After blowing my isla bonita home on Cozumel island a kiss goodbye, I settle into a half-dream as the yellow ferry steals me away to cosmopolitan mainland town of Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Paraiso received sand and wider beaches
from Hurricanes Emily and Wilma.

A trip to Playa is the BIG city trip for me because island life is so tranquil; I look forward to the hustle of “civilization”.  It’s hard for me to contain the Clampetts-move-to-Beverly-Hills excitement as island fever seems to become a part of daily life sometimes. 

Bix-a-bel!"  A happy greeting, a radiant smile, a flick of his straw hat, and my chauffer whisks the all-too-common black luggage to a splendid Lincoln Navigator.  A cold washcloth is impeccably handed to me on a silver platter, no less, and I select Simply Red’s CD from the music menu as the Navigator rolled through lush jungle.  My driver weaves tales of hidden freshwater canals and lagoons that are within the greenery.  A strange animal that appears to be part raccoon and part weasel smugly smiles at me as he hides a colorful tropical fruit.  “That is a scarlet tanager, indigenous of this area,” the driver says with pride about his homeland. 

Unusual fabrics and exotic
decor from around the world.

A member of The Leading Small Hotels of the World, Virtuoso, and the only five-diamond resort in the Riviera Maya, the Paraiso de la Bonita Resort & Thalasso Spa has been home away from home for Dustin Hoffman, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, John Galliano, and Raquel Welch. 

In a few minutes it will be my home away from home. 

The Riviera Maya is now the fastest growing travel destination in the western hemisphere according to USA Today.  The area stretches below Cancun and remains pristine.  Ancient Tulum ruins hug the cliffs along the Caribbean Sea nearby and the famous national park Xel-Ha with incredibly mysterious cenotes and ancient nearly-extinct gigantic sea turtles beckon visitors to come visit.

Enjoy magical sunset moments
in your own private pool.

The resort was carved into the flourishing jungle and not the other way around as the area has strict regulations on maintaining the ecosystem.  Unlike Cancun, which is often known as Mexico’s Las Vegas, respect for the environment requires that architecture be low keyed and to work in tune with nature.

“Bix-a-Bel, Lena!”  The gatekeeper welcomes me with that greeting again.  As we drive along the beautiful grounds everyone knows my name.  Everyone knows everyone’s name.  “Bix-a-Bel.  How was your trip from the island?” is said in unison this time as the resort staff nearly pulls me out of the vehicle.  Cold tropical drinks with multicolored layers, kisses, and introductions are passed around as I’m amazed at how in tuned the staff is.  “We meet for twenty minutes first thing in the morning and brief everyone on each guest; where they are coming from, their likes and dislikes, etc. so that we can cater specifically to their every desire,” the manager tells me. 

Travel by sparkling Navigator
to sparkling golf cart.

Lovely Isabel Mendez, Events Coordinator, navigates my method of transportation for the next few days—a sparkling white golf cart.  We drive along the impeccably landscaped path, which has an array of water fountains and ponds, as sugar-white sandy beach (wider than usual, compliments of Hurricane Emily) sit at my right whilst mangroves that house endemic species of wildlife rest to my left.

From Bora Bora to Kenya, the suites
are named for the favorite places.

"Cuisine de los Soles" takes
advantage of the sea's bounty.

Even with forest creatures as neighbors, the human creature comforts far surpassed any place I had traversed before!  Draped in marble, thick luxurious fabrics, and treasures from around the world, the hacienda-style suites are named and inspired after some of the owner/architecture’s most beloved regions in the world including Bali, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean.  Fans from Bali, furniture from Thailand, and treasures from the four corners of the Earth fill the resort.

The feng shui table setting immediately catches my eye as I enter the suite.  Nature competes with man as she sings her songs through what seemed like a thousand exotic birds as the indoor surroundings fight for first place in grabbing my attention.

The villa is equipped with technological goodies such as wireless Internet, satellite television, DVD and CD player.  A fully stocked bar (customized per guests’ requests), Bulgari toiletries, plush Turkish towels, sunken European marble tub, glass shower with its own mini-garden, a large beach bag for her, and a welcome bottle of tequila for him (or perhaps he can fight her for the beach bag and vice versa!) are just a few of the small details that make such a huge impression. 

An architect's dream created the
most perfect resort in the world.

The first European Thalasso
spa in North America

My suite spills out into the Caribbean outdoors as the open terrace leads to a private pool and a can’t-help-but-sink-into outdoor daybed.  Two dining areas for savoring a private breakfast or moonlit dinner make up a very ample verandah.   I ponder upon the decision of should I do nothing inside or outside and come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter as long as I practice the skill of being spoiled.  Yes, this skill is truly a lost art that I should not let die.  With an incredible staff-to-guest ratio and nightly bed turndowns (chocolates and souvenir seashells with a special description for each shell included), this practice should not be too difficult.

The owner’s dream was to create the perfect resort by taking his favorite parts from various international resorts. 

