F1RST On the Road: Mayan Riviera
This trio of resorts on the east coast of Mexico check all the right travel boxes: Great food, amazing beaches, and authentic experiences.
Mexico offers so many amazing luxury resorts that choosing where to stay and what to do can be a challenge. That’s where we come in. We make it a point to visit as many properties as possible—and to get the inside scoop on about-to-open resorts from our vast network of travel partners.
With direct flights from nearly 40 US cities, Cancun and the Riviera Maya continue to be some of the most popular destinations in Mexico. Recently, the F1S team revisited the destination, staying at some incredible properties, and experiencing everything from the rooms to the restaurants to the activities. All within an hour of the Cancun airport, these resorts—which are all situated on the Caribbean Sea in Cancun itself, as well as Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya—are easy to get to while offering a sense of seclusion and relaxation in an elevated setting.
“The Mayan Riviera is one of the top vacation spots for a reason,” says Asan Askin, Director for F1S West Coast and Entertainment. “Not only do you have incredible beaches and food, but the culture is really what shines through, helping travelers better understand the wonderful people, their diverse traditions, and the country’s modern-day draw.”
Here, we take a closer look at three of our newest favorite resorts, along with what to do, where to eat, and how to make the most of your time in the Mayan Riviera and Cancun. Read on for our recommendations:
Where to Stay
Palmaia: The House of AiA, Playa del Carmen
This secluded, all-inclusive resort about an hour from the Cancun airport offers the chance to truly disconnect from everyday life—and reconnect with yourself through their progressive wellness philosophy, which incorporates everything from delicious plant-based dishes to innovative activities and gorgeous surroundings. “It felt like we were immersed in a jungle,” says F1S advisor Shaun Richards. “The resort was quiet and peaceful, with the sounds of birds in the background, and the beach offered its own cool atmosphere—a Mykonos meets Burning Man vibe.” Sustainably designed, the resort boasts 234 oceanfront suites. “As soon as you open the door to your room, the breathtaking view grabs your attention—the clear, light blue water looks almost like a painting,” says JD Perez, F1S’s Executive Team Coordinator.
Etéreo, Riviera Maya
Find sand, sun, ocean views, and culture all in one place at Auberge’s Etéreo resort in Riviera Maya, about a 45-minute drive from the Cancun airport. “From the moment you step onto the property, you sense the connection to the indigenous cultures that have inhabited and passed through here,” says Asan. “Each guest is first given a welcome ceremony, after which you are introduced to your guide, who takes charge of your stay at the beautiful Etereo.” Opt for one of just 75 rooms, with ocean views and either a balcony or terrace. Also cool: The resort is set in a native mangrove forest, with walkways built amidst the trees that lead to the restaurants, pools, and beach. “It feels like you’re floating and for me created a sense of calm,” says Asan.
Waldorf Astoria Cancun, Cancun
If you’re looking to stay at the newest luxury property in the area, then the Waldorf Astoria Cancun—which officially opens its doors in November 2022—is for you. While there, you’ll find all the amenities you’d come to expect from the brand and more, including 173 rooms and suites, all of which have ocean views and their own private soaking tubs. Outdoors, you can enjoy the 100 acres of private beach or hang by one of the infinity pools, with both adults-only and family options. At this hotel, you’re only about a 15-minute drive from the airport and close to Cancun’s Hotel Zone, which includes a number of other resorts, restaurants, and more.
Where to Eat & Drink
At Palmaia: “I was completely blown away by the creative way they used ingredients to come up with the most spectacular meals—both the presentation and the taste were exceptional,” says Shaun, of the resort’s fresh and plant-based approach to food. There are four distinct restaurants on site serving up a variety of dishes, from LEK with its focus on Mexican food to Ume, serving an innovative take on various Asian cuisines. “The sushi made from fruits and veggies was amazing and the curry and tacos were also a unique take on incorporating plant-based items into a meal,” says Melissa Wu of F1S affiliate Woodlyn Travel. Not to miss: The mocktails, which our team loved, and a stop at Charly’s Vegan Tacos Pop-Up Food Truck by the pool.
