Hey Pomme World, it’s Kara here (one half of pomme). Join my fiancée Jackson and I on our visit to three thoughtfully designed boutique hotels in the Quintana Roo region of Mexico.
The hue of Yucatán is warm, with a dusty rose tone to it. The tropical sun doesn’t rise too early. When it finally ascends over the colossal coconut treetops, it's fiery, bright, and welcoming, not unlike the many ‘bienvenidos’ you are sure to receive throughout the journey. Towering palms and birds of paradise of mammoth height cast cooling shadows on the unpaved streets. Tropical plants I cannot name bloom in bright crimson and fuchsia. The air is balmy, ever so slightly sandy and salty.
After a sleepy ride from Cancun airport, we arrived at the palm-lined, washed-grey concrete facade of Casa Pueblo. Walking into the chic black and white tiled atrium, we were greeted with friendly staff and a choice between tequila or mezcal margarita. “Personally, I prefer the mezcal.” The receptionist told me with a smile. While Jackson checked us in, I sipped the refreshing watermelon and mezcal concoction and wondered around the space. The sixteen rooms spread over two floors overlooking the central courtyard. Natural light spills into the open atrium. A tree grows just behind the reception desk, extending towards the third-floor balconies.
One flight up the polished limestone staircase are the first floor of guest rooms. In true minimalist fashion, there are no numbers on the tall, handleless timber doors. If ours wasn’t the corner room directly facing the staircase, I probably would have walked into a maintenance closet once or twice. All interior surfaces of the room are made of clean and softly textured limestone, rendered in the softest shade of eggshell white. Even lighting is cleverly concealed into walls through curved slits. Peering through the wooden shutters, you see arching palms, and birds resting on the branches.
Large terracotta pots, blown glass vases, and wicker baskets scatter the halls and staircases. The rippling pool, inviting, perfect for a dip day or night. The poolside restaurant offers a great selection of modern Mexican cuisine featuring local ingredients (the pizzas are fantastic too). Oh, did I mention they make delightful cocktails and a killer flat white? Both are of course, immensely more enjoyable by the pool.
Unlike most hotels in Tulum, Casa Pueblo is situated outside of the hotel zone in the bustling part of town. At noon, the air down the street is filled with the delicious smell of hot tortilla and grilled meats. If the beach is what you seek, a fifteen-minute taxi ride takes you to the beach hotel zone, with access to beach clubs, restaurants such as Arca (everyone’s favourite for good reasons), Nü (a creative kitchen run by seven young Mexican chefs), and many others. Also, do try out the Jungle Gym on the beach. It is such a unique and fun exercise experience, even if the gym is not your scene back home (e.g. me).
Returning to Casa Pueblo after an evening in town, a nightcap in the atrium or up on the rooftop terrace is unwinding and soothing.
The seasonal rain came one morning during our stay. Washing down through the open courtyard, everything glistened.
After a few blissful days in Tulum, we travel inland to the ancient Mayan city of Coba. With little luxury accommodation on offer in this sleepy lakeside town, Coqui Coqui stands out as bright as Sirius in the night sky.
The road leading up to the hotel is stony and bumpy. When we finally turned the corner and stopped under the vine-covered sky bridge, stretching over Coqui Coqui’s driveway, I couldn't help but be a little in awe of how much the entire property resembles an ancient Mayan palace, slowly submerging into the jungle, yet retaining an air of luxury.
The limestone and black-tinted timber interior is calm and serene. Large ceiling fans revolve lazily, spreading the scent of sweet tobacco (Coqui Coqui Perfumery’s signature fragrance) to every corner. With only five guest rooms on offer, each is uniquely decorated with hand-braided hammocks, anatomically correct artworks of local flora and fauna, and pottery from local artisans. There is no TV, but a selection of novels, history books, and poetry to pass those evening hours. Each room has a terrace where breakfast can be served. The team will bring you a delicious selection of freshly baked bread, tropical chutneys (the spiced mango chutney is wondrous), yoghurt, toasted muesli, and house-made local honey.
All details throughout the entire property, everything is meticulously handpicked by the owners Francesca Bonato and Nicolas Malleville, from the vintage drawings of local bird species hanging on the walls of the perfume room to the decadent modern Mayan cuisine menu served at the restaurant (overlooking the new pool), featuring black ceviche and guacamole with grasshoppers (actually nutty and delicious!), just to name a few. In true Mayan fashion, everything is designed to be eaten with your hands (no objections at all!).
