Plan ahead: Mexico’s Riviera Maya
Written by: Julia Hammond
Imagine a place that has it all: an outoor adventure playground with more ancient ruins and historic towns than you can squeeze into a single vacation, a place blessed with great beaches and plenty of sunshine, not to mention an abundance of hotels and restaurants. Imagine no more: that place exists and they call it the Riviera Maya. Here’s what you need to know.
The Riviera Maya is the gateway to the Yucatan peninsula. Throughout this region are some of the world’s most fascinating archaeological sites. The most famous is Chichen Itza. This sprawling complex centres around the Kukulcan Pyramid, but there are a whole host of other ruins to investigate on site, such as the observatory and ball court. Elsewhere, you can climb the pyramid at Coba, enjoy panoramic views from the clifftop ruins at Tulum and venture off the beaten track at the little-known Ek Balam deep in the forest. Sayil, Labna and Uxmal reward those who travel a little further from the coastal resorts.
Merida is one of the peninsula’s most charming towns. San Ildefonso Cathedral, flanked with elegant mansions, dominates the main plaza, while Pasejo Montejo is known for its Beaux Arts homes. There are museums, markets and restaurants galore, the reward for those who can bear to drag themselves away from their poolside cabanas. Valladolid is smaller, but no less captivating. It’s the perfect place to try traditional Mayan hot chocolate, rich and creamy – and a must despite the warmth of the tropical sun.
Beautiful beaches and turquoise water
Development of this corner of Mexico gathered pace in the 1960s when planners compiled a bunch of data in search of the perfect site for a new resort. The answer was Cancun, which boasts mile upon mile of glorious white sand. Though government driven at the outset, it’s since grown organically and remains a popular choice for those seeking all-inclusives. Head south, and, with the exception of pretty but packed Playa del Carmen the beaches get quieter. Puerto Morelos has a small-town, local feel; visitors flock to Akumal’s strip of sand to wade out in the shallows to spot green turtles. Continue to charming Tulum and beyond to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a haven for birds, dolphins, turtles and sometimes manatees.
Theme parks and natural attractions
A series of fun parks draw the crowds. Xplor offers thrill seekers the chance to ride in an amphibious vehicle, lounge in a lazy river swim, raft underground and zoom over the lot on the highest zip lines in Latin America. Xcaret is a little tamer, but awesome family fun. Stay until evening for the Mexican show which recounts the country’s history in spectacular fashion. Alongside these parks are the Riviera Maya’s incredible natural attractions. Rappel into glittering cenotes, underground pools sculpted from the surrounding limestone. Cenote Xkeken at Dzitnup is one of the best, a glistening turquoise lagoon lit through a hole in the roof of a huge cavern dangling with stalactites.
Basing yourself on the mainland doesn’t mean you can’t experience the Yucatan’s island life. Cozumel, an established cruise ship destination, sits just offshore and is a magnet for divers. Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox both sell themselves as a laidback bolthole, the perfect retreat if you need to relax, unwind and recharge. To reach car-free Isla Holbox you’ll cross the Yalahau Lagoon, known for its flocks of flamingos and pelicans. Quiet and peaceful, Isla Mujeres offers snorkelling and scuba diving on the nearby coral reef. If you really must do something, explore the lighthouse, check out the remains of a Mayan temple and visit a sanctuary for sea turtles.
Want to visit Mexico when global travel begins again? Why not give Mundana a call to discuss your needs?