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Spa Spy: Mexico | The Telegraph



The Telegraph | 7 March 2011

Spa Spy:
The Tides, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Mayan Blessing by Resident Shaman

Mayan Blessing by Resident Shaman

Our sleuth investigates the curative claims of wellbeing retreats worldwide

The spa The Tides, on the upmarket Mexican Caribbean coast – the Riviera Maya – is an intimate jungle hideaway with secluded villas. After five chilled days here, Spa Spy can report that The Tides’ spa is one of the most genuinely warm, welcoming, relaxing and – yes – healing, of the many spas she has experienced. Chic-ly rustic, it has a central round, thatched palapa and large outdoor treatment rooms that make the most of natural waterfalls, bird calls and swaying palms.

Spa Spy’s symptoms A long relationship had come to an end, followed by the upheaval of moving home and finding new friends. Spy’s head and heart felt heavy, but she remained optimistic and open minded that a tropical retreat could remedy her melancholy.

The prescription The spa offers traditional Mexican rituals, one of which being temascal, a word that comes from the Aztec meaning “house of steam”. The 90-minute ritual therapy in this “sweat lodge” – a squat igloo-looking stone structure for five or six people near the beach – claims to help purify the body and lift the spirit.

The procedure Spy had expected a passive steam room but should have read more closely the invitation to “participate in this therapeutic, relaxing and mystical journey”. To begin, Spy and three friends had to stand outside in the sunshine in their swimsuits to be purified by the young Mexican therapist, Teresa, the daughter of a shaman. Spy felt very self-conscious as she was waved with copal incense, before being asked to choose a traditional musical instrument (weird drum thing, anyone?) and crawl inside the stone room, where a large fire pit was surrounded by Mexican rugs. Once settled in the darkness, Teresa poured water over the hot slabs, the steam filled the blackness and Spy and friends were asked to express how they felt in a single word. Deciding to go with it and put my trust in her, Teresa led us through a symbolic journey. We breathed in the steam, smothered our dripping bodies with aloe, chanted and drummed and, an hour later, crawled out.

The verdict Spy finds a guided visual journey more relaxing than being pummelled by hands, and she felt a real connection between the corporeal experience – the sweat and the chanting – and freeing the mind. The journey concluded with a crystallisation of Spy’s troubled thoughts into a powerful lightbulb moment. She had been stretched out of her comfort zone, and felt strong and alive. This, to her mind, was genuine therapy.

The medical opinion “This all makes good psychological sense,” says Professor David Peters. “Sometimes life leaves us feeling like we are stuck, and we need to get rid of something before we can move forward.” Spy implies she needs something that would work on body and soul. British society has no suitable rituals to rely on, but her journey into this intense, tropical, multi-media experience was designed to hit the spots the words of a counselling session probably wouldn’t have reached. Medical risks? “Not advisable for someone with cardiovascular problems, and really best suited to someone who is physically fit and sound of mind.”

The feelgood factor The spa is very much at the heart of the resort. There are flickering tea lights in big stone lanterns and the spacious villas have pretty textiles on a canopied bed, an outdoor shower, private pool, patio day bed and hammock for two. Bliss.

Details Thomson offers flights direct to Cancun four times a week. Prices from £499 (; 0871 231 5595). Luxury Villa rates start at £360 per villa per night plus14 per cent lodging tax and a 15 per cent service charge (

Professor David Peters is Clinical Director at the School of Life Sciences, University of Westminster

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