Recently I was given the opportunity to take a trip out to Cancun to make my way up the coast from Tulum to Playa Mujeres on what we affectionately coined the “Viaje De Brightspot.” During my short week there, I explored and experienced some of the newest, grandest, and BRIGHTest group-focused hotels along the Mexican Riviera! Accompanied by our amazing partners Amstar DMC, we took on the challenge of seeing just how much we could see of this area in just 6 short days all while connecting with our incredible industry partners along the way!
The first 24 hours were filled to the brim starting with a site visit to the new Secrets Tulum set to open mid-October. Tulum has a vibe all its own with beach clubs, Cenotes, Mayan influence, and rustic local cafes and restaurants in the hotel zone. After a quick 8-hour nap, I started the morning siting at the gorgeous Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya and its sister property Hilton All Inclusive Resort Tulum Riviera Maya next door. Both kept true to the spiritual references and respect for the Mayan culture which is defining and unique. Plus, sign me up for the champagne vending machine at Hilton Tulum!
The next stop was Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya with its focus on organic beauty and one of the best beaches I have seen in Mexico, before stopping at adult’s only Hotel Xcaret Arte within the Xcaret complex. The site visit of this property was almost like I was on an exploratory local adventure with art pieces sprinkled around every corner and lots of resources and products sourced from local Mexican families and businesses! I was even lucky enough to get a glimpse of their brand new La Casa De La Playa property and all I can say is, WOW! Jellyfish tanks in the rooms, private chocolatier, Teslas for guests to drive around the property, everything was spectacular. I was tempted to end my day there but thought my adventurous side would be disappointed in me if I didn’t take advantage of the free shuttle out to the Xplor Fuego park (transfers and entrance included in the room rate) and do a nighttime zipline through a ring of fire because… Why not?
Playa Del Carmen
I started the morning visiting the newest and first of the Hyatt Inclusive brand, Impressions by Moxche, advertised as their ultra 5 Diamond property. A luxury all-inclusive product with elevated amenities from its neighboring Secrets property such as butlers in every suite, Al la Carte menus with items like lobster and oysters, private cabanas for every guest, and it’s all included! Next was a visit to the tried and true Grand Velas Riviera Maya! Wow, I had heard about the “Grand Velas experience” but I was still blown away by the service and attention to detail. The staff here greeted me by name every time I left my suite, gave me a custom mocktail with Brightspot’s logo and colors, and pulled out all the stops with a custom AV and decor presentation, gorgeous Grand Class ocean view room, and dinner at the Cocina De Autor with a 9-course tasting menu that was truly an incredible experience in and of itself. They know the power of the little moments here and that definitely showed.
I next ventured over to the Mayakoba area where we jumped on a peaceful boat ride through the canal and took in the lush jungle scenery while we saw a ton of unique wildlife. After a site visit to the iconic Fairmont Mayakoba (the first property within the complex), we had a gorgeous lunch at their brand-new beach club with 2 brand-new restaurants overlooking the crystal blue waters. Then of course, I couldn’t miss the chance to visit El Pueblito which mimics a small traditional Spanish town square with local boutiques and restaurants giving a truly authentic feel and sense of place. The best part is you can privatize the entire area for group events and all the food and beverage will go toward your F&B minimum! The Mayakoba area is a complex made up of 4 great properties all sharing amenities like El Pueblito as well as the highly rated golf course making it a great all-in-one destination. Though I didn’t have time to see all 4 properties, I did sneak in a site visit to the Rosewood Mayakoba. The rooms there are designed in a casita-style layout each with their own boat dock for the ultimate arrival experience. No detail is overlooked from the common areas, to their beach club, to their Zapote Bar whose focal point is a sacred Mayan Ceiba tree located literally in the middle of the guest seating area. A truly luxurious and unique experience in every way.
The next day I traveled out to one of the newer developments in the region called the Kanai project. Here there are 3 high-end, sustainability-focused, and spiritual-minded resorts all floating within a sea of mangroves. This area is a Mayan sacred place so each of the resorts takes its liberties in how they integrate that into the design and experience of their property. The first I saw was The St. Regis Kanai Resort, Riviera Maya (opened April of 2023) which is a series of 7 circular structures mimicking the Polaris constellation. Kanai means “doorway to heaven from earth” so you can see where it gets its galactic inspiration. It’s modern and grand with big, tall entryways but also fun touches like vintage radios and wagon-style bar carts in the rooms. Her sister The Riviera Maya EDITION at Kanai, set to open in December, is directly next door and though I wasn’t able to go in, I learned that both properties will work together to allow guests to dine and cross-charge meals to their rooms giving them access to over 10 restaurants and bars.
