Carreterra Cancun Tulum km 54, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Most of the ever-growing all-inclusive hotels dotted along the coast from Cancun to Tulum follow a similar playbook. Hacienda Tres Rios is an attempt to step above the crowd and although it stumbles here and there, it’s clearly a more sedate, more refined version of the typical experience. The nature reserve—featuring on-site cenote swims—completes the differentiation.
Situated only six miles north of Playa del Carmen, Tres Rios was built on the site of three rivers and close to half its 326 acres are devoted to a nature preserve, with some 90 animal species, 120 plant species, and 10 cenotes on site. While it’s easy to find environmental aspects to quibble about, the real story is that this resort is a far cry from the no-vegetation walls of concrete that have defined much of this coast in the past. It embraces the natural landscape instead of obliterating it, at the same time providing you with a more refined dining experience than you expect from an all-inclusive hotel.
At heart this is still a big beach resort, with two huge swimming pools in the middle of a U-shaped series of buildings, with a kids’ club, organized activities, a “fractional ownership” offering, and free-flowing drinks. There’s nothing close to debauchery here though. The music piped into some areas is downright sleepy, as in cheesy film scores and orchestral Muzak.
The grand lobby sets the mood with its expansive sitting areas and a player piano tirelessly cranking out show tunes and classics. Check-in involves handing over a passport, but thankfully there are no wristbands for most guests. Off the lobby are a large gift shop, a travel desk, a patisserie, and a sports bar. Outside the wall of glass you look across a river complete with mangroves, the pool complex, and the ocean in the distance.
The beach itself is actually one of the low points here, so those looking for an expanse of soft powdering sand and clear blue water are better off elsewhere. Carved out of a patch of mangroves, it’s a silty seaweed stretch better for lounging than swimming. The two large, meandering pools are a better bet, with plenty of cushioned lounge chairs, fluffy towels, and shade umbrellas. There are shallow areas for small children and a few hot tub whirlpools on the edges. Poolside service can be achingly slow at times, but it runs all day, with wait staff delivering food and cocktails to your lounge chair table. A full-service restaurant (tagged a snack bar, but really better than that) and a wood-oven pizza grill offer table service beside the pools.
The dining experiences here are superlative and are the main factor setting Tres Rios far above the average all-inclusive. There is one large buffet restaurant, but it dispenses with the usual steam table vats. Instead small servings of attractive dishes are set out on a platter, encouraging savoring rather than gluttony. A breakfast omelet and waffle station adds more options though and the array of fresh-squeezed juices is joined by set-ups for Belinis, Mimosas, and Bloody Marys. Selections for all meals are international but always include some interesting local options such as salbutes or cochinita pibil.
The real standouts, however, are the two a la carte restaurants in the main building. The “high Mexican cuisine” one on the second floor lives up to its name, presenting artistic dishes and flamboyant desserts that would not be out of place in Mexico City, accompanied by a good selection of tequilas and wines by the glass. (Unfortunately though, the beer selection is limited to two different cans of lager.) Another restaurant alternates between Pan-Asian and Italian, in both cases doing a surprisingly good job of hitting the mark on authenticity, while delighting the eyes with a flair. This is not just hotel food: most meals here are far superior to what you can find in independent restaurants in nearby Playa del Carmen.
Sleeping quarters are equally impressive. The lowest level ones on offer are junior suites of 645 square feet with marble floors, mahogany furniture, a sitting area with sleeper sofa separated by a screen, plush beds with headboards that have built-in mood lights and good reading lights on stems, and furnished balconies. Minibars are restocked daily (or sooner on request) with beer, soda, and water. Gadgets include 42-inch flat-screen HDTVs, electronic safes, CD/DVD players, iPod docks, coffee makers, scales, and complimentary in-room Wi-Fi. High-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets and a pillow menu compliment robes, slippers, and Teva toiletries for pampering. Some of the junior suites have only a large marble rain shower, while the “spa suites” add a whirlpool.
One-bedroom suites have nearly double the space and two baths, while the two-bedroom suites are apartment-sized, at more than 2,000 square feet. Several rooms are equipped for wheelchair access. Room service runs 24 hours and is included in the all-inclusive plan.
The activities on offer at Hacienda Tres Rios are not just your typical beach volleyball and aerobics. Many of them center around the nature reserve, with a highlight being a cenote tour and walk that ends with you swimming downstream in a cool, clear river, a provided mask allowing you to spot crabs and fish moving along the bottom. You can also kayak up the river and swim in the deep cenote at the end, or take the kayak down the coast to land on a better beach. You can check out a bike for your own explorations, or go on a guided bike tour of the nature reserve.
The gym on site is excellent, filled with new high-end equipment and treatments in the attractive spa are available for an additional fee. Included yoga classes are in a palapa-covered terrace next to the sea. Those without a laptop of their own can go online for no charge in the business center or in the Exit Lounge, outfitted for checked-out guests who have a late flight.
As with the immature palm trees dotting the property, service here still has some growing to do and guests should be prepared to get fully “on Mexican time” upon arrival. This promising new resort hits the right notes more often than wrong ones though, even if the notes coming out of the loudspeakers need some work.
Web Address: www.haciendatresrios.com
Total Number of Rooms: 273
Published rates: $350 to $1,289 double all-inclusive
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.