Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
An exclusive Mediterranean-style estate right on a white-sand beach
In the 1990’s, an Italian duchess traveling in the area fell in love with an estate located along one of Riviera Maya’s most coveted beaches. She built a main house, guest quarters, and a pool with ocean views, and designed the property in a way that a person sitting by the pool would never guess the property has direct access from the highway. The house was built in a Mediterranean style, with features such as airy hallways, Catalan vaults, arched doorways, Spanish-style ceramic tile roofs, and large windows that let in tons of light.
A few years later, she decided to sell her 50-acre slice of paradise to a Mexican hotelier on two conditions: to respect the original structure and style of the main house, and to keep the hotel boutique-y and small. The hotelier agreed, and turned the noble’s beach retreat into one of the most upscale and refined hotels in Riviera Maya.
Today, winding stone paths lined by lush tropical vegetation and manicured lawns lead to white two-story buildings with wood shutters and big terraces hidden behind leafy plants and trees. Most of these structures house only two rooms with separate entrances, and offer a level of privacy found in very few other hotels in the area. The hotel is a premier for a quiet and upscale romantic getaway, but the cottages -- each with two bedrooms and a large private pool -- are well-suited for families and groups.
Rooms are elegant and contemporary in their simplicity, with all-white walls, floors, and built-in furniture, as well as a few contrasting pops of color. The use of mahogany for the shutters, patio furniture, and cabinets adds to the upscale look. The attention to detail here is as thorough as it gets: Thoughtful extras include remote-controlled blackout blinds; free continental breakfast delivered to the room and placed in a cabinet in the terrace so that guests are not disturbed; and pre-loaded iPods with independently controlled speakers in the bathroom and the room.
The main house takes center stage during the day due to its proximity to the pools, the poolside restaurant, the yoga studio, and the beach. But during the quiet nights, the action moves to the Sal y Fuego restaurant, which is hidden away amid lush vegetation and housed in a beautiful open palapa. There isn’t much nightlife here, but the enclosed lounge adjacent to the restaurant has a wonderful list of wines and comfortable seating.
Serene beachfront location 20 minutes from Playa del Carmen
Esencia is located on a pristine beach between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. There is nothing within walking distance aside from a handful of resorts, but a 15-minute cab ride gets you to dining, shopping, and nightlife in Playa del Carmen. The nearest major attractions are Xel-Ha natural park and the Tulum Maya ruins, which are a 30-minute drive from the hotel.
It used to be the home of the ancient Mayans, and after that a small fishing village, but now Playa del Carmen -- or "Playa," as the locals call it -- is full of exciting nightclubs, popular restaurants, cute boutiques, and resort hotels that sit on lovely white-sand beaches. Because many of the businesses are European-run, the rest of the town retains a hint of European flair. The main tourist thoroughfare of Playa is the cobblestone-lined, pedestrian street Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), but there are plenty of fun outdoor activities for visitors, too, such as snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, and sailing. The offshore reef is part of the second largest reef system in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.
Beautiful all-white rooms housed in intimate two-story buildings hidden amid lush vegetation
Rooms at Esencia are housed either in the main house, guest house, or the two-story white buildings with thatched roofs hidden behind lush vegetation. (Those with bug phobias need not worry -- the hotel fumigates every other evening using ecological mosquito extermination systems, and offers non-chemical bug spray in every room.)
All units have similar decor, with all-white walls, floors, and built-in furniture, as well as a few pops of color (pillows, bed runners) and regional art. A double set of large floor-to-ceiling sliding doors and mahogany shutters separates the balcony or patio from the room, and another wood shutter divides the room from the bathroom, which is further divided by shutter-style doors that add privacy.
Rooms are high-tech and feature large flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, and automatic black-out blinds. Some even have small plunge pools; the cottages have large private pools. Bathrooms (also all-white) are spacious, with double vanities, Molton brown toiletries, and large walk-in showers with double showerheads.
Cottages are ideal for families or groups; each features a large private pool, a master bedroom, guest room, kitchen, living room, and large furnished terrace. There are two of these in the hotel.
Two beautiful pools with ocean views and bar service
The hotel has two beautiful pools -- one for families and one for adults only. Both have wonderful ocean views, and bar service available provided by adjacent Sol y Arena restaurant. Wide wood loungers with white padding line the pools, and palm trees provide shade. Neither of them are deep enough for diving, but they’re large enough for some refreshing laps. The pools are not heated April through October.
Wonderful organic spa with open-air and enclosed treatment rooms
Aroma Spa is the first organic spa in Riviera Maya, which means it gets its herbs and flowers from its own on-site organic garden. The spa is housed in an impressive palapa with a high thatched roof to keep it cool, as well as rounded stucco walls to help the energy flow. Candles, plants, and soothing rustic decor set the mood for a relaxing experience.
