Fly into Cancun, and your mind’s eye might be overwhelmed with a few images. Rambunctious spring breakers indulging in shudder-worthy wet t-shirt contests? This may well be one of them. Fortunately at Secrets, this doesn’t have to be your reality. At all.
Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya Resort is a honeymooners’ wonderland. Well, to be fair, it’s an escape for honeymooners along with those reveling in middle age plus a wayward solo sun-seeker or two (like yours truly). Thanks to an adults-only policy nary a whiny pre-teen nor unruly child shall be spotted at the resort. Your arrival will set expectations pretty swiftly; guests trot down a hallway to a open-air reception area complete with an infinity pool which affords a view out towards the Caribbean Sea. The message is clear: it’s time to relax.
Found about an hour’s drive from the Cancun airport, this resort is situated on a handsome seaside strip halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. The beach is all white sands and the world’s second largest barrier reef lies about 1.5 km offshore. The hotel is easily accessible by car and is also close to major Mayan ruins — including Tulum and Chichen-Itza — the Xcaret eco-archaeological park and cenotes (aka sinkholes) for some dramatic swims.
Does a holiday translate into dining around the clock? Well, with a grand total of nine restaurants on-site, Secrets sure isn’t coming up short on food.
Fans of Top Chef — and the lovely Padma Lakshmi— will recognize the resort from the grand finale of season 14, when Brooke Williamson and Shirley Chung face off in a battle filmed on-location at the resort. Those looking for a Top Chef-like dining experience can arrange for private dinners to be held in off-the-radar locales such as the main kitchen or the chef’s table (it promises to be interactive). We were taken though a parade of Mexico’s culinary offerings, starting with chips and guac with chile-tossed grasshoppers and moving to Jalisco-style red pozole with pork belly. But the highlight of the dinner — hands down — was the dessert, which saw chocolate, truffle oil and blue cheese transformed into an artistic masterpiece atop a pane of glass covering the table itself.
Other high-end dining experiences offered include the private wine cellar; there we were served escargots à la bourguignonne, which were marinated in butter and herbs, and rack of lamb with fungi risotto. The clutch of restaurants reaches from Pan-Asian fare at Himitsu to Mexican cuisine and over to Italian and French. There’s also plenty of seafood to be found at the Seaside Grill and Oceana as well as an international buffet at the Market Cafe for breakfast and lunch. Be sure to sit in the courtyard centered around a charmingly decorated tree at the latter. Can’t be fussed to get out of bed for breakfast? Around-the-clock room service is a luxury not to be missed out on (and quickly missed!) and will let you dine on your private balcony.
Lest we forget, a tropical tipple can be ordered up whenever your heart desires, be it a piña colada, a strawberry daiquiri or just a classic Corona.
The expansive resort has a grand tally of 434 suites, with the majority affording views out to the ocean. My room — part of the Preferred Club offerings — included a king bed, inside and outside lounging areas and a wonderfully large hot tub, transforming bathing into an indulgent treat. (A two-headed shower was ideal for quick rinses.)
Touches such as embroidered pillows help inject a Mexican design sensibility into the space. In-room amenities include a never-empty mini fridge (they’ll refill anything you sip on) and coffee maker, alarm clock with iPod dock, high speed Internet and flat screen TV. Need proof of that adult only policy? The titillating Playboy channel is one of the few English-language options on the TV. Oh and there’s a privacy boîte in the closet, which means that your room service guy can just leave your grub in there while you continue to percolate in the hot tub.
Days can easily be filled with a clutch of activities, keeping guests from ever feeling bored. Pack your day full with everything from sunrise yoga through to Spanish lessons and The Beatles show come sundown. Beach volleyball and pool aerobics in the pool are some of the many other options. Guests are free to use the fitness room as well as the palatial spa, which seems to go on forever. The Swedish massage was particularly enjoyable (you will have to pay some extra dollars) and don’t miss out on the hydrotherapy pool, complimentary for all hotel guests. One of my personal favourites was a wine tasting, which had us sniffing wee bottles of scent from Le Nez Du Vin in order to hone our sense of smell and identify different aromas in Mexico’s Casa Madero wines.
Be sure to take advantage of the snorkel equipment, which you can sign out for half an hour at a time. The region is known for its sea turtle population, including the Loggerhead and the Green Sea turtles, and you’re bound to come across a couple after a brief swim out. Sadly the turtles are endangered, so be cautious to avoid disrupting any turtles or the sea floor. I also encountered a barracuda, which had me swiftly paddling back to land.
- Guests can hoof it to the must-see Tulum ruins, the sole Mayan city built on a coast, by getting a cab. I booked through AMSTAR, located in the lobby, but found it to be a bit of a cash-grab at $65 USD. A group tour of the ruins is included in the price, but it’s also easy (and faster) to educate yourself. If you go, be sure to pack/wear a bathing suit as the gorgeous beach is accessible from the ruins.
- Anyone keen to see more of the surrounding region can also grab a cab to super-trendy Tulum — the non-ruin version — for a spot of shopping and people watching.
- The resort nightclub, fittingly named Desires, is actually a hoot of a time. The weekend is when it really gets poppin’ and if you’re lucky, you can indulge in a spot of gambling at the pop-up casino before letting loose on the dance floor (the staff is real keen to get those hips moving).
- Once a week, local vendors set up shop along one of the hotel’s outdoor paths; there’s quite a selection of goods — from embroidered blouses to vibrant dishware — and the prices are decent. (I nabbed a blouse for $20 here and at the market beneath the Tulum ruins was quoted $65 for an identical piece.)
- Airport shuttle service is not complimentary, but guests are able to arrange their transfers at time of booking either through Amstar DMC or the provider of their choice.
- Secrets Akumal Riviera Resort is located at Carretera Federal 307, km 254 + 600
If You Go:
Need help planning your trip to Akumal? Visit their website.
For reservations call 1.866.GOSECRETS or email email@example.com.
The writer was a guest of Secrets Akumal Riviera Resort. The resort did not review or approve this article.
All photos by Karolyne Ellacott