- Published: Wednesday, 15 May 2013 13:00
- Written by Leah Swofford
I watched as the road to civilization slowly faded behind the trees, a jungle seeming to surround us as we made our way to our destination. The journey had been a long one, but it was well worth it as our target rose from the foliage and came into view….
An oasis on the Caribbean Sea, Maroma Resort & Spa by Orient-Express is so in-tune with nature it’s often difficult to tell where the jungle ends and the resort begins. Discovered in the 1970s by an architect flying 30 miles south of Cancun, Maroma—a former private estate—is carved out of coconut grove and surrounded by 200-acres of jungle.
The resort’s hospitality is such that the staff makes you feel as though you are right at home. From the instant my fellow journalists and I arrived, we were greeted with smiling faces, outstretched hands, the exchanging of names … and the resort’s signature Maya Margarita made with D’Aaisti Xtabentun, a special liqueur made in the region. Drinks in hand, we were swiftly and efficiently taken through the check-in process while bellboys took our luggage to the appropriate rooms.
Once I had confirmed my information, provided a card for incidentals, and specified at what time I would like a fresh pot of hot coffee brought to my room the next morning (a lovely touch!) I was shown to my oceanfront room.
Here’s where I freaked out a little: The view itself was amazing—bright blue water and sky, near-white sand, shady trees—but the room was just as wonderfully welcoming with a canopied bed decorated with red rose petals, wood accents, and a tiled floor. I think it was then that I first truly felt I was in Riviera Maya, and the overwhelming feeling I could spend the next three days exploring and relaxing in this beautiful place was almost too much to handle.
"One if the values of Orient-Express is the discovery," our host Erika Hernández Cruces, the hotel’s PR and communications manager, later explained about Maroma’s parent company. This is why, she added, there are no televisions in the guestrooms at the resort since visitors generally want to be out of the rooms exploring and experiencing what the area has to offer.
During that first introduction to my room, I opted to spend the spare time I had before dinner opening my patio doors wide and lounging in the hammock outside as I gazed out on the sea, listening to the sound of the waves. I had found paradise.
Eventually it was time to relinquish my spot on the patio and head to the outdoor lobby to meet up with Erika and experience Maroma’s newest dining concept, Aldea Maya. Designed to immerse guests in the sights, sounds, and tastes of ancient Mayan culture, Aldea Maya (which means “Mayan Village”) is a re-creation of the buildings and cooking devices used by the ancient people.
We filled ourselves with organic vegetables cooked in chili broth; cucumber, jicama, and avocado salad with pomegranate seeds, chili powder, and zucchini; and banana leaf-cooked fish with tomatillo, mint, and local orange salsa. I was especially fond of the pibil, or slow-roasted pork, cooked in the ground in the hours leading up to our arrival and served with hot tortillas handmade right before our eyes.
Stuffed and feeling at one with the Maya, my colleagues and I headed back to our rooms to rest up for more adventure at Maroma.
That adventure, we discovered the next day, included a turn in the resort’s temazcal. Not to be confused with mescal, distilled liquor made from a form of agave and native to Mexico, the temazcal was actually quite the opposite: It is a type of sweat lodge with ancient origins used to release toxins and purify the body.
After a trust exercise (which I won’t give away here), my travel mates and I entered a pyramid-shaped hut one by one and seated ourselves around a pit in the center of the small space. Our guide and his interpreter led us through what they called the “four doors,” one for each of the basic elements: earth, water, fire, and air. During each door, hot coals were added to the pit, which our guide covered with water to release steam into the hut.
We chanted, gave thanks and blessings, and sweated—a lot—before we passed through the final door and ran to the ocean to cool off and close our pores. It was an incredible experience, one I was nervous to try at first but was so happy I did in the end.
After our intense cleansing session, it was time to fill back up with a delicious dinner at La Cantina, a colorful, fiesta-inspired restaurant at Maroma. The traditional meal of botanas (appetizers) included fideo seco, dry noodles with chipotle, avocado, and fresh cheese; caldo de camarón, spicy shrimp broth; albóndigas en chipotle, beef meatballs with chipotle sauce and Mexican rice; and tacos dorados de pollo, crispy chicken tacos with avocado sauce. To share for the table we had pulpo a la Gallega, octopus marinated with olive oil, garlic, and pimentón Spanish style; lengua a la Veracruzana, beef tongue with peppers, tomatoes, and capers; and cordero rostizado “de la casa,” roasted suckling lamb served “Monterey style.”
As we savored each course placed on our table we were invited to pair the dishes with different samplings of mescal. One, a special blend made for chef Juan Pablo in Oaxaca, was 100-percent agave and by far my favorite. Each mescal sampling was paired with a slice of orange, which we were instructed to dip in salt and bite into before sipping the mescal, to balance out the liquor’s smoky flavor.
While our first full day in Riviera Maya was jam packed with activities (including visits to the Tulum archeological site and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve), the second day was a little more relaxed, with a tour of the Maroma Resort, a cooking demonstration overlooking the beach, and some time to enjoy the beach and pools.
In the early evening, my group met up again at the resort’s Kinan Spa, which was built in 2007 and voted No. 1 in Condé Nast Traveller's Top 25 Spas in Mexico & Central America in a 2013 Reader's Poll. Although I haven’t had much of an opportunity to experience the spas in Mexico and Central America, I definitely felt as though I had a No. 1-worthy experience at Kinan.
After spending a few minutes in the spa’s steam room and taking a dip in the plunge pool, my masseuse led me to a spacious, private room for my massage. As part of the experience, I was first treated to a foot massage and scrub (which felt wonderful after all the walking I had done the past couple days) then instructed to lie on the massage table for my 50-minute, lavender-scented mud massage.
Needless to say, it was amazing. Post-massage, my muscles were relaxed and my skin was super smooth. It was the perfect way to transition into the evening and prepare for our farewell dinner on the beach.
Joined by Erika and the Kinan Spa director, Maxime Cormier, we once again had the pleasure of sampling chef Juan Pablo’s regional cuisine. It was all delicious … except maybe for the amuse-bouche we received: an edible insect tostada consisting of ant larvae, a red worm from agave, grasshoppers, the butt of an ant, and a tiny beetle sautéed and served with black beans and avocado purée. I tried it; it wasn’t bad. I don’t want to have it again.
But, after all, travel is about adventure and fully immersing oneself in another culture. The cuisine, the music, the language, it all factors in to what is unique and special about a destination. And at Maroma Resort & Spa guests are truly treated to a one-of-a-kind experience. From the guestrooms to the dining options to the interaction with the staff, guests get a feel for the history of Riviera Maya and the surrounding areas and get to take part in the tradition that makes this region its own.