I once chose a hotel in St. Thomas that I thought was right on the beach— only to discover that what appeared to be an ocean view in the hotel’s brochure was actually a misleading shot of a sea blue rooftop.
Back before trip advisors and yelpers fact checked a hotel’s claims of beach proximity, cleanliness and pool size, tourists were forced to put their faith in a hotel’s descriptions, strategic camera angles, and the hotel brochure. Even today, fish eye lenses and careful cropping can turn a meh hotel into a Shangri-La.
The Mahekal Beach Resort in Playa Del Carmen Mexico may be the one hotel I have visited where the professional photographs do not to it justice. This place is even more drop dead to die for than the website might lead you to believe.
Online, you’ll see beautiful pictures of the thatched-roof palapas, single and double decker bungalows with terraces and hammocks. But the photos pale to the 360° 3-D 5 senses immersive.
With its artful design and landscaping, the beachfront resort provides a laid-back village vibe that invites guests to meander and explore. The colony of rustic yet refined palapa-style bungalows of varied colors, shapes and sizes invite guests to flip flop from beach to the pool, from spa to the swim up bar and discover all sorts of delights along the way.
50 years ago, a local Mexican family built six thatched-roof palapas on the beach for backpackers to rent. Today the resort has 196 bungalows, but it remain serene and chill. Unlike the high rises of Cancun, Mahekal resort is wide, not tall. Winding stone paths takes you from single story oceanfront beach houses to jungle-side tree houses, some with private plunge pools, all with individual log terraces.
Rambling about you’ll come upon garden fountains, a hidden pool, an ice cream stand a beach-side fire pit with cozy couches or a poolside swing. Aesthetic flourishes abound every which way.
Its hard to tear oneself away from this corner of paradise and its certainly far more charming than the actual downtown zone that’s a five minute walk away. The town’s commercial strip, Avenida 5, was no doubt a unique pedestrian thoroughfare once. Playa del Carmen was once a small fishing village.
Now, the main street has all the American mall faves— a Victoria’s Secret, a Forever 21, an American Eagle. There are local peddlers pushing their wares and boisterous bars splashing tequila for the spring break crowd.
We soon realized that dining at the hotel was a better choice, even though the restaurants (meal plan included) played a repeating loop of bland mood music. Think Gilberto Gil/Sade smooth jazz renditions of odd old pop songs. Some nights there’s live music but nothing makes you feel more like a tourist than when the band plays gringo favorites like La Cucaracha.
No matter. Since my underage daughter fails as a drinking companion, we were eager to make haste and get back to our awesome room.
Above two photo credits from Mahekal Beach Resort
We lucked out on a “penthouse” room, which was huge and gorgeous with a soaring thatched ceiling and a spacious deck. Coconut trees provided privacy and still the Caribbean sea was in full view, no matter whether you were loafing on either hammock or watching the scenery from the outdoor shower, bottle of beer perched on the ledge.
Above three photo credits from Mahekal Beach Resort
It would have been easy to spend the week lolling on a beachfront swinging bed and watching the para-sailers float between the palm trees. Or noshing the perfect poolside guacamole at the infinity pool, which seems to converge with the sea. But one needs to tear oneself away from such dependable bliss.
Just off the coast is the Great Mayan Reef (Mesoamerican Barrier Reef) the largest coral reef in the western hemisphere. Worldwide, its second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.