A priest. A still-beating heart. Blood flowing down sacrificial steps until it flooded the ground 30 metres below.
My first trip to Mexico left quite an impression when it came to Mayan culture and the rituals that took place on those steep-stepped ruins.
So when asked to close my eyes and prepare for the Mayan experience… It unsettled me.
The air clung hot and humid, a waterfall mixed with the buzzing in my ears from dehydration and a dose of jet lag.
I cheated a little and looked down instead.
This, I realised through squinted palm leaves, was the official welcome to the Viceroy Riviera Maya hotel. Perfumed smoke draped across our clothes.
And there wasn’t a knife in sight.
In fact, I had just begun to relax as I reached my room when a member of staff pulled a blade from her side the moment she closed the door.
“Soap?” she said and I swayed on my heels.
I had, it appeared, failed in the quest to cling on to sanity.
She wouldn’t give in. “Lemongrass. Oatmeal. Rich deep chocolate?”
I stared, mind blank, eyelids heavy.
It turned out to be another ritual: soap served slippery fresh and sliced on the threshold of your room. It also smelled better than the smoke.
I chose lemongrass.
Felt soothing clarity return. I also remembered that those the Mayans used to sacrifice were, as a point of principle, extremely young and beautiful.
I needn’t have worried at all.
Unease returned as staff led me from the steam room and jacuzzi to track along leaf-lined pathways and a dug-out canoe. The chatter of the waterfall intensified.
This time I am not clothed. And this time I am lying down. I’m no younger nor (let’s face it) more beautiful but a sense of vulnerability returns.
This time, curiosity arrives too.
Scented smoke leads to brush down with a brisk broom of herbs and a rub down with an egg. It’s part spa, part cooking class, my body served up as meat.
But condiments aside, once the massage gets going it’s one of the best ones around. Kneaded, stretched, smoothed and released, my muscles settle happily, the long journey long forgotten.
There’s still one Mayan trick up the sleeve, though. The towel rub section of the signature dish: the manteada. This involves wrapping me up like a tortilla and rocking me from side to side in a peculiarly loosening experience.
And then it is over – herbs, eggs and smoke all gone – and I’m lying by a waterfall wondering how to make sense of it all. Except, I realise, as the sunshine filters through the palms into the space the smoke has left, that doesn’t really matter.
My muscles feel softer, my body relaxed.
And though my heart’s still beating, it’s definitely still in my chest.
This beautiful, eco-conscious beach and jungle retreat is a real treat for the senses. It has 41 villas yet gives the impression that only ten guests ever stay here at once. There’s an atmospheric open-air bar and library area, an outdoor restaurant called the Coral Bar & Grill and an upstairs restaurant called La Marea.
You’ll find a lagoon shaped pool but you can easily walk onto the beach or stride along the walkway to dive off at the end. The hotel has a great range of activities – from yoga classes to cooking classes, trips to Tulum and various cenotes, picnics on Playa Maya, and a deep heat Mayan temazcal treatment in some kind of igloo closer to home.
The food is fiery and local, drawing on the passions of head chef Jetzabel Rojas (although staple options of fruit, cereal and plain toast are also available if the spicy jalapeno peppers are not to your taste.) You’ll need a car or some other transport to leave the resort, which is only an hour or so from key sites Tulum and Coba and a fascinating turquoise cenote I’ve yet to write about.
What I Loved
The juice collection at breakfast. Check out the coral smoothies – yoghurt, honey, guava and strawberry.
The handmade, hand-sliced soap
The hammock in my secluded jungle garden
The tequila tasting session – there’s more to this drink than you might imagine
The cooking lesson
The private nature of the jungle “Royal villa”
The ceviche. And the enfrijoladas. Oh, I just love, love, love this kind of food…
Things To Know
The ocean view rooms also allow other guests to see into your villa
Disclosure. I visited the Hotel Riviera Maya on a complimentary basis for review purposes. I was free, as ever, to write whatever I thought about the experience, broom of herbs and all. Because there’s just no point in me pretending to like things I didn’t, now, is there?
Read more here: Heaven has a stake in Mexico – at the Hotel Riviera Maya.