This is my ultimate review of Hotel Esencia between Tulum and Playa del Carmen where we were lucky to spend a week in February.
Table of Contents
Hotel Esencia is about 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, a town which used to be a simple fishermen village when I first visited Mexico 23 years ago!
I have wonderful memory of Mexico which I toured with friends friends who joined me from France while I travelled from New York where I lived at the time. We trekked in Chiapas, visited the wonderful site of Palenque, explored the colonial cities of Merida and Valladolid, visited Chichen Itza and concluded our trip at said Playa del Carmen.
It is now a town of 50,000 inhabitants but if you go further, you can still find a little paradise hotel, very different from the massive resorts on the coast.
That slice of paradise is Hotel Esencia.
Hotel Esencia hids between Playa del Carmen and Tulum
Hotel Esencia is hidden in its own estate near the powdery white sands of Xpu-Ha, between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, in the Quinta Roo region.
I first came to that coast 23 years ago during my backpacking tour of Mexico. Playa del Carmen was just a simple fisherman village, now it’s a town of over 50,000 inhabitants! The hotel is an hour south of Cancun which is the closest airport to fly to at the moment. There will be a new international airport at Tulum opening soon, which probably means more tourists and therefore even more development…
Thankfully, once you get to Hotel Esencia, you are immediately immersed in a little paradise with jungle paths, bird songs, iguanas crossing in front of you and a pristine preserved beach..
A unique boutique hotel with tons of style
Originally built as a haven for an Italian duchess, the 50-acre estate was acquired in 2014 by Hollywood producer Kevin Wendle, who has turned the property into the area’s chicest beachside retreat.
You know me and how I don’t like resorts and frankly, there are many of them on this part of Mexico. Until you get to Hotel Esencia and then you rediscover the true meaning of “chic hideaway”.
Which room to choose at Hotel Esencia
Hotel Esencia centres around a main house, where we had our room a Master Suite category.
The property has been beautifully planted with central lawns and jungle-like vegetation around the rooms, making them very private.
Behind, stone paths lead through the gardens to 47 suites, each with a private terrace and some with a heated pool. There are also some ultra luxurious villas, often booked by celebrities for true privacy.
Our room, 1601 was near the restaurant and the beach, of which we had a fab view from the outdoor space.
On the plus side it was a quick walk to the pool, beach, restaurant, spa and gym everything really. On the minus side we could also hear the kitchen generator at night… I asked to see other rooms available in our category but none had this view. So we stayed in this one and got used to the noise ?
My recommendation: either go for
- a room closest to the beach and ask for one on an elevated floor if you want to have quick access to the seaside and enjoy great views.
- if you prefer calm and be protected from the wind – which is every day, sometime just a gentle breeze but can also be quite strong at other times – then go for the rooftop wellness suites. They are in the jungle but have a rooftop area with a plunge pool.
Beach rooms are straight on the beach so enjoy amazing views. You’ll have a hammock to relax but no plunge pool.
Jungle rooms at ground level are certainly quiet and hidden but seemed, from the outside, a bit too enclosed and dark.
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What the room looks like
The interior design is stunning. Lacquered white floor that extends to the bathroom sinks, showers, bedside shelves are a never seen before unique signature. Modernist furniture from the 50s and colourful Mexican bed throws and cushion stand out against this neutral backdrop. Crimson red touches are dotted here and there, whether it’s the cushions on the outdoor space or the rim of the white curtains separating areas in the room.
Most of the rooms accommodate a third person and can have cots for babies too so it is very family-friendly. We asked for a room where there was a dividing curtain between the lounge and the bedroom areas so that Mademoiselle – now a teenager – had some more privacy.
The bathroom didn’t have a bath but a nice big shower and a dressing closet. Do check whether your room has a bath or not if it it’s important to you.
The room was vast and with windows opening onto the jungle and the beach, we had a wonderful space to relax.
The cherry on the cake was the outdoor space. Each room has one of various size and disposition. Ours had a lovely corner sofa with red cushions, an outdoor pool and a terrace with table and chairs (from which I am currently typing this review!).
