Sometimes you need a holiday that ticks all the boxes –relaxing, cultural, exotic, active and thrill seeking. It was just this sort of holiday that I was after when I headed to the Mayan coast of Mexico.
I am not usually a fan of the all-inclusive holidays as they are normally an exercise in mediocrity but a new type of gourmet-inclusive caught my eye. The Azul Sensatori, on the Mayan coast in Mexico, offers gastronomical excellence, activities to soothe the senses, is accommodating of families and has West End performers providing the evenings entertainment for those with more discerning tastes than exported redcoats!
On arrival it was easy to be impressed. The room not only had indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis but also a swim up pool, and personalised aromatherapy. The main pool had luxury loungers, in-pool loungers and four-poster day beds and I was in a quandary as to which to take-up residency on. Pool butlers provided drinks (in case you didn’t feel like making your own way to the swim-up bar), iced towels and books. With all this I wondered how I was ever going to pull myself away from the pool’s edge!
Eager to indulge my body and soul I convinced my travel companion to sign up for beach yoga in the morning. Getting up at 7.30am may be considered early for some on holiday but it is worth it when you can do a stretching and yoga session on the beach. Our instructor Shawn, a buff young personal trainer from Down Under, is not the only view we have – we are just metres from the Caribbean Sea as it laps the shore. It is certainly easier to do the upward-facing dog and warrior poses with the sun on your back, the sand beneath you and the water lapping just metres away!
Shawn is a hard task master and very good at telling when you’re slacking off or just a little stiff and is quick to get you back working your muscles so that you can return home minus the bingo wings and with a toned core.
If yoga is not your thing pilates, tai chi, salsa and merengue are all on offer at the ocean’s edge while the boys can get stuck into kayaking, water polo, aqua golf, tennis, beach volleyball and soccer amongst other things!
A big selling point for me of the Azul Sensatori are the six restaurants that would provide excellent dining in any big city. There was a choice of Italian, Mexican, Caribbean, international Tapas, and an open-kitchen buffet restaurant. However the restaurant I was most looking forward to visiting was their molecular dining restaurant Le Chique. This restaurant is not about filling your belly but is an experience for all your senses and is probably best described as gastronomic art.
Head chef Jonatan Gómez Luna has studied under inventive Ferrán Adriá of renowned El Bulli restaurant in Spain and I was excited to try his culinary innovations. The restaurant itself is like stepping into a boudoir, all blacks and hot pinks. The experience started with cucumber martini bubbles served in the kitchen so that we could see the chefs at work and the 14 courses that followed were equally original. From fried sushi to liquid olives that pop in your mouth, foie gras cotton candy to garlic soup – most were delicious though a few were rather odd. It is very hard to pick favourites but the smoked tuna over jasmine smoke looked as exquisite as it tasted and the pork belly was simply perfect.
After a big meal the night before in Le Chique and with the sun belting down I decided to retire to the spa to ease my limbs from yoga. Although I had only booked a massage it was an entire experience I received. The sacred stones massage actually started with a foot ritual before Griselda and her healing hands indulged me in a 90 minute heated stone massage. After I had gently been awoken, I was taken through to the hydrotherapy area to finish my treatment with a series of water therapies from rainforest shower and steam room to icy plunge pool. After this relaxing pampering, I was ready to face the sun again and continue work on my tan!
The resort provides a variety of evening entertainment to keep everyone happy from a saxophonist playing around the pool bar to West End performers putting on a show for all ages. One not miss is the Mexican beach party – complete with mariachi band and salsa dancing on the sand. Saturday night is movie night on the beach and there is nothing like watching Daniel Craig emerge from the water in Casino Royale while the waves lap just meters from where you are sitting. The Mojito bar is where the action is later in the evening with a local band getting hips swaying and feet moving creating a real Latino feel.
With so much going on at Azul Sensatori it is pretty hard to drag yourself out of the resort but well worth it. Instead of heading to the popular touristy Cancun we decided to check out Playa Del Carmen, a former fishing village south of Cancun. We headed in about 4pm to do some shopping on the infamous shopping street of 5th Avenue (no not that one!). With a plethora of hotels, restaurants and shops lining the pedestrian only street it can takes hours to get from one end to the other. Mariachi bands serve to distract you as well as local youths bringing break-dancing back into fashion with street displays. The best place to be in the evening in one of the many beach bars. We discovered Fusion on the corner of 6th and the beach. Not only were we sitting on the beach with the sand in our toes eating authentic Mexican food washed down with a Corona but there was also a fabulous reggae band playing on the outdoor stage with a palm tree growing out of it!
And you can’t go to Mexico without visiting some Mayan ruins so we headed to Tulúm – also know as the city of dawn. The ancient pyramid balances on the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean and many of the palaces and buildings within the walls of the pre-Columbian city are still in a relatively good state allowing you to admire frescos of the god Maya, the descending god, and serpents at the site.
It was a scorching hot day so after an hour of exploring the ruins, we descended the cliffs to the stunning white tropical beach at the bottom. It was a little crowded as many of our fellow travelers had a similar idea and although the sea was a little rough, it was very refreshing.
On our final full day in Mexico we decided that we couldn’t leave without snorkelling with turtles. The best place to head out down the coast is from Puerto Aventuras. We joined a Fat Cat blast boat tour and sped down the coast with the wind blowing in our hair. We stopped in a hidden bay for a quick snorkel amongst more Mayan ruins before lunch and then it was off to Akumal, which means place of the turtles in Mayan. We had barely hit the water when we spied the giant turtles feeding and swimming in the bay. The turtles are an endangered species and so protected under federal Mexican law and our tour guide was very careful to remind us all not to touch them. But it wasn’t just turtles that were capturing our attention. We also saw many large species of fish and stingrays as well.
Suitable chilled, revived and inspired I almost had to be man-handled into the car to take us back to the airport! It was a sad farewell but only temporary, as I know that I will be returning to this restorative place.
5 OTHER THINGS NOT TO MISS
- Take a trip to Isla Contoy. This island is a national park, bird sanctuary and is also a nesting place for sea turtles. As it is an eco-reserve, they limit the number of daily visitors.
- Go on a day trip to Chichen Itsa, the Mayan pyramid that is one of the seven wonders of the world.
- Check out Mexican wrestling – Lucha Libre. The high-flying antics of these masked fighters are loved by the locals.
- Go diving on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second longest after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
- Visit Xel Ha, a natural water park where you can go combine nature with adventure and enjoy zipwiring, snorkelling, wim in a cenote – these swimming holes in the rock and in the middle of the jungle- and swim with dolphins.
Thomson offers a seven night holiday to Sensatori Mexico from £1064 per person. Based on two adults sharing, the price includes return flights from a selection of UK airports, resort transfers, accommodation on an all-inclusive basis and all taxes. For more information visit www.thomson.co.uk or call 0871 231 3235.
by Belinda Wanis
[picture credits: Thomson; CasaDeQueso; Henry0; sgt fun]