An incredible range of overflowing landscapes and nature characterize the Riviera Maya: forests and rain forests, jungles, archeological sites, and beaches with exquisite beauty that open to the majestic crystal turquoise waters. This splendid destination is located in the state of Quintana Roo, bordered by the magnificent Caribbean Sea, and is bathed in the delightful tropical warmth, that in times long ago sheltered the development of the ancient Mayan civilization.
Abundant tropical forests grow in this flat territory, while the beaches that lie along various kilometers are lined with smooth white sands that give way to coves, bays and mangroves of exceptional beauty. And for all mankind’s admiration found between the greenery of the rich vegetation in the Riviera, are the lagoons and cenotes (natural wells) of such beauty that they achieve to evoke the idea of being in a true paradise. Some of the Mayan settlements were located precisely here around the cenotes, bodies of fresh water. Theirs was a culture which was recognized for its notable wisdom, mystical and sacred. The word cenote comes from the Mayan terms “ts’onot” or “dzonot”, and they are structures, or natural wells, that were formed in the calcareous soil, having characteristics like that of a cavern, and are rich in calcium carbonate due to rain water filtrations. Some of these cenotes were stages for sacred rituals for example Xtoloc in Chichen Itzá, Yucatán. Copper utensils, necklaces, plates, masks, earrings, and even human remains have been recovered from that place.
Economically speaking, the Riviera Maya subsists of the exploitation of wood found in forests, especially fine mahogany and cedar woods, or that of the chicozapote, a tree from which chewing gum is extracted. Other activities that sustain the area are the fishing of lobster, red snapper and snapper, among other species, as well as a small proportionate of agriculture and livestock. But without a doubt, tourism is the largest activity in the area, attracting people from all over the world. The Riviera Maya is a strip of 130 kilometers (81 miles), that is comprised of deserted beaches and modern architecture with hotels, yacht clubs, sports centers, restaurants, etc. Playa del Carmen for example was formerly a quiet fishing town, that today has internationally prestigious hotels. In a time long ago, Playa del Carmen was known as Xaman-Ha, and used to be the departure point to the sacred island of Cozumel, a place dedicated to the goddess of fertility Ixchel. Women from all over the Yucatán would come here in canoes in order to worship the goddess of the island. Today, some of the Mayan structures are still preserved in Playa del Carmen, with the temple in Playacar being the most accessible.
Not very far from there is the main ecological reserve of the area named Sian Ka’an which has a habitat of very rich flora and fauna. And the diversity is probably the main characteristic of this tourist destination. Choose from adventure sports, golfing or tennis, jungle tours on foot or by horseback, water sports, as well as journeys into the indescribable cultural richness and the archeological legacy of the Mayan world. One of the most popular activities for visitors is scuba-diving, since the second longest reef in the entire world is located here, the Great Mayan Reef. Or maybe you would rather see sea turtles up close? In various areas of the Riviera Maya, such as Tulúm or Xcacel and Xcacelito which were declared in 1988 as a Marine Turtle Sanctuary, one may observe the different turtle species like the Verde or the Caguama species (Caretta caretta or Loggerhead) lay their eggs.
The archeological zones that stand out in the Riviera Maya are those of Cobá, located 40 kilometers (25 mi) from Tulúm, and seated in a jungle that is surrounded by lakes. These ruins were formerly distinguished as the capital of the empire of the southern lands. The most important building at the site is Nohoch Mul, the Great Pyramid, and it is the tallest pyramid of the peninsula standing at 40 meters (131 feet) in height. Muyil, which is also very close to Tulúm, is one of the most ancient cities and whose name signifies “Place of the Rabbits”. It is formed by three temples that are surrounded in vegetation, next to a blue lake called the Laguna de Muyil.
Tulúm is a magnificent walled city located on a cliff at the edge of the sea, and is one of the most important historical sites in the Riviera Maya. A thousand years before our era, Tulum stood out with Xcaret as one of the most populated commercial centers among the Mayans. It had a central plaza that was utilized for ceremonies and rituals, as well as magnificent buildings that still remain today like the Temple of the Gods or the Temple of the Frescoes, which still hold impressive mural paintings. The so called Castle is without a doubt the most impressive building of Tulúm. It was erected on top of a cliff overlooking the sea where extraordinary views can be seen down the coastline for various kilometers in both directions.
But perhaps the most beautiful place found here is Xel-Ha, whose privileged location converted it into a sheltered port, commercial center, a pilgrimage site, and a refuge for sailors since prehispanic times. It possesses like all archeological areas, a large quantity of ruins, even though it is thought that most of them continue to be hidden underneath the ground. It is located 115 kilometers (71 mi) south of the city of Cancún and 16 kilometers (10 mi) north of Tulúm, along the west side of the 180 federal highway from Puerto Juárez to Chetumal. Make sure not to confuse Xel-Ha with Xelhá Parkwhich is located on the east side of the mentioned highway.
And all of this is just a brief description of what you’ll find and see at what is considered to be one of the most important touristic destinations in the world: the Riviera Maya. It is a place that offers visitors a complex and assorted range of sports and recreational activities, sure to make your vacation an unforgettable experience!