The plunge pool was heated to 33.5 degrees but you could change it to whatever you wanted.
We could stand on the edge of the plunge pool and have a wonderful view of the beach at sunrise every morning. The hotel is on the East coast of Mexico so you see the sunrise rather than the sunset.
Hotel Esencia restaurants: the best guacamole ever!
Everything was so fresh and full of flavour at every food occasion. I really like Mexican food so it was a treat for me.
The day starts with a complimentary basket of pastries and hot drinks left in your secure locker outside of the room at a time of your choosing. Sipping my cup of tea on the balcony while watching the sun rise over the sea was a true moment of peace every day.
You can then head down to Mistra, the beach restaurant with a view to die for, for a fuller breakfast with a choice of local dishes or classic staples. I had a few regional recipes of eggs, the avocado on toast was the best ever and if you’re brave, you can try the immunity shot of ginger and pepper. It is VERY zingy!
Hotel Esencia also offers a selection of coffee grounded to order and some delicious fresh juices and smoothies. There is even a “juice bar” which is the cocktail bar in the evening.
Lunch is served at Mistura too or you can order it from your beach mattress. More on this in the “beach” section!
Hotel Esencia also serves a complimentary afternoon tea in the beautiful main house lounge or on its outdoor terrace, sitting comfortably on the lawn. It’s not afternoon tea as the Brits have it (i.e. with sandwiches, scones and cakes) but a simple affair with just hot drinks a few petits fours. A lovely gesture nonetheless.
For dinner, you have three options: Mistura again with a selection of Mexican food and grilled fish, Tayo which serves Japan and sushi or the BeefBar in the grounds, with a very tasty selection of beef and other meats.
We tried everything and it was always really good.
The only downside of the food at Hotel Esencia is that it is VERY expensive even before you add the tax and service fee on top. Wine is also particularly pricey so we had to limit our consumption. Probably a healthy benefit anyway!
Room service is available at any time. We had a pizza night with a movie on Netflix one evening, which was a nice casual break.
You can of course go and eat outside, providing that you book a taxi or have a rental car. Our excursion guide recommended the following in Tulum.
Or you can walk along the beach and try one of the very casual cafes linked to beach clubs or camping.
Beach and poolside at Esencia
Beach and pool 5/5
A beautiful caribbean beach
Hotel Esencia is privileged with a beautiful private beach. As you arrive at the hotel, the lane takes you gently through the grass to a view of the palm trees and on each side two pools. You then arrive at the beach, postcard style: white fine sand, turquoise shallow waters, gentle waves, palm trees swooning gently along a curve which, from a distance, appears to have no other buildings.
It is truly a beautiful place.
There are numerous loungers covered by thatched roofs and the perfect beach service. They set up the mattresses with clean covers and the Esencia brand yellow towels and bring you a bucket of ice with water bottles.
You can order beach service from the comfort of your lounge via a QR code and a button to call them. The menu is very extensive and is truly luxury.
To properly enjoy the seaside, you can borrow snorkeling, paddle boards, body board and a HobbyCat from the lifeguard hunt. Those are all free.
Finally, for families, there are loads of beach toys to make castles and let the little ones enjoy their time too.
Quiet poolside time
There are two very big pools at the hotel, just in front of the main house and steps from the beach.
The adults only pool is huge and shaded by trees. Several loungers are dotted along it and the same service as on the beach applies.
It is a very peaceful and serene space.
The other pool is for families and is a bit smaller but with a shallower depth and some big steps on which you can play with your children.
Again this has been really well thought through.
Plan your visit to Mexico carefully to avoid sargassum
Depending on when you come, the beach might be spoilt by sargassum, a variety of seaweed which can invade beach fronts. You can read more about this phenomenon, likely due to climate change here.
We had some days with it and some days without. If they come, the gardeners diligently clean it every morning. There was a day when so much was coming they had to keep doing it all day long. It was a thankless task.
