As the temperature drops, many of us start to long for a break from winter weather--someplace with tropical sun and margaritas instead of snow and icy roads. COVID may dampen the ability to get away for Christmas, but travel early next year might be possible.
If so, where?
The Riviera Maya area of Mexico is the perfect destination.
Until a few years ago, I’d never been to Mexico. It lacked appeal due to safety concerns.
That all changed when I made my first trip in late 2015. Then, I fell in love with the country. Two years later, I moved to Playa del Carmen and ran a vacation rental business. I've recently returned to the States to help with family, but I slip away to Mexico whenever possible.
The Riviera Maya is a strip of coastline that borders the Caribbean Sea. It begins in Cancún and extends 88 miles south to Tulum. Beautiful jungles with exotic wildlife and long stretches of white sandy beaches are a few things that make this area extra special.
With so many choices, what are the must-sees? As a former resident of the Yucatán Peninsula, here are my top five favorite places or things to do the next time you visit the Riviera Maya.
Mexico boasts some of the best beaches. With miles of pristine soft sand, it's hard to go wrong whether you visit Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, or Tulum.
My favorite is a hidden gem located off Highway 307, just south of the resort area, Puerto Aventuras. It’s called Xpu-Ha (pronounced X-poo-ha). Be sure to look for the roadside signs that advertise two nearby restaurants, La Playa Xpu-Ha Beach Club and Serenity Beach Club, since the entranice is difficult to spot.
La Playa Xpu-Ha Beach Club offers inexpensive parking and serves tasty ceviche and margaritas. You can also rent lounge chairs if you don’t want to carry your own.
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The beach has soft sand so white that it nearly blinds you with the sun's reflection. The view of the Caribbean is breathtaking. The beach gentle slopes into the water with minimal wave action, making it an ideal place for young families. Since it’s located off-the-beaten-path, most days the crowds are small, especially weekdays.
If you eat at La Playa Xpu-Ha Beach Club, save your receipt. Restaurant clients who leave before 6 p.m. are refunded the cost of parking.
In my travels, I have discovered there is something extraordinary about Mexican cuisine. It’s in a class of its own. Oh, I’m not talking about the fare we called Mexican food here in the US, which is a poor imitation of something truly incredible. No, this is food with a long tradition that is steeped in history.
La Fonda de las Piñatas, in Cancún, is a buffet-style restaurant featuring Jalisco cuisine. There you can taste homemade black, green, and red mole. I particularly love the mole negro with its rich dark chocolate flavor. They serve fresh hot tortillas, cooked on your arrival. Each has a crispy exterior with a soft, chewy interior.
The restaurant opens at 11 a.m. and serves until 7 p.m. daily. Parking is limited and mostly off-street. Mid-afternoon is the best time to visit.
La Quinta Avenida, a nearly two-mile-long pedestrian footpath that features international store chains, local souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars & nightclubs, offers something for everyone. You can find colorful bead bracelets, Mexican ceramics, flavored tequila, and traditional hand-embroidered clothing. The food ranges from tacos to grilled ribeye steak.
Before 10 a.m., joggers use the walkway for their morning run while early-risers sip Café Americano. Mid-afternoon beach-goers wander the street in their coverup swim attire, and during the evenings, the music grows loud as the dancing begins. Every Thursday night, local artists display their latest artwork.
People from around the world walk these cobblestone streets. If you’re lucky and visit on the day of a holiday, you may get to enjoy a colorful parade.
After a short boat ride from Cancún, you will arrive at the port of La Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Resorts and hotels line its northern beach, while residential homes populate its interior. There are several blocks dedicated to shopping, dining, and spas. La Playa Norte is a trendy beach area with world-class soft white sand.
It’s easy to spend a day or two enjoying the diverse variety of activities on La Isla Mujeres. These include zip lining across the ocean, wave diving, snorkeling, sailing, and Catamaran tours.
Transportation on the island is mainly taxis or golf carts. You can rent a cart for a few hours or all day and tour the 4.3-mile-long island. Be sure to check out Tortugranja, a turtle farm, to learn more about the sea tortoises that make this area home.
On the south end, the island’s terrain becomes rocky. There, you can stop by the lighthouse and gift shop while enjoying gorgeous views.
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The second-longest coral reef is just off the coast of Riviera Maya. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, also known as the Great Maya Reef, stretches 700 miles along the eastern border of four countries, including Mexico.
World-class diving is available to those who want to explore of its diverse marine ecosystem and underwater cave and caverns.
Another great way to enjoy the barrier reef is snorkeling. Wet Suit Diving & Snorkeling Adventures is a small outfitter in Puerto Morelos the offers daily tours of this national treasure.
I’ve taken private and paid tours of the barrier reef and loved the afternoon I spent with this company. The tour guide took us out for an hour-long excursion. Its high-quality rental equipment allowed me to enjoy close-up views of the diverse marine life. At the end of the tour, they offered a light snack.
The experience was outstanding.
Riviera Maya is teeming with activities, whether you are looking for a romantic getaway, a fun-filled family vacation, or a relaxing break. With so many fantastic choices, it was tough to limit this list to five.
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Let me know your favorite after your next visit to the Riviera Maya.