Getting Your Wellness on at the Hotel Xcaret Mexico
by Karen Asp
Wellness isn’t something I typically associate with all-inclusives, but then again, I’ve never stayed at Hotel Xcaret Mexico in the Riviera Maya. After four days there, though, I’ve logged an impressive amount of physical activity, and my mental health, which had been drifting south for months, gets a well-needed boost.
It’s a somewhat startling find, given that I’m not usually a fan of all-inclusives because of their boozy, sedentary reputations. Yet Hotel Xcaret Mexico is in its own league, especially if wellness tops your reasons for getting away.
Making Movement the Default
Hotel Xcaret Mexico lies 40 miles south of Cancun in Playa del Carmen. Of course, there’s no shortage of hotels in this area, but numerous features set this resort apart, starting with its massive, beautifully designed grounds, which not only naturally encourage movement but also make exploring more fun.
That’s because the 200-acre resort is built around a system of natural rock caves. Water is also a key element of its landscape, rivers and lagoons throughout the property. Several suspended walking bridges allow you to walk over them, and as you do, you’re surrounded by jungle greenery, birdsong ever present. That includes the resort’s scarlet macaws, an endangered species which the hotel is helping save through its reproduction program. They’re positioned at two stations so you can see them during the day.
The resort’s 900 rooms are divided between buildings named after the five elements in the Mayan culture – Tierra (earth), Fuego (fire), Espiral (spiral), Viento (wind) and Agua (water) – and regardless of which you’re in, you’ll have a nice walk to access it. My room in Agua, which overlooks the jungle’s treetops, is spacious, its minimalistic design appealing. There are locally inspired turndown gifts every night – for instance, tamarind in a handmade keepsake mini-basket – and should you desire, a butler for hire to guide your stay, even draw a bubble bath if you’d like.
You can easily log enough activity with the steps you’ll accumulate from your room to the resort’s amenities. Yet if you want more, there are several indoor gyms or you can let Mother Nature move you, as the options are plentiful. For instance, you can hit the 1.5-mile jogging trail that runs through the jungle. There are also kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for cruising the waterways as well as a hilltop where a chapel named Capilla de Todos Los Angeles is located. Numerous small staircases zigzag across its front, and it takes 2,000 steps to get to the top for panoramic views of the Mexican Caribbean.
My favorite find, though, is the daily sunrise yoga class on a small beach located between the coves. It’s the perfect setting for sun salutations, and after, you can extend your savasana by curling up in one of the many secluded hammocks and lounges nestled into the coves.
A Respite for the Soul
Wellness encompasses not only the body but also the soul, and the Hotel Xcaret Mexico offers a unique oasis for the soul at its Muluk Spa. Although I’ve visited numerous luxury spas, I’m blown away by this one.
The spa is carved into the rocks, and all of the treatment rooms are set in natural caves. Your journey, though, starts in one of the most serene waiting areas, natural elements featured heavily in this high-ceilinged hall. One side, which is completely exposed to the outdoors, overlooks a cenote, a natural sinkhole with emerald blue water that was revered by the ancient Mayans. This area is where you’ll also find the hydrotherapy circuit, an invigorating treatment where you move from hot to cold water therapies.
Standouts at this spa are the special treatments steeped in Mayan culture. There’s the temazcal, essentially a steam bath in a dome-shaped structure designed to represent a mother’s womb. Hot coals in the center make you sweat while a shaman guides you through meditation, cleansing body and spirit.
Cleansing also happens in the sound healing session. As you lie on a mat, you listen to sounds of native instruments like the didgeridoo and the shaman’s chanting. The experience is as emotional as it is relaxing, and I often feel tears sliding down my cheeks.
Fueling Up with Plants
So what about the food? With 19 restaurants and bars ranging from casual comfort food to upscale Asian cuisine, there’s something for everybody, including those following a plant-based diet.
Although every restaurant can accommodate my vegan diet, I’m shocked when I visit Bio, a 100 percent whole-food, plant-based restaurant that may be the best I’ve experienced. It’s not just about the food – Chef Miguel Bautista refuses to use anything canned or processed and makes everything, including the vegan cheese, from scratch – but also the ambiance.
Bio is located in a rock formation with several openings so that no matter where you sit, you have riverside views. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, and because reservations aren’t taken, there are always lines. As you wait, you can pick up a coffee, juice or smoothie from its beverage bar. Bio even hosts an eight-course vegan dinner every night with live music, candlelit tables and wines paired to each dish. It costs extra, but it’s a not-to-miss event.
Suffice to say that by the end of my stay, I’ve changed my tune about all-inclusives – or at the very least, this one. The next time my wellness needs a reboot, I know where I’ll be going.
Karen Asp, an award-winning journalist and author who shares her office in Indiana with a cat and two dogs (both foster fails), specializes in fitness, nutrition, health, animals and travel. She’s written for numerous publications, including Consumer Reports, Better Homes & Gardens, AARP, Midwest Living, Real Simple, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention and Eating Well. Her favorite travel experiences include finding outdoor fitness adventures, eating vegan food and visiting local craft breweries. Find her at karenasp.com.