After Grief, I Quit Traveling. But This Trip to Mexico Reminded Me That I’m Never Alone

I used to love traveling. With my best friends by my side, I was nearly swept away by the Reynisfjara waves in Iceland, spun like a princess outside of the Royal Palace of Madrid, rock-climbed Las Tetas de Cayey in Puerto Rico, and danced nights away on Havana streets. But after the death of my best friend, I haven’t gone on new expeditions. The magic of globetrotting and sightseeing, in many ways, felt like it died with her. If I couldn’t travel somewhere new with her, then I wouldn’t at all. And I didn’t. For two years, I passed on travel invites, including many all-expenses-paid press trips. Then I received an invite to Palmaïa, The House of AïA in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and, for the first time, something inside me whispered, “yes.”

It wasn’t the photos of private terraces or the white sand Caribbean beach and infinity pools. It wasn’t even the luxurious modern design of the suites or the gourmet restaurants run by chefs trained in Michelin-starred restaurants. For me, it was an image that captured a peaceful expression on a guest’s face as she stood amid a lush jungle. Palmaïa, The House of AïA is a wellness spa and resort centering sacred rituals, including some ancestral to Mexico and around the world. AïA refers to our innate human connection to nature, and the hotel uses both nature’s principles of inclusion, balance, and self-expression as well as its healing properties to create a truly restorative experience. According to its site, the resort is the “perfect opportunity to reestablish the connection between mind and body,” and as someone who is eagerly attempting to return to life after grief, the invitation felt transcendent. 

When I arrived to the all-inclusive wellness resort on a scorching Monday afternoon, I was greeted with a cool towel and herbal water before being introduced to one of my two nomadic guides, personal concierges who tell you all about the hotel’s amenities, make your reservations to the resort’s plant-based restaurants and spas, book any special services, and answer any of your questions. 

Each day, my nomadic guides shared the hotel’s holistic program The Architects of Life, a weekly schedule of wellness experiences led by visiting master guides and healers. Amid natural cenotes and a Temazcal are nourishing sessions held in outdoor tents by the water, under palm trees, or in air-conditioned facilities that promote movement, rest, connection, and growth. There are special group ceremonies and rituals offered, from forgiving ceremonies, meditative concerts, and awakening rituals, as well as one-on-one sessions with tarot readers, astrologers, and shamans. But the journey neither starts nor ends with the all-inclusive mindful sessions or spa treatments (which are available for an added cost). The delicious plant-based culinary offerings, led by Chef Charly Garcia, are prepared ethically and for optimal health, with respect and intention placed into every scrumptious ingredient and process. 

During my three-day stay, I participated in breathing sessions, a gong bath, a watercoloring painting class, soft hatha yoga, and a healing mantras class. While I couldn’t make it, there were countless other mind and body classes, from a constellation session exploring quantum family constellations, to ancestral dances, to Samadhi movements. 

The most memorable activity I participated in was a women’s circle led by Tanyah Meztli Ixchikahuacihua. The nearly three-hour session included a Mayan prayer, a cacao ceremony, weaving an Ojo de Dios, one of the most satisfying sounds baths I’ve ever experienced, and intimate, vulnerable conversations with women about everything from unlearning gender roles, the violence of colonialism, diasporic connections to homeland, abuelita knowledge, sex, and more.  

As someone who wrote a book about descolonial self-care and often criticizes the commercialization of wellness practices, I, admittedly, started my trip with healthy skepticism — I’m a journalist after all. But whether I was working in sessions with Mexican healers who shared their ancient wisdom with reverence or speaking with hotel employees and guests, the intention of the space was clear: this is a place for healing and renewal for everyone who steps foot onto the jungle resort, from the international patrons who spend more than $1,000 a night to indulge in the ancient-and-modern pampering to the lodge’s housekeepers and servers who themselves get to participate in the hotel’s sessions for free on selected days every month.

On Wednesday, Hotels.com named Palmaïa, The House of AïA as one of its “Perfect Somewheres,” an awards program designed to recognize and celebrate hundreds of hotels all over the world where the little details make a big difference, naming the resort on Mexico’s Caribbean coast among the 1% of hotels on the Hotels.com app. 

While I only stayed at the resort for three days, the trip reinvigorated my mind, body, and spirit. It helped me to reconnect with land, others, and myself. It taught me breathing and movement exercises that I continue to practice from my home in Orlando. It encouraged me to seek out ancestral healing exercises and medicines from my own Caribbean homeland of Puerto Rico. And, more than anything else, it gave me permission to travel again and helped me remember that my best friend, like all my loved ones who have passed on, is with me wherever I go.

Travel and lodging for this trip was supported by Expedia. From May 15 through May 29, travelers can enter to win a year’s worth of stays at Hotels.com’s Perfect Somewheres by following @hotelsdotcom on Instagram, commenting on the post promoting the sweepstakes, sharing their Perfect Somewhere, and tagging a friend. 

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