Holidays on Mexico's Riviera Maya are all about making the most of the endless powdery beaches, relaxing under the Yucatan Peninsula sunshine and exploring the ancient Mayan culture. One way to experience the best of this unique part of the country is from the luxury of an all-inclusive resort - and we've discovered an absolute gem.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya is an elegant, sprawling resort for spa lovers, families, couples and groups of friends. How it manages to offer something for everyone will leave you seriously impressed...
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Nestled in a secluded setting among 206 acres of protected mangroves, pristine jungle and secret cenotes (sinkholes), the all-suite resort provides marvellous all-inclusive offerings and a superb base for immersing yourself in life along the Riviera Maya. Situated between the Caribbean coast and the Yucatan jungle, Grand Velas Riviera Maya affords captivating views and allows you to experience the best of both worlds, while located close to many day trip destinations, including Playa del Carmen, Xcaret and Tulum.
This vast resort starts as it means to go on. Entering through a palatial gate with towering white walls, you're struck by the contemporary style which embraces its surroundings with beautiful features, including the curved, wave-inspired architecture which reflects the waterfront setting. While its design is sleek and modern, you will find many locally influenced touches, including Mexican artwork and indigenous materials. The resort's vibe is sophisticated yet laid-back, with attentive staff, a wealth of wonderful spaces and places to relax or socialise.
What's to love?
The resort is split into three distinctively different sections: the exclusive, adults-only Grand Class, the family-friendly Ambassador and the lush Zen space surrounded by the Mayan jungle. Each has its own amazing swimming pool, restaurants and luxurious suites. Families will love the Ambassador suites, which provide everything travellers with babies to teens need. And we mean everything. Guests with babies can travel extremely light as the resort provides baby feeding, bath and play essentials to families, such as baby baths, toys, bottles, high chairs, rockers and so much more. Older children will love the kids' clubs, which feature everything from storytelling and crafts to high-tech video gaming and their own (non-alcoholic) bar.
For couples and other adult travellers who wish to experience an all-inclusive holiday without a child in sight, Grand Class is for grown-ups only and has ocean-front suites, some of the most celebrated restaurants in Riviera Maya (including the AAA Five Diamond Cocina de Autor) and an incredible ocean-view swimming pool. Meanwhile, Zen is for all types of guests who prefer a tropical jungle setting, featuring rooms that overlook the jungle and a bridge walkway connecting the rooms to the lobby - Zen even has its own cenote. We tried each of the three pool areas at the resort but kept returning to Zen's multi-tiered pools surrounded by the verdant jungle to cool off in the heat.
Best suite in the house
As we travelled without children, the Grand Class section and its glorious suites were ideal for our adults-only stay. Dark wood furnishings, Mexican artwork and marble create an elegant space, while the huge beds and down covers offer all the comfort you require for a perfect night's sleep. The enormous suites feature such luxurious as walk-in wardrobes, spa-like bathrooms with huge showers and spa tubs, as well as a well-stocked mini-bars, 42-inch TVs and the most delightful private terraces with their own plunge pools. The terraces open out onto a pretty lawn, provide direct access to the beach and come with three different seating options. Back inside, there are a number of thoughtful touches: a bottle of top-notch tequila, insect repellent and a straw bag to use during your stay.
Eating at the resort is another fabulous journey thanks to the five renowned restaurants that serve up a variety of cuisines and dining styles. Frida offers modern Mexican fare accompanied by top-shelf tequila-based drinks, with creative dishes including guacamole sprinkled with fried crickets and fish marinated in hoja santa and pumpkin seeds served with crab meat and green mole. If molecular gastronomy excites you, then you must experience the playful, imaginative Cocina de Autor, Grand Velas Riviera Maya's very own AAA Five Diamond restaurant. Here you can sample the best of contemporary techniques from chefs Bruno Oteiza, Mikel Alonso and Xavier Pérez Stone as you work your way through the eight-course tasting menu. Meanwhile, Sen Lin serves up wonderful Asian cuisine (be sure to stop for a pre-dinner cocktail at Koi Bar) and Lucca is the place for Italian specialties.
From working out in the gyms to kayaking out to sea, there's plenty to keep you entertained during your stay at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. The gyms in the Ambassador and Zen sections have a wide range of machines and equipment, plus yoga and pilates classes. But for those who like to be active outdoors, there are morning bike rides in the resort, boules on the beach, salsa lessons on the beach deck and water polo in the Ambassador pool. The morning snorkel tours are perfect for getting to know your surroundings and involve kayaking to a location that is teeming with fish and getting up close to the sea life.
Prepare to be amazed by one of the best hotel spas you will ever step foot inside as the enormous, 89,000-square-feet Author's Spa. Built within a cenote in Zen, it is a space you won't want to overlook. It features 42 spa suites, an extensive spa menu with wraps, facials and body treatments alongside Mayan specialties like the Bacal Massage and the Mayan Jade Facial, and the highlight of the sprawling spa, the Hydrothermal Journey. This hydrotherapy circuit is best enjoyed before your spa treatment and allows you to fully relax in the heavenly spa, while helping to activate your metabolism and revitalise your body - it's a wellness dream. The circuit comprises seven different water experiences, which include a colour therapy steam room, a clay room and a hot tub and cold plunge. The final part of the journey is the Sensations Pool, where you will find a sensory pebble walkway, cascades, bubble beds, neck massage jets and a bubble geyser. If you do just one thing during your stay at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, it should be a visit to one of the best spas in the world.
Book it: Seven nights in Mexico with Virgin Holidays including Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick to Cancun, all-inclusive accommodation in a Zen Grand Suite at Grand Velas Riviera Maya and transfers costs from £2,639 per person, based on two adults travelling.