There is no greater sense of escape than when you’re deep in the jungles of Mexico. All that exists are water, sky, and the warm sun penetrating your soul. You can feel the ancestors of Mayan villagers, who have lived in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras for thousands of years and whose long-held traditions continue to inspire the local culture and attract travelers from across the globe — all of them eager to learn about one of North America’s oldest civilizations.
A few years ago, the jungle district of Riviera Maya, Mexico (60 miles away from Cancún), was nothing more than trees and small Mayan villages. In a short amount of time, a collection of resorts has been built to showcase everything the community has to offer, the best of them anchoring their mission around uplifting these villages by incorporating cultural education and artistic collaborations.
One resort is taking this move to a whole other level. UNICO 20°87° is an adults-only, all-inclusive resort redefining what it means to vacation by tapping guests not only into a stress-free stay, but also a deeper connection to Mexico and its past. In the newest addition to RCD Hotels, guests are immediately transported the moment they enter the lobby, featuring wall-to-wall decor showcasing work from some of the most talented local artists and designers — from paintings and tapestries to handcrafted sofas and barstools.
Location is key, of course, which is why its coordinates (20°N 87°W) are built into the hotel’s name, a reflection of the team’s dedication to giving back to the region.
Their mission is crafted within the architecture itself. Rooms on the first floor of most buildings have a swim-up pool as their personal patio, with an added hammock so comfortable I almost didn’t want to leave.
Centrally located are three gorgeous pools (La UNICA, 20°87°, and La Escondida), which not only have ocean views, poolside food and beverage services, and a spinning DJ at night, but a real burning stove that serves up tacos — the Mayan way, with fire and stone — which will satisfy lovers of authentic Mexican cuisine. And because packages are all-inclusive, no need to worry about bringing your credit card to the pool (but do tip your server).
If the tacos don’t hook you, UNICO’s stance for equality should. Last year, Philadelphia gay couple Giulia Umile and Jess Herron decided to get married at Le Blanc Spa Resort in Cancún. But, after they registered, the resort denied the request. The couple took to social media and shared their unfortunate experience with the resort, and UNICO ultimately came to the rescue and gave them the wedding of their dreams.
Not only is UNICO perfect for LGBTQ weddings, but it’s also ideal for other inclusive events. In fact, from October 27 to November 2, UNICO is ringing in the Day of the Dead by hosting a weeklong celebration with Vacaya, a new LGBTQ travel company. The event will inhabit the entire property, filling the restaurants, rooms, shops, and pools with LGBTQ guests.
As an effort to connect with the innovative culinary richness of the region, UNICO has implemented a rotating chef program at its popular restaurant, Cueva Siete (translates to “Cave Seven”). Serving up the goods now is chef Xavier Perez Stone, who floored me with his knowledge of Mayan flavors and traditions — including a dish made from pork that takes 24 hours to bake in an underground “oven” similar to what civilizations used for centuries.
Its Asian restaurant, Mura House, balances Japanese cuisine with a blend of local flavors, creating quite a fusion for the palate. Guests often gather throughout the day at 20.87 Restaurant, which offers breathtaking beachside views and a vast buffet in the mornings perfect for building your energy to last the day.
To truly take advantage of what UNICO has to offer, you must consider their specialized excursions. Whether it’s swimming with dolphins or enjoying a guided tour of ancient Mayan ruins, there is something for every history buff to enjoy.
An affable, knowledgeable guide will enrich your passion for Mayan culture in the guided tour of Coba and Tulum, which is offered exclusively to UNICO guests. My trek through the Yucatan jungle uncovered a whole new side of Mayan history, including taking a swim in a nearby underground cavern (one of Mexico’s famed cenotes). Legend has it, this one leads all the way to the underworld.
After a dip in the cavern, you can take a scenic walk through the jungle and stop for local cuisine on the way out, made by local Mayan villagers, before heading back to the hotel for another cocktail. I recommend ending your day with a UNICO favorite: a Mayan Mule, created by executive mixologist Luis Vallejo, which takes the classic mule and adds a few (secret) local twists.
The possibilities are endless at this oasis in the jungle. As the sun sets beneath the water, enjoy a taco and cocktail. The greatest thing about this all-inclusive resort isn’t the top-notch service, location, and deep-rooted history. It’s peace of mind, which can’t be bought.