Exploring the Yucatan Peninsula: Glorious Haciendas & Mayan Culture

Traveling to the Yucatan peninsula is such a short journey but feels like a million miles away! Flights into Merida are currently non-stop from Houston, Miami, and Mexico City. I enjoyed an unplanned stopover in one of my favorite food cities in the world: Mexico City.

I took advantage of this quick stop to check into the gorgeous boutique property, Las Alcobas which has its own fantastic restaurant on property and a renowned restaurant near by.

Anatol Restaurant is a seasonal, consciously-sourced, ingredient-driven restaurant. The menu consists of composed small plates, presented in a social and casual environment. Renowned Chef Justin Ermini has assembled a menu that is ideal for those seeking a laid back dining experience with a touch of Italian influence. Anatol’s contemporary and fresh environment amplifies the passion its food inspires.

Dulce Patria, directed by talented Chef Martha Ortiz, is a 90 seat, high energy venue that has redefined the Mexican dining experience. The menu is comprised of traditional plates reinterpreted in a modern context, set in a lively, stylish and urban environment. The restaurant boasts two terraces that give the inside of the restaurant a serene, spacious and open-air feel.

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As we arrived very late into the city, we walked a block down to Pastor for some truly delicious tacos!

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The next morning we arrived into Merida and were met by our driver for our drive through the beautiful remote and ancient villages of the Yucatan and to our first Hacienda visit.

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Welcome to Hacienda Tixnuc! Truly built in the ruins of this old Hacienda. Romantic and authentic with modern Air-Conditioned rooms.

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The Master bedroom is especially spacious and lovely!

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Every little snack is a surprise and a treat.
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This simple and delicious and healthy little snack is served all the time – jicama, cucumber, mango with lime and a chile citric spice! Love it!

Hacienda Tamchen was an absolute favorite for me. This 4 bedroom home has a massive master suite and two additional modern suites plus a fabulous bedroom with views in the main house. The suites are so large and set up to easily accommodate a family of 4 who would like to share an accommodation or wonderfully spacious just for a couple.  Ideal hacienda for a couples trip or several families sharing.

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The pool is surrounded by a lily pond
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Just the place for an after lunch nap
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Looking back at the main house
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The suites have a king bed on one side….
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….and a spot for two kids on the other
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One of the two modern suite additions
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Lunch time on the terrace

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View from the suite in the main house
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This is a sweet room with a bit of a view of the grounds
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What a delightful surprise to have a cold mini-coronita waiting for me.
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Expect homemade tortillas at every meal
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The meals are always creative and locally sourced – this is a cucumber stuffed with a pumpkin seed puree!
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Delicious frijoles at nearly every meal
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Wonderful Yucatan products
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One of the many Cathedrals and churches throughout the region

Next was Hacienda Itzincab Camara, which boasts 14 bedrooms – five in the main house and eight in the original hacienda outbuildings.  I fell in love with this dramatic property: its gardens, pools, and very own Mayan pyramid!

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The lovely team here was so welcoming!
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Always a delicious welcome drink and cold towel
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The indoor and outdoor public areas
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The natural gardens throughout are stunning!
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One of three swimming pools
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Two Bedrooms in the former Stables
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One bedroom is in the charming school house

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My room is in the Secret Garden – I love it!
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Morning bird watching with our absolutely wonderful guide!

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A breakfast surprise
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I love huevos motulenos for breakfast!
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My room is called the Secret Garden – so romantic!

Today we head out to explore the area:

First we are led on a private tour of Uxmal, the largest of the sites famed for their elaborate Puuc-style architecture, whose principal buildings are aligned to observe astronomical events. We visited the Pyramid of the Magician and the Palace of the Governor—two of the finest pre-Hispanic Mexican structures in existence—as well as the Nunnery Quadrangle and the House of the Turtles.IMG_4014IMG_4025

In the afternoon – another WOW experience that we can’t wait to plan for our next clients visiting the Yucatan. Hacienda Xocnaceh—a private & exclusive property is something unique. At its zenith, Xocnaceh produced cattle and henequen, the “green gold” that brought tremendous wealth to the Yucatán in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After a visit to the pyramids, we were surprised and delighted with a  delicious lunch served in the chapel ruins!

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Oh my, what have we come upon…

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…a jungle affair prepared just for us!
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Bienvenidos!
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“Jungle love, its driving me mad, its making me crazy!” – well they were not playing that, but these musicians made my heart sing.
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Perspective!
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That is my kind of quesadilla!
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Can you name these local fruits?

