Barceló Maya Beach Resort
Mexico’s Magical Riviera Maya
Charles Greenfield is a Miami-based travel writer who has contributed to Travel & Leisure and regional magazines/ newspapers. He also is Cultural Arts Contributor to Artsbeat on WLRN 91.3 FM, South Florida’s NPR affiliate, a producer for WLRN Ch. 17’s Artstreet, and writes on classical and jazz musicians for the Miami Herald.
Riviera Maya, an hour south of Cancun’s glittering hotels, has been for over a decade one of the world’s fastest growing travel destinations. With increased airfare service, luxury all-inclusive resorts, and powder-white beaches, this stretch of the Yucatan peninsula opposite the island of Cozumel is also strewn with Mayan temples, cenotes (sinkholes and caves) and fascinating jungle flora. And best of all, according to World Tourism Organization statistics, Cancun and Rivera Maya are rated No. 1 and No. 2 “Safe Places” in Mexico.
Recently, I visited the all-inclusive Barceló Maya Beach Resort, between Riviera Maya’s main town, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, site of world-famous Mayan beachside ruins. With 186 properties in 17 countries, family-owned Barceló has just introduced its Palace Deluxe brand with suites and junior suites, high-end spas, gourmet à la carte dining, and helpful Club Premium concierge lounges for check-ins, dinner reservations, free internet and snacks. The size of a small village, the Barceló complex consists of five hotels (2,749 rooms), 24 restaurants, 19 bars, five pools with Jacuzzi, an adult pool and spa, and two water parks. A gorgeous, 300-foot wide curving beachfront of palms and chaise lounges extends 1.25 miles with water sports (hobbie cats, kayaks) and diving facilities while a spacious malecon (walkway) acts as a perfect nexus for the pools and hotel rooms.
Despite its overall size I found their high-end Barceló Premium Maya Deluxe Palace (2007) both intimate and elegant, with understated luxury, wonderful elevated public ocean views, and large colorful artwork. My junior suite and balcony gazed over the oversized pool with palapa (thatched-roof) bar, children’s water park, and immense beachfront. Inside, the gold and orange motif was attractively balanced by dark tropical wood cabinetry with neat touches like a rain dance-style shower, handmade Mexican porcelain tile floors, and 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. A nightly turndown service was complemented by a daily fruit basket with bottle of wine and free but limited mini-bar.
In the morning breakfast at the Mexican buffet “La Hacienda” offered everything from made-to-order omelets, waffles, pancakes, fresh fruit (delicious papaya and melon) and juice bar, smoked salmon, fresh bread and danish, to national specialties like chimichangas (meat fritters), chilaquiles (nachos with cheese) and pozole (hominy stew). Three specialty restaurants are free of charge to Palace Deluxe guests. At Rodizio’s, their Brazilian steak house, I sampled seven different types of meat, including an especially tasty herb chorizo, veal, and pork loin on vertical skewers, followed by fiery dessert coffees. Classic French cuisine in Brasserie includes old favorites like escargot, onion soup, lobster thermidor, and chocolate mousse. And “Caribe,” their Caribbean dining room, offers an excellent cold seafood buffet with Alaskan snow crab and fresh fish entrées like mero (grouper) marinated in achiote and sour orange, called by the Mayans, “Tikin-xic”.
Outdoors activities abound at the mega-resort: mini-golf, 4-hole pitch & putt, pool aerobics, beach volleyball, table tennis, bocce, windsurfing, snorkeling and aqua-bikes, among others. At night, besides the lively Jaguar’s discotheque, the resort’s three theaters present live variety shows (“Fantasia” and “Barceló Cubanissimo”) with an especially enjoyable “Mexican Fiesta” at the Kukulcán Theater a short shuttle ride from the Maya Palace. In the lobby arrange with the resort’s main tour operator, Vacaciones Barceló, for an hour’s ATV ride of the property’s light jungle and on-site cenote with its cool, crystal-clear water flowing in the exposed underground cave. For fishing in the Yucatan Channel just offshore they can set up a half-day trip in nearby Puerto Aventuras Marina at Capt. Rick’s Sportfishing Center for sailfish, dolphin, tuna, snapper and grouper.
But a trip to Riviera Maya makes little sense without a visit to Tulum. A quick half-hour drive south on Federal Highway 307, the ruins are well preserved with its protective wall (Mayan word for “tulum”) and houses, a crucial refuge for its aristocracy, warriors and priests. While small
compared to larger Yucatan temple expanses at Coba and Chichen Itza, Tulum was a major trading town for the Mayan World from 1200-1500 A.D. With its compact size an hour’s tour will easily reveal its tallest structure, the Castillo (The Castle) on the bluff with its world-renown views of the Caribbean and brilliant white beach. Pay closer attention to the lintels of the upper rooms with its carved plumed serpent motif, the Temple of Frescos, House of the Columns, and the Temple of the God of the Wind.
Back in my room I imagined the Spanish Conquistadors who discovered Tulum might have been equally astonished by the sight of the massive Barceló Maya Beach Resort. For information contact: barcelo.com