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Grand Velas Riviera Maya Brings Mayan Culture to Life at Se Spa

Discover a journey of wellness with indigenous treatments rooted in tradition

Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to visit Grand Velas Riviera Maya, an all-inclusive resort located along the Mexican-Caribbean coastline. A 35-minute drive from Cancun International Airport, the expansive resort encompasses more than 205 acres of protected mangroves, jungle, cenotes, and beach. With three separate accommodations, guests may choose among Zen Grand, which is located amid the jungle; Ambassador, set around the resort’s free-form infinity pool; and Grand Class, a luxurious oceanfront escape.

I was fortunate to find myself staying in a Grand Class Suite, which featured an oceanfront view, a private plunge pool, a spacious bathroom with both a rain shower and a jetted tub, and a mini bar full of enticing snacks. I later learned that while children may sleep in the accommodations at Grand Class, the pool and other amenities are for adults only, making it ideal for a kid-free retreat. Zen Grand and Ambassador, however, are family-friendly with plenty of options for the younger set, including an innovative Kids’ Club, Teens’ Club, and even a baby concierge. With eight restaurants, three swimming pools, a full-service spa known for its authentic Mexican treatments, and more, I couldn’t wait to have a look around.

What We Love

  • The Maya Melipona Bee Project, which rescues and homes the native stingless bees
  • Honey tasting
  • Dining at the Bistro
  • 24-hour concierge

What Not to Miss

  • Se Spa Water Ceremony
  • Dinner at Frida, including a cricket, worm, and ant-tasting platter
  • Eco tour, which includes a visit to the property’s organic orchard to learn about the pollination process and see the new bee sanctuary, the Meliponario
  • Chocolate and Mezcal Tasting
Grand Class Suite Terrace at Grand Velas Riviera Maya
The Grand Class Suite with a Terrace at Grand Velas Riviera Maya features a plunge pool and stunning views of the water.

Accommodations

Designed to complement its natural surroundings, Grand Velas Riviera Maya feels like three resorts in one, thanks to the three separate accommodations. Each comes with a 24-hour concierge and 24/7 in-suite service. Zen Grand features connecting suites for families and suites with plunge pools. All have private terraces that overlook the natural flora and fauna of the Yucatan jungle. Ambassador, another family favorite, offers an array of suites with either a king or two queen-size beds, connecting suites, and a special oceanfront section featuring suites with private plunge pools. Other Ambassador suites are situated around the pool. Grand Class, where I was staying, is home to 90 inviting suites. The spacious terrace with a plunge pool was definitely a highlight.

Although I prefer the fresh ocean breeze to air conditioning, I quickly learned that leaving my sliding door open at night was not an option, as the coatis (think Mexican raccoon) tend to open the doors and invite themselves in while in search of food. Fortunately, I was warned to keep my terrace door locked before finding any uninvited guests in my room.

Frida
The vibrant decor of Frida, with a mural of the famed artist for whom it is named, sets the stage for a memorable dining experience.

Cuisine

As with any all-inclusive experience, dining plays a crucial role, either enhancing or detracting from the overall enjoyment of your stay. At Grand Velas Riviera Maya, it is an opportunity to sample a variety of inspired options that cater to every taste and preference. With eight restaurants to choose from, guests will want to embark on a flavorful adventure. My first evening on property, I enjoyed dinner at Frida, the resort’s vibrant Mexican restaurant named after legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. There, I satisfied my more adventurous palate with a tasting trio of crickets, worms, and ants before enjoying the short rib in a mole sauce with truffled potato puree and vegetables.

I especially enjoyed dining each morning at the Bistro, a casual restaurant serving both breakfast and lunch. The breakfast menu, featuring an array of Mexican dishes, explores the country’s authentic flavors and culinary creativity. It was one of the most varied breakfast menus I’ve ever seen, and I was more than happy to experience a new option each morning. Chaka, focused on Yucatecan cuisine, offers another opportunity to sample Mexico’s rich culinary scene. For a special dining experience, Cocina de Autor offers inspired regional gourmet cuisine. I enjoyed a nine-course tasting menu with highlights such as the catch of the day served with seaweed, truffle, and black olives. Each course was paired with wine or a mocktail.

