Five-star UNICO 20°87° Riviera Maya, Mexico seeks to boldly redefine the all-inclusive resort experience by providing an immersive and authentic experience of the region. Our House of Coco writer, Omo Osagiede, spent time exploring UNICO’s ethos and what it means to ‘arrive as a tourist and leave as a traveller’.
Riviera Maya: This particular stretch of coastline between Cancún and Tulum on the Yucatán Peninsula’s Caribbean coast, is one of Mexico’s most visited. Apart from its outstanding natural beauty, many visitors choose to holiday in this region because of the abundance of resorts offering all-inclusive holidays.
For many holidaymakers, all-inclusive can be a great option for many reasons, including cost and practicality. However, all-inclusive holidays should not mean boring, custom built monstrosities or over-manufactured experiences that isolate guests and leave them with no real knowledge or understanding of the destination.
The minds behind UNICO 20°87° Riviera Maya have redefined this concept. Their luxury all-inclusive hotel offers world-class suites, interior design, bars and restaurants and spa and pool facilities.
However, and more importantly, it is their approach to ensuring that, during their stay, guests can discover and embrace the local culture of the region through immersive and authentic experiences that truly sets them apart.
Why visit Mexico’s Riviera Maya?
Archaeology provides evidence suggesting that the Yucatán Peninsula is the longest continuously settled part of Mexico. The ancient Mayans, famous for their advanced civilization, inhabited this region as early as 2500BC.
Many artefacts from that civilization now form part of an enticing web of UNESCO World Heritage sites including temples, pre-Hispanic ruins and settlements. These can all be found across the Yucatán Peninsula in places like Chichén Itzá, Edzná and Tulum.
The Riviera Maya on the peninsula’s east coast is a perfect base for heritage tourism and lovers of history who might be keen to explore these sites and other parts of the Yucatán.
The region’s natural landscape further increases its appeal to visitors. The Riviera Maya coastline has some of the finest white-sand beaches on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
Other natural attractions in the area include the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, clear water cenotes (underground pools) and the Mesoamerican coastal reef (second largest in the world) which makes this region perfect for aquatic activities.
Food is the perfect gateway into a culture and Yucatecan cuisine offers some of the best in Mexico. Dishes like cochinita pibil (suckling pig wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground pit) and salbutes (crisp corn tortillas topped with shredded turkey, pickled onions and avocado) are highlights and a must try.
UNICO 20°87° Riviera Maya (20°N 87°W refers to the hotel’s geo-coordinates) have curated a unique (‘unico’ in Spanish) set of experiences – including art, food and drink, excursions – which offer guests opportunities to experience the history, culture and nature of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Exploring UNICO 20°87°
This luxury adult-only property combines contemporary Mexican architecture with modern luxury and beach chic.
It takes about one hour to get to UNICO from Cancun International Airport.
Upon arrival, the immersive experience begins from the lobby. The visually appealing interior décor features elements inspired by the traditional Mexican hacienda – rustic wooden beams supporting the ceiling, tall arches, hanging vines and ornamental lanterns. Custom-built coffee tables, chairs and storage pieces are interspersed with plush leather sofas, combining the traditional with the modern and resulting in a look that is pleasing to the senses.
Beyond the lobby is Bar Balam, a deliberately classy affair which, in the hotel’s two years of operating, has become an important social hub at UNICO. Guests can enjoy tequila tasting classes during the day and listen to a local Mexican live-band while sipping locally-inspired cocktails in the evening.
The hotel’s very notable art collection provides guests with a unique opportunity to sample the work of modern/contemporary Mexican artists such as sculptor María José Lavín and painters Jesús Urbieta (1959 – 1997) and Magali Lara.
Natalia Cabarga, an art historian who provides art and history walking tours in Mexico City, explained that the artists whose work is featured at UNICO were selected largely for their use of traditional techniques and their ability to channel the stories of local myths, traditions and legends.
Enjoying an evening wine and art session is a great way to experience these works and learn about Mexican art history.
The art extends from the lobby and into the rooms, most of which feature unique, curated and custom designed furniture and local art. My room was a neutral palette with elements of linen, raw wood, leather, and woven elements.
UNICO offers 448 rooms, 90% of which are ocean-facing. Rooms range from entry-level ground floor Alcoba swim-up pool rooms to 2-bedroom 20°87° villas equipped with kitchen and living room facilities (great for wedding groups).
Immersive dining at UNICO 20°87°
One criticism which all-inclusive resorts receive is that although the food might be decent, guests often have no context about the ingredients used or the cultural significance of dishes.
This is one area where UNICO’s immersive ethos shines.
The property’s six restaurants include Cueva Siete – a name derived from the seven origin caves in Mayan mythology. Cueva Siete is worth singling out for two reasons.
The first is the range of modern Mexican dishes on offer as well as the use of locally sourced, fresh ingredients (a feature common to all restaurants at UNICO).
The second is the residency program where the head chef rotates every year. When House of Coco visited, Chef Xavier Pérez Stone was in residence. Chef Xavier, originally from Mexico City but now local to the area, runs Axiote in Playa del Carmen.
Guests at UNICO can participate in a cooking class offered by Chef Xavier where they can learn how to cook local Mexican dishes (this writer had the best guacamole ever during this class), hear the stories behind ingredients and learn cooking techniques which the region is known for.
This immersive approach elevates the dining experience to an encounter with culture.
Redefining All-Inclusive Travel
UNICO’s other immersive experiences include curated excursions to local attractions including visits to a Mayan village, ancient ruins and natural biospheres.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of a totally relaxing holiday (eat, sleep, lie on a beach and do ‘nothing’), immersive travel requires active engagement, exploration and interaction with a destination and its culture.
By engaging, the traveller has the opportunity to return home not only refreshed but also enlightened by their experience.
Finding an all-inclusive resort which offers the right balance between indulgent relaxation and reasonable engagement can be quite rewarding.
By creating and curating experiences which immerse guests in the history, nature and culture of the region while offering luxury and relaxation, UNICO 20°87° redefines the meaning of all-inclusive travel.
British Airways Holidays offers seven nights at the 5* UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya from £1,269 per person. Price is based on two adults sharing an Alcoba Room on an all-inclusive basis. Price includes return World Traveller flights from London Gatwick to Cancún (based on selected September departures).
Gatwick South Terminal offers guests the very best in pre-flight hospitality – with à la carte dining, hosted tables service and extensive bar menu. Entry from £38 at www.no1lounges.com. Other Clubrooms locations include Gatwick North Terminal & Birmingham Airport.
Select tours, golf, spa services and beauty salon treatments are available to all guests for a 25% service fee. For example, a guided tour of Chichen Itza and a visit to a cenote, valued at US$199 is offered to guests at just US$49.75 as part of UNICO’s Unlimited Inclusions programme.
Visit unicohotelrivieramaya.com for further enquiries