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The dreamy Caribbean beaches, balmy weather and lush jungles of Mexico’s Riviera Maya are major draws for the throngs of travelers who visit every year. Yet it would be a shame not to experience the rich, indigenous Maya culture and the local bounty of the region. Visiting ancient ruins and sampling traditional cuisine are popular options, but soothing, rejuvenating alternatives are also available at the area’s top-notch spas. With a wide array of treatments incorporating Maya traditions and native ingredients, there’s an option to satisfy almost every client.
In my opinion, the two spas that do it best — in dramatically different settings — are Grand Velas All Suites and The Tides Riviera Maya, both just a few miles north of Playa del Carmen.
Leading Hotels of the World member Grand Velas, a 491-suite, all-inclusive beachfront property that caters to both families and couples, features a grand spa that combines a modern aesthetic with therapies rooted in ancient rituals.
One standout treatment at Grand Velas is the Maya Yaxche Experience, which includes a copal (fragrant resin incense derived from a native tree) purification followed by a four-handed massage inspired by the ancient Maya. Various strokes represent animals of the region — jaguar, snake, eagle, butterfly and porcupine — and sounds from a rain stick conjure the surrounding nature and ancestral dancing. The effect is multisensory bliss, along with a feeling of connectedness to both the place and its history — something that the average rubdown simply doesn’t deliver.
The Mayan Shawl Treatment, also available at Grand Velas, is ideal for clients seeking a thorough stretch, gentle spine realignment and a healthy dose of relaxation. (No chiropractic feats are involved.) In traditional Maya medicine, blankets and brightly colored shawls have been used to align the body and relieve pain. At Grand Velas, the shawls are expertly used to stretch the limbs, helping to release tension and tightness.
The Tides, itself an award-winning property, takes a decidedly lower-key approach to jungle and beachfront luxury, from its 30 sumptuous yet understated villas to the serene and intimate spa nestled deep in the jungle. This adults-only resort is currently undergoing a major renovation and expansion, slated for completion in December. Considering its popularity with honeymooners and other lovebirds, it’s no surprise that the spa here offers stellar couples’ treatments.
The Xaman Ek (North Star) Fertility Treatment offered at The Tides’ Maya Spa takes place in a lovely, open-air, yet private, treatment room where massage beds face the south in order to honor Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. After a chakra-balancing massage, couples sip champagne while soaking in tubs made from native zapote trees, surrounded by medicinal herbs grown on site. Herbal essences are also used in the treatment to awaken the senses and bring good luck, peace and rest. According to spa manager Cinthya Alva, in the last five months, four couples who have experienced the treatment have confirmed that they are pregnant.
For sybarites who prefer solo soothing, the Ancient Mayan Massage at Maya Spa is a fine choice. A healing-herb cleanse, heavenly massage and body realignment using a blanket help make this decadent treatment — like many others in the region’s best spas — not merely enjoyable, but absolutely memorable.
Grand Velas All Suiteswww.grandvelas.com
The Tides Riviera Mayawww.tidesrivieramaya.com