The problem with sargassum if you don’t clean it, it can totally expand for meters on end in the sea and turn the turquoise water into a brown mess. It also starts to smell badly after a few days.
I talked to one man doing that job- trying my best forgotten Spanish- and he was telling me that they wanted to make it beautiful for us but that it was a « trabajo duro ».
I am torn. I know that tourism brings income and jobs to the region. But I would be fine if they didn’t do that hard job just so that we can have a pretty view.
Usually the sargassum season starts in April but this year it was much earlier. We were there from the 10th and the 17th of February and thought we would avoid it but no luck.
My recommandation is thus to go December and January. They are the most expensive months so try to book away from school holidays.
Hotel Esencia staff and service is par to none
Truly one of the best service we experienced in all the hotels we stayed at.
The people working there were are friendly, smiley and authentic. They provided frictionless service everywhere with heart and warmth.
Throughout the day, they will ensure you have a special time, bringing you fresh fruit by the pool, answering your questions with patience, trying to make you speak Spanish if you indicated you want to get better at it, etc..
Nothing is ever a problem. As in Sao Lourenco do Barocal, you can ask for anything all day long to your personal concierge via What’sApp which is so convenient.
They made us feel very special so a huge thanks to them.
Activities at Hotel Esencia
Esencia is well located to enjoy many of the sites and activities in the region. You can rent a car from the airport and use it to go around or the Hotel can arrange a car rental for the day or a guided excursion.
I am definitely someone who likes to discover a region but Mr Big is more about relaxing and Mademoiselle wants experiences rather than cultural trips.
What to do around Hotel Esencia
The three of us could find what we wanted though. I arranged for a day excursion to the picturesque Mayan ruins of Tulum and the vast site of Coba.
On our way back, we stopped at one of the many Cenotes, a natural pit which exposes underground clear water. They can be either open, semi-open or underground. We went to an open one as I’m a bit claustrophobic! Lots of local families like to go there as they offer a respite from the heat.
Tulum with its cool bars, boutiques and restaurants in about 40 minutes to the south. You will need to book a local taxi to go there.
Of course there are tons of family-fun attractions around with natural parks, swimming with the dolphins, natural reserves etc. And you can also drive to the colonial city of Merida or Valladolid, both really worth it but quite a drive away so maybe better to plan them as part of a tour of different hotels.
A magical swim with the Manatees
Back at Esencia, there is complimentary yoga every morning, a tennis court, board games in the living room – where they serve afternoon tea- and of course a very cozy spa with treatments inspired by antique Mexican traditions.
But the best activity was the visit to the Manatees!
A lifeguard takes you through the abandoned site of a former luxury hotel which was destroyed by hurricane Emily to a lagoon with clear water, peaceful jungle and a suprise in the middle of it.
You paddle to a secluded area and suddenly you see a big white mass swimming underneath you. The lifeguards handles you snorkeling equipment and you can then dive and swim with them. They are very gentle creature which you can touch and they are not at all afraid of us humans.
If you come at the right season, there is also another magical nature-experience: watching baby turtles bering born and run to the sea….
Hotel Esencia review – our verdict
Esencia is trully a magical place, hidden in the midst of a junble with a beautiful sandy beach, a guarantee of peace and quiet and privacy.
One thing to be aware of is that it is really expensive. We like our luxury hotel as you know but this was definitely the most expensive hotel we stayed at. We don’t regret it but certainly do keep it for a special occasion.
But certainly it is worth it. Everything is so well thought and beautiful. You are already spoilt with a stunning setting and style, but they also provide you with countless moments of delights: the fresh fruit brought to your sun loungers, the beach bags and flipflops you can bring home, the surprise speakeasy or the cinema theatre to watch the SuperBowl for instance, the candles lit up at night around the bar, live music at the BeefBar…
So my advice is: go spend a few days here when you land in Mexico to relax. Then explore this wonderful country, go in land, discover the rich history and civilisation on a roadtrip and then go back to conclude your trip in the serene beauty that is Esencia.
Doubles from about £890; 47 suites and 4 villas.