For adults-only all-inclusive on Riviera Maya’s glistening coast, it has to be Unico 20°N 87°W. Since opening in March 2017, this chic retreat has been the talk of the travel industry and its ‘arrive as a tourist, leave as a traveller’ concept has reimagined holidays to Cancun & Riviera Maya. With a commitment to putting local traditions at the heart of its contemporary vibe, it’s a refreshing experience, say our Caribbean experts.
After a prompt and seamless private transfer from Cancun International Airport courtesy of the ever-efficient AmStar group, I arrived at the latest addition to Riviera Maya’s luxury all-inclusive scene. I’d been lucky enough to attend the launch of Unico 20°N 87°W in London’s Mayfair, and was impressed with the vision that was set out for this new resort, which promoted a unique blend between Mayan heritage and contemporary design.
Now, finally arriving at Unico myself, I was looking forward to finding out whether this concept had indeed been brought to life. I didn’t have to wait long. During check-in a hostess presented me with a tray. I’d already received the customary cold towel and a welcome drink of fresh mint & lime juice, so I wondered, what could this be?
On the tray were four scented candles. I was asked to sample each one and choose my favourite. It would then, I was informed, be infused throughout my room as my own customised in-room fragrance. Nice touch. Now, my olfactory sense isn’t what you’d call advanced, but I think I chose lemongrass.
My accommodation was an Alcoba Swim-up. Everything about this spacious, stone-floored room said luxury. From the huge four-poster bed and brushed wood beams to the private terrace and swim-out pool access. Original local art, Mayan tapestries and accent pieces adorn the walls and fixtures, giving this contemporary space a curated feel inherently at one with Riviera Maya’s rich heritage.
Bringing the outside in in a way only hotels in beautiful climates can, large sliding doors allow you to extend the floorplan of the space even more. Semi-submerged in the step-down to the swim-out pool are two sun-loungers – very comfortable and refreshing to trail a hand in the water while you kick back in the sun. Two hammocks and a day bed & table complete the furnishings of the private terrace area.
The Alcoba Swim-up room at Unico 20°N 87°W comes with a local host, or butler, known as an anfitriòn; on hand to take care of requests from shoe shine to restaurant reservations. And the small details, like evening turn-down with chocolates and personalised greetings on the (huge) flatscreen TV display, make you feel welcome and, well, valued.
Storytelling through food on social media is the trend influencing holiday choices for 61% of millennials right now. Sharing photos of culinary tourism online has elevated dining alongside climate, direct flights and beach access as the primary components of a holiday.
Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em: the food at Cueva Siete restaurant looked so good I had to photograph it. This plush cantina specialises in modern Mexican cuisine, so out are the tex-mex nachos and in is the xcatic beef with chaya and pumpkin.
You can ‘craft a custom cocktail’ to accompany your meal, whereby you choose either tequila or mescal with a selection of mixers such as mint & cucumber, allspice & cinnamon, mango & ginger and tamarind & rosemary. You can ask for it frozen or on the rocks. Cueva Siete is headed up by celebrity chef Christian Bravo. Bravo indeed.
The other a la carte restaurants at Unico Riviera Maya are Mi Carisa (coastal Italian) and Mura House (Japanese yakitori), while 20.87 Restaurant is your daily venue for buffet breakfast and lunch. If you’d like to dine a la carte for breakfast or lunch, or are perhaps looking for different cuisines than those found at the restaurants, the 24hr room service is excellent.
Unico faces east from the north-eastern Yucatan peninsula across the ‘Mar Caribe’ towards the island of Cozumel. So seeing the sun rise from the beach is a must for early birds. The pretty soft-sand beach, albeit narrow (which actually adds to its charm), stretches about a mile between two promontory outcrops, creating the opportunity for a nice stroll through the surf. Turquoise water reaches out for a hundred yards or so before blending into a vibrant indigo as the seabed gradually shelves. The condition of the beach is immaculate; no seaweed or other unwanted detritus. The tide is gentle.
The overall aesthetic at Unico 20 87 is utterly contemporary and, for want of a better word, grown-up, reflecting the adults-only concept. The main pools, while ‘free form’ in the sense of not being the traditional oblong of a lap pool are, crucially, rectilinear in shape and design. The mottled black surface of the pool construction itself creates a modern look, but traditionalists will find a blue-water pool and swim-up bar behind 20.87 Restaurant. This also acts as the quiet pool, untouched by the Balearic-style chill-out music enjoyed by swimmers and sunbathers in and around the main pool areas during the afternoon. Indeed, there is something of the Ibiza sunset boat party about the ambience at Unico.