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Oceanside wellness: A bliss-filled Caribbean adventure on the Riviera Maya

The second longest coral barrier reef in the world stretches from Roatan, Honduras, to Cancún, Mexico. In the lush tropical jungle of Cancún, a host of activities await travelers, from the adventurous set, such as snorkeling, scuba diving, ruins exploring, swimming in cenotes (sinkholes) and sailing to the honeymooners seeking respite from months of charting seats, writing vows, interviewing vendors and managing the full-time job of planning a wedding.

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Cancún is situated on the Riviera Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula. As vacation destinations go, Cancún is relatively new on the scene. Up until about 30 years ago, it was a dense jungle. Underneath, water runs freely from the river to the peninsula to the Caribbean Sea. An easy drive from Cancún is the sanctuary of Banyan Tree Mayakoba, a luxury resort attached to a heralded brand of international hotel chains known for its superior service.

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Duck breast with chipotle, tequila and honey at
John Gray Restaurant in Playa del Carmen

Everything that goes on behind the gates of the Banyan Tree Mayakoba caters to the guest. It’s a honeymoon destination all on its own. Though there’s plenty of exploring to be done off property—from visiting ruins of ancient cities like Tulum and Cobá, and exploring eco parks with knowledgeable guides to shopping and dining out in Playa del Carmen at notable restaurants such as John Gray—there’s so much to keep you occupied and satisfied at the resort. It all depends on the type of honeymoon you want to have.

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Guests stay in private villas at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba. Every villa is outfitted with its own small pools, in-ground hot tubs, a hammock and a view of the water, whether it’s the canal or the Caribbean Sea. The villas are discreetly built into the carefully conserved landscape, which preserves four ecosystems in balance—the mangroves, dunes, low forests and coral reefs. To get around the property, guests can call for a golf cart pick-up or rent a bicycle from the front desk for $10 a day. Without a doubt, rent bikes for you and your new spouse. The resort’s property extends all the way to the Caribbean Sea. When you hop on your bike, you can cycle by mangroves, along canals, wind your way through the resort’s award-winning golf course, spot lizards sunning their dry bodies in the Mexican warmth and arrive at the sugary white sand and turquoise waters.

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Sands, Banyan Tree Mayakoba’s ocean-front restaurant

Here, the resort’s al fresco beach restaurant caters to refined palates with fresh sea food, authentic Mexican dishes and light fare. The bright white building is U-shaped and spills into an inviting pool with swim-up bar, leading to the ocean. Bartenders service at any lounge chair, so go on and relax.

A myriad of dining experiences abound at Banyan Tree Mayakoba with trained chefs at all the restaurants, from the elaborate breakfast smorgasbord laden with food from around the world to the aforementioned beach club to the upscale Asian-inspired Thai restaurant situated over the peaceful canals.

Because the resort is built around canals, the spiritual sense of moving water is quite calming. Boat operators are stationed around the property to taxi you back and forth from the beach to the main building. To better understand the eco-system, charter the taxi with a nature guide to tour the canals. Mangrove boat tours run three times a week, and provide a special opportunity to spot wildlife, from blue herons, gray herons, snowy egrets, crocodiles to great blue herons, the biggest in North America. There are 13 kilometers of artificial canals on property, but natural water from the sea flows throughout.

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There’s no shortage of romance at Banyan Tree Mayakoba, and the staff is generous with its pampering for all couples, straight or gay. To customize your love-themed visit, the property created an Experience Department, staffed with a romance and events manager and a romance coordinator. Options range from in-villa dining, where a chef privately prepares a lavish barbecue by your pool for you, to assisting you in planning your wedding ceremony at the resort. The expansive property boasts ample rooms for any size reception, as well as its own florist and catering staff. But the allure of marrying here is having an authentic Mayan ceremony, performed by a real shaman, who doesn’t discriminate against same-sex couples. Tied together through a spiritual ceremony celebrating the bonds of nature and each other, marrying in the Mayan tradition is a rare experience. Couples can arrange it all through the Experience Department, even ordering custom traditional Mayan wedding attire. The ceremony is available in your villa (for up to 10 guests) or surfside, and includes local floral decorations, Mayan musicians and a traditional performance during the ceremony .Packages starting at $2,200 include all of the aforementioned with an in-villa wedding, plus one 90 minute massage session for two at the award-winning spa and a dinner for two at Saffron, the resort’s fine dining restaurant, which includes one bottle of wine.

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Though most resorts can boast a spa, Banyan Tree Mayakoba has the market on the serenity with its exclusive Rainforest experience, involving an intense pampering session through seven stations which titillate all the senses, from showers replicating tropical waters with a rainbow of lights and a medley of sounds to an avocado body mask to an invigorating body scrub of papaya to a plunge into the warm bubbling indoor vitality pool. Finish it off with an authentic Thai massage from a limber table-climbing therapist, and collapse on each other in your villa until you’ve got enough energy to hop on the water taxi to take in more of the Caribbean Sea.

WHEN TO GO:
The temperature is a comfortable 80 degrees year-round. For a beach wedding at sunset, April is ideal. September is the rainiest month. Hurricane season runs from June through November.

GETTING THERE: 
Fly into Cancún International Airport. Banyan Tree Mayakoba is an easy 45-minute drive. Arrange transportation through the resort.

ACTIVITIES:
All activities referenced can be arranged through the resort.

RATES:
Villa rentals start at $565 a night.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Carretera Federal Chetumal-Puerto Juárez Km. 298
77710 Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Tel. +52 984 877 3688

John Gray’s Downtown
Av. Xpuhil, SM 19 Mz 2, Lt 24. , Cancun
Tel. 998.883.98.00

Photos: duck dish courtesy of John Gray; all others courtesy of Banyan Tree Mayakoba

 

Editor’s note: This article was first published on Jan. 30, 2012 on equallywed.com.