Quintana Roo’s Polynesian Fantasy
by Gale Randall
Gale Randall is a Mexicophile hailing from Palo Alto, California. She has done numerous book reviews for the Mexico File. Every now and then I come across a resort that strikes me as outstanding in every respect. Such a place is the Shangri-La Caribe in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo. A relaxed Polynesian village of thatched cabanas overlooking powdery Coco Beach on the Mayan Riviera in eastern Yucatan, the Shangri-La is just a mile from the center of the bustling and funky town of Playa del Carmen, yet light years away in ambiance.
Initially a private residence that in 15 years has morphed into Playa del Carmen’s finest beach resort, the Shangri-La is an escapist’s South Seas fantasy come true. The fanciful Robinson Crusoe-style thatched cabanas of one to three stories are carefully set among mature palms and tropical plantings along paths that meander down to the sea. Seventy rooms and suites share two pools and restaurants, a cafe, bar and pool room, library and PADI dive shop.
Here one can be as private and vegetative as possible, whiling away the time under a palapa, at poolside or in a cabana hammock, occasionally venturing off to excellent meals at the resort’s attractive restaurants.Or you can engage in an exhausting array of diversions, beginning with trips into the town of Playa del Carmen to browse the silver and craft shops, or dine in a variety of international restaurants. There are ferry rides to the isle of Cozumel, excursions to the incredible Mayan ruins of Tulum and Coba, diving lessons and excursions, as well as snorkeling, windsurfing and swimming in the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean. South on Hwy. 307 sprawl the newish Mayan theme park of Xcaret and Xel-Ha, a great lagoon for snorkeling. And even further south is the pristine Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a protected coastal wildlife area and World Heritage Site. On our two visits to the Shangri-La, we’ve become so relaxed that we’ve ventured off on only a few excursions, once to revisit the impressive Chichen Itza ruins, a pleasant three hour drive away, and on another occasion to reconnoiter the ex-henequen haciendas of Yucatan State – both trips quite worthwhile.
Overlooking patio or balcony, rooms at the Shangri-La are simply furnished, with two double or king-size beds, tile floors, ceiling fans and colonial-style furniture. The bathrooms sport colorful Mexican tileand all the balconies have hammocks, table and chairs. Our second story balcony was often visited by colorful tropical birds and an occasional scampering gecko. Included in the room rate, breakfasts and dinners at Shangri-La are particularly abundant. Dinner entrees have featured lobster tails and yummy seafood pastas. And once a week mariachis will serenade at a dinner buffet. Other visitors to the dining room might include a mapache (raccoon), who nightly entertained us from the rafters, and two friendly hotel cats, who always arrived at dinnertime.
The Shangri-La attracts an international clientele and on Coco Beach you’re as likely to hear Italian, German or Spanish as you are English. Would we return to this seaside Mayan paradise? Oh yes. Like next year.Room rates at the resort begin at $140 (double occupancy). For more information, see www.mexicoholiday.com. Phone: 1-800-538-6802.