This upscale hotel in Mexico's Riviera Maya marries nature and luxury with amazing wildlife, villas and suites with private pools, and a beautiful beach.
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Aerial View Sands and Beachfront Pool Suites at Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Credit: Courtesy of Banyan Tree Mayakoba

It was the night before our trip to Mexico, and the forecast called for rain all week long. "Is it even worth packing a bathing suit?" my husband asked in disappointment. In a destination where much of the appeal is built around having sunny skies, the looming weather prediction was casting a cloud over our chatter about poolside piña coladas and afternoons at the beach. "Bring one, just in case," I said, optimistically. "Maybe we can manifest the sun into coming out."

But when the airplane wheels touched the tarmac, so came the drizzle, and as we made our way from the airport to our hotel, the rain only continued to fall. "The weather here is unpredictable — it could rain for just a few minutes, then sun all day," our driver told us. We would soon learn to this to be true, but what we would also come to know is that the property we were about to check into is a true paradise, rain or shine.

Sands Beach Club Pool at Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Credit: Courtesy of Banyan Tree Mayakoba

Banyan Tree Mayakoba is undoubtedly a luxury hotel, with the kind of assets that lure people to Mexico's coast all year round: a beautiful beach, impeccable service, and delicious, write-home-about food. But it's also something of an improbable resort. Improbable because while it sits only 45 minutes south of tourist-jammed Cancun and just 20 minutes from party-heavy Playa del Carmen, it manages to feel like a super-secluded world of its own, a jungle-like lair with thick forested trails; a winding freshwater lagoon; and exciting wildlife from colorful birds and coatis to turtles and even crocodiles.

Your introduction to this ecological enclave will begin as you enter: A lengthy driveway meanders through lush mangroves, culminating at an open-air lobby and the hotel's pièce de résistance: a massive banyan tree dripping with orange and white lanterns. Cold towels and a refreshing shot of chaya and cucumber help clear any lingering signs of jet lag while a concierge handles check-in, then it's off to your private villa in a golf cart.

the lobby at Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Credit: Courtesy of Banyan Tree Mayakoba

The 122 airy villas, all nestled into the landscape, come with their own private pool, daybeds, hammock, and loads of space — we're talking room-sized closets, massive bathrooms, and a total square footage of more than 2,750 feet. Super-high ceilings keep the spaces cool and comfortable, floor-to-ceiling glass doors mean you can slip straight into the pool from your bedroom, and outdoor tubs beckon couples for a soak under the starry sky. With big walls for privacy, these al fresco baths can also be drawn with rose petals and candles.

Spa Pool Villa at Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Credit: Courtesy of Banyan Tree Mayakoba

The beach is always a short (and complimentary) bike or buggy ride away, but if you prefer to stay closer to the sand, dreamy suites — outfitted in limestone stucco, tropical woods, and a neutral palette — open straight onto the powder-soft shore and bright blue sea. Come April 2022, the hotel also plans to open an additional seven over-lagoon villas. Suite or villa, though, the accommodations are designed with utmost privacy in mind, so you'll rarely bump into other guests.

Beachfront Pool Suite at Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Credit: Courtesy of Banyan Tree Mayakoba

But there's more that makes Banyan Tree a rarity in this part of Mexico. Though the property — one of four in the 640-acre Mayakoba complex — is Mexican at its core, it mixes in a bit of Asian hospitality, too. After all, the Banyan Tree hotel group got its start in Thailand, with this being its first Mexican outpost. This eastern influence can be found throughout the resort, from the pagoda-like entryway to the delicate incense wafting from the oil burners in rooms, though it's perhaps most pronounced at Saffron, the on-site Thai restaurant where guests can dine on flavorful fare by chefs who hail from the Southeast Asian country. Here, candle-lit tables strewn about a wooden deck under the cover of glowing, lantern-dotted trees make for a particularly romantic setting, but there are other eateries to satiate all palettes and moods — from the Mediterranean-influenced Cello restaurant to the Sands Beach Club, which serves up fresh seafood dishes with local ingredients. There's also Tomahawk Den for sizzling steaks and Oriente for bounteous buffet breakfasts and a la carte meals with local and international options.

Beachfront Pool Suite, View from the beach at Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Credit: Courtesy of Banyan Tree Mayakoba

For more of a culinary experience, guests can opt for a sunset tapas cruise along the natural waterways; a romantic dinner aboard a traditional Mexican trajinera; or Haab, a unique Mayan meal that involves interactive performances, as well as multiple courses from the Yucatan, like cochinita pibil (spiced suckling pig) and chaya empanadas. Of course, if you feel like staying in your cocoon, in-villa meals are just a tap away 24 hours a day.

Spoiled for choice, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything lacking at this hotel. And expect thoughtful touches every step of the way: At our villa, we were immediately greeted with a guacamole-filled molcajete and my favorite drink (micheladas), just as I had noted on the pre-arrival preferences form given to all guests. And upon checkout, the concierge handed me a plastic turtle: "Turtles are the only ones that come back to the same place where they were born," she said. "We give you this as a lucky charm to bring you back to your second home at Banyan Tree."

Kayak Water Activity with Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Credit: Courtesy of Banyan Tree Mayakoba

As for activities, there are many. Indulge your wild side on a daily eco boat tour that gently glides through the serpentine canals — a quiet, tranquil trip, until a turtle or crocodile comes into view, prompting audible, excited gasps from passengers. Or, hit the tennis courts, PGA championship golf course, or cenote and kayak tours for even more giddy exploration.

The spa Rainforest Vitality Pool at Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Credit: Courtesy of Banyan Tree Mayakoba

If you'd rather kick back and unwind, the striking spa has a hydrothermal circuit with hot and cold cabins, a vitality pool, sauna, and steam rooms, each designed to help you detox, as well as all kinds of treatments — massages, facials, body scrubs — in overwater rooms.

Though, admittedly, we were simply content to while away every afternoon at our private villa pool or on the sun-blasted beach, which promises an oceanfront infinity pool, complimentary snorkeling and stand-up paddelboarding, and even those long-awaited piña coladas — yes, without getting caught in the rain.

Alisha Prakash is Travel + Leisure's senior digital editor. A New Yorker through and through, she's caught in a love affair between big cities and the great outdoors. Follow her adventures on Instagram @alishaprakash and Twitter @alishasays.