This is part 3 in a series about my February 2018 trip to Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya. You can read my overview of the trip here.
What I was looking forward to most about my trip to Mexico was my stay at the Fairmont Mayakoba. And in the end, it is a very nice place…. but I think to really enjoy it you have to be rich. My free night booked into one of the basic rooms, and my “upgrade” that I redeemed a certificate for was a joke. The basic rooms are basically an entirely different experience than the majority of the property, which I’ll explain. In addition, you’re basically captive on property in terms of food and drink, and it’s expensive. If you’re not on a budget, it’s lovely. If you are, it takes away from your enjoyment as you’re either holding back or feeling guilty. The property was also much more family-oriented than I’d anticipated, and the service, though fine, was not great – certainly not like I had at the Fairmont Vier Jahreszeiten, which was my favorite hotel of 2017.
It was only about a 20-minute taxi ride from downtown Playa del Carmen to the Mayakoba compound, which is a massive complex just north of the city on the highway to Cancun. It was about 250 pesos (~$13), so definitely doable if you’re in a group on a longer stay at the property to go into town, but not worth it for a solo traveler on a short stay. The compound has multiple hotels, including an Andaz and a Banyan Tree, in addition to the Fairmont, and some shared amenities like golf. I had initially thought about checking out the restaurants at the Andaz, as you can make charges to your room at any of the properties, but given how hot and humid it was, the fact that I was feeling sick, and how far everything seemed, I stayed at the Fairmont the whole time.
As my taxi pulled up to the front of the hotel, staff was outside to welcome me with a cold towel. As I checked in, I was brought a welcome iced tea. Even though it was a bit early, my room was ready, and, after being shown a map of the property, I was escorted to my room.
The hotel has way too many levels of rooms. The two lowest are “Fairmont” rooms, which are traditional hotel rooms connected to the main building. My free night certificate got me one of these rooms, and then upgrade certificate moved me from a regular Fairmont room to a Fairmont “View.” The price difference between these rooms is only about $15 a night, with Winter rates of about $250 a night. All of the other rooms are in free standing “casitas”, which are spread throughout the resort, in small buildings, closer to the main pool area, lagoons, or beaches. They aren’t actually suites, and the base “Signature Casitas” are less than 500 square feet and start at around $300 in the winter – so we’re not talking a huge difference in price – I’d recommend spending the money. On top of the signature casitas, there are “Beach Area” casitas, which come with butler service, and then “Beach Front” casitas, before finally getting into the Villas and such which go for thousands of dollars a night and have private pools. (Of note, there are packages on nearly every day that offer a $100 USD daily credit but cost only about $60 more – which is easy to spend. And all-inclusive for two people is only ~$150 a night, which is probably worth it if you plan on eating or drinking at all.)
The Fairmont rooms are in a four-story building. Technically, one side faces “gardens” and the other side is supposed to be a “panoramic resort view.” But when you’re on a low floor, there is no view at all, and I definitely felt like my upgrade certificate was wasted when my “view” was this:
That being said, the room itself was lovely. In addition to a king-size bed, there was a desk, a seating area, and a walk-in closet. There was an empty fridge (where I stored some cerveza I had bought downtown), a coffee maker, and free water bottles. The design was a nice mix of clean and modern with some more Mexican-inspired accents.
There was a balcony outside the room, but considering there was no view of anything, there was no reason to use it. It also was the one part of the property that seemed a little less than well-maintained.
The bathroom was really the star of the room. It was massive, with dual sinks, a soaking tub, a walk-in shower, and a separate W/C. As is brand-standard, there were a lot of Le Labo brand toiletries. One thing that really excited me was the reading shelf for the bathtub, which had a rubber duckie waiting for me.
After settling into my room, I walked back to the concierge desk to see about getting a reservation for the free boat tour of the lagoon through Mayakoba that the hotel offers daily. Unfortunately, it was already fully-booked for the next day, which was a bit disappointing. The concierge suggested I take one of the free water taxi boats that runs around the property instead, which you don’t need a reservation for and runs throughout the day, but I didn’t end up doing so.
The property is really quite sprawling and it takes a while to get your bearings. There was a small pool right next to the building my room was in. From there, it was a short walk to the main pool area, which has several pools, including one with a water slide and another with a swim-up bar. In that area is also a café/market/gift shop, and one of the cheaper restaurants, La Laguna.
