The Mayan Riviera is comprised of the area south of the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It stretches along 75 miles of the Mexican Caribbean coastline in the southeastern part of of the Yucatan Peninsula. Weather is ideal, beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue waters make for a perfect vacation destination. The term Riviera Maya is fairly new and has varied definitions, it starts approx. 10 miles south of Cancun the seaside village of Puerto Morelos and includes places like Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal and Tulum. It ends at the town of Carrillo Puerto.
The major cities of the Mayan Riviera are:
Along the Mayan Riviera you will find at least four Eco Theme Parks. In other countries, like the USA, parks like these are usually provided and maintained by the State. In Mexico, concessions are granted to commercial interests to develop, maintain and profit (commercial) from these enterprises. This does not make them any less attractive, and provides much needed employment. The parks are located in protected bays, usually with stone, rather than sand under the water, this is not uncomfortable and makes for very clear, blue water. These bays or inlets are somewhat shallow, but flushed on a regular basis by the tides, making for much cleaner water than you find around resorts or municipal areas. You can rent snorkel equipment, inner tubes, rafts and such. These parks are excellent places to take a break from a day of exploring or driving in this warmer climate. Fish are plentyful and can be seen all around you. Avoid being in the middle of a feeding frenzy when someone buys and throws fish food into the water. Using cheese whiz, works well, but brings in bigger fish, who may nip at the fingers, so count that idea out.
Xcaret is a ecoarcheological park located in Riviera Maya, just in front of the Mexican Caribbean. Its name means ‘little inlet’, since one of its attractions is a quiet and small bay, suitable for swimming and snorkeling. As a theme park, Xcaret has focused on the promotion of Mexican culture, particularly the heritage of the Maya civilization. Various events like the show "Xcaret Mexico Espectacular" let the tourists see a colorful mosaic of traditions and most representative dances of Mexico. In addition to the recreation of a Mayan village and cemetery, there is an archaeological site in Xcaret restored by the National Institute of Anthropology and History. Likewise, there is a Mexican wine cellar and a replica of an hacienda henequenera, a typical building of the Yucatan Peninsula during the Porfirio Diaz time.
For the Maya, Xcaret was an important commercial harbor called Pole. It was also the starting point of a pilgrimage that made the Maya to the island of Cozumel to worship Ix Chel, goddess of fertility and the moon. In 1984 the architect Miguel Quintana Pali bought five acres of land in the municipality of Solidaridad, Quintana Roo for private project of household. When he was clearing the land he discovered cenotes and underground rivers of great beauty. So he changed his mind and sided with the Oscar, Marcos and Carlos Constandse to develop the idea of the park which finally opened in December 1990.
Due to its location, Xcaret is home of many flora and fauna species. In addition, the park's ecological vocation is manifested in preservation programs for endangered species like sea turtles, manatees and jaguars. The park has specific spaces which have been adapted for the care and display of the typical species of the southeastern Mexico. These are:
REGIONAL WILDLIFE BREEDING FARM. Xcaret houses some 44 species of tropical birds, most from Mexico's southeast. To date, we have successfully reproduced the Scarlet and Military Macaw, Yucatan Green Parrot, Lilac-Crowned Amazon, White-Fronted Parrot, Yellow-Naped Parrot, Yellow-Headed Parrot, Pichichi Duck, Keel-billed Toucan, Aracar Toucanet, Ocellated Turkey, Great Currasow and Crested Guan.
JAGUAR ISLAND. Jaguars, the largest felines in America, were sacred to the ancient Maya and especially venerated for their superb strength and beautiful pelts. Today is an endangered species. Xcaret shows some examples of pumas and jaguars in two large islands.
DEER REFUGE. White-tail and Brocket deer are endemic to this region and are part of Xcaret's animal, protection and breeding programs.
BUTTERFLY PAVILION. Xcaret's Butterfly House is the first butterfly breeding facility in Mexico. The structure is 49 feet high and has nearly 38,000 sq. ft. of free flying space, the largest such facility in the world.
In addition to these spaces, there is one crocodile farm in Xcaret, a "territory of the tapir ', a cave of bats, a manatee lagoon and an island of spider monkeys and howler monkeys.
MARINE TURTLES. Since 1990, sea turtles have been protected in Mexico by federal law. Xcaret, in coordination with the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries (SEMARNAP), the National Institute of Fisheries (INP) and the National Institute of Ecology (INE) protects the two species that nest on the beaches of Quintana Roo: the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the loggerhead (Caretta caretta). During the summer nesting season, Xcaret sets up turtle camps and patrols 100 km. (60 miles) of coastlines, on the look out for nests and possible predators or poachers. After 60 days, the little turtles hatch and many of them are handed over to the Conservation Program in our Aquarium. When they arrive at the Park, the hatchlings are marked by a graft technique that allows us to study their migratory routes and identify them when they return to nest 25 years later.
