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Missing Paradise: Banyan Tree Acapulco

As I enjoy the warmth of my roaring fireplace, I find winter all around me. The fearful Polar Vortex has descended upon our community. The outside temperature reached -20oF, this morning, with a windchill of -50! Yet, I look through our ice-crusted windows, observing the stark, contrasting hues of black, white, and dull grey, yearning for something else.

In a mental retreat from the harsh reality of our frigid winter on the prairie, my mind returns to the beauty, wonder, and warmth of our recent visit south of the border, to the almost mystical allure of Acapulco Bay on Mexico’s western shore.

In October 2018, Stacy and I visited the city of Acapulco for the first time. The visit had a purpose – we needed a writing and strategy sabbatical. Sometimes it’s difficult to put pen to paper while guiding both a busy family business and our children still at home. Thus, finding a retreat, one that offered peace and solitude, was crucial. And we discovered all that, and more, at the Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués.

Before we discuss the hotel, let me tell you a bit about Acapulco. The city was founded by the Spanish in the 1500s, as a base for Eastern trade. Interestingly, the natural trade winds passed right over the deepwater bay, allowing ships to take advantage of the atmospherical thoroughfare, and reach the Orient relatively quickly, at least for the times.

Acapulco Bay protected the wealth-laden Spanish galleon—ships that were at risk from both natural storms and also English and Dutch privateers. Rich spices, exquisite silks, silver, and gold flowed through the city for almost three centuries. While the Mexican War of Independence disrupted the trade, a gem of a community was born!

Acapulco was a kind of second home for many celebrities from the ’50s through the ’70s. The Rat Pack, John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, and others were frequent visitors – and investors! John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned in this city.

But these “golden years” soon came to an end, and trials began. The tourist industry brought an influx of population, which overtaxed the city’s essential services. Words like poverty, pollution, and, later, the drug trade became synonymous with Acapulco. Over time, tourists transitioned to other Mexican beaches, such as those found at Cancun and Ixtapa.

However, during the late 1990s, in an effort to bring back its former glory, investors began to pour millions of dollars into the city. Investment meant cleaner beaches and improved infrastructure. The government took efforts to curb criminal activity and, today, the city is reclaiming its role as the premier holiday destination in Mexico.

Still, it’s not quite there yet. On the short 20-minute drive from the airport to the hotel, we observed many military vehicles and fingerprints of social issues. Later in our visit, we secured a car to take us to some of the most famous Acapulco sites (such as our visit to the La Quebrada Cliff Divers, the Chapel of Peace, and the Diego Rivera murals, among others). While on our excursion, we observed lingering challenges. Downtown Acapulco probably wouldn’t be a friendly place for Americans like us to take a stroll. However, our driver (Rueben), was a fantastic tour guide! His English was excellent, and he seemed to relish in recounting the history of the community, as he drove us through streets he knew well.

But, I’m jumping ahead of myself. Let me describe the welcome we received at the Banyan Tree. After traveling from the airport (a 15-minute drive), we turned into a gated area called the Punta Diamante district, an affluent cluster of resorts and dwellings of the upper class. The main road through the opulent sector snaked up and away from sea level, through tropical trees and past impressive gateways on the left and the right.

As we approached the hotel, a concierge (Christian, by name) emerged to meet us. He warmly greeted us by name and adorned us both with colorful paper leis. The hues and pigments were vibrant, reminding me of the rich Mexican culture, but the neckwear itself hearkens back to Asia! The perfect welcoming gift for guests to the Banyan Tree, as it foretells the blending of the East and West which defines the resort.

As we entered the lobby, Christian explained that a number of the resort’s features were located in the same building. The spa, the gift shop, one of the property restaurants (La Nao), and, just outside, the beautiful Reflections Pool with pool-side dining. As we entered the open-air lobby, we noted that even though it was warm and humid, the gentle breeze made the experience very comfortable and inviting. As the sun was just about to set, Christian recommended that he check us in on his own, so that we could experience the fantastic view from our table, as the sun seemed to melt into the far end of the infinity pool.

After a delicious dinner at La Nao, we journeyed up and down the winding, tropical trails by buggy to our villa, nestled into the side of the majestic cliff. Only forty-five individual villas make up the resort, dotting the verdant cliffside above the rolling Pacific. All of the villas mimic the architecture of the main hall: an open-air feel, vaulted roofs, dark natural woods—all supported by strong concrete pillars. And the views were beyond spectacular!

