Once the vacation home of the Italian Duchess Rosa de Ferrari, this exceptional property was converted into a hotel in 2005. Today, Hotel Esencia is a private, beachfront estate that pairs all of the facilities and comfort of a larger hotel with the attentive care typical of a boutique property or B&B. Those facilities include two swimming pools, a spa, and a gourmet restaurant. In the rooms, lots of details stand out: fridges stocked with complimentary water, beer, and soda; iPod minis to borrow; the services of a private chef and butler; 600-thread-count sheets; and Molton-Brown toiletries. Oversized spaces are the norm (some rooms have walk-in closets), and guests are kept cool in the tropical climate thanks to high ceilings and fans.
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Many guests at Hotel Esencia never leave the property—not because they're afraid to do so, but because they are reluctant to peel themselves out of the warm, pleasant cocoon of the estate. Those who are able to do so, however, are rewarded with spectacular ocean views from the base of the Tulum Maya site or the satisfaction of adding a few more tick marks to their birding lists at the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Away from the touristy flash of Cancún, Esencia and its location are the best Riviera Maya has to offer.
Need to Know
Rooms: 29 suites; from $728. Check in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Sal y Fuego is the on-site restaurant, an open-air palapa where the chef serves dishes inspired by traditional Maya cuisine of the Yucatán Peninsula. The hotel offers a meal plan (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) for an additional fee. Spa and gym details: Aroma is the on-site spa, and it is the first organic spa in Riviera Maya. Native plants and herbs, many grown on-site, are incorporated into treatments. In addition to five treatment rooms, the spa is comprised of four Jacuzzis and two Maya-style domed steam rooms. Hatha yoga classes are offered for free every day at 8 a.m.
Who it's for: Travelers who appreciate an exceptional, intimate property and equally stellar service. Our favorite rooms: La Rosa, a Master Ocean View Suite, was the original room of the Duchess. Not surprisingly, it is the most ample room on the property. Food for thought: In addition to a variety of off-site excursions, staff can arrange for on-site cooking classes for both adults and children.