Riviera Maya and the Sacred Mayan Journey by Robert Painter

If you thought a holiday on the Riviera would be fun, but you checked hotel prices in Monte Carlo, you may have changed your mind. But, you don’t have to pass up a delightful Riviera vacation solely on the basis of your bank account. There is a really good alternative and you don’t even need a plane ticket to Europe.

If you don’t know about the Riviera Maya you probably don’t know just what you’re missing. Not only is it a short flight from the U.S. – think 2 or 3 hours – it’s a lot less expensive than a flight to Europe. Especially in the summer.

Maybe the biggest advantage of the Riviera Maya is the number of all-inclusive resorts for you to choose from. If you enjoy eating as much as I do, your holiday food bill can add up in a hurry. If you’re taking your family you may find that meals alone can devour much of your vacation budget. With an all-inclusive all those costs will be factored in from the very beginning, and you can save your “extra” cash for special treats and shopping.
My recent choice was the Hacienda TresRios just 45 minutes from the Cancun International Airport. Near Playa del Carmen in a 300+ acre nature park the resort and spa are a prime example of sustainable tourism.
A tour of the property will bring you through a nursery designed to provide native plants for the resort. This is important because of the destruction of many native plants during Hurricane Wilma a few years ago. Also, there is a garden where the hotel chef, Oscar, grows many of the fresh greens, tomatoes, herbs and salad items you’ll find on your dinner table.

The rooms have beautiful views from the balconies of the pool area and the ocean beyond. When I walked past the pool area I saw the children engaged in what appeared to be really fun games with a young attendant looking after them. They do have a Kids Club that you can sign up the little guys for, so you can have time of your own – isn’t that what a vacation is for? Of course, you’ll have plenty of time to spend with them at your will since you won’t be preparing meals, serving or cleaning up.
The exercise room is well equipped, but would you rather swim laps in the pool or take a kayak from the cenote downstream to the ocean front? Cenote, by the way, is the word given the many beautiful pools, many underground, fed by springs and formed from limestone to be found throughout the area.
One of the best features of the resort is the variety of dining experiences available. Some all-inclusive places that I have visited have a very limited menu, and everyone battles their way through the buffet lines to get the same meal – time after time. Not here. Yes, there is a buffet, and it is excellent, but you have other choices that are equally rewarding. Pizza by the pool is really fun. Your pizza is prepared to order and comes right out of the poolside brick oven. One of my favorite meals came at El Alebrije, the Mexican Restaurant. I’m from New Mexico and expect really good Mexican food wherever it is served. El Alebrije was excellent, and the atmosphere was perfect. They do have a more formal restaurant at TresRios, but I like to relax on vacation and the more casual the better. I should mention that there is a French pastry & coffee café, an Asian eatery (Kotori), a great sports bar, a tequila bar and more! Check out the website for more information.

As much as I sometimes think I’d like to just lie about the resort, soak up the sun and surf and swim in the cenote, there really is a lot more to do in the area. If you have even the slightest interest in archeology or just strolling through old ruins, the Mayan culture of the area is compelling.
Visiting the Mayan sites of Tulum and Coba’ will absorb as much time as you’re willing to devote to the adventure. Both sites are filled with beautiful remnants of a long ago culture. The Tulum site sits right on the ocean’s edge and is spectacular. Once you enter the site you can stroll around the large open area and visit whatever piques your interest. Be sure and bring your camera. Not only will you see the Mayan structures, some of which are in remarkable condition, but you’ll also surely spot some very large iguanas that are just begging to be photographed.

You can even walk down the steep flight of wooden stairs to the beach and the crystal clear water below. Just remember that those steps are also the only way back up.
If you decide to visit Coba’ – you shouldn’t miss it – you’ll find a completely different layout. The structures are spread out, and you may want to take one of the bicycles provided to get from one spot to the next. Whatever else you do there do not miss the great pyramid – Nohoch-Mul. It may appear daunting, but the climb to the top is worth the effort. You’ll be surprised at what you see when you get up there. If you’re a bit timid about heights, there is a rope you can hold onto during your climb. If you have only a limited number of steps in your daily allotment, skip the beach stairs at Tulum and climb the pyramid at Coba’.

For a really special treat, plan your visit to coincide with Travesia Sagrada Maya. The Sacred Mayan Journey is an enchanting and festive activity that you will find delightful and entertaining. It begins in Xcaret Park, Riviera Maya’s top archeological and family fun spot. Xcaret is the site of the ancient Mayan port of Ppole’ which was an important part of the trade routes of the era.
Prior to the launch of the canoes you will enjoy the Kil’wik, a reproduction of an ancient Mayan market. Merchants will offer honey, a variety of food including corn & tortillas, weavings, basketry, jewelry and much more.
The Sacred Journey begins at Ppole’ and includes an open water crossing to Cozumel and a triumphant return to Playa del Carmen, all undertaken in enormous dugout canoes. The event celebrates Goddess Ixchel, patron of
the sea and of fishing.

The event is different every year. In 2011, the pageant focused on Gonzalo Guerrero, a Spanish sailor who was shipwrecked here 500 years ago and initially enslaved, but later married a Mayan woman. He later fought with the Mayans against the conquistador Cortes and died in battle alongside his Mayan compatriots.