By Sherry Roberts
The Na Balam hotel in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, caters to yogis. As general manager Leonardo Mendizabal puts it: “We like people who do yoga. They have another kind of mind. We built this hotel with one concept: enjoy nature and life and leave the pressure and stress behind. We have no televisions or telephones in the rooms. People who do yoga like this kind of setting and attitude.”
Na Balam (Mayan for The Jaguar House) is one of the top beachfront hotels on Isla Mujeres ( ees-lah moo-hair-ayce) or simply Isla, as the locals call it. A ferry ride away from the hustle and bustle of Cancun, this Caribbean jewel is only five miles long and one-half mile wide and yet offers an abundance of playful and relaxing activities.
A typical vacation day in Isla goes something like this: Birds wake you. They’re perched on top of your thatched palapa roof. You start your day with a yoga or meditation class; they’re free to Na Balam guests and held in one of the hotel’s two open-air yoga rooms. For lunch, you can eat Mayan, Caribbean, or Mexican specialties (as well as vegetarian dishes) in the hotel’s restaurant, Zazil Ha, or you can elect to grab a sandwich at the bar on the beach. For the rest of the day, you can travel as near as the hammock hung outside your suite or as far away as a mainland trip to the Maya ruins at Chichen Itza or Tulum. Swim or sunbathe on flat white beaches; snorkel with exotic fish; take a five-minute walk into the island’s only village (el pueblo) and shop or sit in a sidewalk cafe and drink a Corona; rent a bike, moped, or golf cart and tour the island; visit the Tortuga Marina Turtle Farm, where sea turtles are studied and preserved and more than 6,000 infant turtles are released every year; or swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery. The point is: do as much or as little as you like. Isla is easy on you and makes it easy for you. There’s a reason you see hammocks everywhere here — in island homes, businesses, hotels, parks, and on the beaches.
About 15,000 people live on Isla. It was hit hard in 1988 by Hurricane Gilbert, which knocked out electricity for six months and walloped the island’s only Maya ruins, a temple dedicated to the worship of Ixchel (ee-shell), the goddess of rainbows, fertility, and childbirth.
Quiet, laid-back Isla appeals to Mexican vacationing families and American tourists.
Na Balam, with its thirty-one simple yet elegant rooms and suites, its excellent food and personal service, its lush landscaped gardens, and its extra offerings such as yoga, meditation, and massage, is popular with both crowds. Seven years ago, the hotel built an inviting and spacious treehouse yoga room to attract yoga groups. The room comfortably fits twenty-five people doing anything from Downward Dog to Warrior II. There is a plentiful supply of yoga mats, blankets, and props.
Each year about twenty yoga teachers bring groups to Na Balam. It is easy to see why this hotel and this island is gaining a reputation among yoga retreat planners—all you have to do is spend a few peaceful moments in the yoga room flowing between poses, absorbing the calm and constant whisper of the ocean, enjoying the caress of sea breezes and you’ll be sold, too.