Beyond the Guacamole

Okay, my secret is out. I am obsessed with avocado. More specifically, zesty, fresh homemade guacamole. Not the processed ready-made stuff in tubs from supermarkets. It needs to be lovingly smashed, when the fruit is perfectly ripe – with just the right amount of fresh lime, a smidge of fresh coriander, a hit of salt & chilli (optional) – and if you want to live life like a true Mexican aficionado, freshly made Pico di Gallo salsa.

Now I am scaring you, and you’re wondering what the hell, I best explain the rationale of my foodie obsession, passion, and how it came about. We know there is a story behind everything.

Ever since Nigella smashed an avocado over toast and plonked on a poached egg, I was hooked. It reignited my love for avocado. The guacamole was a bland give-or-take dip of pureed pulp in supermarkets – until I ventured to Mexico in 2017. I went to IMEX USA followed by a post-event fam to Mexico City. Plus, with a few incentive events and recces to the Riviera Maya, I lapped up the destination as well as the divine, freshly made ‘real’ guacamole.

So, onto my most recent guacamole tasting trip – sorry, I mean Mexico business educational experience. A chance to re-discover a new venue on Riviera Maya followed by a whirlwind visit to Central Mexico and a new destination capturing my interest … San Miguel de Allende.

I think I was probably the fastest RSVP to the glorious Belmond invite. An invite to one of my favourite destinations. Whilst I might have pondered the slight guilt of accepting an invite to a destination I’d operated several high-end incentives, it took about 10 seconds to ditch the guilt in favour of logic, justifications and a few jolly good reasons:

No.1: A chance to discover a newly refurbished Riviera Maya classic luxury hotel.
No.2: The opportunity to experience a new Mexican incentive destination beyond the Yucatan Peninsula.
No.3: To experience new product with a top-class favoured brand such as Belmond.
No.4: Feed my guacamole addiction
No.5: It’s February, cold outside, it’s Belmond and luxury in award-winning hotels. ACCEPT NOW!!!

Mexico, like many destinations, has a big mix of perceptions. For all the good press, it does get negative press. But like most travel pros, I like to travel with an open mind and I like to satisfy my appetite for all things new in travel in the hope I discover great event possibilities and alleviate those negative concerns. It is a reality that some of the worlds most exciting destinations have an ‘edge’ but with a well executed plan, health & safety fully considered and the expertise of professional local partners, we and our clients are hardy travellers who know the good places and the bad ones.

As an avid travel press reader, I know it has been featuring high in awards and accolades for new products so my revisit is timely.

Departing London Gatwick on a foggy, frosty morning in February made the destination appeal even greater.

Designing the perfect guest list is an art and skill. With my experience on the supplier side of things, knowing we’re a fickle and challenging industry type who want fun, perfection, and unique experiences in spades, it’s not an easy task.

I wondered if host Belmond had designed a perfect, delightful, compatible and diverse group of guests. Was I going to be ‘the old one’ with a dazzle of Gen X, Z, Millenials? Was there going to be a prima donna or Victor Mildrew-like moaner, who demanded their bespoke itinerary?

Thankfully, the sun was shining on us as a group of nine event profs gathered in South Terminal. It’s Belmond after all …. and they know their stuff and guests. We were like a loving family before we had boarded the plane.

Suffering from a gym-related neck/shoulder ailment (perhaps I’m the Victor Mildrew-like moaner?), I should have resisted talking to my travel companions for near 11 hrs with my neck turned permanently right for the full flight! I do like a chat – especially when you’ve lovely travel companions.

British Airways operates a daily service to Cancun which is the gateway to the hedonistic resort of the same name as well as a long stretch of hotels from super luxury to all-inclusive pleasure resorts along the stunning coast to Playa del Carmen and beyond.

Air travel and airlines, as the top and tail of any international event we organise, can hugely impact the overall experience and feedback. We’re at the mercy of airlines to start and finish our precious events …. and sadly, so much is out of control when it comes to the air element.

British Airways, our national carrier, offer more favourable route options and group terms and in my experience over a 30-year plus career in travel, have generally been mostly positive. With the pressure on airlines to cut costs, the quality and service aspect undoubtedly has been reduced but I do think cabin crew have the power to influence a good or bad experience on a flight and ultimately the events we’ve slaved over.

