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The Riviera Maya dazzles visitors with its natural delights. For example? This part of Mexico is dotted with cenotes, natural limestone reservoirs filled with cool, clear groundwater, perfect for a dip on a hot day. In the pair of cenotes known as Dos Ojos (“Two Eyes”), near Tulum, visitors can scuba dive, snorkel or just splash about to their heart’s content. The clear water will let you easily spot eerie submerged rock formations and darting freshwater fish.
Back on dry land, birdwatchers head to Cozumel to catch sight of exotic local beauties such as the blue-gray gnatcatcher and the Cozumel emerald hummingbird. Those in search of bigger wildlife get their fill off the coast near Cancun, where enormous, harmless whale sharks gather to feed on plankton for several months each year. This is one of the very few places in the world where you can float in wonderment alongside their massive, beautiful forms.
Afterward, an afternoon spent basking on one of the Cancun area’s famously beautiful stretches of sand makes the perfect end to your aquatic adventure. One of the best is Playa Norte (“North Beach”), where the waters are shallow and the sunset views are stunning.
Click the icon to experience a 360° view of Ik Kil Cenote. (Best viewed in the latest version of your preferred internet browser.)
For the active traveler, the Riviera Maya presents a slew of opportunities to get sporty. Near Tulum, the 1.3-million-acre Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve offers several ways to act up amidst jaw-dropping natural beauty: fly-fishing for tarpon, barracuda and bonefish in a saltwater lagoon; kayaking through a leafy maze of mangroves; or simply floating down the warm waters of a canal hand-dredged by ancient Mayans.
In search of something more adrenaline-inducing? In Cancun, Jetpack Adventures lets the adventurous strap on a water-propelled jetpack and zoom over the ocean like a secret agent. Also available: the Seabreacher, an enclosed, shark-shaped, single-person vessel in which you can dive under water, launch out of the water or just zip along its surface at up to 50 miles an hour.
Closer to Playa del Carmen, the Xplor Cancun Park offers a bouquet of active options, from spelunking to amphibious off-roading. Kids particularly love the hammock-style zipline, which lets them securely soar over a cenote before getting dunked in its cool waters. A slightly drier adventure awaits underground, where visitors can paddle a raft down a shallow subterranean river past age-old stalactites and stalagmites.
Enticing as its beaches are, the Riviera Maya offers more than just sun and saltwater. A wealth of cultural attractions awaits in the Yucatan too, beginning with the ancient Mayan cities of Chichen Itza, Coba and Tulum. Each worth a day trip, their silent stone edifices bear names as romantic and mysterious as these fabled ruins themselves: The Temple of the Jaguars; the High Priest’s Grave; the House of the Dark Writing. When you’re done wondering and wandering, the lizards that sun themselves on the ruins pose for scenic photo ops.
For a more modern experience, head instead to the bustling city of Playa del Carmen. The shop-filled pedestrian walkway of Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) offers a different kind of culture, one dedicated to “retail therapy” and its many delights. Here, upscale Mexican clothing boutiques, including Chihuahua Chic, Rosalia and La Bakineria, mingle with cheery souvenir shops, and one-of-a-kind treasures vie with bright, fun mass-market tchotchkes. Pick up a mini sombrero and pair of maracas for a friend or high-quality, handcrafted textiles to decorate your home. Eye-catching street performers ply their trades and enact well-known celebrity numbers, while others masked as statues surprise passersby.
When you’re ready to escape the hustle and bustle, it’s easy enough to grab a fresh smoothie—try one with fresh papaya, mango and coconut milk—and head outside town to take a guided tour of a traditional Mayan village. It’s a great way to learn about some local ancient ways of life, from rope-making and beekeeping to herbal medicine and storytelling.
When visiting a place as gorgeous as the Riviera Maya, who wants to carry around a wallet, worry about tipping, or shell out for activities like beach volleyball or bike rental? Fortunately, this stunning stretch of Mexican coastline is chock-full with all-inclusive, AAA Diamond designated.—like the Grand Velas Riviera Maya. Lying just outside Playa del Carmen, this beachside beauty of a resort includes personal concierge service at the beach and pool, an on-site karaoke bar and a kids’ club with plenty of activities to keep 5- to 12-year-olds happy.
In Cancun, the Five Diamond designated Le Blanc Spa Resort is so drenched in luxury that even its standard rooms offer double whirlpools. Sore muscles? Hit the on-site spa’s sauna, steam room or hydro-reflexology pool for over-tired feet. Other opportunities to spoil oneself come at Lumiere, one of the resort’s restaurants, where diners delicately make their way through a seven-course French-fusion tasting menu.
Also in the Cancun area, the Five Diamond designated Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita Riviera Maya spoils its guests with ocean-front suites, private airport transfers, and complimentary greens fees at a nearby golf course. And each night as evening falls, guests can soak up the stunning Caribbean sunset from aboard the resort’s 48-foot luxury catamaran La Bonita.