At the Waldorf Astoria: Fire and flames take center stage at the Waldorf Astoria’s Malpeque, one of the five dining and drinking options on the property. With a focus on seafood, “each dish incorporates an element of smoke, char, or fire—some subtle, others more overt,” as they explain. For a twist on traditional Mexican food, don’t miss the indoor/outdoor Ja’o, while Chaya offers up a variety of veggie-focused plates. And though Peacock Alley opens as early as 7 am for coffee and also serves breakfast, swing by after dinner for a cocktail, since bar service runs until 1 am. Prefer a cocktail by the water? The Pool Bar has you covered.
At Etéreo: Signature dining spot, Itzam, gives guests a chance to try executive chef Miguel Baltazar’s—he heads up dining at the resort—innovative take on Mayan favorites. Expect dishes like Mayan King Octopus, Pork Belly Poc Chuc, and Yuca Tostadas, along with favorites like corn and tortillas cooking on the oversized comal as you enter the restaurant. For outdoor dining visit the Japanese-inspired Che Che or grab lunch on the beach at El Changarro and round a night out with a margarita at El Carrito. Also: There are a number of cool culinary experiences here, like the Abuela dinner (more on that later).
What to Do
Visit the spa. What’s a vacation without some spa time? All three resorts offer distinct wellness experiences, from Sana, Etereo’s beautiful spa, which Asan describes as “life-changing” to the spa at the Waldorf Astoria, which uses local oils and garden-grown herbs in their treatments. “Palmaia’s Atlantis Spa is unimaginable—within the Mayan jungle but still adjacent to the resort,” says JD. Along with many treatments, the spa also includes a cenote. (Cenotes are sinkholes that are common in the Mayan Riviera—and were once often considered sacred.) “I had the pleasure of having their amazing cenote all to myself on the last day,” says JD. “Because of that, the experience was so magical. The water is cold and full of minerals, with tiny fish that swim around you—and offers such a connection with nature. At one point, the sun’s rays shone in through the leaves of the Spa’s jungle and it gave the spot an almost mystical sensation.”
Have an authentic dining experience. At Etéreo’s Abuela dinner—it has to be booked ahead—each chef features recipes inspired by their grandmother. “The resulting feast is a representation of Mexico’s diversity, on a table, in the form of delicious dishes that ranged from seaweed salads, to cochinita pibil (traditional Yucatec Mayan slow roasted pork), and more exotic offerings, like fried crickets,” says Asan. The stand-out dish? For Asan, it was the flan. “I am a fan of all things flan, and I have not tasted a flan like the one we had there,” he says. “We even asked the chef for the recipe—which I intend to snag from my friend, who has a copy.”
Try one of many holistic rituals. At Palmaia, the majority of the programming, from yoga and art classes to gong baths and soul reading circles are included in your stay, offering the chance to try favorite and new-to-you activities. “I did soul reading, which I had never tried, and it was very enlightening and helped me to mentally readjust how I approach life,” says Melissa. She also did the gong bath, saying, “I’ve done sound baths before, but the incorporation of the gong and vibrations created a unique ‘movement’ to the session.” Shaun also enjoyed the experiences, including the women’s circle, explaining that it was “wonderful and I loved that you could share as little or as much as you wanted.”
Get out on the water. Whether you prefer the beach or pool—or, most likely, plan to spend time at both—these resorts offer plenty of options. At the Waldorf Astoria, for instance, you can try your hand at everything from stand-up paddle boarding to kayaking to an intro to scuba diving demo. Prefer a more…laid-back option? Hang in one of the cabanas on the beach.
Take part in a Temazcal Ceremony: At Palmaia, this wonderful ancient ceremony, which ranges from 2.5 to 6 hours long, takes place both outdoors and inside a sweat lodge. Once inside the lodge, which you enter on your knees, “abuelitas” are brought in and each acknowledged with a song. As the ceremony continues, 52 heated lava stones are placed, one by one, inside a pit, with a designated participant acknowledging its presence with words of gratitude. “The heat that emanates from these rocks makes each person sweat three to four pounds of body weight during the entire ceremony, representing the cleansing of your body and spirit. There are four different phases of acknowledgment, including regrets and gratefulness throughout the ceremony,” explains Asan. “Honestly no words can do it justice—only experiencing it will give you a true appreciation. The idea is that, you enter with all your wallows, regrets, and sorrows, and come out reborn.” He explains that it’s deeply personal, with everyone having a different reaction. “For me, there was definitely a sense of elation afterward and I ended up having one of the best nights of sleep I’ve had in years.”
Ready to jet off to Mexico? Reach out to us at travel@F1S.com and we’ll help you plan the perfect getaway.