The hotel has gained great popularity in the past few years (thanks to Instagram) and is currently expanding. Berry, a friendly staff member from Belgium, took me on a little tour just before we checked out. “There are so many things going on!” He said as we look out from the private boutique, pass workers finishing the tiered fish ponds, onto the newly completed third pool. The floor-to-ceiling windows of the restaurant gleaming on the other side. Future restaurant guests will be able to choose their own freshwater fish (caught from Coba Lake) from the fish pond to be cooked up in the kitchen. Also under construction is an uber-luxurious guest room complete with private plunge pool (“for when famous people stay here,” joked Berry), and the Spa’s new waiting room. If you are unable to book a room, it is always an option to travel from Tulum for a spa and dinner day.
We had a pleasant surprise just outside the hotel, on our walk to the Coba ruins. Along the sandy lakeside path, we saw iguanas longer than baguettes slithering in and out of stone piles, bathing in the tropical sun. We, however, were not fortunate enough to see crocodiles coming ashore Coba Lake. We were told that they peer out of the water earlier in the morning. So it is up to you to explore, or avoid.
There are four other properties under Coqui Coqui’s umbrella scattered across Yucatán, which we will be sure to visit on our future trips.
In Tulum and Coba, whenever we mention to locals that we are hading to Holbox (pronounced ‘ole-bosh’), someone always says “ah, it’s the new Tulum”. Unsure how to decode this message: it could mean a sleepy, beautiful seaside town with delicious food, or a previously sleepy town now flooded with tourists, we found (pleasantly), it is a bit of both and not at all in a bad way.
As soon as you step off the ferry, the air is salty, and sandy, but slightly cooler than that on the mainland. We whizzed through the unpaved sandy streets on the back of a golf cart taxi (there are almost no cars on the island), whirling up sand, passing gigantic palms, locals fruit vendors, and many many chilled out pooches. Dogs are in abundance and never on-leash. They are all quite happy to stroll around or nap in the shade.
Upon checking in at Punta Caliza (and greeted by resident Whippets Siena and Astro), you will likely (like me) be immediately taken by the centrepiece of this masterfully designed hotel - the pool. A crystal cyan triangle, all twelve rooms surround the softly rippling water, each with direct access into the splash. The three main buildings and the tower are entirely made of local redwood, and the pool, of limestone. The geometric perfection formed by the contrasting auburn timber, white walls and the blue water, is strikingly beautiful under the bright Holbox sun.
One afternoon, under a patch of tropical rain, we got chatting to the owners’s son, who also tends the bar from time to time. Over a few dangerously smooth mezcals (they are very, very, good), he proudly revealed many of Punta Caliza’s architectural geniuses. When building the property, the architects were faced with the difficulty of maximising the use of a piece of land that is oddly shaped. Situated just a little far from the beach, the ocean view is obstructed by the privately-owned land between Punta Caliza and the beach. So the architects cleverly directed the view inwards to the picturesque pool. At the same time, utilised every single inch of the land. There is a book on the architects' other work. Borrow it from the bartenders for a poolside read with a mezcal cocktail.
Speaking of mezcal, it is a house special at the hotel bar, with shelves lined with options. Do take an afternoon to try the tasting and have a chat with the bartenders, and finish with a delicious dinner on the deck by the pool. The menu is seasonal, creative, and showcases the distinct flavours of the island and produce of greater Yucatán. The tacos and ceviches are needless-to-say, mouthwatering. And be sure to order the shrimp quesadillas. There is also a secret lobster dish that is not on the menu, which is definitely worth a try.
The hotel provides purified water without plastic bottles (a big tick in my book). Staff are happy to fill up your water bottle to take in town or to the beach. Within a few minutes walk, you will arrive at the hotel's private beach club. After a dip in the ocean, order a margarita from the beach bar (or buy a coco frios from the beach vendors), bath in the sunlight and watch the turquoise water, repeat. A 15-minute walk, inland (you will pass Clandestino Coffee Shop, which makes quite a decent flat white), or along the beach to the west, you will arrive at the slightly touristy, but not at all less fun, town centre. Restaurants and street food options are in abundance. After a chic dinner at Luuma, or a lobster pizza at Roots (it's an institution), try a Nutella crepa from a street cart. Hot, bouncy, sweet and messy. It’s just the dessert you need before a night kayak to see the bioluminescence.
On Isla Holbox, the ocean sparkles. Seriously.
Casa Pueblo Tulum
Coqui Coqui Coba
Hotel Punta Caliza, Isla Holbox