Our villa had a gorgeous view of the expansive Pacific. While we were approximately halfway up the cliff, we could still hear the rhythmic sound of the waves crashing against the rocks 150 feet below. A wooden deck connected our main chamber to a separate spa room, equipped with a bath area, a small table and chairs, and comfortable massage tables. Every morning, we used this bonus room as our quiet breakfast area, opening the shades to watch the rolling ocean. By the way, room service was outstanding! I highly recommend the traditional huevos rancheros, fresh tropical fruits, and the best chilaquiles I’ve ever tasted—a delightful Mexican comfort food!

In between the two living areas was an open pergola, enclosing a small couch and chair set, and a very comfortable hammock. The hammock hung above the steps into our own private infinity pool! Yes, beauty, seclusion, and solitude define the Banyan Tree! 

The main room itself was quite expansive, giving one a sense of openness and peace. The exquisitely veined marble floors were refreshingly cool to our bare feet – this is a place to get back to basics! The glass wall in front of our bed stretched the length of our suite, from entry to bath area. Large wooden doors rolled out of the way to reveal the luxurious and exotic bathroom, complete with a large, glass shower and a separate soaking tub.

The allure of the blue skies and the refreshing water summoned us daily! We spent hours at our pool, in our little villa away from the world, being entertained mostly by the sounds of parrots in the trees. Our isolation was in line with our primary goal of undistracted writing, but it was also a function of the local terrain. We needed to call for a buggy to travel anywhere around the property—including a meal. The steep hills were daunting; so, we intentionally spent most of our time together in the villa.

We did manage to venture out a few times. Sandra Mora, a very capable and engaging concierge, helped us to craft an international culinary itinerary. Most of you know, we enjoy the adventure of food! And this resort features three award-winning restaurants. La Nao, known for it’s distinctive local and traditional cuisines. Las Rocas, at the bottom of the cliff, serves many excellent seafood dishes. But our favorite was Saffron, showcasing a fusion of Thai dishes with a Hispanic twist!

We were blessed to get to know Chef Ana Karen Serrano, as well as our fantastic server, Gerry Arroyo Hernandez, both at Saffron. Gerry proved to be a very knowledgeable host and an exceptional waiter. He was there when needed, but also gave us space to enjoy our conversation and savor the meals.

Back to our itinerary. Sandra scheduled four separate events for us. We took a Mexican cooking class, facilitated by La Nao’s chef, Eduardo Toyinn. Eduardo is a master, especially with guacamole and steaks! Later, we learned Thai cooking directly from Chef Serrano. Stacy and I both enjoyed making authentic Pho Pia Pak sob(Thai spring rolls), Yum Nua Yang (Spicy Beef Salad), Tom Yum Goong (soup), Gaeng Kiew Wan Gai (green curry chicken), and fried bananas with honey and Thai ice cream!

Another evening we enjoyed a private catered BBQ on our patio, which provided a quiet and intimate evening for Stacy and me. The only drawback was the mosquitos who decided to join us. We wound up having to retreat to our spa-room to finish our dinner undisturbed for the evening, something we had to do a number of times throughout our stay.

If you visit well after the “rainy season” mosquitos apparently aren’t as big of an issue. However, since we were there right as the rainy season was ending, we weren’t even able to open the windows of our suite to enjoy the breeze without these unwelcome guests. Screens would have been very helpful, though they would have likely impeded the view a bit.

Our favorite experience of all was the evening we descended a long, dramatic stairway strewn with rose petals to the ocean’s edge below to share a private, sea-side destination dinner! Candle lit lanterns, fine wine, setting sun, fresh flowers, excellent seafood, waves crashing against the rocks beside us…what a superb evening! Yes, life is better together!

Sunshine and relaxation during the day and romantic moonlight and crashing waves at night. Perfection! Every evening when we returned to our room, we would find unexpected favors from the staff – a turned down bed softly illuminated by onyx lamps, classical music setting the atmosphere, lemongrass scented candles, and often a treat, such as chocolate covered strawberries.

Though the Banyan Tree doesn’t offer a beach, they do have a relationship with a nearby resort – one with a beautiful, private strand of white sand. You need to check with the front desk, but it is just a few miles away! If you journey there during the week, you will likely find the beach all to yourself.

As the temperature falls and the winter rages on, I find myself nostalgically remembering the days we spent at the Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués! We do hope to visit again. It was an excellent adventure and, yes, we did manage to get some writing done.

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