Having landed in Mexico on our journey back from Belize, the expectation level for our last night was fairly restrained. The Viceroy Riviera Maya was our least-researched resort. I couldn’t tell the team what the accommodation would be like or what to expect in terms of scenery. This is not down to a David Brent-sized lack of professionalism, but more a case of wanting the last night of our trip to have an air of surprise to it.
Usually these trips are confirmed, agreed, signed in triplicate, embossed, sent for the royal seal, buried in soft peat for three months, unearthed and filed away somewhere. This trip was no different; I had just chosen to leave the micro management hat at the office in an effort to open myself up and be genuinely surprised on our last night in the Caribbean.
As a hardened snow sports enthusiast, I rarely find myself swapping snow for sand. The yellow stuff just doesn’t perform the same way when faced with a set of skis. Also, as I approach my early thirties, my physique is more geared towards a DC ski jacket than bare-chested with shorts (to be self deprecating in the extreme).
Regardless of my proclivities for powder, I’m not a complete debutant; I can sit down on a sun lounger with a thick book I assure you. Having landed somewhat jaded at the Cancun private terminal, after a night of various cocktails in Plancencia, I was in desperate need of a Bloody Mary, a shower and a good old fashioned lie down. We had collectively had a full night’s sleep (if you add up the three hours each), which meant for very little communication during our 40-minute transfer.
The Riviera Maya is effectively an 86-mile corridor next to the north-east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of the Quintana Roo, Mexico. Think Italian and French Riviera and you are on the right track – dignified and upscale. The Viceroy resort is hidden away in the small village of Playa Xcalacoco, just outside Playa Del Carmen. In my ten years of luxury globetrotting, I have never experienced a location quite like it.
The resort consists of 41 villas, set amongst the intimate and serene Maya tropical forest. We arrive, air-conditioned, but weary to an open air reception. If our editor hadn’t outlawed exclamation marks in The Review, this ‘reception area’ would get a serious one, in a bold font.
Until this trip, I had never stepped foot in anything that could be considered a rainforest. In the back of mind, the ‘Out of Africa’ theme tune was playing on repeat. As the gentile concierge approached me, I forgot for a moment we were in the western world and tried to think of what the local greeting was in this remote part of the Amazon. A cool towel and chilled aloe vera water: wideeyedly amazing.
With our bags speedily whisked off to be delivered in advance of our arrival, we were chaperoned along the path that ran through this dramatic jungle setting to the spa area. It was a little bit like discovering a Mayan temple in the middle of dense foliage during the days of her majesties colonial rule. Minus the safari suit, you understand. At this point, we were introduced to Jose Colli, the resorts shaman. Yes, I said shaman. The region’s indigenous heritage still thrives and is rich in everything Mayan: residents, temples, recipes and Shaman.
We were asked to face each other, hold hands and close our eyes, as Jose performed a very beautiful and deeply calming blessing ritual. This involved the burning of copal (an aromatic tree resin that looks like amber), moving the smoke plumes over us while chanting, “Ah yum hunab ku evam maya ema ho” (“The peace and nature of the cosmos will be in all of us”) to release us from stress. If you spend your day under high stress or arrive with the blood alcohol level of a Belizean sailor, the blessing is your elixir of calm. It genuinely left us all feeling calmer than Hindu cows; we were horizontally relaxed.
Body and mind calmed, we were shown around our jungle villas. Tucked away among the waxy fronds and tropical palms of the surrounding jungle, the thatched palapa-roofed villas are perfectly private. Private sun decks frame the plunge pool, hammock and day bed. At this point, I was beginning to wonder whether our airline would allow us a few days’ grace. The outside shower would convince them to give us a later flight, surely.
With our luggage stowed and linen donned, it was time to explore the jungle. Don’t be surprised to see the occasional spider monkey in the canopy above. A short meander along the jungle path leads you out to the lagoon pool, surrounded by double sun lounger and, of course, shaded by palm trees. For me, there are several grades of property, ranging from shindig to corporate. The Viceroy Riviera Maya is a honeymoon-level destination, the sort of retreat where ritualistic relaxation becomes second nature in minutes.
Unlike the nearby massive-package-style properties, this intimate island hideaway has a ‘no kids under 16’ policy. I know, bliss. We aren’t anti-family. Your family are great; mine are great. Let’s just not take all the screaming offspring away with us to a serene retreat.
If, like me, you are only able to spend a few hours on a sun lounger before needing to explore, you are made. The resort runs right onto pristine white beach and onto the 600-mile-long Mesoamerican Reef, which makes for fantastic snorkelling and scuba diving. Forgot your snorkel? Don’t worry about it. The hotel has flippers, snorkels and masks for you at any time.
Having spent the afternoon kicking back and watching the waves crash in from the Coral Bar & Grill with a Corona or two, I almost forgot that the trip was coming to an end. We then realised that the Wayak spa was going to close shortly and decided to hightail it. Luckily, they offered to reopen it for a private session for us. The team at the Viceroy take service to a stratospheric level, unknown to most mortals. The spa is full-service, offering massage, facials and fitness whilst staying true to their Mayan origins by combining the use of ancient Mayan traditions and Mexican herbs with potent healing benefits for both body and soul.
Fully relaxed and bathed, courtesy of an alfresco shower, we headed for our final team dinner on the pristine beach at the Coral Grill. Tables and chairs are placed in the sand as you enjoy an elegant, multi-course meal of lentil soup with pico de gallo, a roasted salad with lemon dressing, and family-style platters teeming with local catch (boquinete fish, octopus, squid, shrimp), meat (beef, chicken) and vegetables (a twice-baked sweet potato with cinnamon, cloves and other spices) that the chef cooks up right outside.
This is not your typical barbecue. Chef Jetzabel Rojas Barragán has created a menu that offers contemporary interpretations of Mexican cuisine with Mediterranean influences. If you’re looking to dine under silver, the resort’s La Marea restaurant is your formal option and offers equally-beautiful views.
Several glasses of good red later, we departed and strolled back to our villas, pacified. There was one final twist, of course: the staff had turned down the room, scattered flower petals around the pool, lit candles and created the ambient mood reserved only for couples. I wonder how many people come to the Viceroy Riviera Maya and then, 9 months later, can’t return with their newborn in tow. All the more reason to enjoy this quintessentially luxurious resort as intended: a body and soul calming escape. I salute both the staff and the management: bravo, ladies and gentlemen, bravo.