When the owners of Hacienda Tres Ríos Resort Spa & Nature Park decided to transition from running one of the region’s first eco adventure parks to opening a green all-inclusive resort they faced big challenges. Their Tres Rios eco park on 326 acres is home to 120 species of plants and 90 species of animals and a delicate mangrove system including the only above-ground rivers in the Yucatan Peninsula (hence the name). Careless planning, construction and operation of a resort on the property could spoil the environment—and their reputation (Lonely Planet writers deemed the Tres Ríos park operation as the least environmentally harmful park in the Riviera Maya).

So, how’d they do?

Ecologically sensitive steps were taken early on with an innovative pylon-foundation design that allows mangrove waters to continue to flow under the resort’s buildings that make up the resort—a flow pattern that’s crucial for their continued health. Then a decision was made to build the structures modularly in nearby Puerto Morelos with finished sections trucked to the resort location and assembled, avoiding the need to create a massive construction site in the fragile mangroves.

Hacienda Tres Ríos installed Kone Ecodisc elevators which re-use energy generated while descending to help power the elevator’s journey back up. You’ll never get a drink with a straw in it (unless you ask for one). Maids actually leave used towels on the hooks per laundry-reduction efforts. Staff sorts and recycles every piece of garbage daily. Heat generated by the air conditioning system is re-used to heat the resort’s water which is made up entirely of collected rain water or sea water that’s been desalinated through reverse osmosis.

The air-conditioning system—a vital element of a luxury resort in such a hot climate—is pre-cooled using super-cold water circulated from deep underground—though the resort-wide A/C system is set at an incredibly cold temperature. My suite was so cold when I checked in that I turned the A/C off  immediately and never turned it on again for the next three days—a testament to the effectiveness of the resort’s insulation.

The staff at Hacienda Tres Ríos is also required to use both sides of every piece of paper–and they do it. A list of reservations at dinner one night, for example, was printed out on the back of an already-used sheet.

Because of all these measures (and a massive greenhouse project that replanted and rehabilitated the property after hurricane Wilma trampled through) Hacienda Tres Ríos, which opened in November 2008, has received a 95% rating from the Green Globe organization.

This does not mean you are roughing it.The 273 suites at Hacienda Tres Ríos are all huge (the smallest one is almost 650 square feet) and all have patios—some with outdoor Jacuzzi tubs. The rooms are certainly stylish and well-appointed but there’s not much about their décor or amenities that gives you a sense of place. For that, you need to go outside.

The resort’s all-inclusive rates cover a range of on-property adventures. A sampling includes bike rides (hopefully they will have invested in some new bikes by the time you get there), canoe paddles through the mangroves, greenhouse tours, swimming in the resort’s 10 private cenotes (submerged caves whose roofs have caved in creating natural freshwater pools) and something called a Sense Adventure.

Over the course of an hour participants in the Sense Adventure are blindfolded and slowly lead through a series of environments designed to heighten our four remaining senses. Some areas are hot. Some are scented. Some include tactile experiences like sitting down in a pile of lentils (which is actually more liberating than it sounds). Bells tinkle. At one point you end up with something sweet in your mouth.

By the time the hour’s up you’re left blinking and lentil-speckled by the edge of a cenote, but with an increased appreciation for your eyesight and all the cool stuff around you that’s fun to look at like mangroves and geckos and a well-crafted martini—which is sort of the point.

As eco-minded as the resort is, this is not the place to come if your idea of a perfect vacation is time spent bobbing in clear blue surf. As mentioned, Hacienda Tres Ríos gets its name from the three rivers (the only above ground rivers in the state of Yucatan) which run through the mangroves on the property. These rivers, lead to the sea and along the way they pick up natural tannins from the mangroves which make the water coffee-colored. As the rivers reach the sea this tannin-stained water turns the immediate surf a murky brown. It’s not contaminated in any way, but it’s also not inviting.

Hacienda Tres Ríos does have two enormous well-staffed pools where you can easily satisfy your water and sun craving while taking full advantage of the resort’s super all-inclusive policy: all food and all drinks including most alcoholic beverages. The food at Hacienda Tres Ríos, while not the best on the Riviera Maya, is of very good quality and offers a wide variety guided by Executive Chef Oscar Orbe Quiroz.

Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Orbe is a whirlwind of activity. In his signature black Crocs, black chef’s pants and wide smile he can be seen buzzing between the buffet, the outdoor pizza café and the resort’s three high-end restaurants (don’t miss the El Alebrije , their inventive gourmet Mexican restaurant) from 7am until the last dinner guest has left.

Chef Orbe really shines, however, when hosting his two nightly seatings of a special seven course chef’s table dinner. A max of around 16 guests are seated at five tables set just off the main kitchen in an area decorated with framed black and white photos of Marlon Brando and Audrey Hepburn and Orbe’s black aprons signed by satisfied chef’s table diners.

Grace Jones and Norah Jones serenade as dishes like silky tuna tartar with habanero pepper and cilantro (think a Mexican version of Japanese poki-poki), smooth and creamy black corn soup served with flame tequila and mini rack of lamb with sliced black truffle are served.

The chef’s table menu changes almost daily and the quality of the dishes I had during my chef’s table meal was well above anything I ate anywhere else in the resort. Incredibly, a chef’s table dinner can be reserved at no additional cost to all-inclusive guests except for the cost of a premium bottle of wine (not included in room rates) to accompany your dinner.

Work it all off in the resort’s gym which is equipped with a full complement of Life Fitness  machines or sweat it out in the steam room and sauna of the resort’s Ya’ax Che Spa—all open to all resort guests, no appointment necessary.

In addition to a full menu of treatments, the beautiful spa also offers daily specials on individual services plus a weekly packet of services which works out to be a true bargain. For example, a 55 minute massage, 50 minute facial, a pedicure and manicure plus an overall exfoliation was on offer the week I was there for less than $200.  An even larger spa is currently being planned.

You won’t want to leave Hacienda Tres Ríos, but the resort even makes departure as enjoyable as possible. If your flight or other onward journey doesn’t depart until later than the resort’s check out time you are invited to remain at the resort enjoying the services of the Exit Lounge which includes Wi-Fi and laptops, satellite TV, a magazine and DVD library and self-serve gourmet coffee and desserts.

Rates from: $360 double occupancy inclusive of all food and drinks including most alcoholic beverages

Carretera Cancún-Tulum, Km. 54
Tres Ríos, Riviera Maya
Quintana Roo, 77760 Mexico


Our review of this hotel was originally published by iTraveliShop

Visit our Travel Features page and our Hotel & Restaurant Reviews page to see all of our freelance travel stories.

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