UNICO 20°87° & Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, Mexico – Review
By Richard Jones
Making friends on holiday is important, particularly if you happen to be flying solo.
It was a scorching hot day in Mexico, and just as I contemplated slinking over to the La Escondida swim-up bar for another cooling Corona, I spied a potential new pal.
After a bit of rustling in the bushes, out popped the head of an inquisitive grey coati – a kind-of cross between a raccoon, monkey and anteater.
Seconds later, he was joined by half a dozen members of his band for a sniff around, before scurrying back into the jungle.
I was at UNICO 20°87° resort on the Riviera Maya, a stunning stretch of Caribbean coastline on Mexico’s north-eastern Yucatán Peninsula.
And although it is a perfect destination for couples, I found this all-inclusive haven ideal for meeting new people – as well as the odd wild animal.
After arriving from Cancun airport, I was taken for a tour of the property by one of the managers, Roberto.
He explained to me how the owners have devoted time to making sure UNICO retains its authentic Mexican feel (hence the latitude and longitude in its name), while also incorporating a modern level of North American service.
My base for three days was a pristine Ocean View Room, complete with a jet bathtub on the balcony, and fully stocked mini bar inside.
Robes, slippers, sun hats and other luxuries were also provided, while complimentary 24-hour room service is available for all guests on the app or with a call, should you wish to relax in your room rather than heading out.
Helping to make my stay as comfortable as possible was my personal concierge, Marco.
He was on hand, all day everyday via WhatsApp, to ensure my room was pristine and to book any restaurant reservations or activities.
Speaking of meals, I experienced three amazing dining experiences during my all-inclusive (great value in these times of the plunging Pound) stay.
On the first night, I headed to Mexican restaurant Cueva Siete to munch on crunchy corn tortillas with guacamole and salsa, followed by the house specialty – beef steak with ashes and Cotija cheese Sauce.
Then, at the Mediterranean-inspired Mi Carisa, I was served charcoal provolone in fig jam, followed by creamy spaghetti carbonara with crispy guanciale.
And finally, at the hotel’s signature steak house, 20.87 Restaurant, I opted for the crab cake starter before a mouth-watering rib eye marinated in chimichurri sauce.
Across the wooden bridge from UNICO, there is a narrow white sandy beach, dotted with sun beds and protected turtle nests, which is perfect for a stroll or swim in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters.
However, most guests tend to hang out by the pools, whether they prefer listening to music at the 20°87° Pool, socialising at La UNICA, or chilled out bar-top games at La Escondida.
Drinks and snacks are on tap at the bars, while the amiable staff have genuine smiles, regardless of whether you slip them a Dollar bill, or 20 Peso note, or not.
Down the corridor from the main lobby, you can indulge in a wine-tasting session with the sommelier at La Botella, or a chocolate-sampling session at Soól.
Meanwhile, over at the resort’s spa, I took part in the vaqua therapy journey before booking in for relaxing men’s facial.
I also made sure to pick up a few complimentary handmade soaps, which are available for all guests.
At night, there is a roster of varied entertainment, and on my final evening I headed to Palmera Lounge for the silent disco and a few Mayan Mule cocktails with a few pals from Pennsylvania.
After saying ‘adios’ to the relaxing UNICO, I was driven 10 minutes up Highway 307 towards Playa Del Carmen for a hotel experience of a different kind.
The sprawling Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya resort is split in two – the family themed Hacienda, and my home for the next four nights, the adults-only Heaven.
Following a tour of the grounds, I made a beeline for the Central Pool which features live bands and DJs on the 20-foot-hight elevated stage and, one afternoon, dancers arrived from legendary local nightclub Coco Bongo.
“World of good”
During the week, I got to know a group of other holidaymakers, including Scousers Barry and Karen, newlyweds Nathan and Connor, and single American guys Max and Joe.
Then, after the sun set, we met up for drinks at the Heaven Bar, which turns into a nightclub and pool party into the early hours.
The next day, with a slightly sore head, I embarked on another hydrotherapy tour – sauna, steam room and hot and cold baths – at The Rock Spa.
And while the deep tissue massage may have felt rigorous at the time, it did me the world of good.
The food and drink at Hard Rock’s nine restaurants was also second to none, particularly at Zen, where teppanyaki chef Roger threw knives into the air, flames on the grill and rice into our mouths.
Then there was the Awaken Your Senses dining experience in which I took a seat at an interactive touch table before going on an interactive culinary tour of the world via high-resolution video screens.
The Hard Rock’s French-inspired Le Petit Cochon serves up delicious filet de salmon and magret duck with red fruits sauce, while Toro Steak House is a great option for lovers of rib-eye, skirt and flank.
There are plenty of excursions available from Hard Rock too, including a trip to the ancient Mayan town of Tulum, including a swim the dolphins, and the Zipline Xpress circuit through the Mexican jungle.
You can even join a Jam Band or explore the art of music mixing.
However, I channelled my inner Alice Cooper and opted for a round of golf at Hard Rock’s course.
Guests who book in for nine or 18 holes here can utilise the resort’s all-inclusive package and indulge in comped food and beverage before, during and after the round.
The course itself is immaculate, and although I started out strongly on the front nine, once the tropical heat and potent beers from the cart kicked in, my game went predictably downhill.
Nevertheless, I still had a great time with my golfing partners, Kevin and Tyler, while the wildlife, including spider monkeys, capybara, iguanas and geckos – were also out to play.
On the 15th green, I looked back to my buggy to see a couple of my old friends, the mischievous coatis, sniffing around the vehicle for a morning snack.
Although I initially presumed they had left empty handed/pawed, my suncream seemed to have gone walkies.
Whether or not the little critters were guilty of lotion theft or I had just misplaced it, remains a mystery.
Either way, I wasn’t too concerned. By the time I realised it was lost, I was on the way to the bar with my new (human) friends and toasting what had been a fun round and magnificent holiday in Mexico.
TUI offers a seven-night holiday to Mexico staying at UNICO 20°87º on an all-inclusive basis from £2131 per person based on two adults sharing a Tropical Double Room with direct flights departing Manchester on December 8, 2022, and transfers.
Alternatively, TUI offers seven-night holidays staying at the 5T Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya Heaven on an all-inclusive basis from £1,699 per person based on two adults sharing a Deluxe Gold Double Room, with direct flights departing Manchester on May 8, 2023, and transfers.
To book go to tui.co.uk, visit your local TUI holiday store or download the app.
For more information on the hotels go to: unicohotelrivieramaya.com
For more information about car parking options, Security Fast Track tickets and access to 1903 Lounge at Manchester Airport, visit manchesterairport.co.uk.