There’s a long list of luxury resorts dotting the Riviera Maya on the eastern coast of Mexico, starting just below Cancun and continuing all the way down to Tulum. Among the heavy competition, however, Hotel Escencia stands out as a favored retreat for those willing to spring for the best of the best.
This is an elegant boutique hotel facing the Caribbean, a far cry from the giant all-inclusive vacation factories nearby. The main building was once the private home of an Italian duchess, purchased back when getting 50 acres of beachfront land in Mexico was not an investment confined to billionaires and corporations. The hotel has expanded over the years, but is still just 29 suites and villas with a lot of room to roam.
Arriving at the hotel feels rather strange as there’s a guard gate and then a little Mayan-style house with a narrow doorway. You go through this and then a driver in a golf course transports you to your room for check-in. There’s a welcome drink and a cool towel, then an explanation of how everything works. A new owner recently injected some cash into the property and some of that went to tricking out the rooms with more electronics. The air conditioners and blinds are controlled with a remote and a pre-loaded iPod Nano has playlists from a French DJ that are projected through a pumping sound system embedded in the wall. (You can also connect your own device via Bluetooth.) The complimentary Wi-Fi is some of the fastest you’ll find anywhere in Mexico.
There’s nothing that would be called a “standard room” here. Even the smallest Garden Suites have their own terrace, a plunge pool, an indoor rain shower big enough for two, and walk-in closet with robes and flip-flops. Dunbar furniture reproductions and well-chosen pops of color accent otherwise white, curvy rooms where a couple is never bumping into each other unless it’s on purpose. Minbars are stocked with soda and water, there are large flat-screen TVs, and spacious baths have two sinks and organic toiletries from the region. There’s turndown service, a lot of nice little touches in the rooms, and a morning coffee service waiting in a cabinet outside your door when you’re ready.
The various suites in higher categories come with espresso machines, an additional terrace, another sitting area, and more snacks. A couple in the main house have ocean views. The two-story pool villa has a real pool instead of a plunge, double wine fridges, soaking tub built for two, a living room, and a romantic large bedroom.
The beach here is gorgeous, with soft sand and emerald-blue Caribbean water. You can take out a kayak, paddleboard, or snorkeling gear, plus there’s a sunrise yoga session each day on a dedicated platform with a view of the water on the main lawn. Or just kick back at one of the two rectangular pool: one for families, one adults-only. The wait staff is ready to fetch a cocktail here or in the lounges in the main building, where tea is served each afternoon.
The main restaurant is poolside, with views of the sea. There are theme nights with entertainment some evenings and the menu does a nice job of presenting an array of Yucatecan dishes. Naturally there’s plenty of freshly caught seafood. There’s another restaurant a short walk away in the gardens, but it’s only open in the dry season when the mosquitoes fade away.
A small but well-equipped gym is on site and staffers can arrange a personal trainer if desired. The spa here gets high marks and there’s an emphasis on local ingredients in the treatments.
There’s little to fault at Hotel Escencia once you get past the idea you’ll be paying NYC-equivalent prices for food and beverages. The jungle-on-the-sea setting brings its share of bugs and leaves dropping into your plunge pool all day, but this is compensated by the feeling that you’re in a natural setting, not one that’s been razed and sterilized.
Rates start at $600 per night before a hefty batch of taxes and fees, including breakfast, and can top $4,300 for the best suite in high season. Book direct at the Hotel Esencia website or online at Hotels.com.
Review and photos by Tim Leffel, who was a guest of Hotel Esencia while covering it for another publication.