There’s a Pavlovian response among travelers when someone utters that magical word: Overwater. As soon as we hear it, we begin drooling and thinking about the vacation of a lifetime. Poll 100 travelers for their ultimate dream accommodations and I’m confident 99 of them will mention a bungalow somewhere in the South Pacific, and that other person will immediately reconsider and change the answer to: “That one overwater mansion with the waterslide in the Maldives.”
What’s equally exciting is watching this concept evolve. Resorts around the world are constantly introducing new suites and villas that push the boundaries of luxury and spoil guests with settings so remarkable that it’s impossible to think of anything better. At least, that was the feeling I had when sipping a Mezcalita on the terrace of my Lagoon and Sunset Rooftop Pool Villa at Banyan Tree Mayakoba. I was there to experience the property’s Thai Food Festival—which was amazing—but I’d be lying if I said the resort’s newest living space didn’t steal some of the spotlight.
When word broke in 2019 that this resort would eventually unveil some sort of “over-the-water” oasis, there was immediate buzz. Influencers undoubtedly called from all over the world to put their Instagram handles at the top of the waiting list, and, given the access to the magnificent El Camaleón Golf Club, we assume some pros also told their agents to make sure they had the accommodations booked for this year’s World Wide Technology Championship.
That’s not to say the other suites and villas here aren’t similarly magnificent. The Beachfront Terrace Pool Suite, for example, places guests right on the sand, which is a top priority to many travelers, while the Harmony Two-Bedroom Lagoon Pool Villa exists as a kingdom that will make any family feel like royalty. One of the greatest spoils at Banyan Tree Mayakoba is variety, but there’s just something about the seven Lagoon and Sunset Rooftop Pool Villas that will capture the hearts of even the most pampered travelers.
Arriving at this resort feels like you’ve entered a hidden city, almost as if you’re in one of those adventure movies where the hero goes behind a waterfall and discovers a lost world. The spacious main building is as complex as it is warm and welcoming, and while guests could spend an hour or two exploring the four corners of the creative space—and its many delicious treats—everyone will be eager to get to the villas. And getting from Point A to Points B, C, and D at Banyan Tree Mayakoba almost always requires a golf cart ride, no matter how many times a guest might think, “I can walk this.”
The path to the lagoon showcases two of the most alluring features of this property: the serene canals and the wide yet somehow intimidating fairways of El Camaleón. There’s so much to look at and admire that if you blink, you’ll miss the quick tease of the seven villas as you head over the final short bridge on approach to the Sands Beach Club.
Although, it might be even better if guests were blindfolded before pulling up to the front doors of their villas, because the first impression is an unparalleled “WOW” moment. The white stone façade is framed by a beautiful wood structure that instantly presents strong sensations of privacy and serenity. Perhaps even protection and security, keeping visitors safe not from the colorful birds who will happily steal fruit, but from stress, anxiety, and all the figurative baggage we leave behind on vacations.
Inside, all is calm. A large couch and king size bed take up most of the living space without it actually feeling that way. My initial impression was, “Whatever will I do here?” but the question was rhetorical. Relax. Exist. Appreciate the majesty of this region from one of the best seats in the house, which certainly can be the dining table set right in front of the floor to ceiling glass doors and windows, but the best times will be spent up top.
As we ascended the stairs, I asked my concierge and guide what sets this villa concept apart from the beachfront accommodations, and he smiled as he told me, “The secret is the sunset.” I wouldn’t know what he meant until later in my trip, but in the early afternoon I could already tell the rooftop terrace was the place to be. But what kind of traveler would enjoy this covered exterior living space the most?
Certainly, star-crossed lovers enjoying their first vacation as newlyweds would make the most of the loungers and plunge pool. As would a couple celebrating 10, 20, even 50 years of marriage. However, as a solo traveler hoping to get some work done somewhere in between a round of golf, mezcal tasting at the Sands Beach Club, and talking myself into the signature steak dish at Tomahawk Open Fire Latin Grill, I was thrilled to call this my workation office.
The key to the Lagoon and Sunset Rooftop Pool Villa is a sense of calm, because even with the seven residences sitting closely in a line, the neighbors always feel a mile away. I barely heard mine, and even when I asked the couple next door to shout a greeting from their rooftop—this job is very scientific—they sounded distant enough that they could have been golfers who’d just plopped a ProV1 in the canal that crosses the nearby fairway. These villas are essentially sanctuaries for any type of traveler who just wants a break from it all—and the pool is merely a luxurious touch.
On the final day of my stay, I returned from a guided canal tour of Banyan Tree Mayakoba and her neighboring properties with a few hours to spare before the main event of the food festival. I poured my Mezcalita from the cocktail kit the hotel delivered that afternoon like generous ninjas, and I ascended once more to my new favorite spot in Mexico—my own little fortress of solitude.
After an action-packed trip, it was the first chance I’d had to spend any time in the evening on the terrace. I hadn’t thought much about what my guide had said to me as he gave me a tour of the villa, but sometimes the most special moments have a habit of sneaking up on us. As I answered my final email for the day, I closed my laptop, stared out beyond the lagoon, and smiled at the best sunset I’d ever witnessed in Mexico.
My apologies to my host, but he should have known better than to trust me with that secret.