Travel

The best places to soak up some winter sun in Mexico's Yucatán peninsula

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Kitty McGee
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Stylist’s executive fashion director Kitty McGee explores both sides of the Yucatán peninsula

A proper Mexican adventure has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and the Yucatán peninsula ticks every tropical paradise box: year-round sunshine, white sandy beaches, electric blue water.

I start on the Caribbean side, where the jungle meets the ocean. After an 11-hour flight, I’m desperate to tune in to the local way of life – i.e grab a margarita and de-robe poolside so I can enjoy the 30°C October heat. A 35-minute drive from Cancún airport culminates in a slightly bumpy finish down a private road lined with ceiba trees. These trees can grow up to 70m tall and the ancient Mayans believed that they connected us directly to heaven. As we enter Chablé Maroma, I begin to understand the connection.

The resort’s attributes read like the report card of a gifted student – beach: exceptional, architecture and design: exceptional, food and drink: exceptional. My biggest decision every day is whether to set up camp at the pristine private beach, scattered with palms, or swim in the pool and stretch out on the chic wooden loungers. Rooms are white and cream with pops of turquoise, wooden floors and limestone walls. Each has a private terrace with a plunge pool and an open-air rainforest shower (is it just me who is absolutely terrified by the idea of showering outside?).

You’re close to nature here in every sense; each morning I’m gently woken by the harmony of rainforest birds, and on the short stroll to breakfast, I’m accompanied by some friendly little geckos. Later at night, I am met by not one but two blue crabs making their way to the ocean from the mangroves. If you’re lucky, I’m told, you might also catch sight of a coati – a mystical-sounding member of the racoon family that looks like a cross between a cat and a monkey.

There’s an unwritten rule that restaurants either have amazing views or fantastic food, never both. Except here. The onsite catering is run by chef Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil in Mexico City, ranked the 11th best restaurant in the world on San Pellegrino’s exclusive list. My favourite breakfast option is huevos rancheros: fried eggs served on a tortilla with a generous layer of the tastiest black beans and topped off with fresh, crumbly locally made cheese. 

For lunch, the tempura shrimp served on blue corn tacos takes some beating and the tuna tartare, served with avocado mousse and black sesame seeds, is the best I’ve ever tasted. Dinner is tortilla soup and chargrilled octopus followed by a selection of sorbets: the sweet and slightly spicy mango habanero flavour is epic.

Kitty parts with her sun lounger to explore the private beach 

If hammock-swinging, swimming and general lounging doesn’t relax you enough, the hotel spa will take you to the next level. It’s home to eight luxury treatment rooms and a menu of indulgent Mayan-inspired treatments, like the Maroma Sea Salt Scrub, Jade Stone Contour Facial or the intriguing Sound and Stone Cleanse. My Coco Body Scrub wasn’t the slickest treatment I’ve ever had, but it was hands-down the most relaxing.

While many come here for self-care and relaxation, there are plenty of daytime adventures to enjoy, too. The barrier reef that runs from here to Belize boasts some of the world’s best dive sites, so snorkelling and diving are popular (as well as kayaking). I can only muster the energy for some beachside yoga, but after four blissed-out days, I’m ready to move on to our next port of call.

Rooms for two at Chablé Maroma start from £517, including breakfast; find out more at chablemaroma.com.

Isla Holbox: The car-free, care-free barefoot hippy hangout

The slow pace and pampered luxury of the Riviera Maya coast is the perfect way to start off your holiday, but your Mexican adventure wouldn’t be complete without some proper exploring. Hola, Isla Holbox.

After a two-hour taxi ride from Riviera Maya we arrive at the port of Chiquilá, where a 20-minute cruise on the Holbox Express (ferries run every half an hour) brings me to the dreamy island of Holbox, off the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. The small island, just 1.5km wide and 40km long, is trimmed with idyllic white sand beaches. There’s an infectiously cool, Ibizan energy: people walk around barefoot, travel by bike and sunbathing is interrupted only for short stints of swimming and snorkelling.

As I hop off the ferry, I’m greeted by a fleet of yellow golf buggies, Holbox’s version of the New York City cab. Five minutes later I reach Casa Las Tortugas, the island’s best hotel on account of its chic interiors and excellent beachfront restaurant. I love the traditional touches, like the conch shell lampshades lighting the path from the beach to the hotel. Our bedroom is the perfect blend of relaxed, bohemian and clean: a double bed is suspended from the wooden ceiling beams with thick rope, and covered with a smattering of bright soft furnishings.

My mornings here start with yoga (OK, just the first day…) before a simple alfresco breakfast of fresh mango juice, homemade bread and eggs, eaten looking out to sea as whale sharks flip playfully in the distance. After a stint of sunbathing punctuated by cooling dips in the clear shallow water, I head to the alarmingly named Punta Mosquito on the island’s northern tip in search of Holbox’s resident flamingos. I don’t find any pink birds, but I do get my colour fix strolling through bougainvillea and palm-lined streets. The buildings are painted in upbeat shades of tangerine, magenta, turquoise, teal and lime green, while the local shops feature beautiful painted illustrations, including maps of the island, bicycles sketched on rental shops and hotel signs that look like works of art. 

40km of white sand

For a change of scene, the upscale modern restaurant Básico is a five-minute walk away from Punta Mosquito. Indoor palms line the entrance and the cocktails are excellent: I couldn’t choose between the grapefruit gin and passionfruit margarita, so I did the sensible thing and ordered both. The tempura octopus and tuna with crispy vegetables were delicious, but the guacamole with crispy grasshoppers (a local speciality) proved more of an Insta-opportunity than a new favourite food. For more traditional Mexican fare, head to Viva Zapata, while salads and smoothie bowls at Painapol prove the perfect antidote to a week of Mexican indulgence.

As we leave the island at sunrise, I’m sad to jet home but happy to have seen both equally beautiful sides of the Yucatán Peninsula. At the risk of sounding like I’ve had too much sun (or too many margaritas), a taste of Mexico is medicine for your mind, body and soul.

Rooms at Hotel Casa Las Tortugas start from £215; find out more at holboxcasalastortugas.com