Category Archives: City Profiles

Rolling in D.F.

By David Simmonds 

On my several visits to Amsterdam I have always been struck by several things about the town that I really like. The first three that come to mind are: you can find a Heineken in every shop and bar in town that can be quaffed at room temperature, the people are stunningly attractive (at least the women…I don’t recall the dudes), and thousands of healthy people zip around the canal-lined streets on bicycles. This in a town not known for it’s sunny days or jovial personalities.

Mexico City’s mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, may have made the same observation as he has now proclaimed that he and some staffers would ride bikes to work, hoping to encourage other Chilangos to do the same. The hope is that the air will become cleaner and the streets less jammed with gas guzzling autos as others follow his lead. He had already banned cars from the city’s downtown avenues on Sundays, which by all accounts has been a great success, with the residents jamming around on rollerblades and bikes free from the fear of being run down by a distracted driver.  I like this idea a lot..now if they could just bring back the canals that Cortez found there over 500 years ago. For the complete story, check out this article from the San Diego UnionTribune:

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/mexico/20070702-9999-1n2bikes.html

Welcome to Mexico Premiere

A year ago I, along with Lisa Coleman, were geared up to launch a hard-copy, print magazine focused on Mexico. We had a very slick media kit completed and a premier issue in progress. We were ready to rock and roll…but something didn’t feel quite right. The 2006 Mexico presidential election and the Oaxaca unrest were bringing business to a standstill and no one knew with certainty what the climate would be in the near future in a country that is no stranger to revolution.

Faced with this reality we backed off for a while. In the meantime I was starting to see the future, albeit light-years later than anyone under 30. It was becoming clear that traditional media as the world has known since the invention of the printing press was in a revolution of its own. People my age with bad knees and good intents still read magazines and the daily newspaper, but monster winds are blowing against us. Traditional media is on a rapid decline…newspapers, magazines, movies, television, all losing readers. Meanwhile there are billion people online with another billion expected in the next decade. After a load of research and conversations with Lisa (the only person I know with more opinions than I.), we knew what we had to do. We both ordered a mental hard-drive replacement and jumped headfirst into the world of blog, following the advice at every step of our tech-partner, Doug Macy, who makes this page jump the way it does. We have formed a group of Mexico experts to be blog contributors, including Ron Mader, Greg Custer, Jeanine Kitchel and David Lida. Our mission is to become the place where anyone who wants Mexico information will check out frequently. Each blogger is free to editorialize, report and rant uncensored, and the readers are encouraged to post their comments.

So, that’s the short version of the genesis of Mexico Premiere. Please check us out from time to time and tell your friends about the site.

Dave Simmonds

Yucatan

A Week in Wondrous Yucatán
by Lisa Coleman

Sometimes writers find themselves a bit stuck. We discover a place and a feeling that leaves an indelible impression on our hearts and it so captivates us that we want to write pages upon pages about it again and again. The images are so powerful and the experience so moving that having to encapsulate it into a single article can be difficult at best. The Mexican state of Yucatán is a shining example of one of those places. It doesn’t feel like any Mexico you’ve ever known or seen; it truly is a world unto itself.

Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is known as the “Land of the Maya.” It stands as a tribute to one of the most prolific and fascinating civilizations the world has ever known. The ruins of complex ancient cities are scattered throughout dense jungles and lush rolling hillsides. Vast undisturbed beaches line the coast while magnificent colonial architecture brings the cities to life. The peninsula includes the states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán. And it’s here, in the state that shares its name with the region, that the magic and enchantment of this country are at their most brilliant. If you have a week (or more), this will be an adventure you’ll never forget.

First, you’ll need a place to stay. There are several chains to choose from in Mérida, the capital city, but I prefer to stay about 16 miles outside of town at the extraordinary Hacienda Katanchel. Since Yucatán once flourished as the world’s premiere henequen purveyor (henequen is also known as sisal, the fibers from the henequen plant are used for rope products.) there are countless haciendas in the area that once stood as massive working estates. Some have been transformed into either museums or hotels and Hacienda Katanchel (a little of both) is the finest of the bunch. Built in the 17th century, and situated on 740 secluded acres of pristine tropical jungle, this Spanish colonial masterpiece is unlike any hotel you’ve ever seen. Its 40 unique and luxurious rooms sit quietly amongst extraordinary gardens and exotic wildlife. You’ll be embraced by rustic beauty, exquisite food and unprecedented personal service. Hacienda Katanchel is one of those astonishing properties that fall into the category of “you have to see it to believe it.

