Mayan Riviera: Top Attractions

mayan riviera
New resident at Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico  (Guillermo Aldana/courtesy, Mexico Tourism)

Mexico's Mayan Riviera, a 75-mile stretch of coast along the Caribbean, is awash in ancient culture and ruins, gorgeous white-sand beaches, and plush wetlands. The Riviera proper begins 18 miles south of Cancun International Airport in Playa del Secreto and extends to Punta Allen in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen boasts sandy beaches, lively shopping, nearby Mayan ruins, and all-inclusive resorts with kids' programs. The town's other plus: Avenida 5—"Fifth Avenue"—a strip that at night morphs into a pedestrian walkway pulsing with boutiques, eateries, and clubs. Your teens won't mind promenading with you as long as you stop to browse for deals on jewelry, pottery, hammocks, and other coveted souvenirs.
Additional Info: 877.746.6292, www.rivieramaya.com.

Tulum
Tulum-a stellar example of Mexican and Mayan history and culture-is a compelling site, a sizeable excavation, and a manageable hour-long drive from Playa del Carmen. And in the unlikely event that boredom sets, this Mayan city is less than eight miles from the waterpark Xel-Há. An impressive stairway leads to the castillo (castle). Tulum once served as a major center for maritime trade, and amid the crashing waves and the calls of the sea birds, you can sense the rhythms of this once-vital sea port.
Additional Info: 877.746.6292, www.rivieramaya.com

Xel-Há
Xel-Há is like a beach with a built-in theme park. Smaller than Cancun's Xcaret, with fewer animal encounters and no cultural shows, Xel-Há's forte is water. Kids new to snorkeling will find the canal easy to navigate but they shouldn't expect much visual excitement. You can also splash in a pool, swim in a cenote (a freshwater sinkhole that's part of an underground river), and tube down a river lined with mangroves. Xel-Há offers dolphin swims and petting encounters.
Xel-Há: 52.998.883.31.43, www.xel-ha.com.mx

Tres Rios
Named for the region's three rivers formed from ground-level cenotes, Tres Rios is a tropical reserve boasting 387 acres of subtropical jungle and mangrove estuaries, as well as a one-mile-long beach. Take advantage of the lush setting to pedal through dense forests on guided bike tours, horseback-ride along the beach, swim in the sea or in the cenotes, kayak or canoe on the river, and snorkel or dive at the coral reef.
Tres Rios: 800.714.3643, www.tres-rios.com

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the reserve covers 1.5 million acres of jungles, marshlands, mangroves, beaches, 22 Mayan sites, and more than 62 miles of the Great Mesoamerica Reef. The best way to see the park is with a guide. The non-profit Amigos de Sian Ka'an (Friends of Sian Ka'an) offers day-long trips that combine hikes, boat rides, and tours of a Mayan ruin.
Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve: 52.984.871.24.99, www.siankaancons.org/biosph.html

Published: 8 Apr 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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