Sometimes a trip to a resort on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula feels like a guilty pleasure. That’s because some resorts are so gorgeously ensconced in nature and so pampering, one begins to decompress to the point of intellectual lassitude—meaning that even the most inveterate travelers somehow can’t bring themselves to leave the properties in search of cultural fodder—such as the pyramids or cenotes that lie outside the gates.
For those hankering to yield to languor—or expecting to surrender to it—the key may be in finding a resort that marries coddling with true Mexican soul, discovering a place that isn’t generic, but authentically Mexican in its opulence and focus, a hotspot that gives us a glimpse (albeit a luxurious one) of the region. Two new hotels brilliantly manage this: the urbane, oceanside Waldorf Astoria Cancun and the mangrove jungle-ensconced, resort-village Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya, edged by a perfect beach.
Both hotels, managed by Hilton, are owned and have been envisioned and developed by Mexico City-born Parks Hotels Holdings. Cannily and passionately, the two retreats showcase unique, separate, utterly Mexican-infused versions of the region. From generous-hearted Mexican-style service to local gastronomy to spas that delve into indigenous healing, each resort provides guests the opportunity to partake of Mexico’s largesse.
While at Waldorf Astoria Cancun, for example, I took a fascinating Meso-American cooking class that highlighted traditional fare, ancient foods and local ingredients. Conrad Tulum drew me in upon arrival with a costumed shaman blessing, complete with chanting, copal smoke and song.
At both resorts local art references the Mayan connection to the four elements, and the spas conjure timeless, otherworldly local rituals and elements. Both properties boast gastronomic contemporary Mexican restaurants, affable staff ever happy to let you practice your Spanish, and concierges more than willing to plan sightseeing jaunts off property. For those who can’t decide if they want to be closer to buzzy Cancun or Tulum’s alternative hipness, a trip that samples both locales seals the deal. My vote: divide your trip in half and experience both resorts.
[See also: Inside La Valise Tulum’s New Jungle Suites]
Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya
Ninety minutes from both the new Tulum airport and Cancun International Airport, thirty minutes from Tulum city, this oasis amongst the mangroves summons far-flung jungle hideaway vibes. With massive wooden doors that open into a festive carpet of pools and steps that flow to the sea, the resort sprawls out along a mesmerizing postcard-perfect beach.
Suites face oceanfront, divided into a variety of low-slung buildings. Eleven dining and drinking venues beckon, not to mention a state-of-the-art gym, kids and teen clubs, water sports options, fitness and cultural activities and five gleaming pools. Ideal for families, honeymooners, large groups of friends and solo travelers, this resort feels like the sort of place where you’ll successfully turn off your phone and just chill.
Sometimes resorts with a ton of eateries feel overdone as if not one spot has been given enough attention to be a star. Here, all eleven dining options clearly define themselves. From casual Cafetal for caffeinated drinks to Arbolea with its massive breakfast buffet, replete with Mexican specialities (think a chilaquiles and tostadas bar) and au courant options (an avocado toast corner), not to mention terroir-driven Autor with its curated tasting menu and Ukai with ocean conscious sushi, each restaurant rises to take a proud place at the retreat.
My favorite Ultra Mar, which bills itself as a pool bar, reigns as the fancy, al fresco heart of the resort, mixing refreshing libations and serving seafood and Mexican specialties until 1 am. Its location edging the main pool ensures it stands out as the resort’s veritable living room.
Rooms & Suites
349 commodious rooms and suites are divided among a range of free-standing, low-slung buildings that rim the beach. Huge, with a rustic feel, as if mimicking the interior of a chic palapa, the comfortable rooms sport local art, huge terraces (including an outdoor tub) and ample bathrooms.
For those with a penchant for seclusion, the Conrad’s Ceiba Club offers just eight rooms and suites in its exclusive Ceiba Club, which has private check in, among other amenities. Its Ceiba-Club Presidential Suite stretches for 2,000 elegant square feet with spectacular water views. From $2,200.
