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You Can Make Your Own Tequila in Mexico (and Other Things We Learned on the Riviera Maya)

This week, senior editor Andrew Richdale attended ILTM, a travel conference held on the Riviera Maya, and learned a thing or two about Mexico along the way.

Mexico has serious style game.

Before the conference, I caught some down time for a couple nights at the Hotel Esencia near Tulum (pictured in both photos above). Opened a little over a year ago on a private beach surrounded by jungle, the hotel could very well be the hacienda of a powerful art collector from Mexico City. You’ll find Picassos casually hanging on walls, and every detail, down to the tiles and pool cushions, are tasteful and simple. The rooms are devoid of color but stark white, lit by incense, and outfitted with one of the best sound systems I’ve encountered in a hotel.

Even beach retreats are prime for exploring.

About a ten-minute walk from the Esencia’s pool and into the jungle, a resort lies abandoned—a fossil of 2005’s Hurricane Wilma. The damages were too great for the owner to recover, so it’s stayed there untouched for ten years. Ask the front desk and they can lead the way to the property and the magical lagoon that sits at its far edge. The water is just fine for diving—and filled with schools of manatees.

Chilaquiles are so superior to nachos

I had them as often as I could all week. Tortilla chips. Oaxacan cheese. Onions. Salsa Verde. A little protein of your choice. What’s not to love?

Mayan Roots Run Deep

For the conference, I stayed at the Rosewood Mayakoba, a 1,600-acre resort through which a river runs. You literally take a boat to the front door, and then to your room after check-in. Among many perks of the resort—including beachfront suites, outdoor showers, and private pools—are the spa, which I checked out after the conference had ended for their Mayan Healing Hands consultation.

The treatment is performed on a dock siting above a cenote, a deep well in the Yucatan that the Mayans used for rituals, healing, and we don’t really know what else. Bodies that are nearly fully preserved have been found in the bottom of some.

A local shaman of Mayan descent named Fernanda meets guests at the edge of the cenote and shares insights into the beliefs and practices of her ancestors—purifying practices, spiritual methods, and intuitive insights into your vibe. Based on your issues, she prescribes ancient treatments you can incorporate into your life: say, breathing patterns to quiet your mind or mantras to cure your daddy issues.

Iguanas Are Good Luck

The Mayans also believed iguanas are very fine omens and this chill guy greeted me every morning. Miss you, dude.

You Can Make Your Own Tequila

I met with herds of upcoming hotels, tour outfitters, and destinations—some of which you’ll likely see in the pages of AFAR over the course of the year—but one to watch out for, in Latin America, is Tequila, Mexico. The town used to take almost a whole day to reach from Guadalajara. Thanks to recent transportation improvements, it’s now just a two-hour train ride to touring 14 distilleries, (some over 250-years-old) that make the good, sippable stuff. Book a tasting at Maestro Tequilero and you can toy with different reposados, anejos, and blancos until you get the perfect palate-pleasing blend.

>>Next: The ultimate no-stress getaway to Tulum