As a luxury travel editor and advisor, we’re not supposed to play favorites. But sometimes, we just can’t help it – and that’s the way we feel about Banyan Tree Mayakoba, a gem of a Caribbean retreat in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
We spent a few days this summer at the resort, part of the area’s posh Mayakoba complex (made up of the Banyan Tree, plus lovely Rosewood, Andaz, and Fairmont resorts, as well as 20+ restaurants and a championship golf course) and fell in love.
Just under 40 minutes from the Cancun airport, this Asian-inspired escape, part of Thai-based Banyan Tree hotels and resorts, celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this year and is currently undergoing more than $50 million in updates, adding even more assurance that it will retain its status as one of our favorite spots in 2020 as well.
When rooms start at over 2,700 square feet (yes, bigger than our current townhouse) you know you’ve gone next level. Each boasts a pool so large, you may never need to leave your room — except, of course, you’ll definitely want to explore.
We’d suggest the private living casitas that come with the Serenity Pool Villas, which boast separate hot tubs, extra living space, and even an outdoor bathtub, all done in neutral shades with pops of blue and chic, Asian-inspired influences, a nod to the brand’s heritage. Families would prefer the two- and three-bedroom options, which feature rooftop pools. Coming in 2020? 40 new rooms and suites, featuring six overwater villas with private pools and 34 beachfront options, which are soon to become our favorite must-book destinations, not to mention a more modern, refined aesthetic with details like limestone-based stucco and tropical woods mixed with marble, plus perks like breakfast at the Sands Beach Club, daily in-villa snacks, packing and unpacking service, and more.
We’ll let you in on a secret: we’re room service snobs. Mostly because we don’t like to socialize until we’ve eaten and had coffee. But it’s worth braving at least a “hello” or two to have breakfast at resort restaurant Oriente, which offers a lavish breakfast buffet with everything from Mexican Hot Cholate to make-your-own crepes to a lavish selection of sushi, charcuterie and more.
For a special and memorable meal, use the resort’s boat to do a progressive breakfast, lunch, or romantic dinner for two while gliding through the man-made lagoons and cenotes that make up the several thousand-acre resort.
Bayan Tree offers dining ranging from a steakhouse to Italian, but our favorite by far is Saffron, the resort’s Thai restaurant, a rarity in Mexico and one that draws guests not just from the resort, but from all over Riviera Maya. The yellow curry is to die for and try, if you can, to get a seat overlooking the lagoon on the outdoor deck.
On our recent visit, the Sands Beach Club was just about to undergo a renovation and transformation, and we couldn’t even find a thing to fault. From casual ceviche on the oceanfront pool deck to cocktails on the pristine white sand and comfortable loungers overlooking an azure blue Caribbean sea, this is exactly what we thought of when we picked out a Mexican beach vacation.
Sure, Sargassum (a smelly, potent seaweed plaguing much of Mexico and the Caribbean) makes an appearance, but it never impeded our stay — resort crews cleaned up any residue daily and the water still remained clear, ideal for swimming or a late afternoon SUP session.
We’ll admit to being spa snobs — particularly when a brand is known for its over-the-top spa experience. Banyan Tree Mayakoba doesn’t disappoint, with an oversized gym available for guest use and an amply-supplied spa experience that starts with an intake of fresh juice and cool towel.
Book the signature Rainforest Indulgence and prepare for a full afternoon of zen. The 150-minute experience is true decadence, starting with a completely private journey through the spa’s expansive rain showers, saunas and steam room with an eight-step process that involves everything from mud applications to ice baths and hair masks, before ending with a body scrub, Vichy shower and relaxing massage in one of 16 private spa bungalows. Therapists for the spa come from the resort’s other properties in Thailand and Bali, offering an exceptionally authentic taste of Banyan Tree’s Asian heritage.
The Mayakoba complex is massive – it’s easy to stay at your resort for the entire trip and not feel disappointed. But we love to explore, either on the gratis bikes provided for each room (perfect for heading to the beach or up for a meal) or via the complimentary golf cart service or the lagoon shuttle connector, which takes you resort-to-resort by boat during daytime hours.
To go between resort properties after dark, air-conditioned SUV service is available, gratis. We’d suggest at a minimum a visit to El Pueblito, and authentic replica of a Mexican village onsite, either to try out a cooking class, test your hand at some old school arcade games, or to pick up a locally-made souvenir. We also can’t resist the onsite sweet shop, where you’ll find traditional candies and ice creams.
The Deets & Deals
Riviera Maya is warm and sunny year-round, although, like any Caribbean climate, it’s prone to an occasional rainstorm. There’s no “bad” time to visit, but we usually skip travel from late June through October, when the chance of hurricanes is the highest, and the humidity and bugs put a damper on the fun. Bug spray is available in room – we’d always suggest applying liberally when you’re in a jungle environment.
What to Bring
Flowy caftans by Camilla, a stunning suit by Norma Kamali and a Eugenia Kim sun hat fit in nicely; for men, shorts + Swims by day and linen slacks and a button-up (no need for a jacket) by night work just fine.
If you want a hookup, shoot us an email and we’ll book you in with breakfast, and upgrade, and resort credit for your stay.