Mangroves, manatees and one hell of a launch party - welcome to Mayakoba, the swish new resort on Mexico's Caribbean coast
Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl. With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there.
Normally I’d rather gargle bleach than listen to Copacabana but, well, perhaps it was the balmy Mexican night, the ravishing array of stunning women around me, the stars twinkling above the panoply of trees, the luscious full moon, the cicadas, or – maybe, just maybe – the bottles of Moet & Chandon I’d polished off, but before you could say 'hottest spot north of Havana' I was on that dance floor like a whirling dervish. Ninety per cent humidity and 34 degree heat be damned - I was a disco god.
I was at the launch party for Mayakoba ('city on the water' in Mayan). You might say swanky, upmarket resort lapped by the Caribbean, home to five swish hotels brought together under one banner, linked by a system of manatee-filled canals and bordered by the mangroves of the Yucatan. I might say, building site.
To be fair, we were promised nothing more, for the ambitious project was not due to open for another six months after I visited, but then, thanks to Hurricane Wilma in October, it was postponed for a year. Not letting a small thing like a finished product stand in the way, I and 200 others were schmoozing nicely in the heat of the Mexican jungle, watching Greg Norman shoot a round of golf (the Great White Shark has designed the site’s 18-hole 'El Camaleón' course) and attending a spectacular black-tie night-time gala with fireworks, dancers and French crooners.
On stage, Arielle Dombasle warbled away and was greeted with gasps of delight by the Francophones and gasps of 'who the heck’s that?' by everyone else. Chef Jean Andre Charial had been brought in from his Michelin-starred restaurant, the Oustau de Baumanière in Provence, and well worth the journey it was too. The grass had even been spray-painted extra-verdant green for the event. The ex-boss of Real Madrid had jetted in, as had the local state governor, but Mexican President Vicente Fox had had to cancel due to a meeting with Vladimir Putin. Should have brought him along - I’m sure the Russians will love the place.
Now completed, Mayakoba has ambitiously brought together the luxury resorts of Fairmont Mayakoba
(with 400 rooms and five pools); Banyan Tree Mayakoba
(the first outside Asia and the Indian Ocean); Laguna Kai (owned by the Dallas-based Rosewood group, proprietors of the Carlyle in New York and the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas), 18 of whose suites will be over-water glass, concrete, wood and steel cabins, all extremely Wallpaper*; plus Kor Hotels’ Viceroy Mayakoba
; and La Casa Que Canta. The cost is US$1.5bn, a fair chunk of which, the PR machine is keen to point out, has gone on a six-year environmental study.
For example, 25,000 mangroves have been planted. The hotels are built back from the beach so their foundations don’t damage the 'cenotes' or system of freshwater, underground caverns that send nutrients out to sea, which in turn help feed the offshore reefs. Cars are banned, with guests using electric golf-style buggies or environmentally-friendly boats on a system of canals that are stocked with manatees to try and establish a breeding programme outside their original Florida home. (How much would it cost to bring a manatee in, I wondered aloud to the PRs? 'Well, that depends if they’re shipped same day or overnight,' remarked New York-based Melanie with a refreshingly direct ‘enough already with the sea cows’ approach.)
Pampering plays a major part with a planned six different spas to choose from. At the Fairmont Mayakoba
, two of the 20 treatment rooms are at treetop level with private balconies overlooking the forest, while Laguna Kai’s will be on its own island. For those with a yearning to explore, the beaches and Mayan ruins at Tulum are around 45 minutes' drive away, as are several cenotes in which it’s possible to don wetsuit and mask and go snorkelling in the underground caves (1 hour, from around US$30).
In the evening the surprisingly pleasant town of Playa del Carmen is a half-hour, US$30 taxi ride away, full of decent restaurants and bars in which to watch the assembled Mexican and US tourists promenading, waves lapping in the background. Further afield, but still accessible in a day trip, are the stunning temples and pyramid at Chichen Itza - try if you can to go as early as possible to avoid the throng of tourist coaches.
I was at Mayakoba before the first guests were even a twinkle in the marketing manager’s eye. When the lorries are gone, I thought, and the landscapers have done their job, Mayakoba is going to be spectacular. (I’ve been back – it is). With this amount of money thrown at it, it couldn’t be anything else.
The only downside for British tourists is likely to be the journey. BA withdrew their non-stop flights to Cancun several years ago. Now, if you want a scheduled service, you have to go via Miami, an airport whose authorities seem to have ruthlessly crushed any semblance of customer service at the earliest opportunity. That aside, Mayakoba will undoubtedly be a hit. For once it seems the grass really is spray painted greener on the posh side of the fence.