Located on the east coast of Mexico, in the state of Quintana Roo, in the Yucatan Peninsula, on the shore of the Caribbean Sea, lies the Riviera Maya. Here are my top reasons for vacationing there: History and Culture. Dating back to 2500 BCE, the Mayans lived in the rainforest and on the seashore. They were skilled mathematicians, artists, architects and astronomers. They created calendars, kept written hieroglyphic records and were the first in the Western Hemisphere to develop zero as a mathematical concept.
Archeology and Adventure. The region is dotted with the ruins of magnificent Mayan palaces, temples and observatories. We visited both Coba and Tulum. Coba, although only 70 square kilometers in size, is surprisingly 97% unexplored. Here one finds several sacred temple/pyramids and a stone court where the Mayans played their national sport, a deadly ballgame (the loser was sacrificed) called Pitz. We climbed Nohoch Mul, the second largest pyramid in the Americas. Measuring 42 meters high with 120 steep steps, it offers a sensational view from the top. Tulum is a walled city built on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean that served as a port linking land and sea traders throughout the region.
Swim, Snorkel and Dive. Approximately 25% of the Mexican Caribbean is designated as an ecological reserve. Offshore, the great Maya coral reef that extends from Cancun through Riviera Maya to Honduras is second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is a diving and snorkeling paradise. Collapsed limestone craters create sinkholes, known as cenotes that lead to an extensive system of underground fresh water rivers found throughout theYucatan Peninsula. The Mayans considered cenotes to be the sacred entrance to the underworld, inhabited by fantastical monsters and beings. Swimming, snorkeling and diving in them is an extraordinary experience. Yal-Ku is a natural lagoon that empties into the Caribbean. It is a perfect spot for a picnic lunch and long swims around the rock formations rising from its depths. It is not a well-known spot, but worth the visit.
Don’t Miss. Playa del Carmen is the third largest city in Quintana Roo. Its center of activity is its very own Fifth Avenue (Quinta Avenida). The area is a pedestrian zone just off the beach that features restaurants, bars, shops and boutiques. It is a tourist haven, and its festive, lively atmosphere makes it a terrific place to walk and wander. Xel-Ha is a one-of-a-kind eco-friendly water park featuring beaches, lagoons, tropical birds and plants, dolphins, meandering trails plus wonderful restaurants and bars. Don’t miss snorkeling in the lagoon or tubing down the river through the mangroves.
Money Matters. American dollars are accepted throughout Mexico; pack singles and small bills. ATMs are found throughout the area. Use your credit card and charge in pesos, not dollars (better exchange rate than at hotels and restaurants).
Safe & Sound. Bottled water is recommended. Look for a supermarket or convenience store where you can buy six-packs of water at a reasonable price (vs. at your hotel). Order sunscreen and anti-bug spray online from Mexitan, http://www.mexitan.com. Most nature parks require eco-friendly, biodegradable products and these fit the specifications. Hint: buy the convenient travel sizes for easy packing and to meet TSA rules for carry-on luggage.
Rivera Maya’s website is http://www.rivieramaya.com. Their Visitors Bureau is very helpful. Tulum’s website is http://www.tulum.com. For something unique, visit at night when the grounds and buildings are lit up, creating a surreal experience. Xelha’s all-inclusive pricing includes entrance to the park, all meals and drinks, lockers and snorkeling equipment; plan on staying a full day. Go to http://www.xelha.com for more information.
We stayed at Las Villas Akumal, a quiet condo resort on the beach. It’s particularly comfortable if you are traveling with family or friends. Don’t miss the hamburgers or guacamole at their roof top restaurant. For rates, log onto http://www.lasvillasakumal.com.
Safe travels and enjoy the journey…