From the Caribbean beaches of the Mayan Riviera to Valladolid’s aroma-enhanced retreats, the Yucatán Peninsula is Mexico‘s most indulgent side. Explore ancient treasures and ruined empires, then unleash your ‘picante’ side…
From cliff-top Mayan ruins to ocean-edge bars and seductive beats, adventure awaits everywhere. Here, the second largest reef in the world – a paradise of snorkelable coral crannies – stretches along the Caribbean coastline of the Riviera Maya. Take a boat through the mangroves of Sian Ka’an’s Unesco-protected biosphere, or swim through the Río Secreto, a labyrinthine complex of undergound pools. Afterwards, embrace the scene at the all-white Deseo hotel in Playa del Carmen, mingling with glamorous locals and in-the-know travelers at its urbane see-and-be-seen poolside lounge.
Start the next day with a freshly squeezed something from the tropical juice bar, then counter Deseo’s contemporary pleasures with a trip to Tulum to see the finest Mayan art and architecture around. Or head into the jungle and admire wild vines curling around the rubble of ancient civilizations, care of the pre-Columbian ruins of Cobá.
Mexico makes intrepid explorers of sedate sunworshippers – despite boasting the world’s sexiest beaches. Discover priceless antiquities, colourful wildlife and nature at its protected finest, just over an hour’s drive south from Playa del Carmen. Head west and mainline ancient history with a whirl around Chichén Itzá’s temples, then get a taste of the turns taken when the Spanish arrived in 1542, via colonial towns Mérida, Izamal and Valladolid.
Breathe in the tropics’ most evocative aromas at the single-suite stay Coqui Coqui Valladolid. A perfumery-enhanced hideaway in a sleepy postcard-charming town, this serene retreat captures frangipani-laced breezes, and uses the floral essences in the treatments at its thatched-roof spa. After a nap by the plunge pool, wander through Valladolid’s town square to the city’s oldest limestone cenote.
Taberna de los Frailes above offers a menu of tantalising Mayan and Yucatán recipes, including pulled pork marinated in orange and radish sauce. Wine lovers, consult the impressive list and perhaps take a bottle of chilled regional white back to the hotel terrace for a toast. There, under a starlit sky, raise a glass to the kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and flavours provided by this magnificent swathe of Mexico.
YUCATAN PENINSULA ADDRESS BOOK: WHERE TO STAY
DESEO Playa del Carmen
Style All white now
Setting Playa’s party central
People don’t come to Desoe to get away from it all; they come to be in the thick of the action. Slick and minimalist, the hotel is one of Playa del Carmen’s top night-time attractions, with a poolside lounge bar that mixes some of the best drinks – and tracks – in town.
Doubles from US$135. Read review
ESENCIA Playa del Carmen
Style Less-is-more luxe
Setting Tropical Caribbean seaside
This blissful boutique-style resort set on the Mayan Riviera’s most beautiful beach is fabulously spoiling. The whitewashed three-storey Casa Grande was built to satisfy the whims of a wealthy European duchess and designed for her guests. Seamless service, miles of lush tropical beach, expertly mixed tequila cocktails and a pampering spa… we’ll be extremely impressed if you make it out to see the Mayan ruins.
Doubles from US$595. Read review
BASICO Playa del Carmen
Style Back to Básico
Setting Sunny Caribbean shores
Located in the humming heart of Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya, Basico is a young, sassy boutique hotel with an eye for design and a mind for a party. In the rooftop terrace bar, sun-tanned scenesters sip martinis, recline on day-beds made from lorry frontages, or bask in the twin water-tank pools.
Doubles from $135. Read review
COQUI COQUI VALLADOLID
Style Aromatic apothecary
Setting Colonial Calzada de los Frailes
A minimal colonial retreat set atop a perfumery in a sleepy Yucatán town, this hotel stands out thanks to its frangipani-scented courtyard, thatched-roof spa and elegant solo suite. Kitted out with chandeliers, colourful tiled floors and thoughtful furnishings, a stay here is a study in sexy simplicity.
Suite from US$250. Read review
COQUI COQUI TULUM
Style Riffing on Mayan ruins
Setting Beachfront Boca Palla
Surrounded by jungle and sea, Coqui Coqui Tulum combines rusticity with sexy seclusion: a formula that keeps A-listers and in-the-know civilians coming back for more. With a design as emblematic as the nearby ruins of Tulum, this cream-coloured beachfront stay has an ocean-inspired spa, breezy bedrooms and views of the shimmering Caribbean.
Doubles from US$210. Read review
Getting there Most major airlines fly into Cancún International Airport. Taxis at reasonable rates are plentiful, but you might prefer to have your own wheels for exploring: jeeps can be better for negotiating rougher rural roads. Temperatures are almost always pleasing, though it gets humid June through September and the windy-and-wet season stretches into November.