Heaven knows I'm not the kind of girl who turns down a free mojito, but as we're en route to the terrace bar at Deseo, I do just that. Mr Smith and I have just enjoyed an alfresco dinner for two and as we are strolling along Playa del Carmen's lively promenade, a fashionably dressed young woman stops us. ‘I'd like to invite both of you for drinks – on me,’ she says, smiling and gesturing towards the cocktail bar at a boutique hotel two doors down.
I must have seemed startled. Mr Smith looks at my face and laughs at my expression. Well, I suppose I was wondering about this pretty girl's motives. Politely declining the invitation, he explains that the woman is just a hotel promoter, and that she's trying to populate her bar with a certain kind of clientele. This happens all the time in Latin American cities apparently. He's the tall, dark and debonair type, so even though I've never heard of such a thing, I'm sure it does happen all the time – to him.
As we ascend the white stone staircase, sultry house music and low laughter drift on the breeze. By the time we reach the top, we're standing in the centre of the kind of party we all dream of getting an invite to – effortlessly cool, relaxed but stylish – it's the kind of shindig that young urbanites fruitlessly pursue on Saturday nights as they duck into and out of lacklustre bars and clubs.
'Deseo' means 'desire' in Spanish, and it seems fitting: the spacious terrace is seductively low-lit in shades of blue, and dotted with day beds shaded by fluttering white canopies. At the open-air bar, good-looking young bartenders squeeze lemons and shake martinis; behind them, a DJ chooses the next record and a silent black-and-white film is projected on a huge, empty wall. The crowd consists of bohemian art-world types and hipsters in horn-rimmed glasses dipping their feet in the swimming pool or getting cosy with their cocktails – and their significant others – under canopies.
That's the one uniting factor at Deseo: everybody is one half of a couple. As we choose a bed for this Mr & Mrs Smith, I notice one guest ordering a bottle of chilled champagne with fresh strawberries – and a pair of champagne flutes – to take back to his room. A little on the corny side, yes, but who wouldn't feel romantic here? It's not just the stars – it's the scene, the music, the night air, and that smug feeling that you've been invited to the right party for once in your life.
The pitch-perfect atmosphere is doubly impressive when we consider how many appealing bars are located within a three-block radius of Deseo – and when we remember the woman on the street who was so eager to have us come into her hotel for drinks on the house. Deseo is the place where everyone wants to be – they don't need to lure passers-by with free cocktails. We know that the beautiful people lounging on the terrace here weren't recruited as we recognise most of them as fellow hotel guests whom we shared coffee and pastries with earlier that day.
In the wee hours of the morning, we retreat to our corner suite. The space is sleek and sparely furnished, with an abundance of smooth white marble, a gigantic white bed, a glass-encased shower stocked with Kiehl's products, and a private balcony where a white hammock rocks in the breeze. Our white boudoir is also two floors above one of the busiest intersections in Playa. Stepping into it, we can hear the shrill voices of tourists partying in the street below through the open balcony doors.
Amazingly, and to our great relief, we hear nothing – not a peep – when we slide the doors closed. It turns out that the hotel has just installed double-paned glass to soundproof the guest rooms from street noise. Which isn't to say that the fine folk at Deseo don't appreciate a good party – if you press a button beside the bed, the DJ's set from the terrace bar pumps through your own private sound system. But they also seem to value, as we do, the ability to say farewell to the fun when you're tired from too much sun and snorkelling.
By the time we wake the next morning, breakfast is already waiting for us down on the terrace. Of course, this isn't your average spread of croissants and jam – nothing so ordinary at Deseo. Instead, breakfast is laid out to make guests feel like they're visiting the chic beach house of friends: the crockery is vintage and the cutlery is mismatched, the coffee is brewing, and there are baskets of fresh bread for toasting and several retro refrigerators are stocked with yogurt and granola.
There’s nothing as conventional as sitting at tables either: Mr Smith and I are invited to on the white-and-blue daybeds with our breakfast trays. We check others out, they check us out. They've got 60s-style sunglasses and iPhones, we're dressed all in white and have a smart digital SLR. It feels like a silent competition. Who is the most chic, most nonchalant couple at Deseo? At that very moment Mr Smith yells across the terrace to me: ‘Hey! Take a picture of me in front of the pool!’ And – just like that – we lose the contest. At least we have the photos to prove we looked pretty darned cool.