Mexico’s Hidden Beach Escape

An addition of luxury accommodations, revamped spa, and new destination restaurant make discovering the under-the-radar Hotel Esencia a must.

Perhaps the most important thing to note about Mexico’s Hotel Esencia is its location. Situated on a discrete cove 20 miles south of Playa del Carmen and 25 miles north of Tulum, the region is neither a tourist hub filled with souvenir shops and tourist traps, nor a Bohemian commune of yoga-centric hotels and hostels sandwiched between caftan shops. Instead, Hotel Esencia is a destination unto itself.

The property sprawls across 50 acres.

The sprawling property, which now occupies 50 acres, was formerly the summer home of an Italian duchess. It became a boutique hotel in 2005, but it wasn’t until New York–based Hollywood producer and tech investor Kevin Wendle purchased it in 2014 that it truly became a world-class resort. Wendle’s influence and eye for detail and design can be seen throughout the property, from his own art collection—a Picasso hangs in one of the suites, and his collection of mid-century lighting is scattered throughout the main house—to the intention of the hotel. In fact, it’s not meant to feel like a hotel at all, but rather a very well-staffed—and very chic—guest house. To that end, there are no signs, no room numbers, and keys are the delightfully traditional kind, made from metal, not plastic.

However, the property is far from rustic. Wi-Fi is plentiful. Each room features televisions with apps for video streaming. And the fully equipped gym is outfitted with Technogym as well as The Mirror, a full-sized mirror/screen that offers countless workouts led by a variety of fitness trainers for everything from yoga to strength and cardio. In fact, Wendle hasn’t stopped improving the property since he purchased it. Last spring, two new penthouse suites debuted, each featuring 1,345 square feet of space, with private plunge pools overlooking the lush greenery of the property and out to the ocean. In October 2019, the 1,000-square-foot presidential suite debuted on a secluded section of beachfront and features its own beach palapa and a 1,400-square-foot private terrace. Additionally, an overhaul of the spa, also completed in October, added an infrared sauna and hydromassage plunge pool.

One of the new penthouse suites.

Even with just 42 suites and 3 villas located on a secluded stretch of perfect, sugar-sand beach, the property maintains a variety of dining options. The beachfront Mistura restaurant features traditional Mexican fare, most sourced locally, while a beach bar, coffee bar, and café offer another array of choices. This year marked the opening of the acclaimed international restaurant Beefbar, which also counts knockout locations in Paris at the Georges V as well as its Michelin-starred outpost in Hong Kong. Complete with 70 seats and a menu that combines the brand’s acclaimed beef as well as local fish, the restaurant is a destination unto itself and comes to life every Thursday to Sunday at the property.

While Hotel Esencia is ideal for those who wish to do nothing but lounge, a variety of activities is available as well. For first timers: The Riviera Maya is known for its Mayan ruins. Avoid the mass bus tours and allow Hotel Esencia to arrange a private tour early in the morning to beat the crowds and have you back on the beach in time for lunch. If you’ve seen the ruins: Try a day excursion on a chartered boat, which can take you out to the coral reef (the second-largest in the world) for a day of snorkeling, diving, and sunset drinks and dinner prepared just for you. If you think you’ve seen it all: Head to the Sian Ka’an biosphere for a floatation tour. A local community of conservationists allows only a few people in at a time to float down canals that flow through mangroves and are said to be carved out by Mayans trying to communicate through the island and sea.

The internationally acclaimed Beefbar restaurant opened earlier this year.

Getting there: Flights from Newark on Delta or United leave around 8 a.m. and can get you into Cancun (CUN) around noon (the resort is about an hour from the airport). Return flights leaving at 4 p.m. allow for an extra half day of vacation but get you home in time for dinner.