Though you may be tempted to spend your days at the Hacienda lounging by the pool or lying in your hammock on your private patio, Yucatán awaits. Many of the great sites and experiences are off the beaten path, so unless you have a real taste for adventure, it may be best to hire a car and English speaking guide to show you the ropes. (The hotel staff will make arrangements for you.) Here are some ideas for your excursions.

Mérida –European in design, yet undeniably Maya, you’ll find horse drawn carriages to carry visitors down tree-lined boulevards past an enchanting mixture of Spanish and French colonial architecture. Elaborate turn-of-the-century mansions still stand as a reminder of the wealth that began here in the 16th century. The main plaza is framed by huge laurel trees, fantastic colorful shops, and lies adjacent to a towering cathedral.

Uxmal – Located 58 miles south of Mérida, this breathtaking Maya ruin is architecturally speaking said to be one of the most significant sites in the ancient world. Founded around 600 A.D., Uxmal (meaning “three times built”) was created in various stages of complex façades and arches, majestic columns, and massive terraces facing broad plazas. The centerpiece of Uxmal is the 100-foot tall “Pyramid of the Magician.” In the same area, you can also discover the ruins of Kabáh, Labná, and Sayil.

Izamal –Just east of Mérida and known as “the yellow city,” this charming town is highlighted by its bright mustard-yellow 16th century Franciscan convent and framed by small, yet intriguing Maya ruins. The convent itself is built atop the base of a destroyed Maya temple and boasts the largest enclosed atrium in Mexico. You’ll be particularly taken by the intimate eateries and the kindness of the townspeople who won’t let you pass without a smile.

Telchac – This absolutely unknown seaside fishing village just might be the highlight of your trip. Houses line the sandy white shores of the Gulf of Mexico and you’ll practically have the place to yourself. Tiny local restaurants offer superb seafood as you watch the waves rolls to shore. It has a mystical feel to it.

Cenotes – Difficult to explain, but amazing to see, a cenote (say-no-tay) is like a giant freshwater well. The Yucatán peninsula is actually a limestone shelf honeycombed with underground rivers, caverns, and sinkholes that create cenotes. They are all over the Yucatán and to go into them and swim in their crystal clear mineral waters is an unforgettable treat.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to embrace the unknown. And so it is with Yucatán.

Southern Baja

Treasures of the Southern Baja
by Lisa Coleman

The 880-mile long Baja Peninsula is divided into two Mexican states – Baja California Norte (north) and Baja California Sur (south). On one side of the Baja is, of course, the Pacific Ocean, and on the other lies the magnificent Sea of Cortez. Until the early 1970’s, the secrets of the southern Baja (Baja Sur) were only known to the heartiest of travelers. But these days Los Cabos is booming and the lesser known destinations like La Paz, Loreto and Mulegé have worked very hard to become recognized as contenders in the Baja market – And they are doing a great job!

La Paz means “peace” in Spanish. It is the capital of the state of Baja California Sur and is the second largest city south of Tijuana on the Baja Peninsula. La Paz has a simple energy and an easy feel. Though framed by beautiful beaches, the city itself is more provincial atmosphere and lacks the occasionally overwhelming hustle and bustle that seems to come with traditional beach resorts. And even though La Paz is surrounded by desert, the town itself is set amidst ancient laurel trees and coconut and date palms.

Fishing and watersports are a given in La Paz, but what you may not know is that it is also arguably the ecotourism capital of North America. Just outside the city itself are countless deserted beaches, calm bays and ecologically pure offshore islands. The region’s complex wildlife, plant life, and geology are truly astonishing. The Sea of Cortez is one of the world’s unique ocean environments, considered by some to be the most biologically rich body of water on earth. More than 850 species of marine life make their home in its temperate waters making it a year-round fishing utopia. In fact, this sea is said to be the greatest fish trap in the Western Hemisphere. Colonies of sea lions, pods of Humpback, Blue, Sperm, Fin and seasonal migrating Gray whales are a very common site.

