Mexico is arguably one of the best all inclusive experiences on earth and on this trip, we discover UNICO 20°N 87°W and Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya.
If you invited me to stay at an all inclusive in Mexico a year ago, I would’ve probably said no as I like to wonder. BUT make my first all inclusive experience a luxury one and we are talking about a game changer.
Situated on the Caribbean Sea and officially known as Canćun Quintana Roo Mexico, this Barrier Island is located off Mexico’s southeast shore. It is recognised throughout the world for its beauty, with white sand beaches to mesmerising turquoise waters – a paradise full with nature, history, mouth-watering fiery food and of course tequila.
Split between two sections – Central Cancun (the hotel strip) attracts the thrill seekers for its water sports and avid golfers for its spectacular courses. Riviera Maya is quieter and more chic, located between the laid back town of Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
As the climate is tropical, Riviera Maya can be a year round destination but be prepared for all weathers. The best time to travel is from November to April (avg. 30°c plus) with December and January being the dry months when you can expect cloudless sky, warm ocean and a light breeze.
How to get there
Cancun has been on the UK’s tourist map for a number of years now, and BA fly direct from London Gatwick and Heathrow. Domestic travel is fairly well connected as it takes just under two hours from Mexico City (MEX) to Cancun (CUN). If you are planning to fly within Mexico, plan ahead and check how long it takes as flying from Los Cabos to Cancun involves a change in Mexico City.
Where to stay
UNICO 20°N 87°W Hotel – Riviera Maya
With unparalleled relaxed luxury, beautiful design, the highest of standards AND a personal local host, this adults only all-inclusive resort is where you lose track of time and enjoy the finer things in life. No wonder why everyone we spoke to had been here before, some twice a year every year since the hotel opened.
20°N 87°W are the coordinates of where the resort is located, 20 degrees north and 87 degrees west which makes it unique (UNICO) since no other hotels can claim those coordinates.
The décor, from the lobby to the grounds, everything is exquisitely designed and expertly maintained – introducing you to a modern Mexico and immerse you to a rustic and contemporary charm.
To help you plan your day and navigate the facilities, the hotel has its own App BUT what we love the most was that we had our very own local host Kristel, who helped us make reservations for restaurants, organise activities and pretty much anything else.
There are over 400 rooms at UNICO but the hotel retains that friendly boutique feel. Everything is painstakingly designed and well-thought out with space in mind. A king size bed, soft concrete floors to naturally sourced materials, contemporary furnishing, the room was super clean and swanky. Every item is well balanced and spaced out – from the sofa and seating area to power outlets (I find some hotels put power sockets on the most inconvenient of places).
The bathroom is fresh and clean and large enough for two people to navigate around with every amenity imaginable and the most luxurious bathrobes.
The balcony is large enough to have a gathering of 6 people and a jacuzzi to ease you into the evening – well enclosed to ensure privacy. With the uninterrupted view of the ocean (90% of all rooms at UNICO have ocean views), watching the morning sunrise became a daily ritual. Finally, to ease you into the night, the hotel does a turndown service with aromatherapy oils as well as 24 hour room service.
ALL the balcony rooms have a jacuzzi and ALL the ground floor rooms have swim up pools.
UNICO Beach, Pool & Activities
The hotel has three pools, a central pool, a large pool with direct access to the beach and a smaller pool, which is quieter and secluded. It also has a stunning white sand beach with a long coastline, which is great for long walks – and with a large selection of sunbeds and a towel station, there is no need to rush to grab a spot. The beach is also great for swimming too as well as wildlife watching.
The mornings are usually quiet but from noon the central pool is buzzing with life. With live music and DJs, I found myself quickly reaching for the cocktail list. The staff are super friendly and happy to help whatever the request. The in-pool volleyball is great fun and the aerobics trainer will quickly pull you into one of his classes.
The Esencia spa has an array of treatments, from volcanic rock to herbal treatments – here is where you unwind and release the stress.
UNICO Food & Drink
The dining experience at UNICO is one of the main reasons I would return here in a heart beat. The experience in all five restaurants at UNICO felt like I was in a Michelin star restaurant, EVERY DAY. The food is presented immaculately throughout with quality ingredients taking the lead.
Each one has been well thought through with class and sophistication with even a bespoke list of themed cocktails for each restaurant taking inspiration from the cuisine. To avoid disappointment, make sure you pre book dinners BEFORE you arrive as the restaurants are very popular, especially the Japanese and Mexican options.
Inspired by the Cuban cocktail renaissance, the Palmera Lounge is designed to recreate the Cuban cocktail clubs of the 40s. From top shelve drinks to expertly crafted cocktails, it is where everyone gathers for pre-dinner drinks. The atmosphere throughout the resort is of a relaxed luxury and you will find yourself talking to new friends in the lounge most nights. Favourite drinks: a Vesper Martini, an Old Fashioned made with Grand Old Parr whisky and anything with tequila.
Taking coordinates of the hotel, the 20.87 at UNICO serves breakfast lunch and dinner. The menu is quite diverse and evolves throughout the day, from buffet breakfast to a really hearty lunch. There were some revelation dishes at lunch including the creamiest fennel soup, sushi and even the most tender duck Magret with a port sauce. Lunch by the pool suddenly had a very large upgrade!
Mi Carisa is a little slice of Italy and focuses on Italian coastline cuisine. From delicious Beef Carpaccio to duck stuffed cannelloni, this is a classically Italian menu throughout. And for a hearty start to the day, Motuleños at breakfast will keep you going till lunch. The setting at Mi Carisa is stunning with tables outside surrounded by water and plenty of morning sunshine. This was our favourite breakfast spot.
