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.

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