Just over two hundred miles north of La Paz, Loreto is making a name for itself as a secluded beach resort with ecological attractions and stark desert beauty. In the shadow of the rugged Sierra la Giganta Mountains, the small in scope, almost village-like Loreto can certainly be classified as remote. Nonetheless, its surprisingly complete historic past has made it a point of interest for cultural visitors for years. It was the first capital of the Californias and has become somewhat famous for its well-preserved Jesuit missions. In fact, the town’s official slogan is “300 Years Old and Still Undiscovered.” The downtown area is a mix of shady plazas, small shops, picturesque churches and a hotel or two. The views here are magnificent and the nearby cobalt waters of the Sea of Cortez are calm and clear. The beaches are a bit rocky, but the crystalline waters are ideal for kayaking, sailing, windsurfing and above all, fishing. Helping to put Loreto on the map is also one of Mexico’s finest John McEnroe Tennis Centers, a small marina, and an 18-hole scenic seaside golf course.

And not to be forgotten is the friendly, tiny town of Mulegé (moo-leh-HAY). This tropical oasis can be found about 80 miles north of Loreto and has a population of only about 6,000 residents. Nestled along the southern Baja’s only fresh water river, Mulegé is mostly lush and green year round. There isn’t too much going here, but the location is key for those searching for some really untouched land along the Sea of Cortez. The village sits at the mouth of the Bahia Conception (a national marine preserve), and is a great starting point to discover the pristine waters and deserted coves of stunningly beautiful isolated beaches. The diving is excellent! The southern Baja is truly a treasure worth discovering.

Tlaquepaque

Tlaquepaque –Mexico’s Shopping Paradise

by Lisa Coleman

Tlaquepaque…. Maybe you’ve seen the name before or maybe you’ve heard the clip of the syllables in passing, but if you’ve never experienced its enchanting shops, colorful buildings, quaint restaurants, and gorgeous handicrafts, you’ve missed one of Mexico’s true treasures. Tlaquepaque, (pronounced “tla-kay-PAH-kay”) is known throughout Mexico as the mecca for authentic arts, crafts and furniture. The combination of fine quality products and affordable prices brings shoppers from around the globe to this delightful “pueblito” (little town).

Not far from Guadalajara’s center, Tlaquepaque was once a separate town on the outskirts. Today growth has reached out and now it’s included as one the four municipalities (Tonalá, Zapopan, Guadalajara) that make up the metropolitan area. Though surrounded by Mexico’s second largest city, Tlaquepaque manages to retain the atmosphere of a colonial village. Winding down the narrow streets, the beauty lies beyond the facades. Lush greenery, tropical foliage, fountains and picturesque courtyards open up behind intricately hand-carved doors. Pedestrian arcades are lined with former mansions that now house galleries, fine restaurants, stylish cafes and amazing craft shops. Known for its innovative hand-blown glass, stoneware, ceramics, leather goods and colonial style furniture, you had better bring an extra suitcase to tote your findings home. And if you want to furnish the entire house, the local factories and stores are more than happy to arrange shipping. It can get pricey if you do it piece by piece, but if you make some good size purchases (enough to fill a large truck) it can very well be worth your while to consider it as an option for the majority of your home furnishings.

Tlaquepaque isn’t for those in search of hot nightlife and big hotels; this is a rather quiet place that embraces the traveler who wants a touch of culture and a big helping of charm. Life here revolves around shopping so restaurants have a tendency to close early. If you want to go out, you’ll have to head to Guadalajara (only about 15 minutes by cab) because Tlaquepaque itself is not traditionally a late night town. As for lodging, it’s quality not quantity here. Some of the most alluring (and unbelievably affordable) Bed and Breakfast hotels you can imagine lie hidden behind brightly colored doors just from the town center. Usually having eight to twelve rooms, these are some of the most wonderful places to stay in the country. Each with its own personality, you’ll feel as though you have been invited into the home of good friends. Cozy and special, these family-run establishments are something unique. I stayed at the lovely La Villa del Ensue o (the house of the dream), and a dream it was. http://www.mexonline.com/ensueno.htm

