TWO NEWER LUXURY HOTELS – HOTEL CACAO AND VICEROY RIVIERA MAYA — ARE SURE TO BOOST PLAYA DEL CARMEN’S REPUTATION AS A GO-TO DESTINATION FOR SUN LOVERS By Mark Keast
The moment you turn right on Calle 30 Nte, and come across La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), the pedestrian walkway and the beating artery that pumps life juice into Mexico’s Playa Del Carmen, it hits you: you are in a carnival, a mishmash of tourist booths pushing everything from fishing junkets to live shows starring Michael Jackson imitators, restaurants all the way from Burger King to higher-end fishfood joints, dime-a-dozen jewellery and souvenir shops, street hawkers in your face with boxes of hand-rolled Cuban cigars (or so they say).
There are call-outs every ten feet to buy this, come in and check out that, (“You want a doobie?”). All of this, somewhat surprisingly, sits intermixed next to luxury staples like the Tag Heuer store, a luxury mall, and Ultrafemme, which sells Burberry, Chanel, Dior and MAC.
On Day One, during a night stroll, boosted by the lights and the street action and a warm Caribbean breeze, with a cold beer in your hand, the newness and charm and the entertainment value of it all keeps you going, all the way to the ferry stop to Cozumel where La Quinto Avenido comes to an end.
And that’s what make Hotel Cacao such a welcome respite. You can dabble in the action, some of it tacky, some of it not, and you know there’s a new, five-storey zen-like luxury hub waiting once you have had your fill.
Hotel Cacao, with its marble exterior, opened last October, and from a luxury hotel perspective, it hits all the marks. Noteworthy is the rooftop area — infiniti pool, sun deck and “cocteleria” experience in the bar area, sure to become a go-to spot for tourists and locals alike. There you can take in breathtaking panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea and Cozumel Island.
The hotel, with 60 guest rooms in total, offers Master Suites with highlights like a Jacuzzi on the terrace overlooking Fifth Avenue, 46” LCD TV, 100% Egyptian cotton linens, and plenty of spacious living room area. The Junior Suite is a little smaller, with a large terrace to enjoy panoramic views of Fifth Avenue or the ocean. The Deluxe Habitación is the smallest room at around 550 square feet, but has the same offerings as its brethren – Missoni amenities, 46” LCD TV, Egyptian cotton linens.
The hotel’s marble exterior, waterfalls, jazz music all contribute to a relaxing vibe. The courtyard and NIBS restaurant that you pass on your way from check-in to the elevators are open to the sunshine, protected against the elements by a series of strategically placed canvases.
“The canvas installations in geometric shapes are artistic juxtapositions that imbue the rectangular and linear atrium with style and definition,” explained Hotel Cacao Director Bruce James. “At the same time, they provide shelter from the rain and elements for our restaurant, NIBS, where guests feel like they are dining in an outdoor café.”
Dining at NIBS, Chef Cristina comes out to tell us about the thinking behind the menu. “We only use local product, and for me, in the kitchen, I always focus on flavour, flavour, flavour,” she says. “I am constantly experimenting.”
North of Hotel Cacao sits Viceroy Riviera Maya, which is relatively new (Viceroy Hotel and Resorts took them over in 2012). The Viceroy Riviera Maya is an all-villa resort that fluently merges sea, beach and jungle, dense with ferns, palms and guava trees. Each of the 41 spacious villas (ranging from “luxury villas” to a 2,900 square foot “ocean view two level villa”) come with private plunge pools, deck, outdoor shower, and a high-ceiling thatched palapa roof synched with the jungle environment.
Guests arrive to the smell of “copal”, both in the lobby and outside the spa. “Copal” is a resin from a tree that looks like a mineral rock, which is then pulverized, the dust added on top of hot coals, producing a relaxing smell similar to more of an intense incense. Guests arrive to a “Mayan Blessing” performed by the Mayan shaman on staff, and are escorted to their villa. Mayan healing techniques and traditions are a big part of the spa experience. Down by the pool, next to the surf, there’s a seaside grill (try the excellent Mexican chardonnay called “LL”), day beds near the beach, a private pier for private dinners, library lounge and fitness centre. The more formal La Marea restaurant overlooks the pool area.
“It’s not complicated,” says Fernanda Gembe, assistant to the general manager. “For our guests, it’s more about uniquely Mexican experiences, in the privacy of the secluded, luxury place. Luxury means a lot: quality service, attention to detail, local ingredients. It is a combination of many things that make this a special place for people.”
By the week’s end, when it’s time to make the 45-minute hike back to Cancun airport to fly home, you’ll more than likely think of ways to stay behind, and make this area more of a permanent home. Then you’ll realize the owners behind Hotel Cacao and Viceroy Riviera Maya have accomplished what they set out to do.
011 52 984 206 4199
Viceroy Riviera Maya:
011 52 984 877 3000: