This article is from the February 1999 The Mexico File newsletter.
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What's Wrong With a Little Luxury?

by Maryanne Wilson

Maryanne Wilson is a dedicated Mexicophile from Manhattan who spends as much time as possible exploring and seeking out the places and people which make Mexico so special. Maryanne is a collector of Mexican folk art and also enjoys reading contemporary Mexican literature and listening to evocative mariachi music. She wrote a historical article on John Lloyd Stephens, an early Mexico explorer from the U.S., for the November 1998 issue of The Mexico File. In this article she speaks to an issue not very often explored in MF.

Do you remember the last time you treated yourself to a bubble bath? Remember how carefully you prepared the bath water — how gently you poured in some of that foaming bath oil you got for Christmas five years ago? Didn’t you enjoy watching the bubbles build — and then you tested the water temperature several times until it was just right. Then you experienced that glorious feeling of finally entering the tub and stretching out to luxuriate in the silky warmth of the water. You probably stayed in the tub until your fingerprints were all crinkled, your skin was shiny and smooth, and you were starting to drift off into the arms of Morpheus.

Why is it that we don’t treat ourselves this way more often? Are we so busy, so worn out with the Sysphean labors of everyday living? Don’t we need, and deserve, a dose of luxury every now and again? I frankly admit that I try to dose myself with one or two nights wallowing in luxury at the end of each trip to Mexico. I know that we Mexico-lovers pride ourselves on avoiding the usual touristy places — those places designed for ordinary folk, not us travelers.

There are many wonderful hotels, inns and posadas in Mexico — unpretentious little outposts of civility, charm and comfort in Mexico. These special treasures offer guests a bit of enchantment in which any self-respecting Mexicophile can take guiltless pleasure.

Over years of traveling in Mexico, I’ve stayed in all sorts of places, ranging from $10.00 a night palapas to overpriced hotels in Mexico City. But I always spend some time seeking out these special little places which I am pleased to share with you. I am not showing the cost (just a range of prices), as these tend to fluctuate with the seasons (even within a season), and with the exchange rate. Suffice it to say that these places are pricier than average, but each offers great value in its class. Also, it is important to keep in mind that you can often get a better price at the last minute. Even a luxury hotel can’t afford to have empty rooms. So just show up, ask about availability, look at one or two rooms, then ask the manager for the “best price,” or the “friendliest price.” If the manager won’t come down in price, ask if the rate given can include tax, service and breakfast (or any combination thereof). Quite often you’ll be able to work out a very satisfactory arrangement.

El Faro in Playa del Carmen. This is a lovely two-story Mediterranean-style building at the north end of town. All rooms have a view of the ocean and a palapa-topped terrace or balcony (with hammock). Some of the rooms have air-conditioning and others have ceiling fans. Situated right on the beach, just by the lighthouse, El Faro offers a touch of comfort and splendor not usually found in Playa. The swimming pool is surrounded by natural rocks, with adjacent palapa bar, and blends in beautifully with sand and sea. The hotel is within walking distance of all restaurants, shops and the ferry to Cozumel. Rates run from $85.00US to $205.00. Local phone 011 52 987 30970; toll-free fax and voice mail 1-888-420-3613.

La Casona in Colonia Roma, Mexico City. This small, luxury hotel is situated near the Zona Rosa and has thirty rooms and suites. La Casona is housed in a restored turn-of-the-century landmark mansion. Each individually designed room is simply but gracefully furnished (with kind or twin beds) with period pieces. You’ll also find a small gym, sauna and a sundeck. There is no restaurant, but you will find many wonderful places nearby. Rates run from about $95.00 to $130.00. All rates include a continental breakfast. Local phone 011 52 5 286-3001; fax 011 52 5 211-0971.

La Casa Que Canta in Zihuatanejo. “The House That Sings” is where you want to spend eternity — or at least one night of it. The Casa is made of all natural materials (no glass or metal), with terra cotta walls, thatched roofs and wooden-louvered doors and windows. A free-form swimming pool is edged in rock and seems to spill over into the ocean. Another pool is located just steps from Playa la Ropa. Each room or suite has tile floors and is decorated with handcrafted and handpainted furniture, local handicrafts and folk art. And for those who have just won the lottery, there are two suites with private pools. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a glorious seaside setting. Rates run from about $210.00 way on up to about $500.00. Local phone 011 52 755 465-29, fax 011 52 755 479-00. Toll free in Mexico 91 800 09-345; toll free in US and Canada 1-888-523-5050.

