Ten years ago, a visit to Puerto Morelos was usually an afterthought following a vacation in Cancun or Playa del Carmen. Long past its heyday as an exporter of mahogany and gum Arabic, the port had morphed into a quiet fishing village along the Riviera Maya.
Located midway between the two large cities of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos seemed worlds apart from the hubbub of both, but that's inherently part of its charm. Resorts like the newly-inaugurated Ventus at Marina El Cid Spa & Beach Resort decided to capitalize on this while providing luxury accommodations to travelers seeking the rest and respite of a beach vacation.
An all-inclusive comprised of 290 balconied suites nestled next to a small jungle of mangroves, it's the newest addition to the family-owned El Cid Resorts and opened in November. Shortly after settling into a 3-night stay, I was whisked off to the lobby to receive an orientation of the property.
In business for four-plus decades, the company was started by the Spanish-born Julio Berdeque, a staunch conservationist as well as hotelier, who opened his first resort in his hometown of Mazatlan, Mexico, Ivan Bringas, room division manager, said. Berdeque's son, Carlos, is the current CEO.
Part of Ventus' blueprint was maintaining an ambiance free of jarring noise, Bringas added. "We're an all-inclusive with no loud music, no Spring Breakers, no foam parties, no dance club, just luxury and low key." Pointing to the light-filled lobby, he explained that the aim of the construction was to go local using building materials like hardwoods and limestone.
A glance at my bathroom earlier on showed it was stocked with organic shampoo and soaps made from local herbs and plants plus a loofah of Yucatecan sisal fiber. The toilet tissue tied with a yellow ribbon may not have been local and organic, but it looked pretty and festive. As to the rest of the suite, attractive hardwood furniture and the huge walk-in shower paired nicely with an extra-plush bed and feather pillows showing that the resort cared where you laid your head at night. My junior suite was also one of a couple dozen swim-up units with a private pool off the balcony.
The day I arrived, I was welcomed by the signature staff greeting--a hand over the heart, which means, "I salute my guest with my heart,"Bringas said, which, to me, was the same as saying," Mi casa es su casa (My home is your home)," the equivalent of welcoming someone into your home in Mexico. I noticed that some guests found the greeting so addictive that they automatically started copying it. Not a bad thing!
When hunger pangs strike, options include the candlelit Ile de France, named for the ship that brought the Berdeque family to the New World. Guillaume David Ramirez, a Paul Bocuse-trained chef features nouvelle French cuisine using only the freshest ingredients with less calories than classically-prepared Gallic dishes. The wine sommelier, affectionately called "Willie" helped wed the perfect vintage to your meal. For more casual eating, guests head to Mercado de Delores, a lunch spot with six different buffets under one roof. There's Mexican, seafood, Asian fusion, Italian, crepes, and sandwiches and salads. The seventh, a popular sweet's shop called Aroma is open from 7 am to 10:30 at night, so what you save in calories at Ile de France can be splurged on decadently rich desserts here. Its coffee comes from the highlands of Chiapas, rated some of the best in the country.
For evening libations, there's Bar Abnia, where you might catch Luis, the bartender, mixing his killer cocktail called "Kiss of Fire," laced with tequila, chile serrano, and passion fruit. After surviving a few rounds of it, most guests stay to enjoy the live entertainment presented nightly.
A visit to the Mexican Caribbean is always a highlight of my travels and Ventus didn't disappoint with its cool Mayan vibe. What better way to show respect for a 3,000 year-old culture than by honoring its healing rituals. And these it shares at its spa.
I only had a limited amount of time to try one of the options, so an 80-minute Kukulkan massage seemed best. (Kukulkan is Lord of the Wind, according to ancient Mayan beliefs).
Spending time in a water therapy circuit with hot and cold immersions prepped me for the main event. Spa guides led me outside to a gazebo overlooking the ocean where a "cleansing" ritual took place before an altar laden with fruit and flowers to Ixchel, goddess of new beginnings, the guide said. Channeling my "troubles" into a rock crystal and dropping it into a goblet of burning incense symbolically cleared the way for the massage. And this, in turn, left an open field for the eagle, snake and jaguar!
Believing the universe was divided into heaven, earth and the underworld, the Mayans ascribed one of these animals to each level and I was told to try to imagine which one was present in the massage. Massage therapists, Iusfra and Paulo, diligently weeded out knots of tension while I tried to keep track of what felt like a winged eagle, slithering snake and pouncing jaguar. After a while, I decided I didn't care who was doing what and settled into the sound of the ocean waves lapping against the shore. It left me feeling rejuvenated and I mentally thanked the snake, eagle and jaguar for the wild ride.
Spa rituals aside, pampering comes with Platinum Club services, for which guests pay extra. A few highlights include a lounge with free WiFi, a pillow menu, private palapa hut on the beach and a butler. Although the hotel is still working on defining his role, he will carry your luggage, set you up with a pillow of your choice and in-room aromatherapy, shop for you, and bring you a microwave if you order popcorn. Even the beach gets pampering when white-clad workers can be spotted sifting sand to make it softer to the touch.
Ventus is ideal for travelers seeking a home base for exploring the surrounding area and you need not go far to enjoy the largest barrier reef in the Americas, less than a half-mile offshore. It's made for snorkeling and excursions are easy to set up as well as for other water sports. Or bike to the town square of Puerto Morelos to take in the leaning lighthouse and fishing pier.Ventus is also connected by a short pathway to the sister resort, Marina El Cid, and facilities are interchangeable at no extra charge.
At day's end, I felt like Ixchel was still smiling on me as the afterglow of the massage lingered on--a true "new beginning" to take home.
For more information, go to ventusatmarinaelcid.com. For reservations, call 1-866-823-0099.
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