Sea Power

With a full thalassotherapy spa, this luxury resort is one of a kind

By: Maryann Hammers

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico The pampering starts from the moment guests are greeted at the airport, offered a chilled bottle of water and whisked away in a new Lincoln SUV. Once at the resort, they are welcomed with a frosty margarita and promptly escorted to their ocean-view suite. Nestled in a bird sanctuary between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, among the mangrove trees, the Paraiso de la Bonita looks and feels more like a villa than a hotel. Sculptures, artwork and museum-quality pieces are scattered throughout the grounds; a well-stocked library with soft sofas is ideal for cozying up with a book; open-air restaurants and bars with comfy, plush chairs invite lingering conversations; and an expansive wine cellar is available for special occasions or romantic dinners.

Cancun and Mexico’s Riviera Maya are perhaps best known for sprawling all-inclusive properties. But for those who want to appreciate the area’s beauty, climate and recreational opportunities in a peaceful, luxurious setting, there’s Paraiso. Rather than attempting to cater to everyone from families to partiers to budget travelers, this sophisticated 90-suite, adults-only spa resort caters to an upscale, international clientele with deluxe accommodations and great service. “Beginning with our complimentary airport transfer in fact, from the moment the reservation is made we offer completely personalized service to ensure an unforgettable stay for our guests,” said Maria Martha Lacahury, director of sales and marketing.

Though the resort is small by Cancun standards, it boasts a full-service thalassotherapy spa the only certified thalassotherapy center in Mexico. Popular throughout Europe, thalassotherapy is based on the belief that nutrients in seawater and marine products can soothe and balance body and mind. But even those who don’t buy into the sea’s curative powers will succumb to the stress-melting effect of a neck-deep soak in a jetted tub of warm, foamy saltwater while enveloped in the primal scent of seaweed.

Unlike many hotels where rooms are primarily used for sleep and showers, the guest suites at Paraiso will tempt many guests to move in. Accommodations are creatively furnished with an eclectic mix of sculptures, wall hangings and fabrics from around the world. The rooms are spacious the smallest is a generous 1,100 square feet and have private terraces overlooking lush tropical gardens and the Caribbean. Bathrooms have big tinted glass bowls that serve as elegant basins, Bulgari amenities and a deep sunken marble tub. The enormous shower is equipped with multiple nozzles that spray from all angles, and guests on the first floor also have a patio with garden shower, as well as a private plunge pool on the terrace.

French chef Fabrice Guisset presides over the resort’s two restaurants. He fuses Mexican, Mediterranean and African ingredients and flavors into his spicy dishes. Most everything in his “cuisine of the sun,” as he calls it, garners raves, but many diners say their favorite is his signature guacamole. Guests who want to learn to make Guisset’s killer guac (or one of his other specialties) can sign up for a cooking class one of the resort’s newest programs. After preparing a meal under Guisset’s guidance, they’ll take home a souvenir apron, monogrammed with their initials (and, if they like, signed by Guisset).

For those who feel more ambitious, Paraiso has recently begun offering private yacht and helicopter excursions. For example, guests who would like to view the Mayan ruins of Tulum may prefer a 14-minute helicopter flight instead of a two-hour drive. And the resort’s brand-new 50-foot catamaran, La Bonita, complete with crew, is available for those who would like to try the Caribbean’s best snorkeling at the world’s second-largest coral reef. The yacht is also available for romantic dinners on board, sunset cocktail cruises or at-sea excursions of one night or several. On board, guests have a private stateroom with bathroom and all the luxuries of a fine resort Frette robes and linens, full housekeeping and gourmet meals.

With so much going on, one can fill several days at Paraiso de la Bonita sunning, snorkeling, sightseeing and spa-ing. Then again, there’s something to be said for room service and margaritas, and a view of the turquoise sea.

Paraiso de la Bonita Resort & Thalasso
Cancun, Mexico
fax: 52-998-872-8301

Hits: Extra-nice touches include gifts such as a cute straw beach bag and aged tequila (complete with lime slices, salt and shot glasses). The resort also provides guests with a welcome message and amenity such as chocolate or fruit plate on behalf of their travel agent. And exquisite, collector-worthy shells are left on the pillow as part of each evening’s turndown service.

Misses: The cobalt-blue, infinity-edge spa pool bubbling over with frothy seawater is truly tempting. Unfortunately, it’s off-limits to guests unless they sign up for an “aqua-gym” class or are having a hydrotherapy spa treatment. But the resort’s regular pool is also quite nice.

Be Aware: Children under 12 are not allowed at the resort.

Plugging In: Easy and free high-speed Internet access in every room. However, the stylish wood desk chair is small, hard and uncomfortable and no way designed for actual sitting. There’s also a computer with Internet access in the library, available for free guest use.

Clientele: An international crowd of mostly wealthy American and European guests.

Rates: $425 to $3,000 nightly.

Commission: 10 percent (15 percent for Virtuoso agents).