Even with the drug wars going on in Mexico the last few years, Mexico remains the second most favored foreign country to visit by U.S. tourists after Canada. Many enjoy the so-called Mexican Riviera along the Pacific Coast; others visit the inland colonial cities for history and shopping. Some years ago the Mexican government invested many millions of dollars to create the resort city of Cancun located at the southern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. It has become one of the major Mexican vacation locations in the past several years.
Today, there is more than Cancun occupying the Mexican Caribbean Coast. It is now referred to as the Mayan Riviera and it comprises roughly 75 miles of coastline with Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal and Tulum. It ends at the town of Carillo Puerto.
Among its many pleasures are some of the most highly rated hotels and resorts and at least four Eco Theme Parks. These are not run by a Mexican government agency, but rather are concessions granted to commercial interests to develop.
One is called Xcaret, set in a beautiful bayside location, it focuses on Mayan culture, with a restored Mayan archaeological site where traditional dance shows are viewed and a recreation of a Mayan village. The park is also host to other attractions as well, including a jaguar exhibit, a deer refuge, a regional wildlife farm, butterfly breeding facilities, a coral aquarium, a marine turtle conservation program, a wide range of flora, and opportunities for swimming and snorkeling.
Another is Xel-Ha, which is an ecological theme park or natural aquarium. Here you can swim with dolphins, see sea turtles, bicycle, snorkel, go cliff diving and scuba. If you scuba you may pet stingrays and see larger fish.
The park is quite large and offers a buffet restaurant and free drinks along with complimentary snorkel equipment and rafts.
Eplor is a nature park with a number of limestone caves, grottos and underground rivers for exploring on foot, on rafts, in amphibious vehicles or by swimming. There are also some aboveground adventures to be had, including a 1.8-mile long adventure whizzing you through the trees on 11 ziplines.
Aviario Xaman-Ha is a beautiful aviary where you will find different species, not just birds, but other animal species like butterflies, iguanas, turtles and small mammals. The animals and plants that live here are in their natural habitat and live in semi-captivity. There are also endemic, threatened and endangered species.
Tres Rios Nature Park is an ecological park in the Riviera Maya located inside the Hacienda Tres Rios Resort where three rivers converge and flow into the Caribbean Sea. The eco-friendly environment stretches across 326 acres of lowland jungles and subtropical mangroves. To view you can kayak, snorkel, swim, bicycle and dive while connecting with nature in unique and uncultivated ways.
To reach Cancun and Riviera Maya you fly into the Cancun airport and are transferred to one of many fine resorts along the 75-mile stretch of beach. I have personally stayed in Cancun and found it to be, for me, the best Mexican resort area yet visited. It is modern (no run-down dumpy buildings) and current as to architecture and shopping and no poor children selling chewing gum on the streets. It may have changed since I was last there 10 years ago. The beaches all along the strip are some of the best in the world.
The Riviera Maya is a wonderful place for families. Visitors are treated very well. Some tourists never leave the bounds of their resort. If you choose to rent a car to drive the 75-mile stretch of beach, be home by dark. Be safe!
Those Mexicans who work the tourist destinations mostly speak English. Some better than others. It is interesting to note that the people in the area that are of Mayan blood mostly live inland and do not speak Spanish.
Many tourists visiting the area book a tour so as not to miss the important sights. This can be accomplished by van or coach with a guide. A tour might first visit Tulum, a beachfront site with stunning 12th Century construction once inhabited by Mayans and Toltecs, set atop coastal cliffs overlooking the Caribbean. From here, it is a short drive to Coba, an important Mayan city during the 8th and 9th Centuries. It once had an estimated population of 50,000 people and was abandoned for unknown reasons. The present day village straddles Lago Coba and is surrounded by dense jungle.
Later, it’s on to famed Chichen-itza. Here you can browse the site that was built by the Mayans between 600 and 900 AD and abandoned by the end of the 10th Century, then re-established in the 11th and 12th Centuries, possibly by the Toltec’s. You will want to wonder about the ball court among other places.
Many will wish to continue for more sightseeing at Uxmal, which is considered by some to be the classic architecture of several periods.
On another day visit the city of Merida located inland on the peninsula for some interesting shopping and people watching. The marketplace is always fascinating to stroll through. You might find some items here to take home.
When your visit has ended here, you may wish to visit a few other cities located north of the Riviera Maya specifically Mexico City where there is so much to see as well as Guanajuato, Morelia and San Miguel de Allende. Do not go to Acapulco until the drug wars are over. Too many have been killed here in the last couple of years.
Cancun and Riviera Maya are easy to reach by scheduled airlines out of major airports in the U.S. Be sure to obtain a U.S. passport card or passport before leaving home or you won’t be able to travel.
Caution, do not eat food purchased from street carts or have ice in your beverages except in the resort hotels. Who wants to become ill on vacation?
As I usually advise, consult an experienced travel agent who can make suggestions, give you brochures and do the bookings for you. Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance. It pays to be travel wise.