Click here to read Online Editor Monica Poling's Fave Five travel experiences of 2008.
Who’s planning on cave rappelling tomorrow?" asked our host Annie.
Our group was floating in a freshwater spring known as a cenote (pronounced say-note-ay) and, although we sheepishly look around at one another, none of us raised our hands.
Annie was visibly disappointed.
It’s not that our group wasn’t adventurous. After all, the ancient Maya considered the cenote to be an entrance to the underworld. And just the night before, we’d mixed several alcoholic beverages while participating in the Martini mixology class.
Hacienda Tres Rios is located inside the Tres Rios Nature Park.
It’s just that — with a property set on 326 acres of natural resources, including 10 cenotes, three rivers, walking trails through lush jungle and mangrove forests and a mile of sandy white beaches and coastal dunes, not to mention two pools, three bars and five restaurants — there was a lot for us to do.
We were staying at Hacienda Tres Rios, one of the newest properties to crop up along Mexico’s Riviera Maya. The all-inclusive resort is located inside the Tres Rios Nature Park, formerly a popular eco-tourism destination for locals. Now, the park is a private attraction, open only to guests of the Hacienda Tres Rios.
Don’t be fooled by the name hacienda. The resort has 273 suites, which is only the first phase in a master plan that calls for five hotels and 1,700 suites in the coming years.
The resort itself, which is family owned, has been years in the making. The Arroyo Family, which stands at the helm of this beachfront property, is unified in their commitment to sustainability, and they have spent years making sure development on the Tres Rios land would meet stringent environmental standards. It took more than a year just to compile environmental impact studies determining where construction should occur, in order to minimize the property’s environmental affects.
Most of the buildings were constructed off-site in order to reduce the effects of noise, debris and dust, and now, the buildings sit above ground on pilings, so as not to affect the natural water flow and the wildlife it supports. The resort’s list of environmentally friendly touches is long and includes the use of local products, such as Mexican marble. Further, the resort has reforested nearly 107,000 square feet of damaged mangroves and has also earmarked nearly 150 acres to remain as an undeveloped nature reserve.
That the property is largely managed by a family is obvious beyond its environmental plan. CEO Orlando Arroyo Marroquin has gathered together the eclectic talents of his family to create a resort that, despite its size, makes guests feel like they are staying in a family home. Hospitality is almost as important to the Arroyos as their commitment to the environment.
The one thing that Hacienda Tres Rios does have, however, that doesn’t usually appear at the family home is the talents of chef Oscar Orbe. Simply put, Orbe is the resort’s rock star. He’s a charmer, and even the most seasoned female travelers could be found blushing and giggling in his presence. He’s also much more than a pretty face, and the food prepared under his care is a resort highlight.
Orbe is fluent in many cuisines and can easily whip up a health-conscious breakfast, a down-home Mexican meal or even an Asian-flavored dinner. During his exhaustive 7 a.m.-10 p.m.-plus shift, he often provides tours of his kitchens, which adhere to rigorous standards of food preparation, and also provides on-property cooking demonstrations.
Our group eventually tore ourselves away from the resort in order to explore beyond its boundaries. Annie, who is also a member of the Arroyo family and who normally serves as the resort’s brand and public relations manager, even managed to convince some of us to step outside our comfort zone and explore the underground world.
The cave is actually not at Tres Rios, but rather it is part of a program run by Kanche Tours, which serves as an in-house tour operator for the resort. Kanche is a further testament to Tres Rios’ commitment to sustainability. The organization is run by local Maya villagers and offers various programs that allow visitors to explore the history of the Riviera Maya. All of the proceeds raised by the tour company go back to the villagers to help them reinvest in their own community.
Our group split into two, with a handful opting for the physical challenge of caving, while the rest elected to visit area ruins and interact with the villagers. After a day of exploring the Mayan influence along the Mexican Caribbean, we were ready to return to the resort to participate in the real challenge of determining which tequila best matched Orbe’s nightly offering.