All Things Mayan

The Ikal del Mar hotel offers clients a blend of culture and service

By: Patricia Alisau

Nicolas Dominguez will tell you, he believes in duendes or Mayan pixies.

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 world-class resort.”

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 aromatherapy.

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 novels.

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 cuisine.

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 the resort.

Be Aware: Cell phones are prohibited in public areas like the pool, bar and restaurant. Children are not allowed.

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 charge.

Commission: 10 percent