I ended my day at the Etéreo, Auberge Resorts Collection property which was the first property in the Kanai project opening in December 2021. True to its hype, this property was different than any other Auberge property I have seen in their collection. Each moment is thoughtfully connected from your arrival to meeting your personal Guia (Mayan word for spirit guide -AKA your butler), to the private and intimate check-in directly in your room. Elements of earth, fire, water, and air are used throughout your experience to connect you with the land and the people around you. The spiritual connection is not the only reason it seems additionally peaceful and tranquil but also is largely in part that all the “back of house” is located directly underground the property to make limited disruptions to the land footprint and guest experience. As sustainability becomes a bigger and bigger conversation in our industry, I think these properties are definitely at the forefront of how the future of many resorts will be! Truly unique and secluded for those looking to fully disconnect from the world and connect with nature. I even heard there is a mysterious 4th property set to open in the area so will be excited to see who snatches up that unique opportunity.
This part of the adventure through the coast brought an eclectic mix of properties. We started at Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun with its well-designed and compact footprint, large beach, and rooms that despite having been last renovated in 2018 look fresh and modern with just the perfect amount of color to add a tasteful Mexican flare. I then ventured over to the Sensira Resort & Spa Riviera Maya, a newer resort concept repped by Leading Hotels of the World. If I could use one word to describe this property it would be PLAYFUL. With fun features such as a zipline from the lobby through the property to the pool bar, family-friendly features like a trampoline park and rock climbing wall, to a mechanical bull literally in the center of the steakhouse, it was clear this property doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Next, I was greeted by a horchata-style welcome drink upon arrival at the stunning Waldorf Astoria Cancun. True to its brand reputation, the lobby’s focal point was a gorgeous Art Deco-themed clock with touches of Mayan symbols for a subtle nod to the area’s culture. The elegance of this property made you feel like you were in New York yet with the benefit of being just a few steps from the beach and its gorgeous pools. We had lunch at their traditional Mexican food outlet, JA’O, which offered elegant renditions of local Yucatán dishes but also played into the Waldorf’s originating creation of the red velvet cake (who knew?) with a funky twist on the fan favorite offering red velvet churros! Directly next door is the Hilton Cancun, an All-Inclusive Resort offering an impressive 700 rooms, 7 restaurants and bars, and a large convention center with two large ballrooms both with capacity for over 1,000 people depending on setup. The shape of the structure lends itself to a large amount of ocean view rooms making this a great property for a large meeting or conference with an affordable ocean view room product for attendees during their stay along with all the typical benefits of an all-inclusive.
The last day of our journey started in the Greek Islands… Oh, wait I mean Isla Mujeres! After a short ride from Cancun to Marina Hacienda Del Mar we were greeted by a modern speed boat, privately owned by the new Impression Isla Mujeres, before being whisked away on a gorgeous boat ride over some of the bluest water I have ever seen. I think we must have time traveled because the 20 minutes truly felt like seconds as we arrived directly on the private dock of this gorgeous new property. Opened just earlier this year in May 2023, this hotel truly makes you feel like you are stepping into a Greek villa on the cliffs of Santorini, yet accessible in a small fraction of the time. With 5 restaurants touting 3 master chefs, private butlers, rooftop venues and pools, and gorgeous views of the stunning blue water it’s no wonder snorkel masks and gear are included as part of the in-room guest amenities!
After a return boat ride back to the mainland, I headed up the coast a little further north to the Atelier Playa Mujeres property. The 539 suites are decorated in a contemporary and industrial style, making you feel more like you are in a loft in the big city but with access to its amazing resort amenities like 23 restaurants and outlets, a large beach with blue water, and limited seaweed, spa, and a golf course directly next door. Just down the road is a new development Costa Mujeres where the newest jewel in the collection, Secrets Playa Blanca, is in the works to be opened February 2024. We suited up with our hard hats to see the construction site and though I can’t share photos or too much information just yet, trust me when I say they are integrating a lot of feedback from their other properties to make sure this one gets every detail of the guest experience right.
Lastly, I pulled into the edgy and modern NIZUC Resort & Spa located on the southern cove of the hotel zone (and conveniently 15 minutes from the Cancun airport). Upon arrival, you are greeted by a courtyard of cascading mirror pools with green foliage and trees that give Asian zen garden vibes. The style of this property is probably one of the most unique I have seen in the area with stark dark colors and touches of gold making it photograph beautifully so it’s no wonder it won the most Instagrammable hotel in the world in recent years. With 5 restaurants, a secluded beach, a large selection of private villas, and thoughtful outdoor venues tucked away within the mangroves, this property truly feels like your own oasis and is a perfect tranquil getaway for your small incentives or an executive retreat.
Well, folks, that’s a wrap on my InSITEful trip coming in at 22 resorts along the coast of the Mexican Riviera, each with a flavor of their own but all sharing the warm and inviting hospitality of this area of the world. Truly humbled by the opportunity and grateful for all who made time to meet with me, share a meal, or give me a place to lay my head for the evening. My Spanish vocabulary didn’t grow by much but my heart for this culture surely did! In summary, there are many different options for all types of groups, budgets, and preferences so here is my best stab at summarizing each for some of their many strengths.
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