Inside the Exclusive World of Ritz-Carlton Reserves

The elite luxury group within an elite luxury group

March 2, 2024 6:22 am
Welcome to the tier above top-tier
Welcome to the tier above top-tier

In the luxury realm, there’s always another tier. Another layer to unlock. There’s the invite-only credit card, bestowed only to the biggest of spenders. There’s the unpublished airline status, available only to the most frequent of frequent fliers. The members-only club with five or six-figure annual dues, when being able to pay five or six-figure dues isn’t already enough of its own members-only club. Exclusive super cars are unveiled with limited numbers in circulation, and watches and fashion houses release pieces to a few dozen lucky devotees per year. Hotels play this game too, of course. Even when you’re The Ritz-Carlton, there’s another level — beyond even their in-house Club Level, for that matter. Enter the Ritz-Carlton Reserve.

When I arrived to Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in San José del Cabo, I was greeted by a dedicated tosoani. In the ancient Nahuatl language, the word means dream watcher, which is a pretty fantastic way to describe someone whose mission during the duration of your stay is to make any dream you conjure come to reality. That first dream came true in an instant, with a welcome cocktail in hand by the time I took 10 steps onto the property, sipped on with views of the Sea of Cortez and the sounds of its crashing waves down below.

Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve

Even if you’re a fan of Ritz-Carlton and tapped into the luxury hotel scene, you may not be familiar with the Ritz-Carlton Reserve brand. It’s an exclusive luxury tier within an exclusive luxury tier, with half a dozen properties around the world, though guests can still capitalize on all of the perks and benefits of Marriott Bonvoy as well.

“Reserves are built to be private, rare estates,” says Thomas Jecklin, Zadún’s general manager. “There are currently just six in the world, each distinct and incredibly special. Locations are handpicked for their ability to offer guests a completely private, transformative experience that is deeply reflective of the local culture. They are meant to blend seamlessly into the environment and offer intimate, culturally immersive getaways.”

Consider Zadún’s wellness center, Spa Alkemia, which translates to transformation. “Our spa’s two unique, standout features include our tamazcal, where we offer a ritual led by a shaman, and for mindfulness, we have a Savasana Sound Room that offers sound healing therapies,” Jecklin says.

The Savasana is one of two in the world, built with a vibrating floor said to provide a meditative, musical massage for the senses. The whole space is akin to an enormous singing bowl, and after a 30-minute session that went by in a flash, I felt as if I was in a trance as I walked away. Elsewhere, private treatment villas are scattered around a lush setting that’s home to a multi-stage hydrotherapy pool, off of which is a separate male and female sauna, steam room and cold plunge, with attendants on hand to deliver snacks, refreshments and towels.

a hotel room overlooking the sea of cortez
The accommodations

Zadún’s guestrooms are more along the lines of semi-attached villas, featuring a private deck with a plunge pool, lounge chairs and day bed. A glass door wall slides fully open, clearing the view from obstruction and allowing those crashing waves to serenade you. The space is refreshing and calming, bringing the setting to the forefront with a white and blue color scheme evocative of the sea.

Guests are encouraged to explore the property by land, with hikes, or by water, with diving and boating expeditions, or by looking to the sky, with signature activities such as bird watching. “Our surroundings are meant to be a focal point, and we strive to magnify the beauty of the destination and the unspoiled views of the Sea of Cortez,” Jecklin says. Other diversions may include educational agave spirit tastings, chocolate tutorials and beach side fish market dinners.

Don’t feel bound to a list of curated activities, though. If and when anything else comes to mind, go ahead and ask your dream catcher, and you can bet they’ll make it happen. “I think it’s a beautiful representation of the type of experience we strive to create and the genuine warmth we bring to our service,” Jecklin says.

a guest room in Rissai Valley Ritz-Carlton
Rissai Valley

The Ritz-Carlton Reserve Portfolio

In addition to Zadún, the five other current Ritz-Carlton Reserve properties include Mandapa in Ubud, Bali, Higashiyama in Niseko, Japan, Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, and Phulay Bay in Krabi, Thailand. The newest addition is Rissai Valley in the Jiuzhaigou Valley within China’s Sichuan province, which opened in summer 2023.

Each has an innate connection to its locale. At Zadún, for instance, the property taps further into its culture with sustainable programs via its Ambassadors of the Environment programming. “We want our guests to holistically explore the vibrancy of Mexico’s heritage, the beauty of local craftsmanship and the bold flavors of the area,” Jecklin says. Rooms feature an unending array of small touches in the form of handwoven fabrics and textiles, leather accessories and pottery, copper tables, and intricate weavings, all the work of local artisans and craftsmen.

At Mandapa in Bali, the entire resort feels like a temple sanctuary overlooking a rice paddy and jungle. There is indeed a small temple on the property, with a rushing river running past, while expansive rooms and villas feature Balinese décor. The island’s many bold flavors and tantalizing ingredients are highlighted in dishes and drinks.


Beyond those cultural connections, it’s the sometimes small but unforgettable touches from staff that go the extra mile for Reserve guests. Jecklin recalls a family who had stayed with them after first visiting Mandapa, where they partook in a ceremony of planting local flora. “To build on the experience they had in Bali, our team invited the family to plant a cactus that was native to the Baja California region outside of their room,” he says. “To this day, the cactus is still outside the room, thriving and waiting for the family’s return.”

Back at Spa Alkemia, I was bestowed with a parting gift of a necklace featuring an emblem of the Mayan creator god. My energy and spirituality restored, I was created anew, and went back to my hilltop room with plans to get ready for dinner. However, my tosoani had a different idea. She set up a bubble bath to continue the rejuvenation and indulgence, and knowing that my interests in wellness could only go so far, laid out an elaborate cheese board alongside a bottle of signature wine from on-site restaurant Zumo. Looks like dinner came to me instead, and my only task for the rest of the evening was to relish every last moment.

That’s what elevates an experience, and a property, into a separate, special tier — the difference between any old five star hotel and a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. “At the end of the day, it’s our incredible team that brings the property to life for our guests and creates the genuine connection that encourages them to return,” Jecklin says. “It truly illustrates the power of hospitality.”

It’s good to have a dream watcher or two watching your back.


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