Though life with a margarita beneath a beach umbrella is hard to beat, Conrad Spa Tulum presents a sublime alternative. Ensconced in the jungle, embodying a mystical aura with a cenote-like hydrotherapy palapa as its nucleus, the spa keeps wellness seekers out of the sun for hours.
Its menu of re-imagined traditional rituals run the gamut from four hand massages with herb-filled poultices to 100-minute long journeys inspired by Mayan folklore and remedies. Epicureans will love the Cocoa Mole Nurturing Ritual which features a mole-based exfoliant, rich with cocoa, cinnamon, coriander and other ingredients, topped off with a body wrap and massage.
[See also: The Best Luxury Hotels in Los Cabos]
Waldorf Astoria Cancun
Brandishing Mexico City urban chic, this high-rise property with just 173 immense rooms and suites hovers at the sea’s edge. Its two sexy infinity pools invite, as does the lobby, designed to pay homage to the original New York City icon, The Waldorf Astoria, both a namesake and inspiration.
You’ll find a Yucatan version of Waldorf New York’s famous Peacock Alley and the notable lobby clock, reconfigured in Cancun with Mayan symbology. Just 15 (ten without traffic) minutes from the airport, the hotel stands tall at the end of a long ride through the jungle—all the way to the beach.
On the road, signs warn of wildlife—from silly coati (raccoon-like creatures) to monkeys to jaguars—, but turn into the resort’s drive and the world becomes sophisticated and citified. Our two valets impressively opened the colossal doors in concert, purposefully creating a gobsmacking and dramatic entrance to this new (but already beloved resort).
After all day in a bikini, dress up for Malpeque, the hotel’s most glamorous eatery. Awash in contemporary interiors and accoutrements, with indoor and outdoor seating it wows with an abundant raw bar and a vibrant open kitchen. Smoked and fired food are specialities whether surf or turf.
Chaya, the Waldorf’s all-day restaurant serves well-executed hotel comfort food, meaning high-end versions of what people crave when not in the mood for experimenting—after all, every traveler sometimes hankers for something simpler. The breakfasts are extraordinary. Ja’o exudes a Mexican cantina mood, though indoors it has more of a sports bar ambiance, this is the place to try some local specialties such as guacamole with chapulines (they’re grasshoppers, folks), a cactus salad or a Meso-american-like pizza called “tlayuda,” topped with lobster. A pool bar and the lobby’s Peacock Alley also serve as venues for light meals.
The Rooms & Suites
173 elegant, sleek, penthouse-style rooms compose the Waldorf’s collection of accommodations. Unusually spacious in every category, each room vaunts private balconies with personal plunge pools and ocean views, as well as pampering bathrooms. The Oceanfront Swim Up Master Suite is particularly extraordinary.
The Top Suite
Simply stunning, the Ocean Front Two-Bedroom Presidential Suite spreads out to include a huge master, three bathrooms, several terraces with the largest, like a tempting playground, completed with a tempting swimming pool and jacuzzi. Common areas include a dining area with space for ten guests, a pool table and a screening room. Panoramic windows and the sense that the boundaries between indoors and outdoors blend is this suite’s most spectacular trait. From $5,200.
An enchanted hideaway down some steps near the pool, Waldorf Astoria Spa draws from Mayan culture to present guests with a detour from reality—like an invitation to allow a ramble through deeper space. Regional plants and healing traditions meld with modern remedies and products to offer guests a range of treatments from facials to bodywork.
A true sanctuary, the spa features an indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy circuit, surrounded by cabanas. The most peerless treatment rooms are the stand-alone cabanas that have private gardens and plunge pools. Opt for one of the massages from the Ceiba series, which bases its healing methodology from the Mayan folklore of the Ceiba tree, a root-abundant plant said to spiritually connect the heavens, earth and underworld.
[See also: A New Eco Retreat in a Mexican Biosphere]