Remember when a family vacation meant heading to a cheesy all-inclusive resort in Cancun . . . or getting drunk in Cabo on spring break . . . or escaping to a beachfront shack in Tulum? Blink and it’ll be gone. Today, big hotel brands are rapidly rebuilding and redefining Mexico for a more exclusive audience.
“The government of Mexico has shown commitment in continuing to build Mexico as a luxury travel destination,” said Sergio Pereira, the general manager at One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos. “This is evident in the growing presence of ultra-luxury hotels, restaurants, wellness, and retail brands catering to an influx of affluent travelers to the destination.”
In fact, the last decade has brought an avalanche of luxury hotel openings, from big brand names to independent inns that have renovated and reopened with a five-star clientele in mind.
The new Rancho Pescadero is one example. It relaunched at the end of 2022 after completely transforming from a 12-room boutique hotel into a wellness-focused luxury resort in Todos Santos. The hotel was sustainably designed by Mexican architect Alejandra Templeton, and nearly all of the furnishings and decor come from local Mexican artists. There are nine distinct gardens spread across the property, which has a 25,000-square-foot spa; a fitness center with a pilates reformer studio and indoor and outdoor yoga studios; and three separate restaurants and bars, supplied by the gardens. The 103 rooms feature details such as private roof decks, plunge pools, outdoor showers, and plush beds with handmade headboards. When guests leave their rooms, it’s to experience things like Mexican coffee tastings, Indigenous cacao ceremonies, sunrise garden meditations, and salsa-making classes.
Owner Lisa Harper fell in love with Todos Santos, about an hour north of Cabo, in the 1990s and has witnessed its evolution from backpacker retreat to luxury destination.
“Todos Santos in the ‘90s was a haven for creatives and artists,” she said. “In recent years, partially as a result of the pandemic, many Americans relocated here and rents have skyrocketed. Naturally, the evolution of luxury hospitality has followed suit.”
In Baja alone, Four Seasons will open its second Los Cabos resort and St. Regis Quivira Los Cabos will debut early next year. Also in 2024, Aman will open Amanvari on Baja’s east cape, and Park Hyatt Los Cabos and Soho House Beach Club will both come to the Cabo Del Sol development.
Over in Riviera Nayarit, One&Only’s second Mexico property opened in the private community of Mandarina in 2020. (The Rosewood Mandarina will open next year—the brand’s fourth Mexican property). The lush grounds and stunning beaches make an ideal location for the extravagant tree house-style rooms and spacious pool villas that dot the sprawling property, which is also home to a massive wellness center and several dining options, including a restaurant by famous Mexican chef Enrique Olvera. Perhaps most importantly, the property offers a long list of experiences, from horseback riding to zip lining to a traditional temazcal ceremony.
“A growing number of personalized, meaningful experiences has contributed to luxury travelers willing to pay more for unique and bespoke experiences,” said Serge Ditesheim, the general manager at One&Only Mandarina.
In 2021 and 2022, Auberge Resorts opened two resorts in Mexico: Etéreo in Riviera Maya and Susurros del Corazon near Punta de Mita in Riviera Nayarit (Auberge also has two resorts in Los Cabos). Susurros del Corazon has 59 luxurious rooms and 30 villas, along with top-quality service, but the attention to local artisans and designers, whose creations adorn the rooms and throughout the property, is clearly a priority. The property also makes a point to use local practitioners to lead experiences like an immersive sound bath and a master class in raicilla, a locally made agave spirit.
Even Cancun and Tulum are upping their luxe factor. In 2022, Kempinski Hotel Cancun debuted and Hilton opened Waldorf Astoria Cancun and Conrad Tulum.
“Mexico, and Cancun in particular, has long been recognized as an important destination for our leisure travelers and for guests who are seeking upper all-inclusive and luxury experiences,” said Juan Corvinos, senior vice president of development, architecture and construction for Caribbean and Latin America at Hilton.
Harper for one, approaches the increasing popularity of Mexico with wealthy travelers gladly but cautiously.
“Our challenge is to find ways to tap into and resonate with the luxury market without sacrificing on the experience, or losing our identity and what people have always loved about Rancho and Baja,” said Harper. “As more brands continue to invest locally, it’s an ongoing fight to maintain what makes [this region] unique, and preserve the culture, nature, and communities that allow this destination to thrive.”