As we considered where to travel next, the idea of sunny beach days in the Yucatán became irresistible. And because there are no COVID-related requirements to enter Mexico, it’s a convenient and easygoing destination for American travelers. Extending for 75 miles from Cancún to Tulum, the Riviera Maya offers white-sand beaches, ecological reserves, Maya ruins and reefs that are home to sea turtles and manatees, as well as myriad colorful fish. Avoiding the mega-resorts that line stretches of the shore, we went in search of boutique hotels.
Equidistant between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, the 29-room Hotel Esencia had been on our radar for some time. Originally the private vacation villa of Italian duchess Rosa de Ferrari, the property was purchased by Hollywood producer Kevin Wendle in 2014, who transformed it into a hotel that became popular with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Gwen Stefani. (Fortunately, our forebodings about a trendy ambiance proved unfounded.)
On arrival, guests are transported by golf cart through lush vegetation to the main house, which resembles a Mediterranean palazzo. Inside, the grand architecture is enhanced by midcentury-modern Mexican décor, as well as colonial accents. The charming receptionist, Ricardo, encouraged us to remember his name by recalling Ricky Ricardo in “I Love Lucy.” He escorted us around the intimate property, which is sequestered on 50 private beachfront acres along undeveloped Playa Xpu-Ha, in one of the best-preserved stretches of the Riviera Maya. Esencia encompasses two pools (one is adults-only), three dining options, an organic spa and a state-of-the-art gym equipped with a Mirror (an interactive fitness device that streams live and on-demand exercise classes). Meandering along one of the interconnecting palm-lined footpaths from the central house, we had the sense of being a privileged guest at a magnificently exotic estate.