After a wonderful night’s sleep, I awake to birds singing and wandered in the main house early in search of a coffee. The team informs me that this morning coffee is served at the top of the pyramid (which sits incredibly just adjacent to the main house).

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Out is 7am and the Pyramid climb awaits!
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Oh the details and the view at the top. I imagined what the Mayans felt and saw.
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Indeed worth the trip up – strong and lovely brewed coffee!

This morning as we set out for our next adventure we came upon another simply magnificent restored hacienda. We saw it being prepared for a jet setter wedding from abroad. I envisioned so many over the top parties being held here! We can absolutely help! My iPhone pictures won’t do justice so I won’t try but if you are looking for a truly singular experience ask me about Hacienda Tekik de Regil.

IMG_4083Next I had the privilege of visiting the new Chable Wellness Resort and Spa. I have been talking about it incessantly since its debut and finally got a peek. The groups and buildings are very special, and the spa and wellness regimes are completely customized. It is a first class resort to relax at while visiting the area, but it’s also an excellent destination spa to completely focused on well being. Like all of the properties I am highlighting in this blog, it is a former hacienda with a rich story.  The restoration and modern additions are gorgeous!

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The modern bar
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The welcoming terrace

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Their villas are designed for maximum relaxation and boast spectacular jungle views, indoor and outdoor showers, and a private pool. It also features a signature restaurant by Jorge Vallejo, one of the most prominent chefs in Mexico, where we’ll taste their specialties.

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The entrance to the ruins of the Presidential Suite

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Of course the spa is a significant part of the experience and the resort:

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One of the main pools and restaurants….where we enjoyed lunch

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The largest tequila selection in the world!

Since the Spanish conquest, Mérida has been the cultural capital of the entire Yucatán Peninsula. At times provincial, at others ‘muy cosmopolitano,’ it is a town steeped in colonial history, with narrow streets, broad central plazas and the region’s best museums and restaurants.  Many consider Merida the new San Miguel de Allende where artists, free spirits, and those looking for something different are settling.

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Our hosts were the TOPS!  These are the people that make our clients’ experience in the Yucatan over the top special!
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Some of the best chocolate you will ever have!

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Perfumes from Coqui Coqui
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Who knew beans and pork is a coveted ice cream flavor!IMG_4139

Finally we arrive to Izamal —where almost every structure is egg-yolk yellow! But Izamal is no mere tourist trap—it’s a living Maya town and art colony.

We stayed at two private villas here: Casa de los Artistas and Casa de Madera. Both full of character and charm and perfect for those wanting a fully serviced home in a more urban setting in order to explore the peninsula.

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Dinner at the One Bedroom Casa Azul –

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Waking up at the 4 bedroom Casa Madera:

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A morning visit to the 6 bedroom Casa de los Artistas:

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Perhaps my favorite day was our afternoon at  Xocempich, a private cenote on the ruins of an historic ranch. We had a refreshing treat where we swam in the cenote’s crystalline waters and relaxed for hours in total privacy.

The cenotes through out the region are very unique to Yucatan. They are sink holes hundreds of feet deep that have pure filtered water from underground rivers – a pure delight to swim in! Some are in caves and some are in collapsed caves with lovely sunlight.

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The best treat of all was a lunch of cochinita pibil – my favorite Yucatan specialty – pork slow cooked in sour orange, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked underground.

Here the delicacy is being dug up and served – tremendous!

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The slow cooked pork is unearthed
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succulent local pig is slow cooked in sour orange and banana leaves – incredible.

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Served with all the local Yucatan accompaniments makes for a feast!

Many people have been to Chichen Itza but if you have tried to go in the past 10-15 years, you know that the crowds are insufferable. Let us set you up with a private after hours tour with a reknowned archeologist!

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Fascinating afternoon with this world renowned expert archeologist

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Touring after hours with our private guide…
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….means access to areas not open to the general public.
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Another spectacular surprise – a flutist so moving that many of us were in tears.

Farewell dinner was held at one of the three Haciendas that are small hotels, also restored haciendas, and now run as small exclusive hotels managed by the Luxury Collection – Temezon, San Jose and Santa Rosa.

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Here is our fun arrival to Hacienda San Jose for our farewell dinner.

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I have always loved the Yucatan Peninsula – the Mayan culture, the history, the food, the people!  My heart has been captured yet again and I will most definitely be back to this rich civilization quite simply on our door step!

Cabo – Sophisticated and Luxurious, if you know where to go!

Cabo is such a perfect beach holiday destination. While arriving by car would be a grueling 25 hour drive from San Diego down to the tip of the Baja Peninsula, arriving by plane from much of the continental USA is a breeze and the remote location pays off quickly!

