RIVIERA MAYA, MEXICO
Rich in Mayan history and surrounded by six miles of freshwater canals, mangroves and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, the Andaz is the newest and, by most accounts, the most cuisine-forward of the top-drawer hotels in this hidden paradise.
The Andaz Mayakoba resort (“Mayakoba” is a made-up name that means “built on water”) has grown from a bold investment in a fertile track of land along the stunning Caribbean coastline, south of Cancun. Development of the site, in the minds of its owners, deserved more than an ordinary high-rise. Instead, they looked to strike a balance between preserving the surrounding environment and creating an exceptional resort.
In a brilliant first step, engineers set about freeing miles of Yucatan’s sacred cenotes, which had been buried under acres of limestone for decades, to create a lush lagoon. Now the area is home to thousands of new plants, several hundred species of birds, cheeky spider monkeys, colourful fish, and lazy turtles.
Mix and mingle
The same visionaries worked to put together a complementary collection of on-the-water private residences and one-of-a-kind five-star resorts. Like the Andaz Mayakoba, each perches elegantly on a lush bank, connected by colourful, electric-powered ferries that run to and fro in a friendly exchange that allows guests to mix and mingle.
Landside, leaving the Andaz Mayakoba seems to be a more complicated journey that finds me wobbling along bumpy trails on a retro white roadster bike. Many guests opt for a fun outing to what’s called “the village”—a work-in-progress community centre, a charming little church, and a future that sees more local boutiques and restaurants off a common square.
But honestly, why bother to wander off the Andaz Mayakoba? Everything I need and more is right here—a seaside suite with a sandy beach, a modern fitness centre and Naum, the property’s six-room signature spa. Naum’s therapists are ready, willing and able to pamper me with a 90-minute deep muscular healing massage that’s a fusion of techniques, designed to discharge tension and relieve stiffness.
Accessible, family-friendly and tres chic contemporary, it goes without saying that the lore of the Mayans has inspired the Andaz Mayakoba’s design. Throughout the grounds, large statuesque hoops imitate an old Mayan ball game, while impressive wildlife graffiti adorns white building walls. Three pools (one beachside, two lagoon-side), tennis and Greg Norman’s world-famous El Camaleón PGA Golf Course, lined with sand dunes, mangroves, and hazards, offer recreational fun aplenty.
In praise of the miracle kitchen
It’s the Andaz Mayakoba cuisine culture, however, that’s truly something to celebrate. Stories of guests from other hotels sneaking out of their presidential suites on Christmas Eve to frequent Sotavento—the resort’s elegantly casual, shoes-off, toes-in-the-sand, beachside resto—have made us curious. It’s al fresco dining under the stars inspired by a shipwreck that washed onto the local shores. From our first bite onwards, we’re disciples. The kitchen’s agility is impressive—no special diet is forgotten, no request too much trouble. Fresh and fabulous takes on old family favourites using locally grown produce are innovative and imaginative. Pastries that are as light and lovely as you’d find in Paris come fresh from the ovens. It’s no surprise that even the hotel’s French general manager, who knows a thing or two about croissants, is a fan!
Another big plus for our dining enjoyment is the approachable nature of omnipresent Executive Chef Miguel Gómez Vázquez. Despite his culinary rock-star status, he greets guests with a twinkle in his eye and an easy smile. After a few days here and many amazing meals, I can only say that Chef’s Miguel’s philosophy, “Reach for the stars with your feet on the ground” (which is tattooed on his arm), seems to have been adopted by the whole Andaz Mayakoba crew.
When a well-travelled host opens their own house to guests, the result is an elegant celebration of their community via beautiful fresh food. A unique residential concept featuring intimate rooms—the Library, Estancia, Bar Studio and The Comedor—Casa Amate delivers a fine-dining experience, including a pre-dinner cocktail blending ritual and an after-dinner cigar pairing in the courtyard. First class!
Cocina Milagro (“Miracle Kitchen”)
An open-air resto surrounded by two of the resort’s pools, Cocina Milagro has an energetic environment and two open kitchens. The chefs serve eclectic market-to-table food cooked in a healthy way, while the bar staff knocks out handcrafted juices and cocktails. It’s also close to the spa and fitness centre.