Pin me & save for later!
Each year magazines like Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler release their “best of the best” list comprising everything from the best destinations, hotels, spas, airlines, cruises, etc. And each year (or so it seems) the Banyan Tree Mayakoba makes such lists. A luxury resort located in Mexico’s Riviera Maya region, it’s one I had longed to stay at since let’s face it, a weekend trip to the Maldives or the Seychelles isn’t too feasible. Earlier this year, after many years of dreaming about doing so, I finally traveled there.
If you’re not familiar with the Banyan Tree name, it’s part of an international hospitality brand, established in the mid-1990s, that manages and develops resorts, hotels, and spas in Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. In short, it’s a quite small hotel chain and also quite exclusive; they don’t want to be Marriott or Hilton.
In the ancient Mayan dialect, “mayakoba” means “village of water” and Mayakoba is home to four of the world’s most exclusive resorts, the Banyan Tree being one of them. They’re all connected by a network of canals that flow with the property’s tagline, “the Venice of the Caribbean.” If you hear Cancun or Riviera Maya and immediately think of all the crowds, the obnoxious spring breakers and inebriated baby boomers, think again. The Banyan Tree is truly a sanctuary from all of that, so much so you will think you’re in a far-off paradise like the Maldives. It’s just a much shorter plane ride, no jet lag, and half the cost. It’s also a gated community meaning no one from the road would just be able to “walk on in.”
I had arranged private transfers through the hotel as it was around a 40 minute trip from the Cancun Airport. They weren’t cheap at $266 (round-trip) but I preferred going through a company the hotel would personally vouch for, not to mention it was a clean and luxurious SUV. The driver was waiting right outside in the arrivals areas (unlike my most recent past two international trips to Istanbul and Paris) and the driver was also amenable with making a stop at a convenience store to purchase some snacks and bottled water since this would be more difficult to do once at the hotel.
Unlike at traditional chain hotels, the check-in experience at Mayakoba is completely intimate and personalized (similar to the Andaz Costa Rica). I was led to a sofa and was given a fresh cold towel and a delicious tropical (non-alcoholic) drink that I unfortunately don’t remember the name or ingredients of. I went through the standard check-in motions and then was driven in a golf cart (or buggies as I discovered they are referred to in Mexico) to my villa. More on that below. I was also given a lovely bracelet made of flowers and fruit nuts.
As the Banyan Tree name was originally founded in Asia, their whole design motif is Asian-themed. And as its website says, “find a true blend of Asian hospitality with the idyllic passion of Mexico.” A part of you will think you’ve wandered into some Thai oasis and then another part of you will think you’re staying at a stunning hacienda. I really liked the meshing of the design of these two distinct cultures.
The main building features the hotel lobby, two boutique stores, and two of the three restaurants. While there are well-labeled paths you can take to get anywhere on the grounds, the hotel is still rather expansive and it’s just as easy and quick to call a buggy to take you. One of the main reasons I had always wanted to stay here was that all of the rooms are private villas (ranging in size in terms of how many people can stay there). There’s no multiple story building with neighbors on either side. So villas are scattered all throughout the property, starting from those near to the main building to beach-front ones.
From my villa, it was a 6-7 minute buggy ride to get to the beach. Certainly walkable but more enjoyable being driven there especially since you got to see up close and personal the bevy of freshwater lagoons and mangroves or as I liked to joke, scenes straight out of the Mekong Delta.
Banyan Tree proudly touts itself as being an eco-resort and this is readily apparent in its more “untouched” look, as in the only land that was disturbed and altered was what needed to be done when constructing the resort. Otherwise, you will see that the Banyan Tree came up around the land, and not the other way around.
Let me just say that probably the number one reason I wanted to stay here was that all villas come with their own private pool and I’m not talking a tiny plunge pool, but a lovely size pool you could technically do laps in if you wanted. There are eight different room options at the Banyan Tree; I went with the smallest (in size) and obviously, the least expensive one, the Bliss Pool Villa, and this was absolutely perfect for me. It can sleep two people, has a view of the mangrove garden, the private heated swimming pool, and an outdoor bathtub. There were also other standard amenities like WiFi, a small fridge, a Keurig machine, and a smart interactive TV. If you’re wondering about privacy, the walls are high enough that your next door neighbors would never be able to see in.
The villa was simply beautiful. Even though it was just one room, the bathroom was separate and massive. There were two sinks (made of the beautiful Talavera-style pottery). The toilet was separate from the shower (always a touch I like), and the shower was also extremely spacious. Outside of the bathroom area was the outdoor bathtub.
Outside in the villa, there was ample lounging areas, both a cabana and an even more covered seating area. There was also a canopy I would have liked to try but never got a chance, especially as one day there was a bad, freak storm lasting about 30 minutes in the afternoon.
I’ll preface this by saying that meals at Banyan Tree aren’t cheap but as it’s a luxury resort, that is to be expected. There are three restaurants on the grounds- an Italian (Cello), a Thai (Saffron), and a steakhouse (the Tomahawk Den). My favorite was the Thai; runner up, the Italian; and third, the steakhouse. The steakhouse wasn’t bad by any means, I’m just not a huge steak/red meat lover to begin with. There are other restaurants on-site but they are either breakfast or lunch only, or special dining experiences that cost significantly extra that I didn’t partake in.
If you’re thinking Thai food in Mexico? How good and authentic can it be? Well, the food at Saffron was both of those things. The fried rice with crispy crab meat was simply divine. With the exception of the Tomahawk Den being more, entree prices at Cello and Saffron averaged in the high $30s to high $40s. Service at each of the three restaurants I dined at was personal and excellent.
I did order room service for breakfast one morning and a snack one afternoon (on the room service menu under the all-day dining there is a Mexican corner which I liked and ordered from). Prices were on the higher side.
All in all, there wasn’t one thing that I ate while staying at the Banyan Tree that I didn’t like. All of the food was of extremely high quality.
The beach & pool
I was a little concerned what the condition of the beach would be, since for some time now there have been reports of the problem of seaweed piling up on the beaches and subsequently rotting. This has occurred throughout the Caribbean, with the Riviera Maya not being spared. But the beach in Mayakoba was truly immaculate. The water was a bit too cold to go in and immerse your whole body, but walks along it were lovely.
There are two pools on the grounds-the reflections pool which is located just off the main lobby area and the second at the Shack Beach Club which as its name suggests, is right at the beach. I only made it to the pool there but I didn’t mind, since I could stare at the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean for forever.
There are dining and food options available at both pool locations. I of course ordered the requisite cocktail in a coconut.
Each night when housekeeping came in and did the turn-down service, they left a little token made by local indigenous women that used locally sourced materials. These included (what I presume to be) a Christmas tree ornament with the name Mayakoba on it, a little bar of soap, and a tiny carved wooden turtle.
I used the buggies to get everywhere, and never had to wait more than a few minutes for one, even when calling at the ungodly awful hour of 6AM.
The staff was simply wonderful. I can’t say that enough.
I didn’t partake in any spa services so I can’t comment on them although they are bountiful.
This is certainly not a budget getaway by any means. But if you’re looking for the ultimate stress-free trip, the perfect relaxing getaway, or a romantic jaunt, the Banyan Tree Mayakoba is the perfect tonic. Although it’s a small resort to begin with, you almost feel as though it’s just you staying there. That’s how private and intimate an experience it is.
As for kids, although children are obviously allowed to stay here (there’s no minimum age) I think it’s too isolated, too quiet, and not designed with children in mind to warrant the high cost of staying there with kids. Just my two cents.