How many different shades of blue can you see?
In the Riviera Maya, probably more than you can count!
Mexico has 240 miles of Caribbean coastline, stretching from Cancún to the north, all the way to Chetumal, at the border with Belize. The northern half of the coast has been dubbed the “Riviera Maya”; the southern half, the “Costa Maya.”
The Riviera Maya is a 72-mile stretch along the coastline along the Yucatan Peninsula. Just 30 minutes south of Cancun’s international airport, the Riviera Maya starts at Playa del Secreto and goes all the way to Punta Allen, a small fishing village within one of the world’s largest ecological reserves. The Caribbean Sea stretches down the coast line offering white sand beaches and calm, tranquil turquoise waters. The region features the tranquility of uncrowded beaches, a vast network of underground rivers, over 100 cenotes (openings to underground rivers with special Mayan lore and mystic), the action of eco-adventure sports including kayaking, mountain biking, scuba diving, snorkeling, trekking, bird watching and deep sea fishing, proximity to many of Mexico’s most significant Mayan archeological sites, the varied activities of the eco-archeological parks, plus golf courses, spas, shopping, gourmet dining and a range of accommodations to suit every lifestyle and budget.
Hotels and Resorts
Rapid growth and popularity has brought around 20,000 hotel rooms to this area within the last decade. The majority of the resorts are “All- Inclusive” resorts. This means that all of your meals, beverages, entertainment and non-motorized water sports are included. These resorts offer great value to the traveler. Many guests just lock their wallets away for the duration of the vacations. The all-inclusive resorts in the Riviera Maya range from super deluxe to more moderate. You can typically tell the difference based on the amenities each resort has to offer.
When judging all-inclusive resorts, you will find differences between what each offer. Most will have multiple restaurants to choose from including buffets and sit down restaurants that require reservations. There may be some limits on how many times during your stay that you can eat dinner at these sit down or a la carte restaurants. Most resorts will have multiple pools, some with swim up bars. Some might have lazy river pools- one even has a wave pool. Most have fitness centers or gyms, some offer spa treatments. Most offer tennis, non-motorized water sports, kid’s programs, daily activities-usually hosted around the main pool, discos, game rooms nightly entertainment, and theme parties.
More resorts are being built, most on large untouched stretches of beach surrounded by tropical jungles. The resorts are usually built bungalow or villa style no more than 3 stories high. With numerous pools, activities and restaurants to choose from, these all-inclusive resorts are growing more and more popular with families, honeymooners, couples and singles. Offering some of the best values in the Caribbean, the Riviera Maya is booming as a travel destination.
If all-inclusive vacations are not your style, the Riviera Maya offers some superb hotels to choose from. Some of my favorite hotels are Excellence Riviera Cancun, Secrets resorts, El Dorado resorts, Iberostar resorts, Azul resorts and so many more it is hard to list them all.
The Beaches and Water Sports
With the second largest coral reef barrier in the world that protects the shore, the beautiful glasslike turquoise colored water is a big draw for this destination.
Diving and snorkeling in the Cenotes – Cenotes have a mystical Mayan meaning and you will never have this experience in any other place in the world! Technically, cenotes are openings to underground rivers. With no above-ground rivers in the Yucatan, these openings were the fresh water source for the Mayans. The Yucatan has 54 known cave systems where only 249 miles of the underground rivers have been explored. On a typical cenote dive, you’ll be driven to the site by van, then make a short trek through the jungle to the cenote opening. You’ll go down a ladder about 40 feet below ground level to the waterline. The crew usually handles your dive gear, which is lowered by lines and pulleys. You can also snorkel in a cenote for a wonderful experience. Because cenotes are caverns, not caves, you don’t need special training. Cenote specialty courses, cavern and cave diving courses are available, and many of the resorts will give free introductory diving lessons in their swimming pools.
In addition to cenote diving, the coral formations of the Great Maya Reef offer spectacular views of underwater life for both scuba divers and snorkelers alike. The coral reef barrier in this region is second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. Some of the reefs are so close that they can be seen from just swimming out a bit from the beach. The coast of the Riviera Maya also provides many excellent locations for deep sea fishing and the salty waters of the lagoons in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve are the perfect location to perfect your art of flyfishing. Snorkel gear, kayaking, windsurfing, scuba clinics and sailing are usually included at most all inclusive resorts.
