At the Fairmont Mayakoba hotel in Riviera Maya south of Cancun, rather than a mashup of rooms on the beach, most of the 401 suites are nestled along canals winding through mangrove forest.
The result is a full-service hotel that feels like an intimate eco-retreat. From your patio, you’re viscerally aware of the scissor tail sergeant major fish swimming just feet away, the purple wine cup and golden trumpet flowers springing from the shadows, and blue herons flying over the thick tree canopy.
“Most of the hotel is behind the mangrove and this is very important,” says Lyn Santos, ecology manager. “There are fish, turtles, crabs and migratory birds here now that were not before, and they’re making babies! So we know we’ve created a whole new ecosystem.”
Getting to the spectacular beach is easy with mountain bikes scattered around the property that guests can just grab and go. Or you can hop aboard the thatch-roof "lancha" boats that navigate the canals.
“People thought we were nuts when we built away from the beach,” says manager Germain Gallardo. “But our clientele is well educated about sustainability and they respect what we’ve accomplished.”
At Greg Norman's El Camaleón golf course, the golf carts come with GPS to help you get around. I’m motoring along the fairway and suddenly the cart goes dead. Seems I can only go in reverse. Back at the pro shop I learn the satellite technology shuts off the cart’s motor when you drive too close to a protected wildlife habitat.