The Mayan Mystique

For centuries, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has been the hub of the Mayan culture, particularly in the Riviera Maya. Along with being a sacred region—Tulum, famed site of the ancient Mayan temple of the sun, is just one of the many landmarks—it also boasts some of the world’s most glorious beaches and breathtaking landscapes. As such, a host of Mayan-themed spas and resorts that cater to guests who are looking for both luxury and authenticity have cropped up in the area in recent years. But there is one place where the spirit of the region has been celebrated for more than 30 years. Painstakingly crafted by Mexico City architect Jose Luis Moreno, who purchased the unspoiled land in 1976, Maroma Riviera Maya (Quintana Roo, Mexico) has evolved from being a cozy beach plantation for the Moreno family into a 65-suite retreat that is now part of the Orient-Express collection of distinctive and lavish escapes.

The 500-acre resort is made up of hacienda-style buildings that are nestled amid 25 beachfront acres and connected by stone walkways that wind through the jungle. The buildings are fashioned from local materials, including thatched roofs made with native palm tree leaves, white-stone flooring embedded with shell fossils, stone quarried in Merida (the Yucatan’s old Hispanic capital), and bamboo harvested from the property. But nowhere is the spirit of the Mayan people more distinct than in Kinan Spa, a 7,000-square-foot haven that was crafted by the same family of Mayan stonemasons who have been creating Maroma for more than three decades. “The hotel and spa share design characteristics of white and cream stucco and accents using local materials—both have a calming and peaceful aesthetic conducive to unwinding for a spa treatment, laying on a beach, or lounging in a guest suite,” says spa director Alejandro Leo.

The spa was created to provide guests with Mayan healing using a modern approach. Kinan itself is the Mayan word used to describe the energy of the sun. In addition, the entire facility was created with Maya Sacred Geometry in mind—each building and treatment room has been aligned with the stars to ensure positive energy flow so the body, mind, and spirit are in harmony. The front door points directly east, as do the treatment rooms, which are each named after a different god or goddess. The massage beds are placed so that the guests’ heads are in a western position looking toward the east (representing new beginnings). The relaxation rooms point to the north (representing the earth and grounding). The spa also features a Flor de la Vida (Flower of Life) pool, which is used for both relaxation and Janzu ($105, 45 minutes) water massage. The flower of life symbol, which is incorporated into the design of the pool, is considered sacred among many cultures around the world. These cultures believe that the symbol can be found in all the building blocks of the universe and is often used as a metaphor for the connectedness of all life and spirit within the universe.

The treatment menu was designed with both the spiritual and everyday spa-goers in mind. It is chock-ful of both traditional and Mayan-themed treatments, many of which incorporate regional customs and ingredients, as well as products from Epicuren, Primavera Life, Yon-Ka Paris, and Sak-Po, a local line of skin- and bodycare products, among other lines. The Purifying Body Kinku ($250, 1 hour 40 minutes), for example, includes a scrub made with cucumber, tamarind, and golden corn, which was once used as an offering to Mayan gods because it was considered pure and sacred. Next, a ginger, long pepper, and clove mask is applied, and guests are enveloped in banana leaves as the ingredients penetrate and work to draw out toxins. A detoxifying massage concludes the treatment.

Guests can also experience healthy Yucatan cuisine, either at the spa’s adjacent open-air Cilantro café or in their rooms. A popular tonic is the Mayan Chaya with pineapple and cucumber. Grown naturally in the area, chaya absorbs its high mineral content from the region’s rich limestone earth. For centuries, the Mayans have used this spinach-like plant as a source of calcium, iron, and protein, and Kinan Spa guests can now take advantage of this nutritious treat either pre- or post-treatment.

But this is just a sampling of the many Mayan service options and amenities available at Kinan Spa. According to Leo, no matter which treatment a guest selects, he or she will receive unparalleled service and an unforgettable experience, thanks to his team of 20 full-time staff members, many of whom are descendants of the ancient Maya who originally called the area home. “They are very special,” he says. “Most of them have been working here since the spa opened, so they were part of the project and feel the spa like a piece of their heart, and you can see that reflected in every treatment they create.”

There is one team member, temazcalera Nancy Aguila, who makes a particular impact on guests, thanks to her involvement in another one of Maroma’s authentic Mayan encounters—the Temazcal ($120, 90 minutes). Conducted at dusk in a small pyramidal structure on the south end of Maroma’s beach, the experience involves a type of sweat lodge in which heated lava rocks brought from the Popocatepetl and Ajusco volcanoes in Mexico City are doused with herb-infused water to create aromatic and healing steam that works to detoxify the body. Aguila leads guests through a series of chants and meditation, and guests often report seeing visions, which Aguila later interprets. Guests are also nourished during the treatment by nibbling on fresh fruit and slathering their bodies with enriched mineral mud. After the mud dries and the sun sets, guests are taken to the sea for a cooling plunge that symbolizes a rebirth. “The Temazcal represents the mother earth’s womb, and the ritual helps participants feel reborn and free,” says Leo. “The Mayans used it for physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing and cleansing, and our experience is very similar to theirs but is performed in a shorter time to make it comfortable for the guest.” The Temazcal is one of the property’s most popular offerings, even attracting high-profile guests like Tony Blair, Ernesto Zedillo (the former president of Mexico), Sharon Stone, and Minnie Driver.

Though, like the Temazcal itself, Kinan Spa’s treatments are steeped in tradition, Leo says he and his team are looking forward to the future and to bringing new ideas, projects, and more to their clients while keeping the spa’s history in mind. After all, he says, “Kinan Spa is characteristically authentic, allowing for a unique blend of modern, full-service spa offerings in a rustic Mayan surrounding.”

(Quintana Roo, Mexico)

Orient-Express Hotels

Spa Director:
Alejandro Leo

March 2005

65% female, 35% male

U.S., Europe, Mexico

7,000 square feet;
9 treatment rooms

aromatherapy, body treatments, couples’ treatments, ear candling, energy work, facials, fitness, hair and scalp treatments, hand and foot treatments, makeup application, massage, guided meditation, nailcare, nutrition consultation, outdoor treatments, prenatal services, reflexology, salon services,
sunless tanning, sweat lodge, tai chi, waxing, yoga

Kinan Ritual ($345, 2 hours), which includes
a wrap using local herbs, a full-body salt and honey exfoliation, and a four-handed massage

Aphrodisiac’s Chocolate Invigoration ($450 for two, 2 hours), which is a couples’ treatment that includes a full-body cocoa exfoliation, a chocolate massage, and a rubdown with chocolate- and coconut-scented cream

Epicuren, Gewhol, Hampton Sun, Korres, Lancaster, Malibu, OPI, Paul Mitchell, Primavera Life, Sak-Po, Yon-Ka Paris

Beyond Yoga, Cybex, Emerald Spa Software, Living Earth Crafts, ZENsei

Jose Luis Moreno, the original owner of Maroma (Mexico City)


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