Fresh off the plane after a two week adventure in Mexico, with a brief stopover in Miami to attend a luxury travel show, I’ve fallen a little bit in love with this magical country. First stop, Mukan, a beautifully simple private resort located within the UNESCO-protected Sian Ka’an Biosphere, south of trendy Tulum. Ten elegant cabins offer a touch of luxury, each with an immaculately made king bed, neatly nestled on a pristine beach, one of just a cluster of properties permitted on the 500,000-acre reserve. Whiz off on a guided tour out on the lagoon with jolly Mayan born-and-bred, Bambi, and prepare to see some of the most extraordinary flora and fauna. A Mexican fishing eagle, beautifully glossy and jet-black in colour, extends its ginormous wings, swooping in on its prey as we gaze up. A fellow travel nut claims to have seen an endangered jaguar slinking through the dense jungle at dusk. Wow.
A little further back up the coast at the entrance to the well-trodden Tulum jungle road, lies the reassuringly laid back Papaya Playa Project, a privately owned property which is partnered with the mighty Design Hotels collective. One hundred and one villas, suites and cosy bedrooms are dotted around the vast Caribbean fronted beach. A unique concept, which melds local culture, sustainability and creativity, the retreat attracts an international crowd looking for peace and a connection with the earth. Indeed on my visit last month, I bumped into a charming Indian family who were living in New York and had just jetted in for a long weekend ‘en masse’. Children are not only accepted but actively encouraged. A new palapa, or traditional wooden cabin, is being erected on a quiet section of beach, which will offer guests space to enjoy holistic experiences and nurturing treatments to the music of the ocean. Bliss.
Possibly the chicest stay along this stretch of beach, snuggled in between the lush, low jungle and deep blue sea, lies Be Tulum, an adult’s only boutique haven. The design aesthetic here celebrates natural materials (think slate-grey concrete and gnarled dark oaks), which embrace the environment by making use of high ceilings and large windows. My favourite was the spacious ocean front suite, commanding extraordinary views, a sort of elevated tree house position, with teak roof deck and glorious plunge pool. Nothing is too much trouble for the team here who float around, immaculately presented in their mottled black kaftans and chunky silver jewellery, spreading magic dust. Tuck in to creamy oysters and seafood at Maresias, one of three dining spots, nestled on the edge of the jungle, where smiley chefs in crisp white uniforms whistle up treats like mandarin ceviche and octopus and shrimp rice. Yum.
A sharp right-hand turn off the main Tulum-Cancún highway and a short, jolty drive down to a nature lover’s paradise, Hotel Esencia. A truly remarkable traditional hacienda, formerly owned by an Italian duchess, offers grand living quarters and a scattering of elegantly appointed and generously proportioned suites – all with a contemporary white design touch. A stay here feels like coming home. With typical Mexican panache, Manuel and his top-notch team have created something incredibly special. A lazy afternoon spent slurping on freshly plucked coconuts (through paper straws, naturally) and a late night visit to the beach to watch an eighty-five year-old sea turtle, with her cracked, burnished shell, lay one-hundred and thirty eggs, and slowly shuffle back into the ocean. If you’re in this part of the world, I urge you to pop in – just keep an eye out for the splendid iguanas, taut skins shimmering in the sun, lurking in the undergrowth.
Timmy Coles-Liddle is the founder of NINE, a private concierge club, providing tailored travel and lifestyle solutions to individuals and families globally.