Still more shopping exists in neighboring Tonalá where an outdoor enormous outdoor market comes to life on Thursdays and Sundays. There are also plenty of shops as some of the craftsmen from Tlaquepaque have their factory stores here. At some point, you may actually tire of shopping. I heard it can happen but I have never personally discovered this phenomenon! Nonetheless there is plenty to do and see in the area. A tour of around the historic center of Guadalajara by horse drawn carriage is a must and well worth the taxi ride to town. A day spent touring the towns of Tequila and Amatitan visiting the Herradura Hacienda, Sauza, Cuervo and other distilleries, is a fascinating discovery on how Mexico’s famous drink is grown, harvested and produced. You may also want to visit the colonial town of Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala.

The people of Tlaquepaque refer to it as the “soul of Mexico,” I must say it certainly feels that way. So next time you want to travel some place just off the beaten path but filled with possibility, treat yourself to some time in this magical little town.

Guaymas – San Carlos

Guaymas/San Carlos – Mexico’s Best Kept Secret

by Lisa Coleman

Writers are always searching to discover those special places no one really knows about yet. We love to stumble upon extraordinary hideaways and bring them as a gift to our readers. Having traveled Mexico extensively, I can attest to the allure of today’s “hot” destinations. Cancun, Cozumel, Ixtapa, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta are indeed gorgeous, but it’s the lesser-known beach cities with their intimate appeal, unspoiled beauty and traditional atmosphere that can really touch your soul and capture your heart. Being from Arizona, I love the natural splendor and energy of the desert. When it’s combined with white sand beaches as they meet the calm waters of a crystal clear sea, it’s something truly unforgettable. And so it is with the booming port city of Guaymas and its striking seaside neighbor, San Carlos. Located in the Mexican state of Sonora, Guaymas/San Carlos may very well be the “best kept secret in Mexico.” But since I’ve given it away… let me tell you a few things about this quiet, yet magical Mexican getaway.

Sonora, the second largest state in Mexico, borders southern Arizona and provides over 800 miles of picturesque coastline along the shining blue Sea of Cortez. This very warm body of water (usually 80+ degrees in the summer months!) was formed millions of years ago when the San Andreas Fault created a rift between Baja California and mainland Mexico. The result: magnificent beaches, natural reefs, thousands of marine species, spectacular dive sights, and world-class fishing.

The beach sister cities of Guaymas and San Carlos are distinguished by their trademark “desert by the sea” landscape. The powerful geological formations, mountainous terrain and desert flora and fauna combine to make this stretch of coastline one of Mexico’s most unique. In addition to being a visual masterpiece, the primary draw to the area is the abundance of outdoor activities and water sports involving the ecologically rich Sea of Cortez. Because of its profusion of vibrant underwater life, this entire body of water has been referred to as an upside down rainforest. The enormous (5,000 feet deep) Guaymas Trench and scattered offshore islands are home to more than 800 species of fish including marlin, sailfish, Dorado, red snapper, sea bass and grouper. Not to mention plenty of sea lions, dolphin and an influx of whales during their seasonal migration. These cities have built themselves upon their thriving relationship with the sea, and with recent resort development and new frequent air service, they’re quickly becoming one of Mexico’s most intriguing beach choices.

The small airport will be your first indication that things down here are very laid back. It’s easy to rent a car (or take a taxi), and with essentially one main road running between the cities, the lay of the land is very simple and uncomplicated to navigate. The anchor is the thriving port of Guaymas. With a population of approximately 200,000 this history-rich city makes a mark for itself through impressive landmarks and a gigantic shrimp industry. Sitting on a natural harbor, Guaymas is bustling with maritime activity. Massive fleets of “shrimpers” come and go providing not only the lifeblood of the economy, but fantastic fare for all the local restaurants as well! The city dates back to 1701, when a short-lived mission settlement was established. In 1769 another settlement was launched, this time with success. Hemmed in by mountains and sea, the city itself spreads around Guaymas’ south facing bay. Sightseeing attractions include attractive plazas, some interesting 19th century neoclassic municipal buildings, two lovely churches, and a rambling mercado (marketplace). The seaside avenue leads from the city center to Las Playitas, a beach area with calm water and sandy, safe swimming beaches. Adding to the scenery are several towering rust colored desert buttes and distant cactus studded mountains. Though a long time hub for America West business travelers, Guaymas is usually a side trip to those who have found a small slice of heaven just about six miles down the road.