Sadly, one stewardess yielded her great power to the detriment of the carrier and a cheerful group of eventprofs. Raising a sincere smile, a handful of helpfulness or a thank you was simply too much in her working day. Why work in hospitality, if you cannot be hospitable?

Thankfully, the return flight offered a professional and friendly crew – and much was saved by the brilliant team at All about Flights ensuring most had bulkhead or emergency row seats on the busy flights for extra comfort.

Due to the fog and ice on departure day, our flight was delayed resulting in a delayed arrival into Cancun and our first destination …. Rivieira Maya

Maroma, a Belmond Hotel, Riviera Maya

Arriving after night fall, and clearing the airport, a super comfortable transfer by DMC Host Maritur, we travelled 35 mins / 40 km south of Cancun towards Playa del Carmen.

After turning off the main coastal highway, our jungle venture started. Small lanes snake through the vibrant jungle to the hotel located on the Caribbean Sea. An intimate and boutique hotel vibe for our arrival experience. The lighting was magical as a tired and weary group of travellers finally arrived.

As if they were reading my wishful mind, we were greeted by my cocktail of choice – the classic Margarita. No guacamole yet but it’s only check-in. Give them a chance I thought. An effortless arrival procedure, we were taken to our stunning bedrooms. Mexico style in luxury hotels is super stylish! Not a stuffed donkey or sombrero to be seen. Local handicrafts and furnishings create Conde Nast-worthy photos. Still, no plate of guacamole waiting in my bedroom (slightly traumatic) but chocolates, tequila, a Maroma beach towel amongst a plethora of welcome notes and amenities.

A welcome dinner on the lawn and terrace overlooking the star-lit beach on a full moon night was simply stunning. Any signs of travel fatigue were well and truly forgotten as a refreshed bunch of Brits hit the Mexican BBQ with excitement and zest.

Mexican food in the UK, like most other international cuisines, is mostly limited to a commercial interpretation of a nation’s favourite food e.g. normally fast food, fajitas, tacos and a chilli con carne. The average Brit does not associate fine or upscale with Mexican food (unless they have discovered trendy and upscale KOL in London).

Mexican food, certainly in the upscale hotels, is sublime.

Food keeps coming. Fresh, tangy ceviche, beautiful salads, stacks of lobster, gigantic shrimps, succulent steaks from the grill and here it comes …. the all-so-essential OMG (means Off my Guacamole!). Despite our body clocks being 1 am UK time, who cares about time when food is this good?

Following dinner, we retreated to our beach lounge for a nightcap and to meet Tzolkin Vision. A specialist in the Mayan belief and theory that we are each born with one of thirteen creative energies as an essence or main feature of our personality. This energy will lead us towards a purpose in our existence. From this, Mayans can know everything about a person’s personality, features, talents, mission and spiritual gifts from the moment of their birth. We were each presented with a personalised document revealing which colour race we belonged to in the Mayan culture. I am part of the Blue Race which suggests “You channel your energy through helping others, providing knowledge (this blog!), art and healing. You are easily distracted and need to try to finish what you started. Do not doubt the gifts you’ve been given” Fascinating stuff. I should have been ‘green’ I was already being referred to as Shrek due to my avocado condition.


Despite a late night, the pesky body clock didn’t allow for a lay in. Wide awake for a sunrise salutation on the beach, I donned the gym gear to worship the sunrise with my take on a mountain or upward-facing dog pose.

We’d chosen to arrive on the day the Mr Sun Salutator was worshipping the sunset so in his absence, I offered my services to lead the group as I clearly had the most flexible, adonis-like body to be up to the job. We ditched after 60 seconds of laughter, in favour of a beach jog and a sunrise breakfast over the glorious beach.

With only one full day before heading off to our Part 2 destination, our DMC hosts Maritur treated us to two classic Mayan experiences within relatively easy reach of the hotel. Firstly, one of the most popular cultural experiences is the archaeological site at Tulum. With our personalized sun hats in hand, and a 30-minute transfer, we sipped tequila, a whizz around the ruins with a private guide, and had a brief insight into the Mayan culture, before the next stop. A swim in a Cenote.