And Mexican isn’t the only thing on the menu. Sen Lin serves up fusion Asian; Lucca offers Italian Mediterranean with fresh seafood, prime cuts, and homemade pasta; Piaf explores the art of traditional French cuisine; and Azul features a buffet of options. Although I didn’t get a chance to try each of the restaurants, the resort promises a host of healthy offerings. 

Another highlight was the various tastings available at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. From tequila tastings to chocolate and Mezcal pairings, the resort invites guests to learn about the country’s traditions with a guided tasting journey. A new celestial cocktail menu inspired by Mayan astrology was also recently introduced at Sky Bar.      

Se Spa
The hydrotherapy circuit at Se Spa invites guests to take part in the Grand Velas Water Journey.

Spa and Fitness Facilities

For a true taste of Mayan culture, I didn’t need to look any further than the resort’s 89,305-square-foot Se Spa. Located in Zen Grand, the inviting space features 25 spa suites, six master suites with hydro massage tubs, four couple treatment suites, two couple treatment suites with a Janzu pool, one VIP couple’s suite with a double Jacuzzi tub, a Shiatsu and Thai Massage Room, a meditation room for women, and a relaxation lounge. Inspired by the jungle and natural cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula, the spa also incorporates stones, plants, and streams preserved from the area into the design as well as a 40,000-square-foot Water Lounge, with pools warmed by solar panels. “The unique terrain and the resort’s jungle and seaside location entirely dictated the design and materials,” says architect Ricardo Elias.

After arriving at the spa, I donned my swimsuit and embarked on the Grand Velas Water Journey, a guided experience through the spa’s hydrotherapy facilities, including the dry sauna, ice room, herbal steam room, experience shower, and more. “The spa valets provide personalized direction to make sure guests get the most out of the truly relaxing hydrotherapy experience—such as how to alternate the various hot and cold rooms and pools and how long to linger in them—which might otherwise be a bit mystifying,” says spa director Letitia Fernandez. The equally relaxing and rejuvenating experience is the perfect introduction to the healing benefits of hydrotherapy, long used by ancient civilizations to cleanse the body, refresh the mind, and purify the soul.

Next, I enjoyed the spa’s new PÁAK’AM-Nopal Massage ($353, 80 minutes), which incorporates a gentle scrub with cactus blossoms to exfoliate the skin. Nopal paddles, heated in warm water, are then used to apply a rosemary oil massage, leaving the skin soft and nourished. It is just one of the many indigenous treatments on the menu. Some standouts include the Uumbal Shawl Massage ($353, 80 minutes), which involves clever choreography using lemons to create pressure and shawls to help stretch the body.

Other offerings include the Nik Te Ha Aquatic Massage ($353, 80 minutes) and the Xkalim ($342, 80 minutes), a Mayan gourd massage that begins with a traditional Mayan blessing honoring the elements, followed by the rolling of different sized calabash gourds across the body. The treatment includes a sweep of the body with alcohol on a bouquet of herb-of-grace (or common rue). These are just a few of the many Mayan-influenced treatments on the menu.

I also managed to fit in a brief workout at the fitness center, while I was waiting to join a bike tour of the property. Because of an impromptu rain shower, I found time to get in some steps on one of the facility’s many state-of-the-art treadmills. At Grand Velas Riviera Maya, wellness takes center stage, inviting you to embark on a transformative journey in which relaxation and rejuvenation intertwine.

About The Author
Heather-Mikesell-author-1

Heather, co-founder of Well Defined and the former editor-in-chief of American Spa, is an award-winning journalist and content strategist, skilled in writing, copyediting, and media relations. She is also a freelance writer and has contributed to Elite Traveler, Islands, Kiwi, Luxury Travel Advisor, Organic Spa, Porthole Cruise, Travel Agent, abcnews.com, jetsetter.com, outside.com, and wellandgood.com, in addition to various custom publications. She is frequently called upon to comment on various spa and wellness trends for various media outlets.