Natural Habitat

Located on a mile-long enclave in the Yucatán Peninsula, the Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya (Mexico) offers guests a taste of local flavor from the moment they arrive. There, they are welcomed by four Ceiba trees, which are sacred to the ancient Mayans and represent the connection between the heavens and the underworld. In fact, the entire resort, which opened in February 2008, is a blend of ancient Mayan culture and modern-day luxury. This combination is especially evident in the 25,000-square-foot Spa at Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya, which plays an integral role in the guest experience at the luxury resort. "The rituals that we have designed in the spa pay homage to the teachings of the ancient Mayans and their beliefs," explains spa director Clive McNish. "They include a mixture of local massage techniques and a link to elements such as the Mayan lunar calendar." For example, a popular option is the Mayan Tzolkin Ritual ($275, 2 hours), which includes a footbath, a body scrub, an herbal poultice, and a massage. Based on the Mayan lunar calendar, this treatment is focused on balancing the body's energies in relation to the internal and external world.

The Vitality Patio outside of the VIP Couples Suite features a private Jacuzzi in which guests can unwind.
The Vitality Patio outside of the VIP Couples Suite features a private Jacuzzi in which guests can unwind.

For those looking for a customized experience, the spa offers Time Rituals ($340, 2 hours), which begin with a footbath and include treatments chosen according to the client's personal needs. "We all create elaborate descriptions for treatments on our spa menus, but sometimes our best intentions can confuse or force the guest to suffer information overload and just say, 'I'll have a massage,'" says McNish. "In our Time Rituals, the experts decide for the guests based on their needs. What a client needs may not be on the menu, but it will exist if the therapist works with the client to determine what that is."

 The spa features two VIP Couples Suites where guests looking for romance can enjoy side-by-side treatments.
The spa features two VIP Couples Suites where guests looking for romance can enjoy side-by-side treatments.

Unsurprisingly, most spa-goers gravitate toward a massage, so McNish makes sure the staff is trained to perform the best massage possible. "You cannot dress up a mediocre massage with any number of rituals, so our training and standard testing remains vital," says McNish. But, he adds, some guests start out with a simple massage and then delve deeper into local treatments. "Our Latin American guests are slightly more adventurous from the start, because they are already aware of things like the Temazcal," says McNish. "This particular treatment is slightly more difficult to sell to a first-timer, because the benefits of being inside a pitch-black volcanic stone hut filled with glowing hot rocks and a Mayan shaman are not as obvious to the uninitiated."

Clients wanting to enjoy nature can opt for alfresco treatments.
Clients wanting to enjoy nature can opt for alfresco treatments.

What is obvious to any guest, however, is the property's breathtaking landscape. Because the resort includes a tropical forest, mangrove reserves, and a freshwater lake sacred to the ancient Mayans, nature plays a strong role throughout, including the spa. For example, the spa's Mandala Garden contains herbs and medicinal plants that are used during treatments, as well as sweet bananas that are used to make smoothies served at the spa cafe. "Lush gardens have been cultivated to create natural privacy screens for treatment suites, and each room has an amazing view," says McNish. "Having worked in spas that were located in a basement or a closed location, I understand the value that is added by the views of clear blue skies, banana trees, and coconut palms, which gives this place a natural vibe that is impossible to recreate."

Clockwise from Above: Clients can take in the sun at the spa's outdoor lap pool; The hammam is one of the heat and water experiences available; After a day of treatments, guests can continue relaxing on the resort's lavish beach.
Clockwise from Above: Clients can take in the sun at the spa's outdoor lap pool; The hammam is one of the heat and water experiences available; After a day of treatments, guests can continue relaxing on the resort's lavish beach.

The feel of nature is also incorporated into the spa's design, which features key elements of bamboo, white limestone, water, and stone. In addition to 13 treatment rooms, the spa also has a rhassoul, a hammam, a Watsu pool, a fitness area, and Café Mayana, which serves a selection of beverages and light meals. Yoga seminars and lectures are also offered, as well as a series of retreats.

Because it offers so many options for guests to choose from, the spa serves as an integral part of the resort, and most guests choose to experience at least one treatment while visiting. At maximum capacity, the spa can accommodate around 75 appointments a day. The number of staff members fluctuates from 22 to 30, according to the season. Twenty-two have been with the spa since it opened. Although the spa has a retail area featuring local products, such as a honey line from the Mayan communities and authentic Mexican jewelry, McNish admits that retail will never be a large part of the spa experience. "In this location, we have to accept that some items are subject to horrendous importation taxes," says McNish. "It is also important to remember that 98 percent of our guests are flying here, so what we do sell needs to be attractive to a guest with a long journey home or luggage-weight issues."

Going forward, McNish says the spa will continue to develop and evolve to keep up with the expectations of its clients. "The spa has already become established and built a reputation as a leader in spa quality in Mexico," he says. "There is a lot of competition, particularly in this region, but with the right amount of focus and drive, our guests are able to feel a genuine friendliness, warmth, and quality of service. That is what we will continue to offer here."

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