The Yucatan – most famous for Cancun and its wild lifestyle – shouldn’t be the only mental picture in your mind. Things have changed quite a bit, and now is the ideal time to explore what’s happening just south of there, within the region better known as the Mayan Riviera.
A staple of travelers from the United States for over four decades, the Yucatan coast was once largely associated with Mexico until the Mexican government specially selected the region for development. Just south of Cancun, the development is on a smaller scale, predominately due to the respect for native cultures and a greater understanding of the principles of sustainable tourism. The Yucatan’s Caribbean coast, which stretches over 200 miles, is segmented into two halves – the north and the south. The northern half is known as the “Mayan Riviera” while the south is the “Costa Maya.” One of the area’s biggest gems, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, lies between the two, and is something that should not be missed. Furthermore, the region spans from Cancun in the north all the way down to Chetumal, which borders the Central American country of Belize.
Second only to the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s second longest reef system can be found off the coast, running the majority of the Mayan Riviera oceanic border. Such unforgettable beaches as the Playa del Carmen, Xpu-Ha, Tulum and others exist within gaps in the reef, creating tidal ecosystems that are home to a variety of species. For those who enjoy diving and snorkeling, the reefs provide a haven and, for those who enjoy water activities in general, some of the finest beaches in the world can be discovered within the Riviera Maya. The ancient Mayan cities of Uxmal and Chichen Itza remain as some of the best examples of this very mysterious culture, the vestages of which exist to this day in the native populations.
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Once upon a time, ancient Mayans ruled, their ruins dotting the coast and providing an exhibit for history buffs to unravel. The best part? The majority of them are within close proximity to many of the resort communities along the coast. Exploring further inland, vast caves and underwater rivers are present, where travelers can explore thanks to the help of experienced guides who are familiar with the area.
All in all, the choice of accommodations is large and varied, ranging from cabins to all inclusive resorts or boutique hotels. Your options vary as much as the reef itself, as the Riviera Maya is an outdoor paradise. From history and diving to soaking in the rays and underwater caves, a remarkable spread of activities await just south of the United States and Mexico border.