Jungle Journey


Spa Grand Velas Riviera Maya (Mexico) is a spacious $15 million escape located amid the 86 acres of lush jungle, mangroves, and freshwater cenote pools that inspired its design. The spa itself, which opened in April 2009, provides an incomparable sense of place. Mexican architects Ricardo and Alexis Elias of EliasElias AR preserved the stone, plants, and streams specific to the Riviera Maya landscape where the spa is found and incorporated them into the curved, organic design of the two-level spa. Native artwork and furnishings are also used throughout to further add to the indigenous appeal.

The treatment menu, which was created by spa consultant Diana Mestre, also pays homage to the mystical traditions of the region with two popular services, both of which begin with the ritual burning of copal resin. The Mayan Yaxche Experience ($335, 80 minutes) is a four-handed massage featuring choreography and visualization of a soothing serpent, a powerful jaguar, and an eagle’s flight, three important totems in the Mayan culture. The Mayan Shawl Treatment ($198, 80 minutes) aids in the alignment of posture using Mexican shawls. “In ancient times, this technique was used in Mayan communities to help mothers-to-be,” says spa manager Leticia Fernandez. “With the shawl, they helped the baby to move downward and be born.”

With 40 treatment rooms, a bridal suite, and a flotarium suite, the 89,000-square-foot spa is the largest, by far, in the region. But perhaps its most buzzworthy element is its 40,000-square-foot Water Lounge, a nod to the resort’s oceanside locale and the freshwater cenotes that are found throughout the region. Each treatment includes a 50-minute Water Journey that takes place there. During this time, a spa valet guides guests through a Clay Room, a circular glass tile-lined steam room with a fiber-optic starlight ceiling, an Ice Room, and hot-and-cold Experience Showers. A central infinity pool has massaging faucets throughout and carved-stone chaises with jets. Two slate-grey stone-tiled walls bisect the central hydrotherapy pool, dividing the equally spacious and private men’s and women’s sides. “Spa valets provide personalized direction to make sure guests get the most out of the truly relaxing hydrotherapy experience, such as how to alternate among the various hot and cold rooms and pools and how long to linger in them, which might otherwise be a bit mystifying,” says Fernandez.

While honoring the local heritage, flora, and fauna was important in the creation of the spa, so was maintaining an eco-friendly approach. The resort itself was designed to exist harmoniously with its environment. During the building process, the surrounding area was reforested with more than 18,000 trees. Solar panels on the roof of the resort generate more than 191 million kilocalories per year. On-property co-generation electricity plants and two Reverse-Osmosis Desalting Plants operate self-sufficiently. The laundry facilities include a water treatment plant that filters soapy water to be used in the rinsing process. The residual water-treatment facility processes all the water from the resort and uses it to water the gardens and surrounding mangroves and jungle.

According to Fernandez, that green philosophy continues in the spa, which she says can best be described as “dramatic meets organic.” The concept for the spa began with its location on the property. It is situated in a natural crater with a shape that includes slopes with trees and rock formations, all of which were incorporated into the design. “The unique terrain and the resort’s jungle and seaside location entirely dictated the design and materials,” says Ricardo Elias, who set the spa just below ground level to allow a living rock wall with plants, flowers, and a small stream to form part of the spa’s structure. The architects also raised the ceiling 30 feet to allow for a visual connection with the entire spa and for plenty of natural light. “There is a spatial transparency from the exterior landscape and the interior garden slopes to the water features, which permits perception of the spa in its wholeness, while walls of varying heights and materials provide intimacy and privacy,” says Elias.

Though the Yucatan itself is indeed a driving force at the spa, the menu also offers a global range of experiences. Seven Journeys, each one a series of signature treatments, include the Mediterranean Voyage, Travels through India, Nature’s Aromatherapy Trail, World Travels, Men’s Journey, Inner Journey, Rainbow Journey for teens, and Journey through Native Mexico. “The number seven is the addition of the celestial three and the earthly four and is considered a perfect number symbol of the relation of the divine with the human,” says Fernandez.

The spa also has a full-service hair salon, a dedicated barber chair for men’s grooming, a bridal suite, and a manicure and pedicure area where adventurous spa-goers can partake in the popular fish pedicure. The retail boutique features products from all of the lines used in treatments, as well as a private label line of lotions, shampoos, conditioners, and fragrances. “We also help the Mayan community, Ojos Maya, by selling their handmade wood products at our boutique,” says Fernandez.

While resort guests flock to the spa, keeping it front of mind is important to Fernandez and her team. As such, a dedicated spa website debuted in 2011. Another new addition is the weeklong Spa + Yoga Personalized Experience Retreats, a percentage of profits from which is donated to charities in the community. According to Fernandez, the one thing all of her guests have in common is their wellness goals, which include “wellbeing, relaxation, and emotional benefits.” For these spa-goers on the hunt for an array of intriguing spa options, it’s a retreat that helps them answer the call of the wellness wild. 


Owner: Velas Resorts

Spa Manager: Maria Fernandez

Opened: 2009



55% female

45% male



U.S., Canada, Mexico          



89,035 square feet,
40 treatment rooms



$15 million



aromatherapy, Ayurveda, body treatments, chromatherapy, couples’ treatments, ear candling, energy work, facials, fitness, hair and scalp treatments, hammam, hand and foot treatments, hydrotherapy, makeup application, massage, nailcare, prenatal services, reflexology, salon services, sauna, Watsu, waxing, yoga



Diamond Facial ($310, 80 minutes) and the Citrus Body Wrap ($298, 80 minutes)          



New Era Inhibit Facial ($350, 80 minutes) and the Magnetic Diamond Treatment ($350, 80 minutes)



Chanel, Comfort Zone, Davines, Decléor Paris, Natura Bissé, SpaRitual, Sundãri



Insist Spa Software, Oakworks, Porcelanosa, Sensi, Silhouet-Tone, Spectroline, Ty Group



EliasElias AR (Mexico City)



Melin Castro Design (Zapopan, Mexico)



Diana Mestre, PRO-SPA (Polanco, Mexico)