Catey Lou and I traveled to the Banyan Tree Mayakoba for the long MLK weekend. This was our third trip to Mexico and we were hoping to continue our string of good luck with Mexican vacations. The Mayakoba resort area is not far from Playa del Carmen and only a 40-minute drive from the Cancun airport. All in all we had a fantastic trip and despite one flaw we would definitely return for another stay.
View from Sands
Upon arrival I was immediately surprised by the sheer size of the Banyan Tree. It’s sprawling. The main building – which contains the reception/concierge area, three restaurants, the gym & spa and the (or at least a) Banyan Tree – is roughly a 20 minute walk from the beach area (and we’re fast walkers). The villas are scattered throughout the property – some are closer to the main building and some are closer to the beach. Luckily, there is a golf cart service that will take you wherever you want to go and the hotel also has a boat that runs between the main building and the beach. The reason the resort is so spread out is because each individual villa is huge. The square footage of the villa easily dwarfed the size of our New York City apartment.
Yes, the real star of the Banyan Tree (at least for us) was our individual villa. The villa was actually so large and well thought out that at times it was hard to justify exploring the rest of the property. As you can see below, the outside area consists of a large heated pool, a jacuzzi/hot tub, and a patio with two lounge chairs.
The two indoor living spaces are located on either side of the pool area. On one side consists of a large bedroom with high ceilings, a huge bathroom with an outdoor soaking tub, and a walk-in closet. The other side – the “pavilion” – has an over-sized couch, TV, mini kitchen, and a table and chairs. In addition to the size of the accommodations, my wife and I were truly impressed with the attention to detail. The villa was stocked with tons of extra towels (and several beach towels), all the toiletries you may have forgotten, flip flops, beach bags, bug spray – you name it, they have thought of it. It was also stocked with plenty of bottled water (for free), fresh fruit daily, and coffee & tea. And not for nothing, the bedroom actually opens right up into the pool.
Not a bad way to wake up…
Although you don’t need to venture outside your villa, you probably should. We spent a good chunk of each day at the beach. The Banyan Tree’s beach area consisted of a medium sized pool with a a swim-up bar, a full service restaurant (Sands), and the beach. As you can see below, the actual beach area is somewhat limited. In fact, during high tide the water would come to within a few feet of the edge of the property. Despite not having much to work with, the Banyan Tree did a nice job of making sure there was always ample seating area for guests. The beach is also very walk-able. We were able to walk at least 30 minutes in each direction.
A view of the beach from the pool area
Okay, so time to address the one negative – the food. Let me start by saying that the food was not bad. But for a 5-Star resort that is meant to be self-sufficient (and is a decent cab ride away from any dining alternatives), the dining options didn’t quite cut it. The three main restaurants at the Banyan Tree are Saffron, Tamarind, and Sands. Oriente, which is where the breakfast buffet is served, also supposedly serves dinner but the resort did not even have a menu for the restaurant in their front office. Additionally, the Banyan Tree provides a free shuttle service to the other two hotels on the Mayakoba property (Fairmont and Rosewood) so you can eat at their restaurants.
Casual lunch at Banyan Tree (Quesadilla, Ceviche, Burrito)
Dinner at Punta Bonita at the Rosewood (Shrimp Sopes, Empanadas, Corn Tamal)
During our stay we had lunch at Sands (by the beach) and Oriente (by the main pool) and dinner at Saffron, La Copa Bar,and Punta Bonita at the Rosewood. The food was consistently pretty good and the service was always strong. But throughout our trip we did not have one memorable dinner or even one dish that would make us hurry to return. Saffron was probably our favorite meal but the food was indistinguishable from our favorite neighborhood Thai restaurant in New York. I wish there was a greater emphasis on local dishes and ingredients at the restaurants on the Mayakoba resorts. I didn’t travel to Mexico to eat Alaskan Salmon or lamb chops from Colorado. In all, the lack of great dining options was fine for a short stay, but it would make me hesitate before booking a longer vacation in Mayakoba.
Top Shelf Margs at La Copa Bar
Catey Lou Says: We should also mention the massage! It was heavenly. Each massage takes place in its own private cabana set over the lagoon. My masseuse did an excellent job and the whole experience was such a treat. The gym was a bit of a disappointment. The equipment was nice, but there were only 2 treadmills and 2 elliptical machines, which is not enough for a hotel of this size – there was a wait every time I went to the gym. I did enjoy daily beach walks, but sometimes I just need to spend some time on a treadmill to counteract the guacamole!
We are very spoiled by great food in NYC, so it is true that the food here did not live up to our expectations. However I can’t stress enough how amazing the villa was. We had all the comforts of our own very private home while still having access to a high-end resort. It was a unique experience and I absolutely loved it! Also the service was wonderful. The hotel staff seemed genuinely happy to be there and could not do enough to make our stay enjoyable. I would highly recommend a trip here, but probably only for a long weekend. It is such an easy flight from NYC that a 3 night trip is totally do-able!