Waldorf Astoria Cancun opened to the public on Nov. 1, the brand's first new build in Mexico, with two waterfront pools and a fantastic spa, among other amenities.
While my eyes fixate on the fiery oranges and reds on the horizon, toes buried in the warm sand, I listen to a shaman sporting a feathered headpiece speaking quietly in Mayan. It's 7 a.m. in Cancun, Mexico, and our group of four — my mother, a yoga instructor, the shaman, and me — are the only people on a pristine stretch of white sand taking part in a traditional sun salutation ceremony.
Last week, my mom and I spent three days as the first and only guests in the brand-new Waldorf Astoria Cancun, which officially opened its doors to travelers on Nov. 1. We had the entire 100-acre resort and its five-star amenities to ourselves, and the experience — even for someone who travels and reviews luxury resorts for a living — was sensational.
While this is not the brand's first property in Mexico — it overtook an existing hotel in Los Cabos in 2019 — Waldorf Astoria Cancun is the first newly built resort in the Hilton-owned brand's Caribbean and Latin American portfolio. It has panoramic vistas of the water from each of its 173 rooms and suites.
"If you really want to come to the Caribbean because you want to be in front of the water, all of our units are ocean view. Moreover, every single culinary venue, including our Waldorf ballroom, is ocean view," George Stanfield, managing director of the property, tells Travel + Leisure.
Cancun often conjures up images of rowdy spring breakers and crowded beaches, but there's none of that here. The hotel has clearly hit the location jackpot, nestled behind a lush mangrove preserve, but just 15 minutes from the airport. And while, technically, all beaches in Mexico are public, the quiet stretch of white-sand coastline fronting the new property didn't get much traffic during our stay, so it felt like we had access to a private beach, in addition to the two large swimming pools overlooking the ocean.
Water is clearly a major theme throughout the property's design. Along with the breathtaking ocean views, each room also has a private balcony with an outdoor soaking tub. And in the lobby, graphic carpet patterns invoke the movement of water.
"Leveraging the use of natural sensory stimuli and biophilia to support wellness, emotional engagement, and restoration, the design imbues a connection to nature through modern lines, repetitive patterns, and undulating forms that mimic the sea," says Stefano Falbo, vice president and associate principal of SB Architects, which worked on the project alongside interior design firm HBA and landscape architecture and urban design firm EDSA.
Furniture in organic forms replicates natural formations while pearlescent inlays, shells, and shimmering motifs are reminiscent of the sparkling sea's surface,
Marketed as the "Jewel of Cancun," the hotel feels exclusive and sophisticated without being overly opulent or clad in gold tones and heavy textiles. The grand lobby features a series of chandeliers, sleek sofas, marble coffee tables, and wooden chairs. It is anchored by the signature Waldorf Astoria clock, a meeting place for guests. At this property, it is made of luxe marble and mother of pearl and features Mayan symbols.
To ensure the sprawling hotel doesn't feel overwhelming, the spaces are broken down into smaller, more intimate vignettes and lounge areas, with lush greenery and a neutral color palette.
Stanfield explained that the goal was to make guests feel secluded and give them as much privacy as possible even when the resort is at capacity. The outdoor spaces have a dynamic, terraced layout with swaying palms and local plants growing in between the sundecks and cabanas, delivering privacy, plenty of tropical vibes, and reminding travelers of the richness of the Yucatán jungle.
In fact, incorporating elements of local culture and Mayan traditions is another central theme throughout the resort's facilities and décor. And nowhere is this more evident than the Waldorf Astoria Spa. Everything about it is geared toward delivering an authentic experience inspired by the nature and cultural heritage of the region — from the bright and spacious, sun-filled lobby with a sunken circular seating area, a nod to the thousands of cenotes dotting the Yucatán, to the spectacular landscaping surrounding the 21 treatment rooms and swimming pool, and the signature treatments inspired by the Ceiba tree.
Omar Sanchez, the spa's manager, explained that the ancient Mayans believed Ceiba trees, of which there are several planted on the property, connect our world with the underworld through their roots and with the heavens through their branches. That's why my sumptuous 80-minute aromatherapy massage, called Yellow Ceiba, started from my feet (it ended in the private plunge pool outside the treatment room). The spa's range of products will also feature an exclusive body lotion with Ceiba tree oil. Other highlights of the hotel's wellness offerings include regular yoga classes (there is a studio on-site), a sun salutation ceremony every Monday morning, Pilates, and much more.
Cancun has welcomed quite a few luxury resorts in the past decade, so when I asked Stanfield what sets the Waldorf Astoria apart, he cited the culinary program. The hotel has five distinct dining spaces, including Chaya, which serves breakfast and dinner (and serious décor inspiration), and the lunch spot Ja'o. But if you, like me, are all about seafood, then Malpeque is your place. The elegant dining room features an open kitchen with a fire grill — each dish incorporates an element of fire, char, or smoke.
We ordered the catch of the day for two, which was snook from the Gulf of Mexico, grilled and marinated in spices. The fish was probably enough to feed a family of four, but as delicious and tender as it was, my mother and I did a pretty decent job (almost) finishing it. We paired it with whole grilled cauliflower as a side dish and glasses of a light, fruity Mexican cabernet sauvignon.
I found that the terrific service at the hotel extends beyond the property, as well. The hotel has partnered with a local tour company to build a custom adventure itinerary for guests of the Waldorf Astoria. The day-long trip, during which an extremely knowledgeable guide accompanied us, took us in a private vehicle (with plenty of snacks for the road) to the Ek' Balam Mayan archaeological site. Then, we were off to a nearby cenote, Hubiku, where our guide had sun chairs and catering set up. It was like a private beach club with cenote access. After a refreshing dip in the water and a shot of tequila, we ended the day and the tour with lunch and some free time at colonial Valladolid.
Back on that beach in front of the hotel, the shaman thanked us for taking the time to participate in the sun salutation ceremony because "time is our most precious gift." And if that's true, then travelers can rest assured that Waldorf Astoria Cancun is certainly worthy of their precious time.
You can now book your stay at Waldorf Astoria Cancun, where nightly rates start from $875.
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