There are two sections, one for men and one for women, both with very distinct decor -- the area for men is mostly green and features plants and leaves, and the women section features flower petals. However, couples can use the same room when no other guest is using it, and there are several couples’ treatments available, including a temazcal sweat lodge -- located by the adults-only pool and overlooking the Caribbean Sea -- and rituals with candles and flowers.
There are cold water immersion pits, as well as hot whirlpools, relaxation rooms, and two Maya-style domed steam rooms. The spa is equipped with its own kitchen, where the ingredients for the treatments are stored and mixed immediately before the appointment. Every ointment is personalized, and the masseuses will ask guests questions about their skin types and needs before starting the treatment.
There are two types of treatment rooms available: Guests can choose between a room with a fourth open wall overlooking the garden, or an enclosed space with a floor-to-ceiling window with garden views.
Two-bedroom cottages, as well as kids' menus and babysitting services
Though Esencia is a premier pick for couples, it is suited for families as well. The hotel offers several standalone cottages, each with a master bedroom and a guest room, a large private pool, and a spacious living area.
An upscale Mesoamerican restaurant with a wonderful wine list, and a casual pool restaurant
There are two restaurants at Esencia: Sol y Arena, located by the pool, and Sal y Fuego, housed in a lovely palapa in the manicured garden. The hotel offers a meal plan that includes two meals (lunch and dinner), as well as a pay-as-you-go option. Guests planning on having all meals at the property will probably find the meal plan to be a good value.
Top-notch services and great attention to detail
Xpu-Ha is a gorgeous white-sand beach with turquoise, calm waters
The hotel has a great location right on Xpu-Ha beach, a two-mile, postcard perfect stretch of white sand 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. There are a few hotels on the same beach but it is never crowded. Waters here are pretty calm and clear, and there is good snorkeling nearby.
Two pools, a beautiful beach, and water activities -- but no fitness center
Esencia offers a wide array of activities during the day, including swimming in the pool or the sea, snorkeling, fishing, diving lessons, and yoga classes. Guests won’t lack opportunities to work out if they want to, but note that the hotel does not feature a fitness center. It does, however, offer free weights and Pilates balls that guests can use at no extra charge during their stay.
An on-site wedding coordinator and a beautiful, intimate setting on a white-sand beach
The hotel is a wonderful pick for a destination wedding. It not only offers a gorgeous setting directly on a beautiful white-sand beach with turquoise waters, but it also has an on-site wedding planner that can help coordinate the ceremony and the reception.
Cottages can accommodate families and groups, and the gorgeous Rosa Master Suite is a popular place for couples to spend the wedding night or relax before the big day. It offers serene ocean views, a plush king bed, deep soaking tub with garden views, and a large private terrace with a plunge pool and loungers.
A few eco-friendly features
Esencia has not implemented initiatives that reduce water consumption yet, but does have a few very important eco-friendly features that help protect the environment. One of the most outstanding is the protection of turtle eggs on the on-site beach. This area is known to be one of the sea turtles’ favorite spots for laying eggs in the region, and the hotel strives to make sure they’re preserved. When the staff notices a turtle’s nest, a local biologist determines how long it will be until the eggs hatch, marks the nest with sticks and colorful ropes so that guests don’t accidentally step on them, and monitors the nest until the turtles are born. When the eggs finally hatch, the staff releases the baby turtles into the sea and makes sure no birds spot them before they are deep into the water. Hotel guests are invited to take part in this. (Though some argue that the turtles need to crawl across the beach themselves to prepare them for the ocean, and that releasing them into the ocean actually interferes with their ability to survive.)
Security at the entrance
While the hotel has direct access from the highway, the actual facilities and rooms are well set back from it. A security and welcome team is posted right off the road, and takes down the driver’s and guests’ names upon arrival. Guests are then shown to a welcome hut, where check-in is done. A golf cart shuttles guests and their luggage through a narrow path lined by wild vegetation to the main hotel area, where another staff member welcomes them and shows them to their room and around the property. Every time a guests leaves, the whole process is repeated, and the staff keeps a close eye on who is in the resort and who left, how, and when.
The hotel also works with a trusted taxi company and shuttle service, and the driver’s name is always jotted down before the vehicle leaves the compound.
The former estate of an Italian duchess, the ultra-luxurious Esencia oozes Mediterranean elegance and style. With just 29 rooms spread over 50 acres, the property feels intimate and exclusive, and shows a thorough attention to detail in everything from the services to the decor. Upscale, contemporary rooms are housed in two-story buildings set amid lush tropical grounds, and feature lots of high-end amenities, including pre-loaded iPods, Molton Brown toiletries, and in some, even private plunge pools. The gorgeous spa, excellent restaurant, and relaxing pools with ocean views are highlights.