonos or maybe those cute white, trulli houses in Puglia, Italy.
Our mimosas were made from Moet (!!!!!!!) and lunch was absolutely divine!!! They even enticed me to eat crickets, which apparently is a delicacy in this part of Mexico. I checked it off my list never to be spoken of again….but I digress….this is about Belmond….
The spa—oh the spa. Sonnet number 2! The spa area is set in a beachy mangrove jungle with a stone labyrinth, a bee house (where they get their honey), and delightful tree-covered walkways with fountains that looked like something Indiana Jones would discover. They looked seriously ancient. I can still hear the water sounds as I strolled the terra cotta tiled hallways.
The beachfront suites here are right on the beach. Like two steps. The food is ultra-high quality, and they have a wine cellar. It’s a true luxury property. The Belmond Maroma is perfect for those seeking an exquisite beach, a boutique property and an ultra-high level of service. I’d seriously go here every year and I’ve already made a list of clients who are going to just love it. And with all our luxury hotel offerings, we can get you some serious extra benefits at the same rate you’ll find on your own. We are preferred with Belmond as part of their Bellini Club, which means you’ll receive priority upgrades over all other programs.
I truly didn’t know what to expect with Mayakoba. Yes, I saw all the pictures and heard the stories about the lagoon and how exotic it felt, but I always wondered about the beach situation – I mean going to that part of Mexico is really about the beach. Mayakoba completely charmed me with its beaches, lagoons, natural setting, and a bit of a feeling you were going back in time, but yet staying in a very modern place. Small cenotes abound. You can ride your bikes along the bike paths, walk the trails, play golf, and do all the things. You can even dine at a different hotel and charge it to your room—even across brands! You’ll need some bug spray in Mayakoba as the mosquitos could pick you up and carry you to their nest, and in out the sea, you will see the sand barriers to keep erosion to a minimum. They aren’t that attractive, but ya know….ecology…
Rosewood Mayakoba. Oh let me count the ways I love thee—yes another sonnet! The Rosewood Mayakoba hit all my beach buttons *and* my adventure buttons. I honestly felt as if I was in this Costa Rica meets Seychelles vibe of a place. The public areas had delightful vintage elements and unexpected touches that made me smile. The beach area is beautiful with lots of wide-open dining spaces. Lots of little conversation and relaxation areas are scattered throughout the property.
Upon arrival, you are taken by boat to your suite for check in. I felt as if I was on the jungle cruise in Disney, but this was real life… Our suite felt so wonderfully secluded even though we knew there were other units on either side. Because of the lush landscaping, we could not see another suite next to us until we walked down to the boat landing pad. Down there, we could see other wooden landing pads with dim little lights reflecting softly on the quiet lagoon.
Our suite had a small living area, a beautiful outside patio and a plunge pool that beckoned me to spend some quality time with the margarita my suite’s butler crafted from fresh juice, fine mezcal, and a spicy house made habanero syrup—right in our room. Margs were just an app request away. I loved the deep soaking tub, walk in shower, and the large, landscaped outdoor shower.
Our suites came with bikes and we could call (or use the app) for a golf cart to get us. Even without the bikes or the golf cart, we could still walk to the lobby, the spa, the organic garden, and the beach.
Rosewood Mayakoba also has several gorgeous private home properties for those wanting a more residential experience. We toured one and I absolutely fell in love!
Rosewood is great for families or couples wanting to be more private and feel a sense of adventure with a good beach. The food is high quality and the service is exceptional. The wellness area is very jungle like and cool. They use the herbs and products grown in their garden for spa treatments. We are part of Rosewood Elite, so our travelers receive special amenities plus get priority upgrades over all other programs.
Banyan Tree Mayakoba. Wowzer – this was one cool cat hotel! The public areas were beautiful and the restaurants had some fun, inclusions (Cue the Mimosa and Bloody Mary Bar) and the Quesadilla and Chilaquile Station with it’s ceramic dutch ovens…
Since Banyan Tree is in Mayakoba, you have the lagoon aspect to the hotel. You also have a nice, hip beach area to hang out. The beach at Banyan Tree felt a bit more removed from the rest of the property as you had to go through the mangroves and a part of the golf area to get there, but it was a quick golf cart trip. Once you are there, it’s bright and modern with conversation areas and drinks from coconuts emblazed with the Banyan Tree name.
Banyan Tree has an Asian meets Mexico vibe I really dug! We wandered along the lazy river pool area and had a meet and greet with the resorts’ own falcon who keeps the dining and pool areas free from hovering birds. Like the Rosewood Mayakoba, Banyan Tree also has villas and multi-room suites available.