The quaint San Carlos is the quintessential sleepy fishing village and off the beaten path beach town. One road in and one road out assure that you are on the right path, and don’t expect a high-rise tourism center. This is real Mexico. There is an immediate sense of comfort, and you’ll always be greeted by the warm, embracing smiles of local people who are excited to share their city with you. With a population of only 6,000, it’s easy to see how San Carlos has maintained its charm. Simple whitewashed houses with red tile roofs, colorful local restaurants (with amazing seafood), and an assortment of handicraft shops dot the streets and keep in step with the traditional ambiance. Peppered with a comfortable number of small (to medium-sized) hotels and a few Internet cafes, this is the ultimate Mexican experience… without the crowds.

Framed by the dramatic backdrop of Mount Tetakawi, the center of town is considered the San Carlos Marina. Since the major focus is on water sports, the marina is always buzzing with activity. Family owned and operated (as most things in San Carlos are) since its creation in 1976, the marina can accommodate 385 boats up to 52 feet in length. Fishing boats, pleasure boats and dive boats make up the bulk of the permanent residents, but if you take a look out in the harbor, you’ll be surprised by the hefty number of private luxury yachts that have discovered this hidden treasure too. The view from the dock always looks like a post card, making it the ideal place to have some breakfast before a day of boating and the perfect way to spend an evening sipping a margarita and watching the sky as it fades behind the jagged mountaintops.

San Carlos has all the benefits of a small town, including plenty of locals who are happy to show you the ropes. One of the names you’ll see almost everywhere is “Gary’s Dive Shop.” The professional dive shops, warm waters, and high visibility have always had San Carlos on the map in the dive community, but Gary Goldstein is working hard to promote his town to newcomers too. Priding himself in taking divers to find wrecks, rock outcroppings, sea lions and deserted islands, Gary’s dive trips showcase some of the best scuba environments on the Pacific Coast. Gary and his wife, Donna, have been residents and business owners in San Carlos for more than 30 years, and their knowledge of diving is just the beginning. “We love San Carlos, and we want to let everyone know how much there is to do and see here,” Gary says. Away from the water, Gary and Donna have published a comprehensive map, information sheets, and an extensive list of “101 Things to Do in San Carlos,” making sure their guests have plenty of choices! They even publish their home phone number so you’ll always have an English speaking voice to help you plan anything and everything you’ll need while you’re there.

Despite the fact that San Carlos has received limited press, it has been making significant strides developing itself into a competitive resort town. Diego Padilla, from the State of Sonora Tourism office, explains, “Increased air service and safe highways from Arizona have really opened things up for us. We are getting more and more traffic from the U.S. and we are growing quickly.” Moises Navarrete, president of the Hotel Association and General Manager of the Plaza Las Glorias hotel agrees. “We are a little known destination with tremendous value. People are looking to get a lot for there vacation dollars and we offer that to them here,” he says. And as awareness is spreading, the hotels throughout the area have begun to feel the same surge of visitors. With reasonable rates, family friendly packages, and all the amenities, it won’t be long before more accommodations pop up.

The Plaza Las Glorias, overlooking the San Carlos Marina, is one of the mainstays in town. Plaza Las Glorias hotels, long synonymous with vacationing in Mexico, are always a consistent choice. Outside of town, and located on their own 5-mile stretch of Catch 22 Beach (parts of the movie were filmed nearby), the San Carlos Plaza and the brand new Phoenix-based ILX Premiere Vacation Club are becoming increasingly popular with those in search of long stretches of sugary sand and gentle surf. To accommodate these hotels and up and coming housing projects, the new Marina Real (with 350 slips) is testament to the booming seaside growth.

Speaking of those new housing projects, it’s clear that some Americans have known the secrets of San Carlos for a very long time. After touring around a bit and seeing some of the elegant homes tucked away on cliffs overlooking the bay or facing the ocean, it’s a simple assumption that homeowners have kept their little secret under their hats. The Grupo Caballero, run by the locally famous Rafael Caballero, has been instrumental in land and housing development in San Carlos for more than 50 years. Senor Caballero is single-handedly responsible for most of the area’s residential properties, and he and his team make it very easy and appealing for Americans to own beachfront property in Mexico. From the way things look, they have speculated correctly because the developments in the works are nothing short of spectacular.

