Voyages by nature always transport you to a new world, but reflecting back on our time at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba, this concept came across on a whole new level. A zippy direct flight and 45-minute drive later, we arrived at the Riviera Maya Mexico but with a distinct feel of Asia. With luxury properties all over Thailand, China and Indonesia, the Banyan Tree’s Asian influence is much more than a veneer. Throughout the visit, I found my mind channeling Chiang Mai and Bintan while strolling through the immaculately manicured courtyards.
The Luxury Pool Villa was our own private paradise on the property, with entry through the high wooden front gate revealing a sizeable swimming pool, and choices for lounging in or out of the sun. The villa itself is stunningly airy with soaring ceilings and exquisitely carved Asian woodwork and furnishings. The thoughtful design takes full advantage of the pool and lagoon, with glass doors opening up the entire corner to the wraparound pool. Is there any other way to wake up on vacation than to sip a cup of Lavazza while swirling your toes in the refreshing water a few feet from bed while listening to the sounds of tropical birds? The fantasy continued with the private outdoor bathtub set against a wall of candles. I relished a long soak at gloaming to relax after a long beach day while staring at the sky above.
The efficient “buggy” system allows for personal transportation around the property, no matter how far your villa is from the beach. We called at any time of day or night, and were whisked within minutes, always with a smile, to the restaurants or beach. One of our favorite moments was on our last day when the wind was nonexistent on the beach and guests had mostly retired to their villas. We dug our feet into the soft white sand and laughed our way through sunset, dining on shrimp quesadillas and margaritas from Sands.
The daily Banyan Tree brunch at Oriente is anything but ordinary, set in a prime space soaked in sun with options of indoor or outdoor seating. On our first morning, my husband went to scope out the buffet first and excitedly reported back that everything our taste buds could desire was spread out for us. My mouth is still watering as I remember the tender Thai beef we tasted the first day, and the addictive crispy Chimichangas. We couldn’t pass up the made-to-order omelets showcasing fresh ingredients, including my favorite Oaxaca cheese. Fresh juice and champagne topped off the decadence!
On one of our last evenings, we dressed up in our resort-finest and set out for Saffron, the formal Thai restaurant on the property. I had to catch my breath as I looked out to the lantern-lit pier reaching out over the emerald-green water. The setting is magical, and I felt like I was transported back to the Chao Phraya River (minus the frenetic boat traffic). We were quickly astounded by the quality and authenticity of the expertly prepared cuisine. The soft shell crab was light and fresh, with flavor profiles focusing on the crustacean without overpowering it. The curry was so creamy and complex, it went perfectly no matter which type of rice I tried it with. The shrimp were incredibly fresh and bouncy, and the oyster-based sauce delicious! We are still talking about how much we enjoyed our meal and the romantic atmosphere; our stomachs were beyond happy.
Just when I thought I had delightfully discovered everything Banyan Tree had to offer, I learned of their responsible and generous involvement in the Green Initiative which improves life for the community and guests alike. Every stay with them supports programs to give back to the environment and community in both social and ecological aspects. Extensive efforts are made to keep the hotel sustainable and eco-friendly, including recycling, energy and water conservation, and composting. The resort works with local NGO Riviera Maya Sostenible for the protection of the indigenous Melipona bee. Two large hives in the local communities are supported and the harvested honey is used in the resort’s turn-down amenities. Additionally, the program provides solid micro-business opportunities to locals, who harvest honey to make soaps, which they then sell to the resort. I can’t help but admire the attitudes and actions of the Banyan Tree organization, and I am looking forward to many happy returns for a taste of Asia in the beautiful Mexican Caribbean.