Villa Montana in Morelia, Michoacan. This is where I stayed on my very first trip to Mexico — I thought I had arrived in Shangri-La. The Villa Montana is situated on a hilltop overlooking the city. The views are spectacular by daylight or moonlight. The hotel consists of aobut sixty one and two story pink stucco casitas with tile roofs. My casita had two bedrooms (I was sharing with a friend) and a living room. Each room was beautifully decorated with colonial-style furniture, handpainted fabrics, tile floors and three stone fireplaces. An air of casual elegance pervaded everything. There is a hillside swimming pool surrounded by lush vegetation...with jacaranda trees and bougainvillea dripping with colorful blossoms. The public areas are all done in wood and stone and include an Eden-like terrace — what a perfect place for evening cocktails. There’s even a stone garden filled with (authentic?) pre-Columbian artifacts. The restaurant’s menu is small and simple — but the desserts are special. Room rates start at about $100 and go up to about $150.00 for the larger casita. All rates include a full breakfast and tax. Local phone 011 52 451 40231 (or 40179), fax 011 52 451 51423.

Hacienda Katanchel in Tixkokob (fifteen miles east of Merida). A sympathetically 17th century restored hacienda on a 740-acre estate, this is an environmentally sensitive establishment which serves glorious Yucatecan cuisine with free-range poultry and meat, as well as garden-grown fruits and vegetables. Each of the forty suites is decorated with grace and refinement. Every room has its own plunge pool and terrace with hammock (but no phone or TV). The Hacienda offers nature and birdwatching walks, as well as tours to various archaeological sites for the newcomer. The Hacienda is truly a captivating place where you can treat yourself to some guilt-free bliss after touring the Yucatán. Rates are high, running about $225.00 on up to $500.00. Local phone 011 52 99 234-020 (or 234-022), fax 011 52 99 234-000. Toll free local phone 1-888-882-9470.

Maroma, thirty minutes south of Cancún. Like a lost city in the middle of the jungle, there it is — whitewashed buildings set on a white sand beach at the edge of a turquoise sea. What a glorious place this is. Architect/builder/owner José Luis Moreno built his dream house (situated on a 530-acre former coconut plantation) without written plans — allowing it to evolve naturally. Every bit of Maroma was built by hand...the buildings and even the furniture. Each room comes complete with fully furnished terrace and is decorated with Mexican tiles, textiles and original works of art — not to mention overstuffed mattresses, air conditioning, sunken tubs, and, of course, splendid views of ocean or garden (but thankfully, without telephone or TV). Maroma offers pampering without intrusion or stuffiness. The resident French chef delights in creating Yucatecan and continental dishes with a French flair. The Maroma is above average in cost, but certainly worth saving up for. Rates start at $245.00 and include breakfast and roundtrip airport transfers. Local phone/fax 011 52 987 44729.

Las Ventanas al Paraíso in Cabo Real. A friend, recently returned from Baja, hasn’t stopped talking about this fantastic hotel. Las Ventanas al Paraíso (“The Windows to Paradise”) is located between Cabo San Lucas and San José Del Cabo. It was built hacienda style on a palapa-studded beach and has full spa facilities. The hotel has sixty-one suites, from junior size up to three-bedroom units, all decorated with handcarved furniture, limestone floors, marble showers and wood-burning adobe fireplaces. Each suite has a fully-furnished terrace with a telescope for viewing the surrounding land and seascapes (which may include whale and dolphin watching). All suites and public areas contain examples of the best in Mexican contemporary art and handicrafts. Some of the larger suites have their own jacuzzi or even a private swimming pool. And those who simply cannot leave home without their beloved dog or cat will find Las Ventanas a very friendly place indeed. Dogs and cats have cooked-to-order meals served in gem-encrusted bowls. They can even get a massage! There are two dining rooms (for people) — a casual seaside outdoor space serving mostly seafood, and a more formal candle-lit dining room with spectacular views which serves Californian-Mexican fusion cuisine. Rates are, of course, simply outrageous — starting at about $475.00 per night for a junior suite up to about 3,000.00 per night for a three-bedroom penthouse suite. There are packages available as well. For instance, $750.00 a night for two people including breakfast, dinner and a choice of one spa treatment each, as well as a seven-night package for $5,100.00 for two people which includes breakfast and lunch each day, five dinners and choices of spa treatments each day. Toll free in the US 1-888-525-0483.

 One more thing must be said at this point. All of the places discussed here are quite luxurious and terribly, terribly expensive. They also share other uniquely Mexican qualities — warmth and friendship, personal service without intrusion, unaffected manners, and a desire to please. Finally, they all adhere to the mañana philosophy to which I wholeheartedly subscribe.

 So, on your next trip to Mexico, I hope you have the opportunity to treat yourself to a stay at one of these wonderful places. If you discover others, please share them with your fellow Mexicophiles.