Our Winter Getaway to Mexico’s Riviera by Saul Schwartz

My wife Fern and I left the bitter cold of the 2018 winter on a Friday January morning. We were on the beach wearing bathing suits in the afternoon.  Our non-stop flights from Baltimore – Washington airport to Cancun were under three hours and thirty minutes each way.  We booked our package (hotel, airfare, excursions and airport shuttle) together through Cheap Caribbean.com.  We divided our five day trip between relaxation at the resort and several excursions to the Mayan ruins and a natural well.

Lodging at Iberostar Paraiso Beach Resort

Midway between Cancun and Tulum, the eighty mile stretch of Mexico’s Yucatan coast is called Riviera Maya. Our resort was located twenty three miles south of the Cancun airport.

Iberostar is a Spanish chain of 4 and 5 star resorts. Located within the heart of Riviera Maya, this all- inclusive resort shares amenities with the Iberostar Del Mar, featuring a very large pool, several bars, a disco, an ice cream stand and a pristine beach.  A fully equipped fitness center also included free fitness classes throughout each day.   Many comfortable beach chairs were placed under palm thatched stands, where we were able to view the beautiful blues and greens of the tranquil Caribbean Sea on a wide stretch of beach.

We really enjoyed the dinners at the resort’s specialty restaurants, with each of the six restaurants featuring a different cuisine (including Mexican, Mediterranean, Italian, French, and Japanese). However, we were only allowed to make reservations for two dinners based on the length of our stay.  The food at the Italian and Mexican restaurants was truly exceptional, the service was excellent and the atmosphere was superior.  All breakfasts and lunches at Iberostar were at one of the two buffet restaurants, both of which offered many food options.  Throughout the grounds, we wandered by many colorful animals, including pink flamingos, large turtles, Mexican prairie dogs and the very odd coati, a member of the raccoon family!

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

About one and one-half hours northwest of Riviera Maya, this stunning Mayan city has been names one of the new seven wonders of the world. This site, one of the most visited in Mexico, was named as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988.

This awe-inspiring city was once the center of the Mayan empire. This was a holy site, constructed more than 1500 years ago.  We spent half of one day here, including a guided tour.

In the heart of the city is the iconic giant El Castillo pyramid that stands nearly 100 feet high and 181 feet across at the bottom. Unfortunately tourists can no longer climb the stairways.  Two of the sides have been reconstructed.  With large sculptures of serpent heads at the base of one of the grand staircases, it is believed that the pyramid was used for sacrifices to the golds.

Among the other ancient structures, I found most interesting to be the Ball Court which was used for a game where teams of seven players competed to direct a heavy ball through a ring mounted on a wall seven meters high (23 feet). The captain of the “winning” team was sacrificed to the gods.

Tulum Mayan Ruins

About 30 minutes south of our resort, we took a two hour tour with Cancun Adventures of these well preserved ruins. The excursion included a one hour guided tour and one hour on our own.

This Mayan ancient walled city is situated on tall cliffs that back up to the Caribbean Sea for incredible views.   A thick stone wall encloses about 60 structures.  Most are small and many are carved with gargoyle faces.  The most dramatic structure is the castle, a large pyramid that overlooks the Caribbean.  We briefly sat on the stunning white sand beach beneath the ruins.  The cost was seventy pesos for an adult.

Ik Kil Cenote, Yucatan

Yucatan has thousands of cenotes (natural wells) that exist nowhere else. These sink holes are of exquisite natural beauty as they expose groundwater underneath.  The sink holes once were caverns where the roofs collapsed.

Ik Kit is a round, steep vertical shaft, both dark and cool. There are vines which reach from the opening all the way down to the pool of spring water, along with small waterfalls.

Mayans used this site as a location for human sacrifices to the rain god, as well as for relaxation. To the Mayans, these natural wells were sacred passageways to the underworld.  Near Chichen Itza, this underwater sinkhole is open to the sky.  You can walk down a carved stairway to a swimming platform or to viewing stations.

The privately owned complex includes a small restaurant, store, picnic tables and changing rooms. The cost is 80 pesos for adults and this natural well was quite crowded.


Transportation: The Amstar shuttle to and from the airport was timely and comfortable.  We used Amstar to arrange our two Mayan ruins guided tours.