Cuisine that pleases all your senses.

French chef Fabrice Guisset's
private VIP dining room.

Jaguars watch over Kaax diners.

The resort whispers intimate elegance with glorious reflecting pools, small ponds, and worldly prizes everywhere—Mayan carvings, Grecian urns, Asian chairs, European rugs. 

As the resort offers a hint of many flavors from around the world with its various regional themes so do the restaurants on the premises.  French chef Fabrice Guisset is the artist of the flavorful menu creations.  I partake of both the indoor and outdoor dining at the Kaax Restaurante which hugs the beach.  Casual dining with a sprig of elegance presents me with the opportunity to try traditional dishes with a dash of untraditional thrown in. 

Char Grilled Beef Hamburger with Cheese, Pineapple, and Spicy Red Onion gives me the cheeseburger-in-paradise fix that I always need with an added hit—sweet, tangy, pineapple and the heat of a spiced-up onion slice. 

Cheesecake is always a celebration in itself; enter hazelnut and guava sauce and it becomes a tropical celebration!!! 

The jungle mural on the restaurant wall becomes alive as parrots and other exotic life watch over me as I watch over other guests who are feasting on a very fresh and very large fish.  Although quite spoiled already, I covet my neighbors’ seafood fare.  When asked how they scored such a fine catch, they explained to me that they had gone on the resort’s boat for early fishing and Chef Fabrice prepared the fish exactly to their requests.

The new outdoor kitchen.

Yucatan cuisine surrounded
by jungle flora and fauna.

Javanad jungle, anyone?

This is the second time I had ever visited with the chef and yet his energy and conversation makes me feel as if I’m member of the family.

 “Come, look!  Here is the new outdoor kitchen I am building.  The hurricane destroyed the old one. ‘Why not make it even better?” he says with a sparkle in his eye.  We look up and down, in and out at the wood-burning oven and the new grill.

Lunch with the sales manager is at the elegant-yet-comfortable fine dining La Canoa restaurant.  Guests have the option of dining within the all-glass doors or outside.  Either choice provides a breathtaking view of the sea.  Chef Fabrice pops in for a few jokes and laughs.  He is as invigorating and unique as his “Cuisine de los Soles” which is a fusion of flavors from equator-latitude-and-attitude countries.  Caribbean lobster with a backdrop of the blue-green sea is what I savor for this meal.  With two gorgeous fine dining restaurants that offer indoor and outdoor seating, a beachside grill and pool bar, the Library Bar, and private dining sprinkled throughout the resort, many options are available to guests who expect only the very best.

I see children walk by and remember reading online that parents with children (under the age of sixteen) are asked to enjoy their private time without kids in tow.  However, there were a few children on the premises during my two visits.  When I inquired about this, the lovely manager informed me that they will return back to that policy in January 2007 as an outstanding level of privacy and luxury is their goal for discerning guests.  (I must mention that the children at the resort were wonderful.)

Wine with sonrisas!

De-stress and uncork.

Enjoy dinner in the pool.

Evening falls and Isabel announces a very special surprise for my dinner.  “Just show up at the main pool,” she says and I can hear the smile in her voice.  I am alarmed to find that I had not packed a pair of heels to go with my gown.  No shoes!  Walking to the pool was a stressful nightmare as I am frustrated by my situation—formal gown and casual flip flops.  What a dilemma!

Apologetically, I explain my apparel to the waiter as I look around for my table.  He simply smiles and says, “Bix-a-Bel, Lena” and reaches for my beach bag (compliments of the resort).  “No shoes necessary,” he smiles and into the shallow area of the pool we go. The full moon shimmies on the water of the sea and pool as I am being swooned and serenaded by romantic mariachis in the background.  Lo and behold!  The dining table is in the center of the pool in its shallow level!  Other guests smile gently as they watch the event of my dinner. 

Swish. Swish. Swish.  My waiter wades through the water and delivers a bottle of Cabernet Tempranillo Vino Tinto 2003 from Baja, CA.  Swish. Swish. Swish.  “A special appertif from Chef Fabrice,” he announces.  Caribbean Lobster and Tender Vegetable Salad makes for a great wake-up call for my taste buds.  Aromatic spices and herbs liven up traditional mayonnaise and mustard in this dish.

Swish. Swish. Swish.  Tiger Shrimps arrive wearing “chopsticks” (cilantro stems).  Rice pilaf plays “Hide and Seek” in a banana leaf.  The dishes are as artistic and whimsical as they are tantalizing.  This Thai creation’s spiciness is softened by the coconut, pineapple, and tomato.  Thai creations are known for their explosions of flavors and textures and this fare delivers the crunch of fresh organic lettuces and the creaminess of the dressing.  Tangy yet sweet and the little surprises continue with each bite.

Tiger Shrimps arrive wearing
"chopsticks” (cilantro stems).

Let the March of Desserts begin!

Soothing serenity.