Until they are released into the wild at the end of a year, they are part of the Park's Environmental Education Program to teach visitors about sea turtles' life cycle and the measures taken to protect these endangered species. During the season, Xcaret and a group of enthusiastic amateur conservationists release an average of 300,000 hatchlings from the Park's turtle camps and neighboring beaches. Some ecological tours invite Park visitors to participate in the turtle release activities.
CORAL REEF AQUARIUM. The only one of its kind in the Americas, the coral reef aquarium transports visitors to the depths of the Caribbean Sea. It exhibits the biodiversity of the ocean's underwater gardens, with different ecosystems thriving at distinct depths. Very few aquariums in the world have been able to exhibit long-term healthy samples of these delicate and complex ecosystems. More than 300 corals have been planted successfully on the artificial reef structures, thanks, in part, to the unfiltered sea water continuous pumping system that allows free flow of plankton directly into the exhibit tanks, along with sponge larvae, corals, mollusks and algae that start natural colonization processes. This Xcaret marine exhibit includes more than 5,000 living organisms.
FLORA. The forest in southeast Mexico is home to numerous species of tree and bush fruits, timber, ornamental, medicinal, for construction or for rituals. In the Xcaret ecological tours visitor have some products that are derived from regional plants: gum, sisal fiber, coconut candy, cinnamon, vanilla, achiote, among others.
Twenty-five hybrids and 89 of the 105 orchid species found in the region are cultivated at the Xcaret's Orchid Greenhouse.
About 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretacean Era and the beginning of the Tertiary Sub-Era, an asteroid some 6 miles in diameter struck the Yucatan Peninsula at a speed of 150,000 miles per hour, bringing that Era to an abrupt end. The dinosaurs, incapable of surviving in a completely changed world, disappeared forever and extraordinary new life forms began to populate the Earth. Changes were also happening underground: the crater formed by the enormous asteroid began to fill with water that filtered underground, carving giant caverns as it eroded the limestone bedrock. Thay is how fantastic grottos and subterranean rivers were designed by nature for thousand of years. Now, Xplor gives to the visitant the experience to live an adventure in those fantastic sceneries.
Visitors will discover an underground world at Xplor, a world where they find amazing rock formations thousands of years old, set out on adventures with safe, cutting edge equipment, drive Amphibious Vehicles on top and under the earth, row rafts through subterranean chambers, fly through the treetops on 11 zip-lines and swim through caverns and grottoes.
During the hike along Xplor's jungle paths, visitors may observe a great variety of animals, including some species thousands of years old that played an important role in the area's ancient civilizations.
The Park offers four activities for your enjoyment, each lasting approximately 45 minutes:
Amphibious vehicles: It's a thrilling, 3-mile trek along which you can discover the million-year-old secrets of Xplor's grottoes and caves. Inside the caves, the water level rises on parts of the trip, but there's no need to worry—these vehicles are equipped with floaters that don't affect the motor.
Underground Rafts On this unforgettable ½ mile trip, Xplorers will row a raft with their own hands through fascinating grottoes and be awestruck by the extraordinary rock formations that have taken millions of years to form.
Zip-lines In this thrilling, 1.8-mile long adventure, Xplorers zip through the treetops for a bird's eye view of the Park's natural wonders as adrenaline pumps through their veins.
Stalactite River Here's where Xplorers enter into a subterranean paradise, floating along in life jackets as they delight to the crystal-clear water and impressive stalactites and stalagmites. The river run is 437 yards long and the average water temperature is about 72° F.
Open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Xplor is next to the Xcaret entrance, at Kilometer 282 on Federal Highway 307.
Reference points: Just 56 km (34 miles) from the Cancun International Airport. Only 6 km (3.6 miles) south of Playa del Carmen. 55 km (33 miles) north of Tulum.
Due to the construction of Cancun International Airport, this has become a popular and fairly inexpensive area to visit. One can fly in, pick up a car and expore the Yucatan Peninsula very easily. Most who visit the Mayan Riviera are staying at all inclusive resorts and are transfered from the airport to the resort along this path by bus or shuttle to their accommodations. It is a wonderful place for families or single visitors to visit. Tourism is the main industry and visitors are treated very well (almost too well). If you never leave the resort, you will likely be quite happy. If you choose to explore, it is a 75 mile road, so you can be home by dark (make that: be home by dark).