Off to the side is the “Adult-Only Pool” which is where I parked myself for a bit. It faces a lagoon and it is quite lovely and quiet. Attendants come around with umbrellas and towels, and also offer full food and beverage service.
I didn’t stay long before it started raining, so I packed up my stuff and got ready to go…but then the rain stopped. I decided I would hop on one of the bicycles that are dotted all over the property and head to the beach. It is a *long* schlep to the beach, and I do not recommend walking. There are golf carts constantly running throughout the property, though, so you should be able to get on one of those. The bikes are 2-speeds and not the most comfortable, and there seemed to be a shortage several times, but they suited my needs.
When you get to the beach, there is another pool and another restaurant. There are actually very few seats on the beach, which I guess is nice and keeps it peaceful, but it also meant it was hard to find a place to sit— a lot of people were saving seats, which sucked. I was also surprised that with all the staff around there was no one to welcome or usher me to a seat.
The weather wasn’t great, but I stayed long enough to get a $20 hamburger and a beer brought to me and read a bit. There was some beach volleyball being played by guests, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but nonmotorized water sports were available for use for free. (Something that maybe should have been pointed out at check-in.)
After that, it was time for an amazing bath and a nap, followed by more time at the adult pool.
Before dinner, I decided to check out the gym, which is in the massive spa complex, and was a bit of a hike away. Although the spa complex is very big, the gym itself was smaller than I’d thought it would be, though adequate. (You also don’t get use of the locker room or showers as a guest of the hotel, despite the resort fee, which seems a little ridiculous.) There were cold towels, water, and fruit in the gym which was nice.
In the evening, the rain was super heavy, and walking around the hotel at night was very, very dark. I’m really surprised people don’t get hurt. I had to use my phone for light until I got close to the pool and the Laguna restaurant, where I had made a reservation (which I totally didn’t need). It was pretty quiet, too:
All the restaurants are by Mexican-American chef Richard Sandoval. They range in price from expensive to super expensive, and I went with the cheapest, which was modern Mexican. The cheapest meal is tacos for $17 (not including rice and beans), but I splurged and went with the chicken mole, for $31, which was tasty though a small portion that came very quickly. (There were complimentary chips and salsa too.) I sat outside, though there was nothing to see in the dark. It was probably the quickest $31 meal I’d ever had, and I regret not splurging and going to one of the nicer places.
While I was at dinner, there was a full turndown and housekeeping service, including a handwritten note and a worry doll placed on my pillow by my “room attendant.”
My flight back home wasn’t until 4:25pm, but I misunderstood when my shuttle was coming to pick me up, and thought it was coming at 12:15pm, so I didn’t bother to ask for late checkout. In the morning, the gym was very crowded, and I did some more pool time, before checking out. There was a bit of a wait, as there was only one person at the desk, which seemed odd at peak check-out time.
The first bill they gave me had a charge of 1500 pesos for the room, about $78, so maybe that’s what Fairmont pays the hotel for the room? I had bought a Fairmont gift card on Cyber Monday which came with a 15% bonus, since I knew I’d have to pay the $20 resort fee and some food expenses. In the end, that covered about 2/3 of my bill, which came to $87.50 for lunch, dinner, and the resort fee.
Due to my miscommunication, I ended up at the lobby bar with a very expensive weird tasting cocktail for about ten minutes, which was served with some nuts and spiced cucumber.
With just one day at the property, with a terrible sinus headache and very hot and humid weather, I didn’t get to take advantage of the whole grounds as much as I would have liked. There are nature trails and tours, the water sports, and other on-property activities that I could have investigated. But my big takeaway is that this is a hotel where it really makes sense to pay for the all-inclusive or F&B credit packages (which aren’t available when using a free night, obviously). The service was also disappointing as I had expected a bit more attention, but I guess the hotel is so huge (both in terms of the number of rooms and the physical size). The property was spotless, though, and everything was exceptionally well-maintained.
The Fairmont Mayakoba is not a beachfront hotel, really, so if you want to step out of your room and be on the ocean, this isn’t the place. If I were rich, perhaps I’d return and stay in a Casita. (Alas, I am not.) But I might be more tempted to go to a smaller property in a place like Tulum where I’d be closer to the beach and have a less sterile experience. Finally, I would not use an upgrade certificate to go from a Fairmont to a Fairmont View room, as it was no upgrade at all.