Swish. Swish. Swish.  With each course enters another wine from another country.  My senses are happy from the sounds of the musicians behind me, the taste of delectable signature piece de resistance, the moon beam above, and my feet soaking in the water.  But then happiness reaches ecstacy when swish, swish, swish, dessert alights as the grande finale.  And oh what a grande finale lay before my eyes!  The march of desserts consist of:  Dark Chocolate Marquise (fresh strawberries carpaccio infused in ginger root), Wild Lime Pie with Smashed Buayaba, and Tequila infused with Yucatan mint, bitter cacao, and cardamon veloute, Cold White Chocolate Sabayon with Raspberry Confit, Coconut Bounty with Roasted Spicy Pineapple Bunelo, and Warm Tatin Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream and Sweet Mexican Green Sauce.  The Chef’s touch just shines in these desserts and it is impossible to determine which one is my favorite.  (And YES! I did eat them ALL!)   What a glorious evening dining under the stars!

And yet another day of doing nothing finds me pool hopping.  A gentleman in white linens and the infamous straw hat (a resort signature) spritzes spa seawater from an atomizer and offers a chilled washcloth from a Moroccan wood bowl at the main pool.  This invigorates me for my incredible feat of rolling from one pool to the other.  It’s hard work to pry oneself from a very soft, very large double chaise lounger.  Perhaps I should have them deliver another chilled vino blanco or a petit four for extra energy.

Ancient Mayan "steamroom"
cleanses the spirit and mind.

Drifting into bliss with His
and Hers massage therapy.

The seawater pool separates from the 24,000 square foot Thalasso Center and Spa.  Seawater is extracted from the ocean nearby.  It is not treated in order to deliver essential minerals and elements to the human body.  The seawater is warmed to provide therapeutic healing.  Seawater contains all the elements that are fundamental to every life form.  Thalassotherapy was developed in ancient Greek and Rome and means “to cure by the ocean”.  Seawater, marine algae, and marine mud are incorporated for therapeutic treatments.  Via osmosis minerals and trace elements are reloaded into the body.  Some of the specific programs offered are weight loss, anti-cellulite, anti-stress, leg fatigue, holistic and cosmetic treatments.  With the salt and mineral content, I literally “float” on top of the water and with a big inhalation of air, my body becomes even lighter and “floats” even higher and glides “atop” the water.  Body, mind, and spirit completely drift into pure bliss.

As if I wasn’t Jell-O enough after all this pampering, it is time for a thalassotherapy treatment.  Yanina Martinez, whom I had the pleasure of meeting once before, and Luis Vasquez treat me with the “Under Afusion Shower Shower Massage”, the spa’s newest Mayan fusion.  A constant stream of warm seawater is rainforest-sprinkled as aromatic oils are gently applied during the massage.

A Marble lion guards
the European bath.

Celebrity creature comforts.

Whether you want an active vacation, a romantic retreat, or a luxurious getaway, the small premier luxury hotel Paraiso de la Bonita will cater to your biggest wishes and your smallest whims.   

The resort offers:

Luxury Accommodations — elegant suites with oversized bathrooms, private pools and ocean-view terraces

Impeccable Guest Services — a high staff to guest ratio

Private Sailing — the resort’s own 48-foot luxury catamaran

The Spa — the only Thalasso-certified spa in North America

Inspired Cuisine—a fusion of international flavors by French Chef Fabrice

Romance — weddings and romantic packages

Adventure — ancient Mayan ruins, water sports, canopy tours, and more

Plus — Private roundtrip transfers via Lincoln Navigator from Cancun International Airport

Bottle of tequila and straw beach bag in your Riviera Maya resort suite

Complimentary continental breakfast every day

Complimentary fitness program featuring yoga and Pilates classes daily

Complimentary use of Thalgocean jet tub, sauna, steam room and gymnasium

Complimentary use of the tennis court

Complimentary boat shuttle to Puerto Morelos

You may learn more about the
resort and spa online: 

Rooms start at $875.00 USD per night for a one-bedroom suite to $3,575.00 USD per night for the Presidential Suite (over 3,000 square feet).  The amenities and activities are endless.  The luxury cannot be put into words.  The service is unimaginable.  A bilingual staff member will assist you and he or she may be reached at:

Paraiso de la Bonita Resort & Thalasso
Carretera Chetumal Cancun, Km 328, SM 31
Bahia Petempich
Puerto Morelos, Q. Roo, Mexico 77580
Tel: +52 (998) 872 8300 / Fax: +52 (998) 872 8301

Come enjoy a private retreat or an adventure getaway at Paraiso de la Bonita, a most exclusive resort where the most discerning tastes are satisfied.  If you don’t believe me, ask Dustin Hoffman or Ricky Martin.  I will see you soon in the Mayan Riviera and oh, “Bix-a-Bel!” is the Mayan greeting for “Hello.  How are you?” 

Feature by Lena Hunt Mabra, Jetsetters Magazine Nomadic Correspondent.