Now Trending: Next–Level Excursions


In a lush jungle within the Riviera Maya, guests go beyond the beach and below the surface for a one–of–a–kind symphony in a cenote.

Dusk is turning to darkness as our tour van makes its way deeper down a gravel road, bordered on both sides by a dense rainforest. Off in the distance, torches illuminate a path leading to the mouth of Río Secreto cenote, our underground venue for this evening’s entertainment.

If you’ve travelled to Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, you have likely taken a tour or a swim in one of the area's cenotes. These natural wonders are underground caverns caused by the collapse of limestone bedrock. Beyond being the main source of freshwater for ancient Mayas thousands of years ago, they were also believed to be the entrances to the sacred underworld, which made them popular for spiritual gatherings and sacrifices.

December 15, 2022
The candlelit pathway into the caverns of the cenote in Mexico
Shades of blue light are cast over the stalactites of the Mexican cenote

Tonight, I’m heading into the depths of this particular cenote for a very different type of event. Along with a group of guests, I’m here to experience the first edition of Symphony in a Cenote, an intimate candlelit performance by the Symphony Orchestra of Quintana Roo offered exclusively as a package for guests at Fairmont Mayakoba. It’s part of a collection of eight bookable, out–of–the–box experiences available at select Fairmont properties worldwide as part of Accor hotel group’s Beyond Limits campaign. (Other offerings include a Pauoa Bay Underwater Ballet at Fairmont Orchid in Hawaii and a cliffside oxygen bar at Fairmont Banff Springs in the Canadian Rockies.)

The concept comes at a perfect time: Recent data shows that more travellers than ever are looking for special and memorable experiences According to Expedia and Vrbo’s 2023 Travel Trends Report, “travellers are ditching the conventional and veering off course for all–new experiences. Prepare for the year of the no–normal.”

Case in point: Just before I take a first step into the cenote, a shaman performs a ritual to grant us permission to enter after dark. The Riviera Maya’s cenotes generally close at sunset, since they’re believed to be the homes of the alux (pronounced “ah–loush”) at night. According to local lore, these mystical gnome–like beings take care of the jungle and cenotes. “They’re so fiercely respected that the majority of real estate developers, including hotels, hold rituals to ask their permission each time they break ground,” says Silvia Ferrer, director of marketing at Fairmont Mayakoba. “Those who don't often end up closing their doors for one reason or another.”

With the wave of a sage bundle and a quick Mayan blessing, we begin our descent down candlelit passageways and into an otherworldly landscape of underground pools, stalactites and stalagmites. A savvy guide explains the natural formation of each, as well as the history of the cenote itself (this one was only discovered in 2004).

The Symphony Orchestra of Quintana Roo performing in a candlelit cenote in Mexico

After a just–long–enough trek down 20 metres, our journey culminates in the pièce de résistance: a soaring chamber that’s tastefully illuminated with soft candlelight and projected lighting, its jagged natural formations acting as an eye–catching backdrop for the band. Champagne in hand, we take our seats as the musicians draw their instruments.

The seven–piece orchestra plays a curated selection of classic and contemporary hits, from Queen to Coldplay and Ed Sheeran, each one instantly recognizable even in the strings–only rendition. There’s a convivial atmosphere, like being at a close friend’s elaborate wedding (minus the heels); the entire group is in awe of the scale of this production and the setting itself. After years of travel restrictions and social distancing, I sense a communal appreciation for being privy to such a unique group experience. There’s a shared sentiment of wonder that is almost palpable. And just as the orchestra strikes its last note, I’ve renewed my vows to one of my great loves: travel.

Where to Stay

Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya

Palm trees shading the outdoor pool at Fairmont Mayakoba in Riviera Maya, Mexico
The opulent bar of the Fairmont Mayakoba, in Riviera Maya, Mexico

Freshly renovated with a stunning beach club, upgraded casitas and 10 new food and drink spots, Fairmont Mayakoba is a must–book for the Symphony in a Cenote experience but also for enjoying its pristine beach, luxurious pools, and lush, idyllic surroundings. Set within a private community, the eco–conscious resort features a large Willow Stream Spa with its own pools and hot tubs as well as El Camaleón Golf Course, the first PGA Tour golf course in Latin America. Foodies, don’t leave without ordering the huevos rancheros for breakfast at Brisas, the property’s beachfront restaurant, or the grilled octopus and butternut squash for dinner at Fuego (lit up by string lights, steps from the water). And the resort’s new rooftop bar, Cielo, is perfect for a sunset or nightcap cocktail thanks to its sprawling views, sunken circular sofas and fire pits.