When you visit Costa Mujeres, Mexico, it still feels pretty raw. Peek about the flat stretches of terrain and you’ll see a smattering of trees and, every so often, a car will pass you on the sleepy road.
But check back in another year or two, though, and the place will look completely different. You can already see the patches of progress. There are cement trucks moving and construction workers drilling. Just a 45-minute drive from the late-night revelry of Cancun a new, more mature party is almost ready to commence.
Riu Dunamar, which debuted in December 2017, is one of the first higher-end properties to stake its claim in the burgeoning area. It’s got 740 rooms, a spa and a sports bar. And right next door sits the almost-completed Hotel Riu Palace Costa Mujeres, a 600-room beauty that the Spain-based brand promises will take laid-back luxuriousness to even greater heights. (If you think Riu’s Mexico expansion is impressive, wait until you see what it has in store for the Maldives, Morocco and Madrid in 2019.)
Beyond its heavenly location, however, Riu Dunamar has a number of other qualities that make it an all-inclusive resort that stands out in the all-new part of town.
A stark white, five-story building rising out the Yucatan sands, Riu Dunamar is cool and comfortable with just the right amount of chic. When you walk into the main lobby, you won’t see many walls or windows; instead, a coastal breeze greets you almost quicker than the staffer holding your welcome drink. You’ll feel the wind tickling your skin at the check-in desk or at the lobby bar across the way.
Yet even with the airy flow, things have a more modern sway than what you’re used to in this colorful corner of Mexico. Tiles look a bit more polished. Tray ceilings seem more angular. The columns appear a tad sleeker.
This elevated feel continues in your personal lair. Like the building’s exterior, the rooms (ranging from intimate standards to family friendly suites) are mostly alabaster, but with pops of color to keep your senses engaged. The waterfront unit we stayed in was splattered in seafoam — on parts of the wall, the throw blanket, sections of the headboard. You’ll notice a frosty window into the bathroom, too, giving the space just enough natural light so you can enjoy the glass-enclosed shower without flipping on the switch.
The private units do a great job keeping their sophisticated façade up, but there are still noticeable hints of its celebratory side. For example, rooms feature full bottles of complimentary alcohol such as Jose Cuervo tequila and Galeon rum turned upside down in ingenious dispensers that are refilled every two days.
One of Riu Dunamar’s proudest selling points is its epicurean efforts. Here, you’ll find five meal options — beyond room service and snacks at the bar — that range from your all-day resort buffet (Isla Mujeres) to restaurants homed in on focused flavors (the Asian-tinged Bamboo or Las Brasas steakhouse).
The property begins to separate itself from run-of-the-mill resort menus with Pompeya. This Italian restaurant pleases at lunch or dinner with a smorgasbord filled with caprese salads, sliced meats, a host of pizza choices and more. If you’re not in a walk-around mood, go the à la carte option and let the kitchen put on its finest Napoli impression and whip up a just-creamy-enough shrimp pasta that you’ll crave the rest of your trip.
And then there’s Kulinarium, the contemporary eatery where you’ll probably want the concierge to reserve you a table. The intimate restaurant sets its amorous ambience with a soft-blue-and-white color palette and dark woods. Servers donning black button-up shirts and white suspenders attend to your every whim, so if it’s another glass of sauvignon blanc to go with your grouper or a second helping of poblano peppers to pair with your marinated filet that you desire, someone will take care of it for you.
You’re in coastal Mexico so, of course, the location’s No. 1 lure is the ocean. At Riu Dunamar, the sparkling blue can be enjoyed with a dip or from inside a catamaran provided by the beach concierge. And speaking of the sand, if you wanted to simply claim a chair somewhere under the two rows of shady palms, no one would have any issues with that, either.
The resort also has five swimming pools — this includes a family one, an adult option and another with the now-ubiquitous swim-up bar — to help keep you cool. You’ll hear so much commotion in certain areas that you’ll think you’re at a water park. But Splash Water World is a few hundred feet away. Oh, we didn’t tell you? Riu Dunamar has its own small-scale water park that comes complete with flumes, floats and full-throated guests screaming down the slides.
Though the resort also provides a daily fitness calendar and a stage filled with nightly entertainment, you may occasionally get the urge to leave the property. When that happens, it’s good to know that Riu Dunamar partners with Sunwing for daily excursions (see: archaeological site tours and zip-lining trips) and teams with Scuba Caribe for adventures like the kayaking one we took in some nearby waters. Along our particular journey we were blessed by a shaman, confronted by a Mayan warrior and even spotted a few crocodiles.
It’s always good to meet the old locals before the neighborhood changes forever.