Mexico's gorgeous beaches, ancient ruins, verdant jungles and vibrant cities have long enticed international tourists. These days, a wide selection of exceptional hotels adds to the country's attractions. After a day spent exploring Mayan pyramids, hiking through a rainforest or just savoring the sun and some margaritas, guests can unwind at a high-end chain, boutique or independent hotel — all featuring luxury accommodations, exemplary service and fine dining. From the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, here are our selections for the best places to stay south of the border.
Mexico City, Mexico D.F.
This intimate design hotel fits right in with its trendy Polanco district location. Offering just 35 accommodations, including a penthouse overlooking the sophisticated neighborhood, the former 1950s apartment building is a chic alternative to Mexico City's large luxury hotels. Despite its diminutive size, though, it's big on amenities. Two on-site restaurants serve contemporary Mexican flavors and playful variations on classic cantina dishes, and Aurora Spa crafts treatments inspired by local healing rituals. With wraparound terraces, the suites are to be coveted, while standard guest rooms appeal with custom-made rosewood furniture, Bose surround-sound home theater systems and mini-spa bathrooms featuring rain showers, whirlpools and steam jets. For more information, visit www.lasalcobas.com
The mountain resort of Las Mañanitas is a testament to the adage that good things come in small packages. With only 29 suites, this little piece of paradise is decorated with understated Spanish colonial furnishings and paintings by Mexico's finest artists. Of note for those in search of privacy are the patio suites with individual walled gardens. Distinctive regional cuisine is paired with fine wines in the hotel restaurant, and signature Parisian treatments have migrated halfway around the world to indulge guests at Spa Orlane. It will come as no surprise that Cuernavaca has been dubbed City of Eternal Spring. The climate is ideal for the resort's lush surroundings, which include beautifully landscaped gardens and a resident pride of peacocks. For more information, visit www.lasmananitas.com.mx
Las Brisas Acapulco
As a pink-and-white jeep whisks you from your hillside casita to the private La Concha beach club or perhaps El Bellavista restaurant, you will know why guests return over and over to Las Brisas Acapulco. This 40-acre hillside hideaway boasts breathtaking views of Acapulco's scenic bay and to-die-for sunsets, as well as unparalleled seclusion and access to the area's famed attractions, including the La Quebrada cliff divers. Greet each morning with a leisurely Brisas Breakfast — a thermos of coffee, sweet rolls and fresh fruit delivered right to your door — and then relish the opportunity to relax at your own pace, lingering on your private terrace or heading out to explore one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. For more information, visit Las Brisas Acapulco.
Playa del Carmen
Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo
It's no surprise that high-profile jet setters such as Paul McCartney and the members of U2 have chosen to retreat to this elegant resort. Showcasing modern, sexy lines that pay tribute to the Mayan pyramids, the architecture is stunning. Natural materials such as Yucatan limestone complement the setting — a meandering lagoon with a mangrove forest running through it. Depending on which of the 128 suites you choose, you will find a rooftop sundeck, terrace, plunge pool, private boat dock and/or outdoor shower. The resort's 1,600-acre size makes it ideal for the eighteen-hole, Greg Norman-designed golf course that runs along its mile-long white sand beach. For privacy nonpareil, Sense spa sits on its own island in the middle of the lagoon. For more information, visit Rosewood Mayakoba.
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur
When only a classic will do, it's time to head to Esperanza. A longstanding favorite with travelers who want more than just the latest fad, this resort uses Mexico's gorgeous coastline to create a new standard of luxury. Al fresco living is a hallmark here, with expansive sea views from every room. Even the junior suites have infinity edge hot tubs for dolphin watching, and the villas treat guests to the experience of sumptuous residential living. Although the activities and nightlife of Cabo are nearby, Esperanza is a destination unto itself, with a stunning spa, beachfront infinity pool, fine art gallery and a collection of restaurants that showcase ingredients from local farmers and fishermen. For more information, visit www.esperanzaresort.com
San Jose del Cabo
Los Cabos, Baja California Sur
Cabo Azul Resort
From fire sculptures to waterscapes, this all-villa resort strives for a mood that is at one with the elements. Natural details are incorporated throughout, and if Gilligan and his pals had had access to a European designer, the décor at Cabo Azul would have been the result. Villas are ultrachic, and even the smallest one-bedroom accommodations measure more than 1,000 square feet. The resort's twelve oceanfront acres include a stretch of white sand beach, a dramatic pool with fire-dancing platforms, PAZ Body & Mind Spa and Javier's Restaurant serving regionally influenced cuisine. Nearby activities range from the Dolphin Encounter to shopping in Cabo San Lucas. For more information, visit Cabo Azul Resort.
Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo
Maroma Resort and Spa
There's no place for stress at this 25-acre beachfront resort nestled into a jungle preserve on the Riviera Maya. The thatch-roofed, whitewashed buildings provide a striking complement to the white sand beach and turquoise waters harboring a coral reef. Caribbean breezes drift through the guest rooms and suites, where features range from mahogany and leather furnishings to private plunge pools and air-conditioned fitness areas. An observation tower offers the opportunity for private dining with 360-degree views, while Kinan Spa has a rooftop palapa for meditating in a natural setting. To further unwind, guests can enjoy a traditional Mayan sweat lodge, take a sunset yoga class or swim with the dolphins. For more information, visit www.maromahotel.com
San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
Casa de Sierra Nevada
Featuring a hotel and a cooking school in the heart of historic San Miguel de Allende, Casa de Sierra Nevada offers a feast for all of the senses. Stepping through the stone arches, guests will find leafy gardens, flowered courtyards and 33 suites spread out over five sixteenth-century colonial houses. The property is a National Trust Monument, and most rooms (with private patios or secluded entrances) carry on the architectural style of old San Miguel with Talavera tile baths, polished copper sinks and wood-burning fireplaces. A $5 million renovation brought Laja Spa, and while spa treatments are a highlight, the real draw here is the opportunity to take culinary classes in which students tour local markets and learn to create dishes based on regional ingredients. For more information, visit www.casadesierranevada.com
Capella Ixtapa Resort and Spa
Tapering down the side of a cliff on Mexico's Pacific Coast, Capella Ixtapa Resort and Spa brings to mind the classic towns of the Italian Riviera. Because of the way the property is laid out, every suite has a vast view of the ocean. The Ocean Front Penthouse Suites are the accommodation of choice, with private terraces and infinity plunge pools. Among three on-site restaurants, A Mares brings together the flavors of regional Mexico. The luxurious spa incorporates native herbs into its many treatments and caters to couples with romantic shared experiences. Among numerous activities are Capella Signature Tours, which focus on architecture, nature and even local education. For more information, visit www.capellaixtapa.com
Playa la Ropa, Guerrero
Many of Mexico's luxury hotels are high-profile ... essentially, they're known for being known. But this little gem is a bit of a well-kept secret, which is why guests often return. With only five suites, it promises exclusivity. Better yet, each designer accommodation pairs a rustic look (stone, wood, thatch) with decadent little luxuries. Depending on your choice, you might find a private plunge pool or hidden hammock. What you won't find is the distraction of TVs and stereos. This place is all about tranquility. The wooden decks and infinity pool are perched 100 meters above the beach, ensuring dramatic views from every corner, including the restaurant. Meals here are a private affair, as al fresco tables are covered with white cloths each night and guests are invited to dine as if in a private home. For more information, visit www.amuleto.net
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