One profitable way to build a new beach resort is to bulldoze 300 acres of palm trees and vegetation lining the sea into oblivion. Voila!—a clean canvas to maximize oceanview room counts. Kinda rough on the local wildlife, though, and verboten among today’s eco-cognescenti.
Diverting from that formula, the 5-diamond Fairmont Mayakoba opened in 2006 within a militantly preserved environment along Mexico’s Riviera Maya, south of Cancun. Rather than a mashup on the beach, the majority of the 401 rooms are nestled along a series of man-made canals and natural cenotes (caverns filled with water), ensconced among 45 acres of native mangrove forest. Following construction, over 1,500 trees removed from the grounds were replanted close to their original setting. Why’s that a big deal?
The result is, as unbelievable as it sounds, a full-service convention hotel that feels like an intimate eco-retreat. From your patio hanging out over the living lagoon, you’re viscerally aware of the scissortail sergeant major fish swimming just feet away; the purple winecup and golden trumpet flowers springing from the shadows; and blue herons flying among the thick tree canopy. You’re not really aware of the rooms next door. This isn’t landscaping. It’s Mother Nature in your face.
“Most of the hotel is behind the mangrove and this is very important,” says Lyn Santos, ecology manager. “There are fish, turtles, crabs and migratory birds here now that were not before, and they’re making babies! So we know we’ve created a whole new ecosystem.”
The canals are the emotional wellspring of the resort, with the three pool areas, restaurants and rooms giving way to their circuitous paths. And getting to the beach is easy with complimentary mountain bikes scattered around the property that guests can just grab and go. Or attendees can board thatch-roof lanchas, small boats that depart every ½ hour between the lobby and sea. There are also early morning lancha tours where guides discuss Mayakoba’s unique vision.
“People thought we were nuts when we built away from the beach,” says hotel manager Germain Gallardo. “But our clientele is well educated about sustainability and they respect what we’ve accomplished. Here, you feel like you have your own space in the natural world.”
Speaking of space, the 27,000 sf of indoor flex space opens onto an outdoor terrace looking out over the entire property clear to the Gulf of Mexico. You won’t know whether to host an opening cocktail event here, or propose to someone. It’s that pretty. The 20,000 sf spa, with private balconies off the treatment rooms, is right below.
Holding a couple slices of veggies with silver prongs, the pool waitress asks, “Sir, would you care for some cucumbers for your eyes?” That’s a little too Sex & The City for me so I decline. This is the type of 5-diamond pampering to expect in the restaurants, golf course and spa.
The Greg Norman-designed, 18-hole El Camaleon golf course was the first to host a PGA Championship tournament outside the United States. And it’s not easy. Yep, more canals and cenotes—there’s nothing like a yawning cave in the middle of the fairway to eat up a few extra golf balls. But the gorgeous layout along the blue-green sea and twisting mangroves makes up for the added expense an occasional duffer will require.
The golf carts come with GPS, which tells you the distance to the holes. But how cool is this? The satellite technology also shuts off the cart’s motor when you drive too close to a protected wildlife habitat.