Cabo is most simply defined as the cities of Cabo San Lucas in the far South and San Jose del Cabo in the North, connected by the “Corridor” made up of a variety of unique and varied resort properties. While the purpose of my trip was to check out the newly opened and spectacular Chilean Bay, I took advantage of my time in Cabo to see and experience several of the properties that clients of Resort to Laura Madrid love.

I was taken aback by the dramatic rocky and cliffy topography where the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific ocean sandwich the desert between! Incredible food, service, design, natural beauty, and a fantastic array of activities are a huge draw for Cabo’s well heeled-clientele.

Chileno Bay is the new kid in town and will absolutely get everyone considering a return to Cabo!

The vibe at Chileno Bay is sleek and sexy, chilled out but fun!  Large rooms with terrace or balcony and large bathroom including outdoor showers are their standard accommodation,  but families or a group of friends will absolutely love their 2, 3 and 4 bedroom suites and villas. I am in love with the 3 and 4 bedroom sky suites!

Due to its geographic location between the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez and its rocky nature, most beaches in Cabo are not swimmable.  Chileno Bay has one of the few swimmable beaches in the area and lots of fun toys to take out on its calm waters.

 

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One of the swimmable beaches at Chileno Bay
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Three dramatic pools wind down to the beach.
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One of several comfortable spots to sit and chill through out the resort.
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Loved my make your own welcome amenity – the Chileno fast became my favorite cocktail!

 

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Terrific snacks to accompany my welcome cocktail!

 

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One of the TOP selling points of Chileno Bay is its food. This is not just good resort food, this is incredible cuisine making the resort a destination in itself. The talented culinary team right down to a pastry chef who will knock your socks off is the reason you will not miss a meal while on holiday at Chileno Bay!

Dinner at Comal was absolutely phenomenal!

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Mexico offers fantastic wines these days!

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However, nothing beats lunch and cocktails at T&T (Tacos and Tequila). These tacos are NOT dumbed down for the “hotel” market, they are completely authentic and delicious!

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The team throughout Chileno Bay is so engaging and so much fun!

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Lots of fun toys at Chileno Bay

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With such great food, guests will love the incredible fitness center with top end equipment and fantastic trainers and fitness sessions from Cross Fit Northern Cal.  Here I am at one of the morning boot camps.

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Next stop was to Ezperanza, like Chileno Bay, part of Auberge Hotels and Resorts.  For foodies, this is another important property to consider. Auberge has a philosophy of insuring the culinary is a prime consideration, never an afterthought. The special touches and service are felt throughout. This property is understated luxury where you can go and completely relax. While the room product is older than some of the competition, Esperanza is romantic and relaxed and has a very loyal following. They come for the service, the view, and the high touch but relaxed service. Children under 18 are not allowed at the main pool, keeping the romantic and sophisticated feel at the main resort. That said, Esperanza has fantastic options for families in their multiple villa and residential units complete with lawns for playing sports, family pools, restaurants and shops at an attractive price point. For couples, I definitely suggest the two  bedroom villa with plunge pool and direct private beach access!

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Sunset at Esperanza
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Bienvenidos a Esperanza
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Desert meets Sea
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The service is the best! Love the genuine Mexican hospitality!
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Homemade and absolutely special micheladas prepared by the Chef (beer with clamato, mulled herbs, chili, lime and vegetables – a meal in itself!)
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Guacamole station with all the fixings including chicaron.
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Ahi tacos – incredible combination of fish tacos served sashimi style.

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Oh what a night at Esperanza!

The Resort at Pedregal has always been a favorite of my clients. It’s ideal for couples, but also a terrific option for families.  The location at the Tip of Baja makes it a dramatic and beautiful setting for whale watching and privacy but definitely a dangerous and non-swimmable sea. Enter the resort through a tunnel carved in the mountain and let the magic begin. While completely private and unreachable by non-guests, Pedregal guests have the option to walk through the tunnel and into Cabo San Lucas if they wish to go to some local restaurants. This may be an ideal place to come with teens who may wish to go out and party while the parents enjoy the sophistication of the resort.

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As I exit the vehicle on arrival to Pedregal a margarita is offered.  Si, como no?!

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In my room, beers and guacamole await and I am told this is replenished every afternoon during my stay.

My room was charming and romantic!img_3155img_3153img_3157

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Walking through the resort on my way to the spa, I encountered this tree hung with glass hearts. The following images are of the spa. Terrific spa and outstanding treatment!img_3164img_3169img_3170img_3172

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Healthy spa snacks
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For my cliff side dinner, I simply choose my fish and all the chef’s nightly accompaniments come automatically.

