RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico -- More than just golf balls are making a splash at Mayakoba.
Andaz, one of the newest brands by Hyatt Hotels, is the latest of four resort properties to open at Mayakoba, the ambitious, 1,600-acre eco-development about 30 minutes from Cancun Airport on the Riviera Maya.
Mayakoba, meaning "city of water" in Mayan, is one of the more impressive ecological tourism projects that includes golf in North America. The four interwoven, ecologically-themed resorts' main developments are all off the coast with a select few units and amenities beachside. To go along with 18 holes of golf and a stunning, rehabilitated and expanded beach with gorgeous sand. Over 300 palm trees were installed, while over 500 Coral colonies were prepared and placed in reefs offshore.
The thoughtful Mayakoba mission is a clear 180-degree turn from the Cancun hotel towers in the distance. Each of Makayoba's resorts were laid out with such incredible environmental foresight over a decade, and the end result reveals something rather visionary and singular to any golf destination I've visited. Mexico's many destinations boast ocean views and beachfront accommodations. But Mayakoba's blend of beach, forest and lagoons with its hidden and scattered accommodations — most of which are located well off the beach — fosters a harmonious brand of luxury.
Video: Andaz Mayakoba shines with El Camaleon
With the Fairmont, Rosewood and Banyan Tree properties already open at Makayoba, the bar was exceedingly high at Mayakoba when Andaz debuted in late-2016 with a stylish and contemporary flair. From the resort entrance off the main highway, the stone roads grow narrow, almost swallowed up by fertile vegetation. Ultimately, the road opens up at Andaz's open-air "Sanctuary" building. No cars are permitted beyond this point and from here, guests can either walk, be chauffeured in golf carts or, my preferred method over my four-day stay, ride beach cruiser bicycles. The bikes are abundant and found throughout the property. For me, utilizing them for everywhere I went on the grounds served not only as fun transportation at a speed conducive to soaking in the surroundings, but also as a way to burn some calories one indulgent meal and/or drinks after another.
The poolside dining concepts at Andaz are airy, energetic and promote mingling. House and electronic music hum out of speakers (sometimes with a live DJ on hand) at colorful casual poolside restaurants, OllaTaco and OllaCeviche. Andaz's main event for dinner is Casa Amate, which brings a more traditional, cozier decor with various smaller dining rooms, all themed differently. Veal and other meats are served but the real star is the seafood, from octopus to local sea bass. The sprawling property's open-air village design, artwork and various services were designed to pay homage to the Mayans in many ways, but make no mistake this property boasts modern flair at every turn.
Near Casa Amate and Casa Milagro (where you can enjoy an extensive morning breakfast buffet in a sunny atmosphere), the Naum Spa prides itself in totally custom massage treatments down to the fragrances and oils and is concluded with a small snack of fruit and vegetables outside in a private deck outside the treatment room, and you can relax in hydrotherapy before or afterwards.
But most of your time spent at Mayakoba will be spent outdoors. The ferries that wind through the extensive six-mile canal network can be sampled on an hour-long tour, or you can take it from point-to-point. Monkeys, colorful birdlife and fish can be spotted along or beneath the crystal clear waters. The boat transports you through both open and narrower corridors and along several holes of the El Camaleon golf course.
The generally undisputed top course between Cancun and Riviera Maya, El Camaleon is a Greg Norman design that begins deep in the mangrove forest and winds along and over the canal system. On each nine, the routing escapes for air to an exposed par 3 along the beach (Nos. 7 and 15). It's signature cenote, said to be discovered accidentally during construction, lies smack dab in the middle of the par-5 1st hole (the 7th during OHL Classic play).It's just out of reach of your tee shot (that is, if you're playing the right tees). El Camaleon's longstanding PGA Tour affiliation through OHL brings with it a course conditioning standard that sets the bar in the Riviera Maya, and the Platinum paspalum greens run quick enough, particularly in the breeze.
Show up early or stay late for drinks or lunch in the clubhouse, a pretty dazzling piece of architecture in its own right. (More: Tucker's full course review of El Camaleon )
El Camaleon offers online tee times and you don't have to stay at Mayakoba to play, but the total Mayakoba experience is one of the best in Mexico and for full authenticity you shouldn't leave the gates (that said, nearby Playa Del Carmen is a really fun city to explore if you want a lively scene). Based on some online price comparison, Andaz is the most affordable hotel of the four at Mayakoba, though rest assured it is still a premium experience. Rates at Andaz were found for as low as $300/nt peak season for double occupancy in a standard room that comes with a large bathroom that spans the full length of the room, as well as a private balcony.