Hotel Esencia

Near Playa del Carmen, The Yucatan, Mexico Book from

Peaceful, luxurious hotel with white-on-white rooms, delicious seafood and an organic spa, set on a perfect stretch of beach in Xpu-Ha
Thirty years ago, the powder-soft sands and warm turquoise sea of Xpu-Ha bewitched the Italian Duchess of Ferrari to such an extent that she commissioned a Mexican architect to build her a holiday house there. And what a holiday house: a 50-acre estate of perfectly manicured lawns dotted with palm trees, backed by the tropical jungle, and fronted by that dazzling white beach. She spent several years in fleeting residence, but finally decided to share her slice of paradise, so crafted her home into a hotel in 2006, adding extra rooms in the greenery behind the white stucco main house.

A glorious fusion of Caribbean colours, Mayan heritage and sleek modernity, Hotel Esencia is a world away from Playa Del Carmen - and very much retains its tranquil, elegant roots. Its rooms are spoiling and decadent - pristine white, with sumptuous bathrooms and private terraces. The restaurant is one of Mexico’s best, with a sublime ceviche menu and perfectly zested margaritas. And its organic spa is the stuff relaxation dreams are made of, with open-air massage rooms, herb-scented steam rooms and thermal Jacuzzis.

But what really sets Esencia apart is its incredibly friendly service towards families and couples alike, and its relaxed overall vibe. And the complimentary afternoon tea served in the comfortable salon gives the hotel a sociable villa feel, just as the Duchess intended.

Highs

  • Spoiling little touches include pre-breakfast coffee and pastries delivered to your room, yoga classes, Havaianas, help-yourself minibars, and couples' palapas on the beach
  • It's fantastic for families, with free babysitting, a kids’ pool, and thoughtful activities in the holidays
  • The airy spa has its own herb garden, housed in a circular Mayan-inspired building, with open-air massage tables and decadent treatments
  • The fabulous rooms and suites are very private, spacious and squeaky clean. Most have plunge pools or hammocks, and a couple have cinema rooms
  • The excellent staff quickly know you by name

Lows

  • Exclusivity comes at a cost; food and drink is (we felt) overpriced, and there are unexpected costs too
  • We also felt a little uncomfortable at the use of towels (3 per person just for your sun lounger) and small water bottles (although these are recycled)
  • If you come in school holidays, be prepared for quite a few families
  • The menu is limited, and there are no other decent restaurants within walking distance. Also, there's no bar to sit in after 9pm
  • We haven't visited since their 2015 renovation, but our guests and blogger friends have, and it sounds more amazing than ever

Best time to go

High season is mid-December to April, when it's typically drier and cooler (mid 70Fs- mid 80Fs). May to early December is low season, when prices are usually substantially reduced. Temperatures and rainfall rise from May to October, with average highs reaching into the 90Fs. During the Mexican summer (July and August) it can be extremely hot with daily bursts of rainfall. Although it can rain at any time of year along the coast, September and October are generally the wettest months and have the greatest risk of hurricanes.

Our top tips

Once settled at Esencia, it's difficult to do anything energetic, such is the relaxed ambiance of the place. But do borrow the free snorkels and masks to swim out from the shallows and see the reef.

As the garden rooms are enclosed by jungle, they tend to attract more bugs and mosquitoes so bear this in mind if you tend to get bitten.

Great for...

Beach
Family
Foodie
Honeymoon
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Luxury Beach Hotel
  • 29
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pools
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room: Master Suite

Rooms

There’s a high standard of furnishing throughout, characterised by whitewashed walls, native wooden ornaments, padded sofas moulded seamlessly into the room and huge inviting beds with stone headboards. Big windows and sun terraces offer stunning views, mostly of the glistening beach out front.

Proper entertainment systems - enormous flat screens, DVD players, pre-loaded iPods - are a nice touch, and fun design concepts include speakers in the bathroom and remote-controlled blinds. Bathrooms have huge walk-in showers with 2 angled heads (some have tubs, too) and Molton Brown products are generously scattered. The overall effect is one of supreme comfort - cooling air-conditioning and sumptuous bed linens mean these are lovely places to lounge and relax in (though you're wary of getting anything dirty!), plus the minibars are complimentary.

The smallest Garden Suites are nice and private, hidden down individual paths shaded by huge leaves and foliage. The Garden Suites with Plunge Pool are a step up, with spacious decks, outdoor plunge pools and loungers, though the greenery means they don’t get much sun - and whilst we loved the quiet setting, our plunge pool felt rather exposed to the walkways so we hardly used it. If you’d prefer a sea view to a jungle hideaway, opt for one of the first- or second-floor Ocean Suites.

The Villas behind the spa provide accommodation for a family or group. Upstairs are the bedrooms - a vast master with 2 terraces (1 with hammock) and a generous bathroom, plus a twin room with a smaller bathroom (ideal for kids). Down below, the large communal area opens onto a sociable deck for meals, plus a private pool. Out back there's a cinema room and small kitchen, and you can request chef services if you want a change of scene for meals.