Cueva Sieta serves authentic Yucatecan cuisine. Chef Xavier Pérez Stone has created a menu that is a tribute to Mexican cuisine with extraordinary attention to detail. Named for the seven origin caves of Mayan mythos, Cueva Siete—or Cave Seven—derives its inspiration from all that is Yucatecan. This regionally focused concept takes every day Mexican classics and adds a flair of gastronomy. The bone marrow which is served as a whole bone is a dish we went back for twice! Other must try plates include an octopus toast with a fiery chilli Adobo, beans and pickled onions. Don’t forget to ask for a theatrical Mexican Coffee to end.
Mura House serves delicious Asian food with a focus on Japanese cuisine. It was food heaven for me. From a fresh sushi station to a chefs bento box, here is where the ingredients truly takes centre stage, bringing together three different styles of Japanese cuisine-teppanyaki, yakitori, and sushi.
The yakitori options are really unique here where a choice of five skewers are served on mini charcoal barbecue grills brought to the table and include prawns, beef, octopus, vegetables and chicken.
Inez café is the go to place for artisan styled coffee (bean to cup) and snacks. Open till 2am, they also blend smoothies, fresh juices, coffee, tea and pastries while the menu transitions to sandwiches, paninis and meal-sized salads (awesome Caesar salad) for lunch and dinner.
What makes UNICO 20°N 87°W Hotel special?
EVERYTHING! Every part of the resort has been well designed to ensure maximum luxury and comfort in a relaxed all inclusive atmosphere where no expense is spared. This is somewhere to celebrate, eat very well, pamper and relax over and over again.
To discover more, visit: unicohotelrivieramaya.com
Hard Rock Hotel, Riviera Maya
This massive 1000 room all-inclusive hotel really includes everything, from top-shelve drinks to live mini rock concerts. Here is where you break free and have some fun.
The resort is split in two sections
- Family friendly Hard Rock (where we stayed)
- Heaven (adults only)
The calm Caribbean Sea and white sand beach provides a perfect backdrop for this resort but the décor is where the fun is. It is very rock star and VIP glitz, which defines this resort. As you walk around you will see memorabilia from Elton John’s onstage costume to Aerosmith’s drum kits and a signed guitar from Mylie Cyrus.
The main lobby is vast and hosts the evening’s entertainment by their in-house rock band. You easily get carried away playing a game of pool whilst having your own private live concert at the same time.
From the biggest spa in the Caribbean to an 18-hole Robert von Hagge signature golf course, this is an all inclusive experience for all ages. One of the most interesting features is a water park with 23 slides of different speeds for children and teenagers including six high-speed slides for adults and a wave machine.
Our room was a Deluxe Sky Terrace (room 6307), which is spacious, clean and well equipped with a comfortable king size bed and a loaded minibar. But the cool part is the split level, second floor private terrace with a jacuzzi.
There you have uninterrupted and private view of the ocean. It also has a private service door so your room service order can be delivered straight to your jacuzzi!
Beach, Pool & Activities
The hotel has its own beach with an additional four pools and lagoons. The beach is a hub of activity where fishes swim at your feet. The water is crystal clear and drinks are brought straight to your sun lounger.
This is a fun resort and there are many activities to get involved in. There is something for everyone and for all age groups from a zip line to beach activities and waterslides. The included activities that not many people know about at Hard Rock are: Music Lab – here you can learn how to play the guitar with an expert or be a DJ for the day and if you didn’t make it to the Wrecktangle’s timed obstacle course then the hotel has its very own water park. You can even hop on a bike and ride around the resort to spot resident Zereke (imagine a cute raccoon).
With six restaurants and seven bars, the choice is huge. The main breakfast buffet is HUGE and can be found at The Market where you can even indulge in churros for breakfast.
However, my favourite was the Asian offering at the Zen. The menu is a mixture of Japanese, Thai and pan Asian cuisine with an impressive 30+ dishes to choose from (the Thai style chicken wings are a must!) With fresh ingredients taking the centre stage and the vast menu, the restaurant is naturally the favourite for the guests and can get very busy so book in advance.
The adults only resort within the resort at Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya is also worth discovering. By day, take in the serene waters of private beach surrounded by the natural sea cove or have a paddle in the semi Olympic pool. By night, start at the martini bar followed by club heaven till 2am.
What makes Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya special?
This is a big hotel with a big personality. Somewhere to take the kids for a fun holiday and also somewhere to visit as a couple holidaying in heaven.
To discover more, visit: hardrockhotels.com/riviera-maya
All imagery courtesy of AIC Hotel Group.
Top 5 tips to make the most of an all-inclusive experience
- Research: Find out about the resort; demographics, theme and location. Understand what is included with the room rate and for how many people (some may charge for additional guests), and what isn’t.
- Be sociable: All inclusives are great for meeting people that can become friends for life. Talk to other guests over drinks, get some resort tips and most of all, have a great time.
- Attire: Make sure you pack for all occasions. From gym gear to evening wear and everything in between. Don’t go overboard on long trousers!
- Booking: Most resorts ask you to book restaurants and activities, and you’d be surprised how quickly popular restaurants and activities are booked up in advance. Plan a few days in advance and book early to grab that best table.
- Take it easy: Since food and drinks are included you can easily overdo it. Personally I find it better to walk around and check menus to see what they are offering as you want to try everything and work out what your favourites are early on.