The philosophy of Banyan Tree is rejuvenation of the body, mind, and soul. Their Thai-inspired restaurant, Saffron, sits over the lagoon in a spectacular location. It’s quite romantic! And if you want to level up the romance, try a dinner on one of their Ixchel boats on the lagoon—swoon!!!
Andaz Mayakoba. As I was riding in a golf cart to dinner with the general manager of the hotel, I was able to get the inside scoop as to who the perfect Andaz guest is. Andaz is streamlined and modern – very mid-century modern meets a bit of Joanna Gaines shiplap. You’ll see lots of bright colors around the pool, in the restaurants, and in a few accessories in your room. The rooms themselves are very neutral in color and design, but I just love the funky accents in surprising locations.
The service at Andaz is understated and unobtrusive. The GM mentioned that many of their guests feel uncomfortable with butlers and a hovering style of service, so Andaz seeks to give their guests their own space while still offering that high level of service. For them, it’s a balance. If a guest wants to be in their own bubble and not be disturbed, they understand that very quickly.
In the spa, you can create your own scrubs and oils to reflect your personal tastes. Where the resort shines, though, is in their culinary program. Seriously, even if you are staying elsewhere, you must go to Casa Amate! It was my favorite dinner on the whole trip (you know it was a wine-paired tasting menu). After dinner, their expert craft bartender made custom drinks for us using our favorite flavor profiles.
Andaz holds local culture in very high regard. Not only do they serve cuisine along the local flavor profiles and use local products, they also seek to offer cultural activities to enrich their guests stay and to bring cultural understanding. The GM planned a sunrise Mayan meditation ritual with a Mayan shaman. Although sunrise came veeeery early after an evening of wine pairings and cocktail creations, the beauty of the ritual was inspiring and definitely worth getting packed and ready in the wee early morning hours.
Our last hotel stop was to the ultra-chic Nizuc Resort—the place to see and be seen. I was definitely able to wear all the shiny and sequiny things here and feel right at home. Guests here love to get dressed up and be all fancy and fun. Nizuc is one of the most instagrammable hotels in Cancun and Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine named it the most instagrammable hotel in the world for 2020. The public spaces are just stunning.
The main resort pool was huge and the resort has a smaller, adults-only pool and beach area. Word of warning – this is more of a pool resort as the beach area is pretty narrow. So if you find you really just hang at the pool with a little bit of beach time, this is your place.
The Private Pool villa was one of my favorites because you had so much outdoor space to just hang out and be private. I did love our room in building 8, though. It was large, but felt cozy and elegant. Ya’ll know I love my margs, and I had one of the best margaritas on the trip at the pool bar. Classic Margarita with Don Julio…Livin the dream, baby!
During our trip, we used the services of 4-Worlds Expeditions. We hung out with Sylvie and Manuel all week and I fell in love with their passion for Mexico. Their private transfers are top notch and I have to say, I’ve done cenotes on tours, but man oh man, their private cenote experience is just that—an experience. We swam and duckwalked through underground caves and rivers, gazed at the wonder of the stalactites and stalagmites, and spent some time in a stunning, open cenote with a waterfall—all.by.ourselves. There was no one else there! Can you even imagine. It was glorious!
So here’s the thing: I thought I knew the Cancun area of Mexico. I was surprised and delighted at my new discoveries and learned a new way to vacation in this wonderfully accessible beach location. No more will Cancun be put in the big hotel, all-inclusive, mindless entertainment box! I’ve found the area to be captivating, adventuresome, elegant, and embodying the feeling of true luxury—no matter what your definition of luxury is.
So hit me up the next time you are considering an adventure to Mexico. Not only do I have the insider connection, I’ve been to the properties and I know what makes them tick—what makes them unique. We can find the perfect resort fit for you. What your friends like, what your mom read on a travel blog, or even what the most awesome Insta-Influencer likes may not be that perfect fit for you. What I like for my own travel may not be the best fit for you (even though I have fabulous taste). Even in the company of experienced travel goddesses, there were differences of opinions in what we each personally liked.
Don’t leave your investment in your next adventure up to a stranger with pretty pictures and catchy tag lines….do not just go for the best and least expensive option on a review site!!! Gosh have you watched voting on The Voice where your favorites are cast off and you go Nooooooooooo! Sometimes people just don’t know what’s good–#justsayin. Call us. You can trust us. We know travel and we travel #BellaStyle.
Becky Lukovic is an experienced travel advisor with an adventurous soul and a mission to find the best margarita on the planet. She lives in Roswell, GA where she collects wine, makes homemade pasta, and plays tennis with her hubbie.