For a special treat, choose one of the Master Suites in the main house. Most popular is the Duchess’ former bedroom on the second floor. Its sizeable terrace has double vistas of the ocean in front and the treetops behind (great for sunsets), plus a roomy outdoor plunge pool. However, our favourite has a stunning 360-degree lookout over the horizon, thanks to its panoramic windows. And if this cinematic view isn’t enough, the push of a button transforms the windows into blinds, so the room can double as a private movie room with a high definition projector and range of films.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Central heating
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Plunge pool
  • Radio
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • WiFi

Eating

Esencia’s menus contain an appetising mix of beautifully presented Mexican specialities and international food. Most meals are served at the Pool Restaurant, though the Garden Restaurant is also open a couple of nights per week.

We liked the interesting breakfast options, including tasty quinoa porridge with almond milk and huevos motulenos (fried eggs with tortilla, refried black beans, ham, salsa motulena, green peas, fried plantain).

And at lunch, the fantastic ceviche menu makes a light and fresh meal, particularly the zesty seafood ‘Azteca’ version. Also available are quesadillas, sandwiches, burgers and homemade nachos.

During dinner, a guitarist serenades with a velvety voice, and each table has a fat candle for atmospheric lighting - families tend to eat early, couples later. We whetted our appetite with salty margaritas, then enjoyed seared scallops followed by red snapper served in a steamy banana leaf parcel, with a piquant tomato salsa. Delicious puddings included the Esencia chocolate bomb and banana flambé Overall, our only criticisms would be that the menu may be a little limited for longer stays and that even the cheapest bottle on the wine list is pricey.

If you want a change of scene, there's a beach restaurant called Cielo that's very close to the hotel.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Coffee tea making
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Laze by the pool, or in your private thatched palapa on the beach. Attendants are armed with towels, iced water, snorkelling equipment, and buckets and spades
  • Snorkel from the shallows - the world’s second-longest coral reef sits off the Yucatán’s east coast, and we saw a sting ray, a couple of crabs mating, and some sizeable fish just yards out from shore. If you’ve got waterproof shoes, wear them, as the sea bed can be a bit rocky
  • Spend a day on the hotel’s sailing boat for snorkelling on nearby reefs, fishing or just letting the ketch get some wind in her sails - a heady experience
  • Swim alongside the world’s biggest fish in whale shark season (June-September). The highly recommended trip is run by Ocean Tours, exclusive to the hotel
  • Bliss out in the Mayan Spa. The steam rooms are scented with bundles of fresh herbs, and the hot or cold Jacuzzis are deliciously open to the breeze, with sea views. Recommended is the ‘Four Senses Massage’ that uses hot stones and seaweed mud, and the ‘Esencia de Amor’ for couples, with a private steam and rose petal Jacuzzi followed by a massage
  • Visit the Dos Ojos cenote, 5km from the hotel. Bring a snorkel and mask to get a closer glimpse of what lies beneath
  • Hire a car through the hotel and discover hidden Caribbean beaches on your way to Tulum's Mayan ruins, overhanging an azure beach backdrop
  • Complimentary yoga classes are held in the outdoor pavilion every morning at 8am during the week; at the weekends there’s Tai Chi
  • Borrow a DVD from the hotel's library and enjoy it on your enormous TV
  • Liaise with the hotel to arrange a romantic beach dinner under the stars
  • Have a cookery lesson with the Guatemalan chef (suitable for children, too) and learn the secrets behind proper guacamole, sopa de lima and fajitas
  • If you’re craving some nightlife, take a taxi to Playa Del Carmen for a buzzing carnival vibe, late night bars and clubs

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Boat trips
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Nightlife
  • Private guided tours
  • Sailing
  • Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Well being
  • Whalewatching
  • Yoga

Kids

Families are made very welcome - we kept noticing how sweet and friendly staff were with children. Almost everything you could need is laid on, from babysitting to kids menus, yoga classes and even kiddie spa treatments, and it's definitely popular with families, but manages to shy away from feeling like a 'family hotel'.

Under 2s go free; depending on where you're staying, children might be included in the price of your accommodation or you might have to pay half the adult price (up to age 12) for an extra bed.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

The spacious Garden Suites (if you have 1 child), or the more private Villas with heated pool (if you have 2+ children). Most rooms can take an extra bed or cot; one of the Master Suites can connect with an Ocean Suite.

Babysitting:

The hotel's nanny service offers 2 hours for free if you're using the restaurant or spa; babysitting is charged after that.

Baby listening:

Baby monitors available with reception throughout the hotel.

Baby equipment:

  • 8 cots
  • Baby bedding
  • High chair
  • Baby bath
  • Bottle warming

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

Food is available all day and there's a microwave and blender for guest use too. There is a kids menu and the chef is happy to whip up special requests.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Heated swimming pool with toys
  • Separate kids pool
  • DVDs
  • Board games
  • Beach toys
  • Free children's yoga
  • Kids cookery classes
  • Specialist chocolate spa treatments for kids

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Beach
  • Eco-archaeological park Xcaret, for swimming with dolphins, snorkelling, Mayan culture, animals and more
  • Xel-Ha waterpark
  • Snorkelling, diving and swimming
  • Ruins to visit

Families Should Know:

The pools aren't fenced

Distances:

  • Airport: 1 hour
  • Doctor: 15 minutes
  • Nearest shop: 5 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
8/
Food
9/
Service
8/
Value
9/
Overall

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