Though I’ve painted a complete “beach scene” picture for you, keep in mind that land lovers will find plenty to do as well. Hiking, mountain biking, jeep tours and horse back riding should keep you busy when you’ve finished with your water sports, and what Mexican beach resort would be complete without golf? The recently renovated Club de Golf San Carlos (designed by Pete and Roy Dye) is the state’s best golf course. This 6,542-yard 18-hole course has some great ocean views and an affordable $40 green fee.

So now you know a little about a special place waiting for you on the shores of the lovely Sea of Cortez. Guaymas/San Carlos is a small destination with a big heart, and all the charm and style you would ever need for the definitive Mexican beach vacation. The secret’s out, so spread the word.

Riviera Maya

Riviera Maya – The Beauty of Life South of Cancun by Lisa Coleman

 

When you think of the Caribbean, spectacular white beaches and azure blue waters immediately come to mind. And when it comes to the Caribbean side of Mexico, the known hot spots that fit the description stand out loud and clear – Cancun and Cozumel. But things on the Yucatan Peninsula have begun to grow, expand and change. The region south of Cancun (now termed the “Riviera Maya”) has taken shape as Mexico’s newest, and perhaps most intriguing beach destination. A magnificent string of sparkling beaches south of Cancun offers all the alluring beauty of the Caribbean without high-rise hotels and the often-overwhelming crowds.

Some travelers, myself included, want to experience Mexico for its natural wonder, history, and culture. And though the Mexican Caribbean is one of the most visually beautiful parts of the entire country, the commercial success of Cancun has overshadowed some of the area’s true attributes. The development of the Riviera Maya changes all that. This is where the escapist can find adventure and the history buff can capture the essence and magnificence of Maya world.

The air service to the Riviera is via Cancun – easy, accessible and modern. A perfectly constructed, safe, four-lane highway will take you south of the Cancun airport for nearly 300 miles, ending in Chetumal on the Mexico-Belize border. The Rivera Maya portion of that highway technically begins at Punta Brava (south of Cancun about 25 minutes) and ends at Punta Allen. (The 1.3 million-acre Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is also included in the region.) Though vans and cabs are available for exploring the area, it’s best to rent a car or jeep and discover at your own pace.

The sugar white sand beaches, archeological sites and the extraordinary eco-tourism attractions have also made the Riviera Maya a very popular destination for new hotels. The bulk of the properties are “all-inclusive.” At the moment there are nearly 100 properties dotted along the coast with more on the way. The primary building boom can be found in and around the cozy beach town of Play del Carmen. Once known only as a ship port for trips to Cozumel, Playa del Carmen (and its posh neighbor Playacar) are quickly emerging as some of Mexico’s most attractive resort hubs.

This region was known as an important commercial and religious center for the ancient Maya during the Post-Classic Period (1000 –1550 AD). Tulum, a Mayan fortress perched on cliffs above the Caribbean Sea, is the most impressive of the ruins along the Riviera Maya. It is the only Mayan port city ever discovered and one of the few to be occupied when the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century. Cobá, inland from Tulum, lies within a thick jungle. Sitting on almost 50 square miles, only 5% of the site has been excavated. This “work in progress” gives visitors an opportunity to feel the “process of discovery.”

Perhaps the most magical part of a trip to the Riviera Maya is the ability to submerge yourself in the sheer magnitude of nature. Eco parks like Xcaret and Xel-Ha offer snorkeling, diving and swimming within the ecosystems themselves including underground rivers, caves and fascinating bay areas where fresh water rivers meet the salt waters of the sea. Xcaret, an enormous private ranch turned archeological park is part Disneyland, part zoo, and part aquarium. It hosts as many as 1500 visitors a day who wander the jungle-shrouded trails, experience a Mayan village, visit the butterfly pavilion, swim with the dolphins, relax on the beach or float down one of two underground rivers. Xel-Ha translates from Maya to “the place where water is born.” This ecological park is smaller and less commercialized than Xcaret and showcases an incredible natural aquarium where the ocean combines with fresh water currents from underground rivers to form a completely unique ecosystem. Here you can stroll the jungle past elegant macaws (raised in captivity and used to humans), later float on the river, and then explore the lagoons, coves and inlets that make it a snorkeler’s paradise. This is the perfect day for anyone who wants to completely experience nature.

