Going back to the drawing board for the Garden of Eden you would struggle to beat Secrets Akumal, “the place of the turtles”, on the Mexican Mayan Riviera.
Paradise, version 2.0, includes quiet paths meandering through fruit-salad trees and ginger plants, unlimited fast reliable wifi, white-sand Caribbean beaches and Coffee Seduction manicures. And what’s the Mayan translation for “zen-like-tranquility”?
Designed for love in the 21st century with beach wedding gazebo and second honeymoon specials, Secrets at Akumal is Gardeners World does Garden of Eden, largely pampering affluent millennial Adam and Eves. Though on the padded sun-loungers there are a few wizened post-kids couples celebrating survival.
Low volume chillax music of slow-mo Andean pipes sets a relaxed tone. In many travellers’ opinion, Secrets, open for just two years, provides the best serene experience available on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Large jacuzzis in each suite, plus a “Do Not Disturb” switch that locks the door to absolutely everyone, encourage romantics. Every suite has a “Romeo and Juliet” box so that Room Service can drop off essential supplies without infringing privacy.
The Old Testament’s dress code was originally fig-leaf free but at Secrets, in 2017, clothes are compulsory (even though the federally owned beach theoretically permits topless attire.) Pier 27, the resort’s pricey beachwear boutique, encourages a lightweight pastel elegance that would not look out of place in a Gatsby movie.
Of course there’s a serpent in the garden. Taking the embarrassingly sordid hindrance of money out of the equation, all-inclusive inevitably raises the tricky issue of 24 hour drinking. You could add a serious shot of Smirnoff to your breakfast nutribullet smoothie and pep-up your mid-morning coffee with Kahlua at the Coco Cafe before downing a pre-lunch Hurricane. Exceeding a week’s sensible drinking allowance by lunchtime on Day 1 would not be a challenge.
Yet, Secrets at Akumal, seems more than 90 minutes south from Cancun’s hellish culture of free beer and unlimited firewater. In Secrets’ Adults Only resort – behaviour is almost always Only Adult: civilised and refined. Come evening, minimum dress standards are usually exceeded with little black dresses, elegant evening gowns and neatly pressed chinos. Nor do guests have to wear wrist-bands. At last all-inclusive has grown-up.
Hard data may be missing but couples seem to hold hands for more hours of the day at Secrets than at most other holiday destinations: walking hand-in-hand into the warm Caribbean to snorkel in the lagoon, sharing a sunset stroll to alfresco jazz, together browsing art and jewellery at the artisans daily evening fair.
If you are in a good relationship and can afford Secrets’ stratospheric prices then life is probably good, no need to drown out an abhorrent reality in an alcoholic haze. Romantic dinners for two are unlikely to descend into binge-drinking sessions.
Although Secrets is not as clean-living as her prim sister-hotel Zoetry, with her holier-and-richer-than-thou cellar of 15 premium waters selected from around the world, nevertheless Akumal’s romantic offering attracts a fairly clean-living clientele. Some limber-up with sunrise yoga on the beach whilst others drip their way back from the gym. It’s easier to find scallops ceviche or a light crab taco at lunchtime than burger-and-fries. Even then the taco shell is so wafer-thin that it’s almost repelling calories. Portion sizes at the a la carte restaurants sensibly veer towards nouveau cuisine minimalism.
“Our wine sommelier, after much tasting, has selected this wine as the perfect match for our fish-menu,” advised our easily impressed waiter at the Oceana restaurant as he pushed a very ordinary Sauvignon Blanc. The Oceana is just one of five a la carte restaurants. French, Italian, Mexican and Pan-Asian are the others, standing alongside an international buffet and grill. Generally the house wines are more Tesco than Berry Brothers. Clearly there is a desire to sell-up to a VIP cellar of wines beyond the all-inclusive package.
Although Himitsu, a flamboyant Pan-Asian attracts the crowds with is flaming woks and sharp-knifed show cookery, and understandably Mexican El Patio is popular, it is the Old World charm of Bordeaux, classically simple French cuisine, and impeccably Italian Portofino which deserve second visits if you stay for more than a week.
Then, of course, there’s the big question, is this the real Mexico? A starship trooper figure, who twice daily leaves vast clouds of insecticide swirling in his wake, has almost vanquished mosquitoes, whilst a battalion of gardeners constantly battle a jungle eager to overrun the Secrets site.
Yes, there are lightly fried grasshoppers – think salt-and-pepper chunky chewy crisps – as a starter in the El Patio restaurant. Buildings of stacked-limestone slabs, for the entire Yucatan peninsula is a giant honeycomb of limestone and sinkholes, pay homage to the grandeur of Mayan architecture rather than the shabby cramped dwellings that are home for most in a developing country.
“Mr Trump he think we are poor but we are not really a poor country,” says our guide philosophically on the road to Chichen Itza.
But, still, there is a sense that this is a 53rd State of the USA: Mexico to go. There are Nespresso machines in the suites, no kettle for tea, and complementary copies of USA Today with breakfast. At times you catch yourself thinking that you’re in Miami or Tampa, particularly if baseball or American Football’s playing in the Half-Time Sports Bar. They serve Corona but you’ll think it’s a Bud.
Maybe the question needs re-phrasing – if you’ve selected Secrets would you want a real Mexico-on-$20-a-day-experience? If you’re going to experience grass-hoppers better to have them lightly sautéed as an experimental appetiser than crawling over your bedding.
Images (c) AM Resorts
Tell me more about Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya
Carretara Federal 307, km 254+600
Pueblo de Akumal, 77760 Tulum
Getting to Riviera Maya
All-inclusive Tropical Junior Suites, for two, start from around £250 per night in the rainy season of September and October and soar towards £500 per night for Christmas.
With pricey transfers from Cancun to Akumal look out for package deals in sales from Virgin and Thomas Cook.