The official language is Spanish, like in the rest of the country. In the tourist areas, many locals also speak English, and some others French, German and Italian, as this area receives tourism from those places. However, some locals trace their heritage to the Mayans who settled the area before the arrival of the Spanish. The present-day Mayans tend to live inland and speak little Spanish.
The nearest international airport to Riviera Maya is the Cancún International Airport (IATA: CUN, ICAO: MMUN) which is the second busiest airport in Mexico. Receives international flyers from: Austin, Atlanta, Amsterdam, Belfast, Birmingham (UK), Boston, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Calgary, Cardiff, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Doncaster, Düsseldorf, Edmonton, Fort Lauderdale, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Guatemala, Halifax (Nova Scotia), Hamilton, Hartford, Havana, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Kelowna, Kitchener, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles,Madrid, Malpensa, Manchester (UK), Miami, Milan, Moncton, Montreal, Munich, Nashville, New York, Newark, Paris, Quebec City, Panama , Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Regina, Rome, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Santiago de Chile, Saskatoon, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Vienna, Victoria, Washington, D.C., Winnipeg, Zurich
The major cities, such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen offer many car rental agencies. North American drivers will feel at home on the road here, despite some drivers' quirks. For example, on the main two-lane highway along the Riviera, it is common courtesy for slower drivers to pull over onto the shoulder to let faster drivers pass.
Rent a car at the Cancun airport. Playa del Carmen is roughly 45 minutes from the airport. Tulum is another 45 minutes. After passing through Playa del Carmen, the main highway (Rte 307) turns from a modern 4-lane highway into a "two and a half" lane highway. There are two regular lanes and an extra-wide shoulder to allow slower vehicles to pull over to let faster vehicles pass.
From the city of Tulum, the Boca Paiala road provides access to the beach-side hotels and areas further south, such as Punta Allen. This dirt road, if not freshly resurfaced, has massive potholes (commonly wider than a car). It is passable with a VW bug or a scooter, but the trip will be much more arduous than if travelled with a Jeep or other SUV/truck.
By Collective Van
Many collectivo vans run between the major cities and offer cheap transportation for local workers and budget-minded tourists. The Collectives that run between the major cities like Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. The thing to remember is that none go directly from one extreme to the other. If you are in Puerto Morelos (the beginning of the Riviera Maya) and you want to go to Tulum you will go out to the Southbound Side of the highway and wait for the collective that will take you to Playa Del Carmen and then change collective to get to Tulum. The direct collectives go from Cancun to Playa Del Carmen or Playa Del Carmen to Tulum and of course the reverse. The collectives pick up and drop off anywhere along the way so you will be making frequent stops.
From the bus stations you can find first class bus service from bus station to bus station as well as limited bus service to the Cancun International Airport. ADO one of the largest national providers of first class and luxury bus transportation has routes from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum to most major cities like Merida, Chetumal, Mahajual, amongst the most popular from the Riviera Maya.
The Mayan ruins at Tulum
The Riviera Maya is filled with All Inclusive Hotels where the types of food varies from Day to Day but you can count on a variety of international dishes from Italian, Argentine, and Continental as well as local Mexican Dishes. There is nothing like getting out and tasting the local flavors (which you won't get in the all inclusive hotel restaurants), Yucatan has a cuisine all its own and of course cities like Playa Del Carmen or Cancun enjoy a melting pot of both Mexican and International Cultures who each bring their own flavors to their restaurants. You can find intimate restaurants with French or Italian Cuisine dotting the city as well as Argentine Steak Houses and almost everywhere you will find typical American foods as well as Mexican Food.
The majority of the swimming is done at pools located at the resorts. If you venture into the water along the shore, be prepared for large waves and rip-tides. It is not uncommon for there to be no lifeguards at the beach. The eco-parks tend to have better areas for one to swim, unless you prefer a pool. They are located in sheltered bays, with clear, clean water.
One should take care when driving, you will be sharing the road with cars, trucks, cattle and people. Take care and use caution and you should be fine. Driving after dark is a bad idea. Too many ways to have problems! The Policia are friendly, treat them with respect. Plan on being stopped at state borders and your vehicle may be searched. Just go along with it. The Federal Police, patrol the area and they are a serious bunch. Be polite with them and do not photograph them, any military vehicles or establishments.
Due to problems in the past, spring breakers are not the favorite visitors with law enforcement. Don't push their buttons. Behave like an adult and you will have few problems. Behave like a drunken fool, and you may regret it, for long time. Same goes for most places.