A caribbean weekend at mexico’s Hotel Xcaret
Arriving at the Hotel Xcaret, just south of Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, was an interruption to the senses. I put my bare feet on and took down my hair, letting the liquid turquoise waters lap at my toes, while the thick humidity stuck to my hair. A soft white foam gathered at the edge of the powdered sand. My invitation to relax had arrived.
As the amethyst sky turned its back to night, I drank in the wet air with big inhales, chased by burnt mezcal and Tajin on the tongue. You have no choice but to succumb to the finest offerings this massive country has to offer. Mexico puts your sensations on the map, linking you to the earth, her body and her spirit. Wrapped in comfort and a subsiding heat during dusk, I took another swig and leaned hard into the sandy bank. I had arrived.
A thousand shades of blue collided, where the fresh water rivers meandered along the seaside.
I was invited to Mexico as a freelance journalist to join a small press trip with other writers, photographers, and videographers to cover the Hotel Xcaret, a newly debuted property on this ever-expanding strip of coastline. Now that my schedule was wide open after leaving my full-time job, I was eager to jump into my first press opportunity. One that would include a comped vacation to travel south to a new part of the country I had yet to visit. I was instantly welcomed with an icy piña colada and eager smiles from the locals who ran this expansive and all-inclusive property. Never having been to a resort of this caliber, I quickly became aware of the attentiveness from the wait staff and personal butlers, who were enthusiastically ready to cater to any request. Their pristine English guided me through the many offerings and opportunities for exploration both at the resort and off site, giving me easy access into imagining a life of undisclosed wealth becoming my brief reality.
A work trip like this is meant to give you a genuine taste of the property, imbuing your stay with indulgent amenities and relaxing spa treatments, but it is also meant to give you a closer look at the intention behind the resort—from its ethos to its design qualities. I took this trip in-part because it has a strong sense of sustainability at its core. This is seen in the nearly plastic-free design by limiting its plastic bottle use, replacing beauty products with paper packaging, using glass bottles, utilizing an AC system that turns off when doors are left open, on-site composting, and water management systems to limit overuse.
The aesthetics of Hotel Xcaret are a striking example of authentic Mexican artwork and design. They have utilized artisans from across the country to craft furniture, hand-painted shower tiles representing the Árbol de la vida (tree of life), and celebratory Mayan masks adorning the hallways and event spaces. Pops of pink set the tone for a lively living space, large Mexican murals hung near my bed, and a view— almost indescribable—laid itself out beyond my terrace adorned with a white hammock and magenta pillows. A notable decorative material they use is the conchuela, a marine shell that helps maintain a room’s temperature and a prime example of form following function. I especially enjoyed the local bottle of mezcal waiting for me on the bed side table, which was displayed in a hand-painted bottle from Oaxaca along with the nightly local sweets of coconut and caramel delivered to my room.
Strolling through the property, I spotted grand ceilings of wooden sculptures hanging in geometric patterns, infinity pools, outdoor cafes brimming with colorful beverages and bowls of ceviche, and a thousand shades of blue collided where the fresh water rivers meandered along the seaside.
The culinary adventure at Hotel Xcaret is a journey for the tastebuds and a test of self-discipline. The property is rooted along the Mayan jungle with abundant resources at the chefs’ fingertips. Everything from plant life, to the freshest fare caught along the Caribbean waters. I am usually a strict vegetarian leaning towards veganism but as I committed myself to fully experiencing all of the hotel’s offerings, I quickly left those practices behind and gorged myself on some of the most divine seafood I have ever tasted. ¡Viva méxico! Ya?
Carlos Gaytán, who happens to be the very first Mexican Chef to receive a Michelin Star, debuts his creative side with HA' restaurant. Molecular gastronomy is mastered at this contemporary and sophisticated dining space, where a 7-course tasting menu is paired with Mexican wines. See below for just a taste of the visuals his team presented to us over the span of our 5 hour sit-down dining experience. I am having a hard time differentiating the many tastes that graced my palette that night, but the deconstructed meal was one for the books. I can tell you that I started the meal with a smooth shot of Clase Azul reposado, and ended with a white rose dipped in liquid nitrogen smashed over my vanilla ice cream dessert. An unexpected treat indeed!
So far, this journey had brought me a goblet full of the ‘good life’ and I was drinking it in. Taking advantage of the open buffets of native Mexican dishes and bottomless glasses of any beverage I could dream up. But to be honest, my most distinguished moments came in the form of dialogue with the exceptionally warm and welcoming staff. In my broken Spanish, I made it as clear as I could that I wanted to practice my language skills with them. They smiled with me as I rolled my r’s too long and butchered the grammar attempting to speak in past and future tenses. They spent time breaking down pronunciations with me and acting out definitions like a game of charades so I could see what they were saying. From flirtatious selfies with the lifeguard, Omar, to poolside discussions with Jesus about his family and career dreams and his genuine gratitude for working at a Mexican owned and operated resort, I was finding out more and more about the DNA of Mexico, and the reason why so many arrive to Mexico and feel like it is a home-coming.
I left with a sincere gratitude for the conversations that lifted my awareness and deepened my appreciation for humans, because I still believe that most of us are doing the very best we can.
In a tumultuous time in our political and social landscape though, this place cannot offer a home to so many and that disparity can be hard to see through mezcal-tinted glasses while paddle-boarding in paradise. The more I travel, the more I am reminded of the broad scope of humanity that must be taken into consideration when experiencing a new locale and culture. As I sat with Haydee, the gorgeous yoga instructor on the rooftop of the spa at 7:00 in the morning, I realized how similar she was to many women I know in the states. They have the same desire to deepen their practice, travel the world, and share their journey with strangers. My understanding of Mexico was awakened that morning, I drew a connection to my own culture, while being mindfully aware of the broken infrastructures that my country and theirs is going through.
I came to this resort to write about the all inclusive amenities and lush landscape that Playa del Carmen is known for. But I left with a sincere gratitude for the conversations that lifted my awareness and deepened my appreciation for humans, because I still believe that most of us are doing the very best we can.
My last night at the resort was spent practicing my Spanish on the rooftop with the lifeguard on duty. His name has slipped my mind, but he was a soft-spoken middle-aged man who was working at the hotel so his wife could pursue nursing school. He talked for a half hour in beautiful English about his family and his appreciation for health and opportunity in his home country. We hugged goodbye as I left for my taxi headed to Tulum. I departed with the lavender skies at my back and a sense of fulfillment: my glass half-full from those human connections that resonated far deeper than any top-shelf liquor ever could.
Gracias por escuchar!
Snapshots of my stay…