Mexico: Gaze with wonder

Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen.
  • Delving into the Mayan past, Emily Boynton discovers a Mexican escape is an energising experience.
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Standing in a field with my hands raised in the air, I have to admit I feel quite silly. The idea that I might catch the sun’s rays with my fingertips seems even more ludicrous, but encouraging bystanders are telling me to imagine my body being filled with a powerful energy.

We are gathered outside one of the world’s greatest monuments, the Kukulkan Temple at Chichen Itza. A Mayan archaeological site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it’s is an awe-inspiring network of temples on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, dating back to AD 600.

Chichen Itza Pyramid

Chichen Itza Pyramid

The reason for my flailing hand gestures is the Spring Equinox, which happens in mid-to-late March every year. Along with the Autumn Equinox in September, it’s a big celebration for the Mayan people. The Mayans were pioneers in astrology and each of the four sides of the Kukulkan temple has 91 steps – one step for each day of the year – with the top platform making the 365th. It’s a remarkable structure and during the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, the sun aligns at an angle to create the shadow of a serpent creeping down the steps of the pyramid, connecting the sun to the earth.

I’m so caught up in the celebrations, I quickly forget about any embarrassment. In reality, my energising holiday started two-and-a-half hours away at Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa, on the Riviera Maya. Situated on a white sand beach amid lush greenery, the former private residence is made up of 63 low-rise whitewashed rooms and suites.

Days can be spent lazing by one of the three swimming pools, playing tennis or wandering along the delightfully deserted beach. Unlike the busy beaches at nearby Playa del Carmen, here it is possible to walk for miles without seeing another person.

A short boat ride from the hotel is the world’s second largest coral reef, known as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef or the Great Mayan Reef.

It covers an area of 1,000 kilometres from Isla Contoy on the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, all the way to Honduras.

I overcome my fear of the choppy 
water and take the plunge at snorkelling, spotting an array of marine life, including parrotfish, angelfish, barracudas and butterfly fish.

Although I feel revived after the Spring Equinox celebrations, I decide a trip to the hotel’s Kinan Spa will really leave me feeling like a new person. Treatments here are based on healing Mayan rituals, using products made with locally sourced ingredients.

Every part of the spa has been aligned with the stars to create a positive energy flow; treatment rooms point east to west, representing day and night, and the massage beds face east, symbolising new beginnings.

I decide to try the Maya Temazcal, which turns out to be one of the most unusual and memorable spa treatments that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I join a small group on the beach at dusk, and as the sun disappears, a Mayan shaman leads us into a triangular structure submerged in the sand.

In the dark, seated in a circle around heated rocks, we are taken through the different stages of the Temazcal, each one dedicated to the elements of air, water, fire and earth.

Chanting, singing and drumming takes place, as the rocks are doused with herb-infused water, raising the temperature and creating an aromatic healing steam to drive out the impurities from our skin.

As the treatment ends, we run full speed into the refreshing sea. Again, I have my hands held high in the air, only this time I’m not reaching for anything – I just seem to have found a new spring in my step.

• Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000, coxandkings.co.uk) offers a five-night stay at Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa, priced from £1,595 per person, including British Airways flights, private transfers and a Deluxe Garden Room with breakfast daily.