Jungle Hideaways in the Riviera Maya

Journeying into the jungle for the complete Riviera Maya experience By: Maribeth Mellin
Don Diego de la Selva boasts a quiet location and lush vegetation. // © 2011 DON DIEGO DE LA SELVA
Don Diego de la Selva boasts a quiet location and lush vegetation. // © 2011 DON DIEGO DE LA SELVA

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Stars shimmer in the night sky around Coba, Mexico, where few electric lights shine after 10 p.m. Crocodiles splash undisturbed in the lake. The silence is absolute, save for the occasional blast of music from a neighbor's radio. The Riviera Maya's famed beaches are just 40 miles southeast, but Coba feels like it's a world away.

Granted, most clients want to see crystal aquamarine waters from their hotel rooms when booking a Riviera Maya vacation. They yearn to be as close as possible to the region's legendary beaches. But an inland detour offers memorable experiences as well. Spending just one night away from the coast gives travelers a whole different perspective on the Yucatan Peninsula. Have clients try one of these jungle escapes for the complete Riviera Maya experience.

La Selva Mariposa

Mari and Louis Pintkowski hadn't planned to build a bed and breakfast in the jungle when they moved from Colorado to the Riviera Maya. They thought they would be starting their new venture on the beach south of the Tulum archeological site. However, the permit process proved insurmountable, especially at a time when Tulum's beach hotels were beginning to draw unfavorable official attention. The Pintowskis already had a jungle home and decided their bed and breakfast should be located in the jungle as well.

Located a 20-minute drive from Tulum's beaches, the four-suite La Selva Mariposa sits on more than two acres of lush land, accentuated with freshwater cenotes, waterfalls and an abundant population of butterflies. The suites, constructed with local rock and hardwood beams, have air conditioning, private bathrooms (some with open-air showers), quality mattresses and refrigerators stocked with drinks. Breakfast is served in an open-air palapa, and dinners can be arranged in advance.

The ruins of Coba are nearby, and it's an easy drive to Chichen Itza as well as other archeological sites and colonial cities. But the real attraction is the sense of feeling completely removed from civilization -- except with mobile phone service and Wi-Fi access at hand. Rates start at $100 per room, and a full breakfast is included in the price. Commission is 10 percent.

Villa Arqueologica Coba
Dining on imported cheese while drinking French wine might seem extreme considering the neighborhood of humble homes along Lake Coba, but Villa Arqueologica Coba manages to sync seclusion and pampering almost perfectly. Part of a small chain built by the Mexican government to increase tourism to archeological sites, the hotel resembles a simple hacienda with modest rooms in two-story wings that frame a manicured courtyard and swimming pool.

The accommodations are nearly Spartan. Single beds with reading lamps sit in opposing nooks. Shelving is minimal, and the bath features a basic shower. But the grand library is stocked with a superb collection of books about the Maya, and the hotel's restaurant far outclasses the local competition. There are a few other dining options in the area, and the Villa Arqueologica offers several meal plans. The Coba archeological site is a 10-minute walk away, making the villa a convenient base for exploring the site before the tour buses arrive from the coast. While those latecomers are trudging along dirt paths in the sweltering heat, your clients can be floating in the hotel pool, content with having climbed the towering Nohoch Mul pyramid in solitude. Rates start at $60 per room; a full meal plan costs $20. Commission varies. www.villasarqueologicas.com.mx

Don Diego de la Selva

Tulum isn't particularly picturesque once leaving the beach because it has grown so rapidly and haphazardly. There are, however, pockets of stylish serenity, such as Don Diego de la Selva, a 10-room inn buried in vines and flowers just south of town. Birds and butterflies appear as if they have found refuge from the highway, as do travelers seeking both easy access and seclusion. The hotel's French owners have combined the best of nature with creature comforts to create a semi-secret treasure close to Tulum's town, archeological site and beaches plus the untrammeled ruins at Muyil.

Eight rooms are cooled with quiet air conditioning; two bungalows have ceiling fans. All have private baths, terraces with hammocks, plush beds and electricity 24/7 -- a feature many of Tulum's beach hotels lack. Efficient Wi-Fi connectivity comes in handy, as does the cool freshwater pool. Locals mingle with guests in the excellent Le Bistro Gourmand French restaurant, one of Tulum's best. The town's shops and restaurants are located about a mile north. Rates start at $75 per room, with a continental breakfast. Commission is 10 percent.
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