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The day time pool and bar setting is truly beautiful!

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My final visit was to One & Only Las Palmilla. This stunning and incredible property is high energy with excellent and scripted service. The staff to guest ration is a jaw-dropping 5 to 1. This property has a swimmable beach, fabulous service and very chic and trendy restaurants. This is the place to see and be seen.

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Guests are welcomed with a homemade “paleta” – popsicle
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I chose the guava and coconut – unreal!
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Welcome to One & Only Palmilla

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Loved this artist in residence –

 

 

 

 

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The meats on display in their steak restaurant

The resort has many room types that will appeal to couples and families or groups of friends. They even have multiple types of suites and even queen/queen accommodations if a family prefers to share a room.img_3097img_3098img_3100img_3101img_3102img_3103

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Tequila and snacks replenished daily.

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The swimmable beach at One & Only Palmilla
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Lunch with a view
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In Baja California, it is all about the fish tacos!

The only property that I did not get to see on this trip, is the incredible Las Ventanas. Quiet and romantic, with outstanding attention to detail, this is without doubt a great spot for couples wanting to completely chill out and not be bothered. There are several new hotels in Cabo that I can talk to you about including Grand Velas for those wanting the best of the all inclusive experiences and The Thompson for young couples of friends who want to party. Cabo has something for everyone and is a MUST do destination!

Imanta: A Complete Escape near Puerto Vallarta

Do you ever return from a holiday so exhausted that you need a vacation? Picking the right kind of place to unwind is really important. Picking a destination where you can connect with nature, listen to nothing but an ocean breeze, watch a lizard scurry or bird flutter, and be totally unconnected may be the road to surrendering yourself to the holiday your mind and body crave.

For this type of holiday, I suggest you select a resort where you don’t have to pre-plan an agenda. I find that arriving to your holiday destination faced with a rigid agenda complete with cancellation policies may add to the stress of an already highly scheduled lifestyle. Or worse, who wants to learn that because you have not pre-booked your spa, activities, or dinner reservations, it is now too late to get a spot?

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Imanta is an idyllic seaside retreat near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico reached by driving about an hour from the airport, the last 20 minutes of which are through a thick jungle, finally reaching an untouched sliver of the Pacific coast. There are no imposing buildings, just a charming restaurant with roof top views, a wonderful beach shack and toes-in-the-sand restaurant, an open-air spa, and 12 stunning individual “casas” where guests have the utmost in privacy and luxury. For a family or a group of friends, there are spectacular 2 and 3 bedroom “Casonas.” Best of all, this is a place where you can arrive, breathe deeply, and just see what comes your way.

 

Imanta is the kind of place where the chef asks you what you would like to eat and prepares it for you. You are on a first name basis with the beach bartender and he knows every type of margarita you have tried and that your favorite is the jalapeño hibiscus concoction. Your spa therapist meets you at the beach and walks you a few steps through the jungle to the al fresco treatment zone for a dreamy massage.

Surprisingly, the sand is very soft and the water quite warm at this little Pacific paradise, the service is exceptionally attentive, and the setting could not be more romantic.

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The majority of the accommodations are stand-alone one bedroom casas, many with their own large plunge pool:

Two Bedroom Casona Los Templos is perfect for two couples traveling together with each in a Master Bedroom:

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The grand dame is the three bedroom Casona Jaguar which is idea for a family or a big birthday celebration among friends:

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Imanta is not the place to go if you are seeking kids clubs, live entertainment, motorized water sports, or an endless agenda of things to do. Imanta is the spot for those that would like a little peace, relaxation, natural beauty, exceptional food and drink, and personalized under-stated service. Yes, the concierge will gladly set up activities, excursions, and adventures, but many guests feel perfectly content sipping libations with a good book!

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(Note that each of the Casas and Casonas are perfectly air-conditioned, the rest of the resort facilities are open air)

 

Cancun vs. Riviera Maya vs. Tulum

Mexico always delivers on all levels for me – incredibly delicious cuisine, warm and intuitive service, some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in the hemisphere, not to mention history, culture, art, and adventure.

Continue reading “Cancun vs. Riviera Maya vs. Tulum”

Nizuc: The new game in town near Cancun!

Whatever your impressions of Cancun are, there is a new player in town and for the sophisticated traveler, not to be missed! 

Nizuc is a sleek and unique resort that has recently opened not more than 10 minutes from the Cancun airport on a quiet  bay with the Cancun hotel zone nearby yet a million miles away.

Continue reading “Nizuc: The new game in town near Cancun!”