When you think about Mexico, the first thing that comes to mind probably is not sound baths, cacao ceremonies, meditation, plant rituals and other activities designed to improve physical and mental well-being. 

While everyone on your timeline (and mine!) has probably set their sights on Tulum or Cabo as hotspots to escape from the pandemic, for those seeking a vacation that emphasizes safe and healthful activities, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico is an ideal spot. Just a year old, there’s one place in particular with enough space to spread out but still a destination to connect with others in a safe space: Palmaïa – The House of AïA.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect when embarking on a certified wellness retreat, but Palmaïa instantly exceeded all of my expectations. The newly constructed beachfront retreat offers its guests one-of-a-kind, immersive, jungle and beach experiences on the coast of Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. Nestled between the jungle and the beach, Palmaïa is a secluded sanctuary with swim-out suites, a jungle spa, four gourmet restaurants, sustainably sourced plant-based cuisine, the best beach in Mexico’s Caribbean, four infinity pools, in-suite dining with ocean views, and incredibly wonderful staff and service. And did I mention it’s an Instagram lovers dream?

So I instantly set all my thoughts behind as to what I thought a “pandemic” vacation should look like (did I want beach fun, bars, and booze cruises?) and instead focused on what it should feel like. As I recounted the things my spirit needed after a year of loss, self-isolation, and if I’m being honest, borderline depression, there’s no question that Palmaïa would help me get my mind, body and soul in order to prepare for what 2021 had ahead of me.

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As I did my own research, I slowly realized that I wasn’t alone in the things I was seeking for my wellness vacation. The wellness retreat trend continues to grow, as the industry itself explodes: According to the Global Wellness Institute, worldwide wellness was a $4.2 trillion industry in 2017, with $639 billion dedicated to “wellness tourism.” After the year that we all had, people are once again turning to well-being retreats for a chance to escape, unplug, reset and start anew.

I went with one goal and one goal only: open my heart to what the experience would be able to offer as I set my intentions for the new year. And intention setting I did — and did well, nonetheless. Designed to strengthen the body and enrich the mind, Palmaïa encourages integrative wellness by offering fitness classes, wellness workshops, educational lectures and holistic therapies in all of its offerings. Not to mention, you can experience the traditional Mexican ritual steam bath known as temazcal — an ancient practice that’s used for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual purification. 

And while I knew I’d be open to everything, there’s one thing I was a bit hesitant about: the resort’s plant-based menu (as a certified meat lover). The property’s robust culinary program, features a parallel plant-based menu across the hotel’s signature fine-dining restaurant LEK serves gastronomic Mexican; Mar de Olivio, a destination for redefined Mediterranean; the Oriental-fusion restaurant Ume, which merges Thai and Continental cuisines, and a rotating food truck that will serve the chef’s experimental choice of the day. The good news is that they cater each meal to your culinary preferences. So if you want a burger, a burger you will get! And even better, PalmaÏa is a gifting community (read as: all inclusive), and will provide everything guests need in the cost of a stay, so guests can enjoy unrestricted access without the hassle of exchanging currency.

While 4 days simply wasn’t enough to partake in all that Palmaïa’s Architects of Life program had to offer (which includes transformative wellness experiences for the mind and body such as sound healing, gravity control, sungazing, various practices of yoga, mandalas and more – all led by the property’s on-site shaman), it certainly served its goal. It was just away from it all I needed — and I left refreshed, renewed and invigorated in Mexico.