Nicolas Dominguez will tell you, he believes in duendes or Mayan
The affable general manager of the Ikal del Mar, who swears by
all things Mayan, also makes sure that at every new undertaking,
whether it’s cutting down a tree or introducing Mayan cuisine to
the resort’s restaurant, a shaman is present to dispel negative
energies and give his blessing.
“You can get luxury anywhere,” he said, “but we have a special
blend of ethnicity and service. We integrate Maya customs into a
Ikal del Mar is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World
and one of the most exclusive properties along the Riviera Maya. It
patterned its 29 thatched bohios after Mayan-styled
bungalows. Surrounding them is a blanket of jungle left in its
natural state. You’ll see no Hawaiian gardens here. Each bohio is
named after a famous writer such as Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes,
Pablo Neruda or Edgar Allen Poe. Strange as it may sound, these
names are not written anywhere near the room. Neither are room
numbers nor hotel logos around to remind you that you’re at a
resort. (Sometimes, it’s a challenge to find your room.)
But then, the whole idea is to disconnect you. After all, it’s a
leisure rather than business hotel, according to Dominguez. More
than a resort, the Ikal del Mar, which translates into poetry of
the sea, is a state of mind.
“It’s where you lose track of time and forget what part of the
world you’re from,” said Dominguez. “I’m amazed by the number of
guests that arrive with a long list of activities to do. After two
hours, they say, ‘I don’t want to do anything.’”
Anything, that is, except snorkeling or scuba diving off the
largest reef in the Americas, doing a few healthy stretches under
the guidance of a hatha yoga instructor, working out in a small
gym, walking seven miles of beach or giving in to the ministrations
of a masseuse at the spa. There will just be enough things for your
client to do to take the edge off of feeling guilty for not doing
much of anything. And the ambience is so carefree that some guests
don’t even lock their doors.
Personalized service is an art form here. Ikal del Mar not only
has its own attentive concierge but also a soap concierge. Soon
after I arrived, Ludi, a local Mayan woman, appeared carrying a
white sack of soap. Handmade without chemicals by a nearby Mayan
community, the offering that day was mint or chocolate. She deftly
cut off a block of each and placed them on a stone plate for me.
Their fragrance filled my bath like a pleasant shot of
The resort exudes understated elegance. Starting with the rooms,
the white-on-black color scheme features ebony-colored hardwood
furnishings and stark white canopy beds with gauzy mosquito netting
and soft 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. The scrumptious
bed is a fitting complement to the sensuous outdoor shower for two,
plus double hammocks and plunge pool on the shady patio. The tall,
oval ceiling is made of thick strands of woven thatch while the
plantation windows will remind you of Hollywood movies from the
1940s. It’s all maddeningly romantic. As for rainy days, the rooms
are equipped with cable TV, DVD player with movies and paperback
You can also take refuge in the spa, come rain or shine. Beside
the sea near temple ruins, it delicately infuses Mayan healing lore
and ancient techniques in its treatments. This includes a four-hand
massage, a massage by moonlight, one with curative herbs and
flowers and a deep tissue massage combined with a mudpack.
A specialty of the spa is a renewal of wedding vows highlighted
by a pre-Hispanic celebration called “Good Wish Mayan Ceremony,”
which is performed on the beach in Mayan with an English
translation. A new magical offering is a couple’s spa suite with a
suspended palapa roof and yards of gauze netting with
multi-colored hammocks chosen for their energy-enhancing natures
such as inducing relaxation or stimulating romantic passion.
A sophisticated mix of Mexican, Mediterranean and Asian fare
graces the menu at the resort’s restaurant. There’s also a
ceviche bar with yellow-fin tuna, lobster, sea bass,
octopus or rock shrimp on tap.
In addition, elaborately prepared Maya ceremonial dishes are put
on the menu for holidays. A new kitchen area, where guests can sign
up for Mayan cooking classes year-round with master chef Erick
Anguiano, definitely adds to the appeal of the restaurant’s
Because of repeated demands by guests for Ikal’s custom-designed
linens and furnishings, a newly inaugurated boutique sells sheets,
robes, bed canopies and hammocks plus museum-inspired reproductions
of archaeological pieces certified by the National Institute of
Anthropology and History.
Overall, the Ikal del Mar will surely keep your clients and the
pixies happy (and out of mischief) for a while.
Ikal del Mar
Hits: The utter privacy of the rooms and quiet
of the location, where the only sounds are the wind through the
trees and the occasional chirp of a gecko.
Misses: You’ll be charged extra for any
incidental stops you choose to make while being driven to and from
Be Aware: Cell phones are prohibited in public
areas like the pool, bar and restaurant. Children are not
Plugging In: Each room has five outlets,
including two in the bathroom. There’s no wireless or Internet
setup but you can check your E-mail for free at the office.
Clientele: Mostly couples. Europeans favor the
high winter season while the summer months bring in more Americans.
It’s not uncommon to find a CEO or two vacationing here.
Rates: Room rates range from $475-$790 per
night, depending on season. Add 22 percent for taxes and a service
Commission: 10 percent