A few minutes outside the city of Playa del Carmen, in the Caribbean coast on Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort is a haven for food enthusiasts with an ongoing commitment to showcasing Mexican cuisine, culture and traditions. Their latest offering is a cocktail program based on the Maya Zodiac, a mixology festival featuring ancestral local ingredients and spirits from all corners of Mexico.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya bar manager Cecilia Sierra and her team came up with the playful idea to create delicious, visually appealing cocktails that reflect the Maya cosmogony. “Today’s travelers are seeking out new experiences to immerse themselves in the culture of an environment,” says the talented young mixologist. “They are looking for Instagrammable activities, innovative tastings, learning opportunities and presentation of food and beverages in innovative ways, among other things.”
“Our goal at Grand Velas Riviera Maya has always been to break the mold of expected, traditional food and beverage, continuously going outside of the box to create new, exciting experiences for our well-traveled and culinary-driven guests,” says Sierra. “Wherever possible, these are inspired by Mexican history, culture and traditions, which impart a rich sense of place.”
The Grand Velas Riviera Maya is a AAA Five Diamond all-inclusive, named #12 luxury resort in Mexico in TripAdvisor’s 2020 Travelers’ Choice Awards. It’s centerpiece restaurant Cocina De Autor, a concept from famed chefs Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso, was named one of the “100 Best New Food & Drink Experiences” in the entire world by Food & Wine in 2010, and is the only AAA Five Diamond Restaurant in an all-inclusive resort.
Some of the resort’s unique foodcentric experiences have included a gourmet cenote experience that took guests 60 ft. underground for lunch in one of the destination’s relatively undiscovered cenotes. Pre-pandemic, guests could also tour the kitchens of some of the property’s six restaurants and even take cooking classes with their award-winning chefs, which the team hopes to offer again when it’s safe.
“From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to design a program that both preserved and honored the values and traditions of Mexico’s ancestral spirits and gastronomy, which is why I sourced the ingredients for the cocktails from all over the country,” says Sierra.
Sierra received a Bachelors’ degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Universidad Del Valle de México in Tampico, Tamaulipas in 2016. Upon graduation she traveled to the Riviera Maya, where she began her career at Grand Velas Riviera Maya as hostess. Her curiosity, discipline and perseverance led her to further learning in the food and beverage area for a year and a half, during which she found a passion for creating beverages.
Her efforts paid off recently as she achieved her current position as bars supervisor for the entire resort, encouraging her team to offer new experiences for their guests. In 2019, her team launched an ancestral drink tasting featuring bacanora, sotol, tuxca and pox.
“These are relatively unknown Mexican spirits to many travelers, and [the program] was very well received. Guests learned how these [spirits] came about, how they are being reinvented and reintroduced with cocktail recipes. Now, the Maya cocktails are the next iteration.”
The cocktails are inspired by a modern-day zodiac which is loosely based on the 13-month calendar developed by the ancient Maya. Each month is represented by a regional animal, whose characteristics are meant to reflect the personality of the people born under each sign. Sierra and her team chose ingredients and combinations that also mirror these characteristics.
For example Kutz – meaning turkey in Yucatec Maya and interpreted in the zodiac as a peacock – rules those born from November 15 to December 12. Peacocks “have a compelling need to excel; they are unique and must prove it all the time. They love to be the center of attention and climb to the top.”
The showy cocktail combines pox, rose syrup and agave nectar, presented in a martini glass adorned with colorful tropical fruit. Pox, a ceremonial spirit from the highlands of Chiapas, embodies the essence of corn in multiple colors that come together in a smooth and elegant liquid.
Balam, the jaguar, is a strong and mysterious combination of mezcal, coconut water, mint leaves and citrus, served in a clay cantarito frosted with Tajin and adorned with spicy liquor “caviar.” Ma’ax, the monkey, is a playful and tropical combination of raicilla (an agave spirit from Jalisco), Xtabentún, mango and lychee nectars. Xtabentún is a Maya liqueur made from honey from the native flower of the same name, which is a common element in Maya legends that have been passed down generation after generation.
These exotic cocktails are available to all guests at the Sky Bar overlooking the ocean, and will be prominently featured at Chaká, the resort’s Maya cuisine restaurant which is set to reopen soon. In the meantime, here is one you can make at home while you book your flights.
Ma’ax – Monkey
Playful and tropical like it’s namesake, this cocktail will transport you to the Caribbean shores.
1 oz. Xtabentún
1 oz. Raicilla
2 oz. mango nectar
2 oz. lychee nectar
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Serve in a glass with ice.
Decorate with a skewer of fresh mango, lychee and mint leaves.