Holiday Destinations - Hotel Esencia, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 August 2016
Jill Nash explores the best of the Yucatan Peninsula and discovers more than just pristine beaches.
Mexico delivers a charming mix of modern and traditional experiences, just one of the reasons why travellers are so drawn to the country; whether your passion is downing Mojitos, listening to mariachis, exploring the Mayan ruins or sunning yourself on a powdery white beach – Mexico has a vibe all of its own.
Temples, hills and beaches are plentiful in Mexico, and nowhere is this truer than on the Yucatan Peninsula. Although the area is pretty well known, there are still many hidden gems to explore, including the flamingos in Celestun, the quaint fishing village of Puerto Morelos and the historical state capital Merida.
Located South-East of Mexico, the region borders Campeche and Quintana Roo. Neighbouring countries Belize and Guatemala are routes you can take overland to get there but most visitors to the area find it more convenient to fly to Cancun airport directly from Mexico City or another regional airport such as Veracruz, Tux Tla Guitierrez or nearby Merida. If you want the freedom to explore the area, then hiring a car is your best option.
The Yucatán Peninsula offers beautiful natural environments, such as Celestun, the natural habitat for hundreds of pink flamingos (Mexico’s flamingo population is on the rise, rescued from the threat of extinction by a Yucatán -based environmental group) or Ria Lagartos, where you can go kayaking through the mangroves.
Yucatán is home to Mesoamerica’s only flamingo population living in the wild. You can visit both nesting areas in a day but visit during October and November for the best chance of seeing the flamingos.
There are many Mayan archaeological sites throughout the Peninsula. Some of the better known are Chichen Itza (a UNESCO world heritage site), Tikal, Tulum and Uxmal. Indigenous Maya and Mestizos of partial Mayan descent still make up a sizeable portion of the region’s population, and Mayan languages are still widely spoken there.
Tulum, 1.5 hours South of Cancun, has an impressive setting on the beach with the Caribbean waves crashing along the coast. There is a lovely beach to stop by for a picnic and a swim; in fact the Tulum area has fantastic white beaches that are less touristy then further up the coastline. The town of Tulum is pretty attractive and up-and-coming, so it’s a good idea if you intend to visit the site to stay there the night before.
Playa del Carmen is another popular tourist spot, but you would never guess it. Although it is one of Mexico’s fastest growing cities, it still has a laid-back fishing-village feel. There are some fantastic restaurants, bars, hip hotels and great boutique shops selling local arts, crafts and hammocks. Visitors are attracted to this region (and quite rightly so) because of its gorgeous stretches of white sand, relaxed atmosphere and bustling city.
Puerto Morelos is a small fishing village close to Playa del Carmen. The pier in the center of town hosts snorkel and sport fishing boats while yachts dock in a man-made harbour just south of town. Mexico recently declared the coral reefs that fringe the coast near Puerto Morelos as a national marine park; snorkelers and divers have long frequented the area and while the rest of the coast is suffering from over-development, Puerto Morelos remains one of the most tranquil small towns in the country.
During your stay in the Peninsula, you can visit the state capital, Merida, where you can stroll down the main avenue Paseo Montejo, which is lined with beautiful palaces, old buildings and 19th-century mansions. All this makes the so-called ‘White City’ one of the most visited destinations in the country. In the surrounding areas, you can stay in old Henequen haciendas, many of which have been converted into luxurious hotels with museums, restaurants and spa services. The Yucatan really has all the ingredients for a perfect holiday, whether you are staying a week at a retreat, or longer for an adventurous trip.
Where to stay?
Hotel Esencia. This aristocratic oasis sits where the Yucatán jungle dissolves into the pristine sands of Xpu-ha, one of the only remaining undeveloped shores of the Mayan Riviera. Peaceful, luxurious and located on a private stretch of beach, it’s an ideal choice for couples and families looking for a spot of paradise.
It’s a hacienda styled mansion, and as such, barely visible from the main road. Arriving here you are whisked off in a golf car through the tropical lush trees and greeted by a smiling butler who shows you to a white-washed suite. The rooms are minimally designed, but with plenty of indoor and outdoor space - some with plunge pools - and you’ll find it very difficult to fault. Enjoy daily yoga classes on the pavilion next to the pristine white beach and a lovely organic spa.
If it’s a retreat you are after, and a good base to stay to explore the regional gems, then this is the ultimate choice. It’s certainly not cheap, but it’s worth every penny.