Throughout history people have flocked to spas to relieve stress, pamper the body or simply to partake in a "social happening." Bathing played an important part in ancient Roman culture and their thermae (public baths) were a forerunner of our modern-day spas. In fact, according to lore, their "sanitas per aquas," (health through waters) coined today's "spa" acronym.
Fortunately for visitors to Cancun and the Riviera Maya, rejuvenation and pampering aren't just a diversion, they're a way of life. The mysticism of the area, combined with the energy and natural beauty of the surroundings set the stage for the vast array of therapeutic treatments found here.
The clever use of indigenous herbs and revival of ancient Maya rituals promise modern-day road warriors physical as well spiritual relief from whatever ails them. Here, a list of spas where you can kick back and indulge in some stress-release, Maya-style.
Gem Spa's Sensory Pool features stress-relieving water jets — Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
1. Grand Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Cancun Resort & Spa
Unleash the inner goddess (or god) in you by indulging in the resort's Gem Spa Maya Gods Ritual option, an invigorating and hydrating total body spa treatment offering a copal exfoliation and body wrap. Copal, or resin from a "sacred" aromatic tree, was used by the ancient Mayas and Aztecs in spiritual ceremonies known for revitalizing the spirit.
The palatial setting and hands-on personalized spa service in this luxurious Cancun resort are just an added bonus. Fresh juices, fruit and soothing Maya music promise the perfect supplement to your "journey."
Especially known for their "Hydrotherapy Ritual,"–a 10-step process, which includes an aromatherapy steam room, clay steam room, ice room, polar plunge and pebble walkway, ending in the comforting pool of sensations–is a good way to start your spa visit.
Gem Spa offers a host of other unique Maya-inspired treatments as well, with all services beginning with a ceremonial washing of the feet.
Relaxation suite at Le Blanc Spa promises total tranquility — Photo courtesy of Le Banc Spa
2. Le Blanc Spa Resort
Tucked inside of one of Cancun's most popular resorts, Le Blanc Spa underscores attentive service along with a full roster of spa treatments, facials and massages for both men and women. Coed areas include the Jacuzzi and palatial relaxation suite, while soft music, a variety of fresh juices, fruit and snacks enhance the experience.
The Kulkulcán Massage–meaning "Plumed Serpent," the name of the Maya snake deity–is sure to appeal to your "spirit animal."
The Maya spa ritual begins with a copal ceremony in which your therapist cleanses your aura. You're then invited to select a small copal pebble and hold it over your heart to purge any negative energy surrounding you as the therapist continues the cleansing ritual with time-honored Maya invocations.
The extraordinary "four-hand," 80-minute massage is seamlessly choreographed with two spa therapists simulating the movements of the "sacred" jaguar, snake and eagle while lulling you into total relaxation. If you're conscious enough, you will be able to differentiate between these strokes as your mind and body release stress.
Cacao treatments melt stress away — Photo courtesy of Nizuc Resort and Spa
3. Nizuc Resort & Spa
The setting and soothing décor may be minimalistic but luxury prevails in one of Cancun's newest resorts. Nizuc Spa by Espa aficionados will enjoy separate hydro-therapy facilities for both men and women, along with a host of tantalizing spa treatments. All begin with an organic tea ceremony and foot ritual with a consultation to customize each experience.
Chocolate lovers should indulge in the Maya Cacao spa treatment, a mouth-watering, stress-melting massage using pure cacao oil. Long used by the Maya for its mood enhancing and restorative properties, cacao was the food of the gods.
The 120-minute massage starts with a foot-washing ritual and ends with trickling warm cacao oil on the "third eye," or forehead. It's said to calm the mind, as well as the spirit.
Co-ed suites and couples' treatments promote togetherness — Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
4. Secrets the Vine Cancun
Set inside another one of Cancun's new resorts, Secrets Spa offers a full roster of spa treatments, wraps and facials for both men and women in a sanctuary of tranquility. Unlike other spas, public areas such as Jacuzzi and relaxation suites are coed, allowing guests to savor the experience with their significant other.
This wine-themed resort adds a French "twist" to Maya spa rituals with vinotherapy facials and massages, using signature products from France. Made from grapes, grape seeds and wine varietals, facials feature Petite Sirah followed by a Merlot exfoliation. Also offered is a Chenin Blanc eye treatment and Pinot Noir full-body detoxification.
With a nod to the Maya link to cacao, the Chocolate Body Wrap features a chocolate mint exfoliation, followed by a warm chocolate wrap. A veil of chocolate moisturizer wraps up the decadent experience.
The ancient Garra Rufa fish exfoliation pedicure is said to stimulate blood flow, improve circulation, remove bacteria and reduce the athlete's foot is one of the spa highlights.
Being pampered under a beach palapa is the ultimate experience — Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
5. The Ritz-Carlton Cancun
The hallmark of luxury, this popular Cancun resort boasts a petite spa, which specializes in attentive service along with a host of soothing water rituals, massage therapies, body treatments and facials influenced by the ancient Maya culture.
Kayantá Spa underscores the timeless adage that "all good things come in small packages," with just eight treatment rooms paving the way for this unforgettable spa experience.
Drawn from the Maya phrase “ká a yaántah,” meaning “to be reborn,” the spa menu is complemented by Vichy showers, steam rooms, Jacuzzis, plunge pools and relaxation gardens.
Get in touch with your inner self, with the exotic 80-minute Maya Sanctuary Ritual, which begins with a traditional limpia (cleansing), using medicinal herbs and copal, followed by a comforting massage using special oils and heated seashells.