Note: with a visit to Tulum, avoid the midday heat and larger tourist crowds, there are some possibilities for early morning access which leads to a more VIP-like feel to visiting this very popular tourist attraction. I would offer as an ‘optional’ experience as part of an incentive as we know we often have a mix of culture vultures and those that simply want to relax in their five-star retreat.

A Cenote is an underground chamber or cave which contains permanent water. A natural sinkhole where the ceiling of the cave has collapsed. Cenotes come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. The most common types of Cenotes are Cave, Semi-Open and Open Cenotes.

My previous experience was limited to semi-open cenotes which allow you to dip in and out of a half cave whilst swimming in the open air with sunlight streaming through the jungle trees. We all arrived at the Cenote to discover it was a full-on cave experience (we might call it potholing in the Yorkshire Dales!) No swimming in the sunlight today. We were all very apprehensive.

Anxiously, we donned our life jackets and cautiously followed our guide into the dark abyss. It was the most fun experience and time. I embarrassingly squealed as a swarm of 5000 bats (well, perhaps 15) flew overhead. The gang chuckled as my life jacket had a life of its own, wrapping my head instead of my body. Poor guide who tried to educate us.

There are hundreds of Cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula and the most popular ones are suited to larger groups with changing facilities, F&B options, and other activities. Exclusive use is a possibility for a special private experience on events.

A return to Maroma for a little downtime before we were split for Tequila or Mexican wine tasting. I opted for Tequila as I’d already verified the Mexican wine was mighty fine. So I was primed for a masterclass on the devil spirit. It was fascinating and highly educational as we tasted Tequila, Mescal, Raicilla and Pulquita. All from the Agave plant. Each tasted with a food morsel to complement the spirit. I skipped the bushtucker worm.

A stunning dinner in Woodend, a chic beachfront restaurant operated by leading Australian culinary king Curtis Stone. More superlatives from the “I can’t eat anymore food” group who devoured everything on the fine dining, gorgeous menu from the open fire and kitchen.

Sustainability at Maroma

Maroma has a very credible position and achievements with its sustainability efforts. They are one of two hotels in the Riviera to be ‘Earthchecked Design Certified’ which demonstrates that they comply with good practices with energy efficiency, eco-materials, etc. Their recent revamp provided an opportunity to re-model using the best of Mexican hand-crafted furniture, locally sourced ceramics, and textiles. In addition, they have a Starlight Certification, the first ultra-luxury hotel in Latin America to achieve the distinction. Good lighting practices to avoid light pollution. Plus impressive food sustainability efforts, wildlife protection, bee-keeping initiatives, wellness for staff, and community projects amongst many other wonderful efforts.

Whether the end client has sustainability close to its heart or not with their events, we event planners should applaud and celebrate such achievements by our industry and champion trailblazers by factoring in these special hotels to our proposals.

About Maroma (Belmond words and verified by me!):

Set amongst 200 acres of lush tropical jungle and the secluded white sands of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, Maroma has been carefully reimagined with Mayan design, traditions, and culture at the forefront.

The reborn icon now has 72 rooms, suites, and villas outfitted with a blend of local materials, artisanal patterns, and traditional craftsmanship and four dining destinations including a new gastronomic restaurant, Woodend by Curtis Stone, by the renowned Michelin-star chef and Casa Mayor by Mexican-born Executive Chef Daniel Camacho, where authentic local cuisine takes centre stage.

The biophilic Maroma Spa by Guerlain is a holistic wellness retreat with a menu of nature-focused treatments and immersive guest experiences including an onsite apothecary and Meliponario, housing the revered Melipona bee. Building on its legacy of care for the community and environment, Maroma also unveils ground-breaking sustainability initiatives both on-property and in the community. Deeply embedded into the soul of the Yucatán, Maroma enters a new era as the beating heart of the Riviera Maya.

Casa de Sierra Nevada, A Belmond Hotel

A 2.5-hour flight from Cancun, we landed at Bajio Airport in Central Mexico. The transfer to the hotel is approx. 1 hr 40 mins. As we left the airport and city behind, we journeyed over a dry, rocky, and cacti-laden land … which epitomized all one could hope for in Mexico. I’m in heaven.

