The 80-mile coastal slice of Mexico from Tulum to the Punta Allen peninsula is known as the Riviera Maya—and within the last 15 years, it’s become one of the country’s top luxury travel destinations. Now filled with fine dining, high-end entertainment, and extravagant hotel and villa rentals, many of its cities still retain a small-town charm that draws visitors back again and again. Two Luxury Retreats travel experts recently explored the quiet Puerto Aventuras region (and beyond), staying in the stunning Casa Del Agua villa and the love-themed Hacienda Corazon villa. Here, VIP Villa Specialist Fred Bouari and Executive Assistant Olivia Ragoussis describe the best of the area and the details of their lavish hideaways.
Luxury Retreats: What do first-timers to Mexico’s Riviera Maya need to know?
FRED: “There are very different areas to visit within a small amount of distance. Cancun is the hotel district and a very busy city with great beaches. A little further south there’s a small fisherman’s town called Puerto Morelos. Even further south is Playa Del Carmen, which is now more developed and has a bit more action then Puerto Aventuras gets a little more rural and remote. There’s a lot to see, and if you’re in an all-inclusive hotel, you’re not going to see much. I recommend renting a home and a car so you can see all these different places within just two hours.”
OLIVIA: “There’s a lot more to do in Riviera Maya than you’d expect. There are so many great places to go, from Coba to Tulum. From cenotes [naturally-formed swimming holes], to caves, and different types of beaches, the people are friendly and there’s something for everyone. Go exploring—there’s so much to discover.”
LR: What level of service did you have at your Luxury Retreats villa?
FRED: “It’s not a classic butler in tuxedo, calling you Madam and Sir. It’s no longer like that. We live in a generation where people are more personable. Casa Del Agua’s butlers, Omar and Willy, were excellent. There was no ice to be broken. They were there when we needed them, and not there when we didn’t. They just knew.”
OLIVIA: “During our stay, we had a butler, a chef, and concierge service. This means the villa was cleaned, the towels for the pool and for the bathroom were always fresh, and our beds were made in the mornings with a turndown at night. In the mornings, we decided to do a Mexican-style breakfast every day. We had two chefs; the first chef would make the same thing for everyone: either scrambled eggs or huevos rancheros (fried eggs served on hot corn tortillas, smothered in cooked salsa). Our other chef preferred to serve us individually. Everyone had fruits and bread, but we each enjoyed our own style of eggs. For lunch, we had ceviche, tacos, and paella. For dinner it was fish, carnitas, lobster, and mahi mahi.”
LR: Tell us about your villa.
FRED: “Casa Del Agua is really unique. When you pull up to this property, it’s like the gates of Jurassic Park. It’s a different world. And with a full staff, they get to know you and what you like, and really just takes care of everything. For example, you get this level of chef service only when you go to a high-end restaurant; you can’t get this anywhere else. The owner has chosen some very good people to work there.”
OLIVIA: “Hacienda Corazon is a beautiful villa. It’s decorated with local art that the owner found in thrift shops and flea markets. When you arrive, you walk through a beautiful big garden and enter through a big atrium, so you have sunlight everywhere. The whole theme of the villa is ‘love,’ so there’s a big heart shape in the garden, and all the bedrooms’ names follow the love theme (Mi Amor, Amorcito, Mi Corazon). There are a lot of antiques and paintings, which give the villa an eclectic feel. It’s not over the top, but it brings out an old-world feeling. And the backyard has a view of the beach that goes on for miles and miles.”
LR: What’s your go-to restaurant in the Riviera Maya?
OLIVIA: “There’s a restaurant called Hartwood that’s the top restaurant to go to in Tulum. They rarely take reservations, and the lineup outside is huge. Like never-ending. The restaurant opens at 5:30, and at 4:30 there’s a lineup of at least 50 people. You can’t reserve; you have to wait in line.”
LR: What was your most memorable Riviera Maya moment?
FRED: “Our second day at Casa Del Agua was my fiancee’s birthday, and the chef went out of his way to bake a cake for her. They even set up a table on the beach and made it very romantic for us.”
OLIVIA: “The cenotes! There are so many to explore and each of them has its own little particularity. And because there are so many options, each individual one is usually not very crowded, so you and your friends may even have it to enjoy all to yourself.”
LR: What is one thing you must do at Hacienda Corazon?
OLIVIA: “There are stand-up paddleboards and kayaks available to you at the villa. Further out from the villa, there’s a beautiful clearing you can row out to in a kayak, then hop off, tie it on the locks, and find yourself in knee-level water. The beach has white sand, and you can walk there for hours. We did that every day.”
LR: What is one thing you have to do at Casa Del Agua?
FRED: “Take a nap on the outdoor daybed with the cool breeze in your face and the sounds of the waves crashing. It’s pure bliss.”
LR: Would you go back?
FRED: “I wish I was there right now!”
OLIVIA: “In a heartbeat!”