Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya aren’t the charmless nightmare that is Cancun. True, Señor Frogs and Sandals are there, but there are some hotels that really help you get the most of a real Yucatan experience without camping on the beach in Mayahuel. Here are my three picks:
Hip: Hotel Basico & Hotel Deseo
From the amazingly stylish Habita group of boutique hotels based in Mexico City, these two small properties are off the beach and on or near La Quinta, right in the heart of Playa del Carmen. Prices are extremely reasonable for the quality of the rooms: chill rooftop hangouts with day beds and bars, rooms with industrial style concrete walls that somehow still feel luxurious, and fun eating places like juice stands and a marisqueria serving Mexican street food from a replica cart. The Basico adds pools made from old petroleum tanks (cooler than it sounds) and mischievous Polaroid cameras attached to a chain on the bed. There’s lots of white, design furniture, cozy nooks, and the hippest people in Playa all about. Both hotels top out at 15 rooms. hotelbasico.com, hoteldeseo.com
Playa’s premier group of condohotels has five separate properties clustered together on and just off the beach in an ideal location right in the center of Playa del Carmen. Each project has a theme ranging from Mayan to Mediterranean. For his latest development, El Taj (two complexes and a beach club), the owner, who travels to Indonesia often, brought several containers of woodwork back from Bali. There the trunks of Balinese palms make up the pillars and hand carved woodwork, onyx stone, and the occasional image of the Buddha feature prominently throughout the complex. The ultra luxury properties, which range from $250,000 to $1.25 million per unit, can be rented out by the week or month for generally less than $300 per night. Prices include a membership to an Equinox style gym. The El Taj sits coincidently is the same location as a $7 per night hostel that the owner once stayed in and fell in love with Playa del Carmen. condohotelsplayadelcarmen.com
Resort: Fairmont Mayakoba
The Rosewood and Banyan Tree next door seem to always get the press, but I’m partial to the Fairmont. First their commitment to eco-friendly principles: the A/C turns off when doors open, there are recycle bins in the room, BMW bicycles are parked around the property to get you from place to place, they really tried to restore the natural mangroves on the property even though there are a few extra mosquitoes, and the executive chef serves sustainably caught seafood and has his own chef’s garden. An eco-tour on the property through the canals feels like a mini-Amazon tour, passing herons and crocodiles. Some of the rooms even look out over the canals. Of course there is a pristine beach area with a honeymoon paradise worthy infinity pool, though its nice to visit a place on the Riviera Maya that isn’t just a cookie cutter beach resort like every other. fairmont.com/mayakoba
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.