Performed on the beach–typically at sunset in the privacy of a secluded palapa (thatched hut)–it will be the highlight of your spa vacation.
Maya massage rituals are performed in a secluded palapa — Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
6. Viceroy Riviera Maya
With a nod to early Maya architecture, the Spa at Viceroy Riviera Maya is tucked into a white circular building nestled in a lush jungle setting along these tranquil Caribbean shores. Their holistic philosophy focuses on regenerating energy and restoring the spirit using soothing marine and herbal spa remedies.
A roster of massages, facials, body treatments and wraps promise to rejuvenate and refresh you. The traditional 80-minute tzolkin ritual prepares your body as well as the soul for a new beginning. The journey takes place under a secluded palapa with the indispensable copal setting the tone for the purification ceremony, followed by a balancing foot massage to induce a deep state of relaxation.
A calming massage using copal mud promises to balance your emotions, while purifying the mind, body and soul.
A secluded path leads to the spa — Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
7. Hotel Esencia
If this boutique seaside jewel looks like it's fit for royalty, it's because it was built for an Italian duchess–and heiress to the Ferrari fortune. In fact, the centerpiece of this regal, 29-room hotel tucked into a lush 50-acre jungle enclave along a pristine beach is her three-story former home, known as the "Casa Grande."
Tucked into a beautiful circular white stucco palapa, fashioned after a Maya pyramid, the signature Aroma Spa offers a collection of organic spa treatments. Drawing on ancient healing techniques, they are guaranteed to cure whatever ails you while promoting physical and spiritual well-being.
Everything begins with a spiritual limpia (cleansing) with copal. The Maya considered lime to be a natural element for purification with ancient healers using it to absorb inner body heat and extract toxins. Drawing on this belief, the Lime Ritual alternates the use of lime and herbs with a deep-tissue massage to stimulate the flow of strength and energy.
The herbs, aloe vera and lime used here are grown in the spa garden and are hand mixed by spa healers in the Aroma Spa kitchen.
The mournful wail of the conch kicks off the Maya ceremony — Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
8. Grand Residences Riviera Cancun
Sprawling along the shore between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, this luxurious enclave is one of the area's newest resorts and gives new meaning to the Mexican adage: "Mi casa es su casa." The meaning, my home is your home, couldn't be more spot-on with the host of personalized services and activities here.
Still a work in progress, there are currently 103 lavish suites, with an additional wing, additional restaurants and spa expansion planned in the future. Three dining venues, four pools, tennis courts, kid's club, fitness center, gourmet mini mart and beach activities offer plenty to do.
At the spa, the Maya Cleansing Ritual soothes not only the body, but the soul as it opens with a "spiritual cleansing" beginning with the mournful call of the conch shell and a magical rite combined with herbs and special prayers before the relaxing massage is given. This ancient spa ritual is conducted either on the beach, or on your private terrace for heightened awareness.
Ancient shawl treatment relieves stress — Photo courtesy of Grand Velas Riviera Maya
9. Grand Velas Riviera Maya
Tucked into 205 protected acres of mangroves on one of the area's best beaches, Grand Velas is an ultra-luxury, all-inclusive resort. Guests can choose from three separate experiences: ocean-front, adult-only suites, family-friendly, ocean-front guestrooms or rooms in a zen-like tropical setting, framed by the flora and fauna of the Yucatán Peninsula.
The architecturally striking, two-level Grand Velas Riviera Maya Spa is the region's largest spa sanctuary, inspired by the area's vegetation and natural pools.
The 80-minute Royal Maya Massage showcases rich local traditions using an ancient spa massage technique utilizing blankets and shawls to promote stress relief. In keeping with traditional Maya medicine–and possibly a forerunner to modern chiropractic medicine–blankets and brightly colored shawls were used to align the body and relieve back pain.
During the spa treatment, the therapist uses shawls to stretch the body and releasing tension, promoting immediate relief. This therapy is said to benefit the entire being–physically, chemically, emotionally and spiritually–while eliminating contractions, tension and knots as it gently realigns the vertebra and corrects posture.
The Temazcátl ceremony includes water — Photo courtesy of Azulik Hotel & Maya Spa
10. Azulik Hotel & Maya Spa
Get back to basics at the rustic, eco-friendly Azulik in Tulum, on the Riviera Maya. Forty-two romantic casitas are separated by winding sand walkways, which, when night falls, are illuminated by soft torchlight.
A roster of Maya massages and treatments are offered - indoors or on the beach - but of special significance is the time-honored temazcál ritual.
For hundreds of years, Mexico’s ancient cultures employed the temazcál–from "temazcalli" meaning "steam house" in Nahuatl–a purifying steam bath intended to heal the body, mind and soul.
Modern-day rituals–conducted by a shaman–last approximately two hours and are conducted on the beach or in the jungle. You're taken into a stone hut or pyramid, where you're seated in a circle and led through a short ceremony celebrating Mother Earth’s gifts of fire, water, earth and air.
Maya incantations, special herbs, hot lava stones, steam, natural teas and candles are part of the rite, as herb-infused water is poured over the heated volcanic rocks. The theory is that the high heat and humidity reached inside the hut cause you to sweat profusely and remove toxins from the body.
Recently, an optional aquatic version of the ritual has been added. The Temazcátl (atl meaning water in Nahuatl) enhances the traditional ceremony with a small tub of water, allowing participants to refresh themselves along the way.
When the ritual is finished, you throw yourself into the sea–or take a cold shower–and nibble on fresh fruit. This isn't just a “spiritual” experience, you may just lose a few pounds along the way.