For all the glory of palm trees, sun, sea, and sand in the Riviera Maya, this is the authentic Mexican experience I was longing for. A new destination discovery.

As we entered the enchanting San Miquel de Allende, its cobblestone streets, galleries, cool-looking bars, and restaurants, clean streets, and shops – it was almost ‘Disney does Mexico’ but you knew it was super authentic. I was smitten and I hadn’t yet arrived or experienced anything!

We arrived at the hotel without realizing it was a hotel. A small street, with a big door and a welcome committee, whisked us in, a speedy check-in and straight to lunch tables in a courtyard setting. Straight into food and drink …. and guacamole! I am so loving this trip.

To soothe my flared neck pain caused by the chatty ladies on the plane, I opted to take a neck and shoulder massage and site inspect the spa. Part of the job right? It was all as you would expect in a Belmond spa. A zen-like experience before rushing to meet my trip buddies on a special activity.

The hotel had set up an exclusive ‘Mojigangas’ workshop with Hermes Arroyo, their resident artist. Each of our group was presented with these iconic papier-mâché characters of themselves. Heads painted but we had to paint the clothes. I was very flattered when presented with mine, as I arrived from the spa. Slim and no grey hair. As I was about to leave, one of the instructors politely took it from me and speckled my paper hair and beard with grey paint. Thanks! Emblematic of San Miguel de Allende, these sculptures are an intrinsic feature of Mexican folk art.

With 23 suites and 14 rooms, no two accommodations are identical. Most feature unique paintings by local artists along with antique furnishings and views of San Miguel de Allende, courtyards, or gardens. Named after the official bird of Peru, Tunki Rooftop by Handshake is a creative new cocktail bar on a stunning rooftop at Casa de Sierra Nevada.

Our two-night / one full day experience included a visit to Tres Raices, a beautiful, high-quality winery for tasting and lunch located approx. 30 mins / 23 km out of town. Great event spaces for off-site lunches or dinners. A meander through the charming streets of San Miguel de Allende with a super guide. We strolled through a cool complex of galleries, shops, and eateries at Fabrica La Aurora, the craft and souvenir streets leading to the beautiful main square ‘Jardin Principal’ overlooked by the pink wedding cake of a church namely Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. All within a two-minute walk of our hotel.

Two stunning evenings orchestrated by the wonderful team at Casa de Sierra Nevada. One casual dinner on the rooftop bar overlooking the stunning city by night. The second evening an intimate private dinner set in the beautiful couryard poolside setting.

A memorable moment on our first evening in San Miguel de Allende included a post-dinner stroll to sample the bar scene. One of the fam guests, the delightful Kirstie, a leap year baby, was about to celebrate her 9th official (you do your own sums!) birthday falling on the 29th Feb. Seeing a big mariachi band strolling home, we couldn’t resist a birthday chorus at midnight in the empty main square. It was a very memorable, real, fun, and authentic moment for all involved.

To my fellow fam trip eventprofs if you’re reading. Thanks for being super fun company whilst being total pros.

A big thank you to all involved in planning a fantastic experience. A shout out to the perfect main host Perrine Chapelain, Belmond for being the big driver behind this wonderful experience. Thank you to the wonderful Belmond hosts at both hotels. Terrific management and hotel staff in every aspect.

A special shout out to my old (but young in age!) industry friend and behind both my main Mexican industry experiences …. Sylvia Smith, Area Director of Marketing and Commercial Strategy for Mexico at Belmond l LVMH. Great to see you again – be it brief!

Much gratitude to the partner DMC Maritur and air partner All about Flights for getting us there and the chance to explore beyond the hotels.

My only big tip for future fams. More guacamole, please.

For More Information

Please contact if you want support and creative design for your incentive travel and event needs. If you’re an industry professional, more information can be found at the host web sites:

Belmond Hotels
Casa de Sierra Nevada, a Belmond Hotel

Maroma, a Belmond Hotel

All about Flights

Maritur DMC

All images © eveology / Belmond Hotels