Activities and Sports
Again, most of the all-inclusive resorts offer a host of daytime and evening activities for both adults and children. Some might include games, dance lessons, contests, fitness classes, archery, billiards, beach volleyball, basketball and other sports. Most resorts have tennis courts for both daytime and nighttime play. For the fitness enthusiasts, many hotels have their own state of the art gym facilities with some offering spa treatments at an extra cost. For the golfers, there are several different courses providing first class designs and facilities. Those who want to venture off the resort grounds, can try zip lining, ATV tours, parachuting, hiking and horseback jungle tours.
Centrally located, Playa del Carmen, once a sleepy fishing village, is now one of the most important and sophisticated tourist attractions in the Riviera Maya. La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is the main pedestrian walkway, closed to motor vehicles, and provides an abundance of shopping, dining and fun options. From the port in Playa del Carmen, you can take a ferry for a short ride to Cozumel.
Excursions, Attractions and Day Trips
The Riviera Maya is a destination blessed by nature. These parks contain the three most wonderful features of Riviera Maya: Lush jungle, underground rivers that lead to the ocean and the flora and fauna of the region.
XCARET is more than a park- it’s an experience for all your senses. Immerse yourself in tradition, nature, wonder, adventure and beauty in one of the most unique and friendly eco-archaeological parks. You can snorkel or float through the underground rivers, swim with dolphins, visit a recreation of a Mayan village and some small Mayan ruins, enjoy the butterfly and bird sanctuary and, at night, enjoy the show of Mexican music and dance with dozens of entertainers.
XEL-HA is the world’s most spectacular natural aquarium. Embark on an aquatic adventure, float, snorkel or swim through creeks, lagoons, natural wells and ancient caves fed by subterranean rivers flowing to Mexico’s beautiful Caribbean Sea. Explore the exotic landscape of the jungle surrounding the river and lagoon by foot, on bicycle or by riding the miniature train. Inside the park, there is a turtle sanctuary, dolphin pool and aviary.
The Yucatan Peninsula is full of archaeological zones to explore and visit. Probably the most well known is Tulum.
The city of Tulum is the only known archaeological site located by the sea. Until the 1960’s, the site was only accessible by sea. It was constructed atop a cliff facing the Caribbean and surrounded by walls or stones on the other 3 sides. In Mayan times, it was the fortress-sentry of the Caribbean Sea and served as a lighthouse for Mayan ships. With 3 major structures of interest, El Castillo (the tower which dominates the area), the Temple of the Frescoes and the Temple of the Descending Gods, Tulum is easy to explore within a couple of hours. From there, you can go to Xel-Ha, to take a cooling swim inside the park, since they are both in the same archeological zone.
Coba and Chichén Itza are 2 more archaeological zones within driving distance of the Riviera Maya.
Coba, which is a 27 miles west of Tulum, was once a great Maya city built around a lagoon. Here you can see ruins of Nohuch Mul, the tallest Mayan structure in the Yucatan, as well as the ruins of the Temple of the Churches and the Temple of the Paintings. Only a small portion of this large site has been excavated. Chichen Itza is undoubtably the most famous of the Mayan ruins and possible the most reconstructed. Visitors from all around the world have climbed the giant pyramid of Kukulkan and have explored the ruins of Mexico’s largest ball court. A 2 hour drive from Tulum still makes it a potential day trip.
You can get to each of these points of interest on excursions booked through the tour operator or through the resort. The concierge desk at the hotels or the tour operator’s desk can offer a wealth of information about the day trips available.
Getting to the Riviera Maya
The closest major airport to the Riviera Maya is in Cancun. With non-stop charter air flights from Newark, Philadelphia and other east coast cities, as well as daily flights on Continental, U.S. Airways, Delta, Jet Blue and American, flying into Cancun is an easy flight. From Cancun Airport, hotels and tour operators offer van and bus transfers to the resorts in the Riviera Maya. Also, ferries connect Playa del Carmen and Cozumel.
Why travel to the Riviera Maya?
If an idyllic beach vacation with plenty of activities or just relaxing on the white sand beach is what you are looking for, this may be the perfect getaway.
With deluxe adults-only resorts, like the Excellence Riviera Cancun, Royal Hideaway, Secrets Maroma Beach, Capri or Silversands, and El Dorado Royale, Maroma or Seaside, romance is in the air. Honeymooners are treated royally, making the Riviera Maya a wonderful honeymoon destination. With some resorts offering free weddings, this may be the perfect spot for your destination wedding.
With most family resorts offering extensive children’s programs, this is a family vacation paradise. With activities to keep all family members happy, this is a great destination to rejuvenate, relax and spend time together.
A great value in the Caribbean, the Riviera Maya is sure to please even the most discriminating traveler.
Click Here for a short video on the Riviera Maya