The Riviera Maya is an exciting, unspoiled gateway to the colorful beauty of Mexico. So next time you’re thinking Cancun, you may want to look further south and think again.

Riviera Maya – The Beauty of Life South of Cancun

by Lisa Coleman

 

 

When you think of the Caribbean, spectacular white beaches and azure blue waters immediately come to mind. And when it comes to the Caribbean side of Mexico, the known hot spots that fit the description stand out loud and clear – Cancun and Cozumel. But things on the Yucatan Peninsula have begun to grow, expand and change. The region south of Cancun (now termed the “Riviera Maya”) has taken shape as Mexico’s newest, and perhaps most intriguing beach destination. A magnificent string of sparkling beaches south of Cancun offers all the alluring beauty of the Caribbean without high-rise hotels and the often-overwhelming crowds.

Some travelers, myself included, want to experience Mexico for its natural wonder, history, and culture. And though the Mexican Caribbean is one of the most visually beautiful parts of the entire country, the commercial success of Cancun has overshadowed some of the area’s true attributes. The development of the Riviera Maya changes all that. This is where the escapist can find adventure and the history buff can capture the essence and magnificence of Maya world.

The air service to the Riviera is via Cancun – easy, accessible and modern. A perfectly constructed, safe, four-lane highway will take you south of the Cancun airport for nearly 300 miles, ending in Chetumal on the Mexico-Belize border. The Rivera Maya portion of that highway technically begins at Punta Brava (south of Cancun about 25 minutes) and ends at Punta Allen. (The 1.3 million-acre Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is also included in the region.) Though vans and cabs are available for exploring the area, it’s best to rent a car or jeep and discover at your own pace.

The sugar white sand beaches, archeological sites and the extraordinary eco-tourism attractions have also made the Riviera Maya a very popular destination for new hotels. The bulk of the properties are “all-inclusive.” At the moment there are nearly 100 properties dotted along the coast with more on the way. The primary building boom can be found in and around the cozy beach town of Play del Carmen. Once known only as a ship port for trips to Cozumel, Playa del Carmen (and its posh neighbor Playacar) are quickly emerging as some of Mexico’s most attractive resort hubs.

This region was known as an important commercial and religious center for the ancient Maya during the Post-Classic Period (1000 –1550 AD). Tulum, a Mayan fortress perched on cliffs above the Caribbean Sea, is the most impressive of the ruins along the Riviera Maya. It is the only Mayan port city ever discovered and one of the few to be occupied when the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century. Cobá, inland from Tulum, lies within a thick jungle. Sitting on almost 50 square miles, only 5% of the site has been excavated. This “work in progress” gives visitors an opportunity to feel the “process of discovery.”

Perhaps the most magical part of a trip to the Riviera Maya is the ability to submerge yourself in the sheer magnitude of nature. Eco parks like Xcaret and Xel-Ha offer snorkeling, diving and swimming within the ecosystems themselves including underground rivers, caves and fascinating bay areas where fresh water rivers meet the salt waters of the sea. Xcaret, an enormous private ranch turned archeological park is part Disneyland, part zoo, and part aquarium. It hosts as many as 1500 visitors a day who wander the jungle-shrouded trails, experience a Mayan village, visit the butterfly pavilion, swim with the dolphins, relax on the beach or float down one of two underground rivers. Xel-Ha translates from Maya to “the place where water is born.” This ecological park is smaller and less commercialized than Xcaret and showcases an incredible natural aquarium where the ocean combines with fresh water currents from underground rivers to form a completely unique ecosystem. Here you can stroll the jungle past elegant macaws (raised in captivity and used to humans), later float on the river, and then explore the lagoons, coves and inlets that make it a snorkeler’s paradise. This is the perfect day for anyone who wants to completely experience nature.

The Riviera Maya is an exciting, unspoiled gateway to the colorful beauty of Mexico. So next time you’re thinking Cancun, you may want to look further south and think again.