In 2013, Mahekal Beach Resort and Las Palapas, two popular beach resorts in Mexico’s Playa del Carmen, began a major three-year renovation, which ultimately merged the two properties into one cohesive and beautiful oceanfront space. We chatted with design firm Grupo Diarq’s architect and interior designer Hilda Espino about her role on the project.

Q: What initally interested you about Mahekal’s redesign?

“The location and the architecture, first of all. It’s one of only a few hotels with so much beachfront property, and it wasn’t a big, vertical building, but instead [a collection of] bungalows.”

Q: What was the concept for the resort’s redesign?

“We spoke with a local Maya priest to find out the meaning of the word mahekal. He said it meant clean and pure. That was an amazing starting point, as it related to both the physical space and the location of the hotel—the beach around it and the clear, turquoise waters. We kept the original thatched roofs of the palapa bungalows, white washed the interiors and [added] splashes of colour and texture with the furniture and accessories.”

Q: How did local Maya culture inspire the design? 

“Most Maya frescoes [murals] are in turquoise and rusted orange—those were my main two colours for the accessories. The pillows were designed with these colours and the peyote flower was printed onto the fabric. The peyote flower is a sacred plant to the Huichol [a Native American community in Mexico].”

Q: You were also inspired by the book Gypset Style—how so?

“By its relaxed, informal look and bright colours. The atmosphere in the lobby is homey and relaxed with its Mexican colours, weavings and pillows.”

Lobby at Mahekal Beach Resort

Q: Did you incorporate locally made products?

“Most of the furniture and the organic pieces of wood above each bed are made of wood from the Maya forests, and these give personality to each room. We also hired people in a community in Playa del Carmen to recover wood from the beach and convert it into accessories such as clothing hooks. The clay soap dishes were painted by two ladies who work at the hotel’s Artisan Hut.”

Q: What is your favourite design feature at Mahekal?

“The oceanfront bungalows; I like their before-and-after result. The hexagonal shape of the bungalows was hard to redesign and still have enough area to walk around the bed and develop the bathroom. It was a challenge, and that’s why it’s one of my favourites.”

Hilda Espino’s Design Inspirations

Peyote flower, photo by Sergei Dubrovskii/iStock

Peyote flowers

A Mexican cactus, the peyote grows flowers with pink or white petals. The cactus is one of the Huichol people’s gods and plays an important role in their ceremonies.

Gypset Style

This book by New York-based author Julia Chaplin captures the bohemian lifestyles of artists. Espino meshed the relaxed vibe of the book’s photos with Mexican touches.

Maya frescoes 

These colourful paintings, depicting the lives of the Maya people, were applied to freshly laid plaster with water-based pigments that joined with the plaster as it set.

Mahekal beach

Spanning 920 feet of coastline, the beach along Mahekal Beach Resort is the longest in the city and is perfect for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and snorkelling.