Three reasons why Riviera Maya is more than just a beach, breeze and sea
The state of Quintana Roo, of which Cancun and the Riviera Maya are part, does not have more than two million inhabitants, but last year it received about 17 million people, 43.5 of the tourists that arrived in the country.
In Quintana Roo there are many of the famously beautiful beaches of Mexico, a large part of the archaeological ruins of Central America and it is one of the best places to offer nationals and foreigners a myriad of ecotourism and entertainment experiences.
The state of Quintana Roo has three international airports that connects with destinations on five continents. In fact, every day planes land from about 100 airports around the world.
Why go to the Yucatan Peninsula?
The Mayans built in front of the sea, in a fertile land and on underground rivers one of the most developed pre-Columbian civilizations of the whole continent; that's why visiting the Yucatan Peninsula is much more than sunbathing on the beach and swimming in the waters of the Caribbean. Archaeological ruins, cenotes, trails, parks and Mayan towns make this an inexhaustible destination.
Connect with the Mayans
At 42 meters (137 feet) high you can only see a tapestry of jungle with green on the horizon in all directions. Climbing the Nohoch Mul pyramid is a challenge to vertigo but above all an experience of connection with the gods. It is the highest temple of the peninsula located in the archaeological complex of Cobá, and is one of the few pyramids in the region where it is possible to climb.
Nohoch Mul is the last piece of the Cobá site and you can see it after about 40 minutes walking or 20 minutes by bicycle or by bicycles that are rented at the park entrance. In the tour through the jungle you can see about a dozen buildings, including two pyramids standing one in front of the other that stand out two rings in which points were marked in the game of the ball a sport that served to settle conflicts between Mayan communities.
The visit to the park is part of a journey that begins in Playa del Carmen at 7 in the morning with Alltournative, an ecotourism company that combines the archaeological expedition, with the adventure and the preservation of the culture of the Mayan communities. After Coba, which is two hours from Cancun, one hour and a half from Playa del Carmen and 45 minutes from Tulum, the main cities or towns of the region, the next stop is a Mayan community.
The arrival to the hamlet is an adventure. A trip in tiroleza on a crystalline lake full of plants; then, a kayak ride through the same lake. Leaving the oars and after walking 15 minutes through the jungle is one of the most incredible places of the trip, one of the more than 6,000 gates in the Yucatan to enter the underworld: a cenote.
Before, a ritual with an old man from the Mayan community who prays in his language spoken today by about a million people blesses everyone with incense and gives a permission to enter the cenote. Spiral staircases open in a giant cave. Below is the show: crystal clear water in a cavern illuminated with reflectors. The well is more than four meters (13 feet) deep, but you can see everything, even the timid catfish that inhabit the bottom of that hidden place on earth. The whole tour is accompanied by a photographer from the community who records the best moments, including jumping into the water. Before leaving, there's a lunch with traditional food, chicken, meat, corn tortillas, tamales and red soup.
The afternoon closes with a rappel route of about 15 meters (49 feet) high from a natural balcony to a rock formation also flooded by crystalline water, a place that was recovered after being contaminated for years with debris. All the activities are led by the inhabitants of the village who work hand in hand with Alltournative to make these spaces a space of sustainability in which the presence of tourists, instead of negatively impacting the flora and fauna of the jungle, encourages their preservation.
Alltournative offers, in addition to "Cobá, the Maya encounter", other tours that include visits to archaeological parks and sports and ecological activities, including visits to Chichen Itzá, Tulum and Ek 'Balam, for prices ranging from usd 105 to 125.
Earth and water
The cenotes are not the only option to live the experience of underground water caves, in fact just 10 minutes from Playa del Carmen there is an aquifer system in semi-flooded caves, discovered 12 years ago and of which there is still no certainty about its extension total. Wearing a neoprene suit (divers wear), special shoes for walking on stone, a helmet with a flashlight and a guide that explains every detail of the place is a tour that can be up to three hours according to the route, to learn about one of the great wonders of the region.
The entrance, as in the cenote, is in that of a flooded cave, but whose depth does not exceed two meters (6.5 feet) in most of the route. In addition to the well-known stalagmites and stalagmites, in Río Secreto there are formations so far undocumented. The visitors can assume appearance of each rock: umbrella, mushroom, curtain, etc. They are the product of the fall of water that filters through the earth and the minerals that it drags in its path.
The lanterns are extinguished and the absolute black remains and the silence is only interrupted by an eventual drop of water that falls from the tips of the formations that come from the ceiling.
Río Secreto is a place to connect with the earth and with the water, which in fact is the provider of the liquid for the inhabitants and visitors of the peninsula. The reflections of the water in the roof formations are a spectacle, but also the natural reserve offers in one of the caves a projection of lights and sound that enhance the splendor of the secrets of the earth.
In addition to the buffet with traditional food, when leaving the reserve visitors can practice activities such as rappelling or biking through the jungle. Tours have a minimum price of usd 99 or 129 with transportation from Cancun or the Mayan Riviera. There is the possibility of taking a Privilege tour in which the visitor decides with the guide the time of the route and the level of difficulty.
Ecotourism is big in Xcaret, a 80-hectare theme park that is a destination in itself for the whole family. Xcaret has hotels, restaurants, theaters, auditoriums and beaches, as well as adapted habitat spaces for jaguars, flamingos, deer and an aquarium, where you can see a dolphin show.
The infrastructure of the park takes advantage of the best of the jungle and the sea, and has an offer of activities from early in the morning until 10 at night. Going through it allows you to enjoy nature, see wild and wild animals up close, and learn about the dynamics of the Mayan peoples, from their homes and communities to their temples and cemeteries.
With a map in hand or just guided by the directions of the roads is easy to enjoy and choose what to know. At different points and times of the day you can see shows, for example the flying men of Papantla-ritual in honor of fertility, horse show and pre-Hispanic dances. You can also participate in workshops, one of them to learn about cocoa and chocolate production, or to learn more about dolphins while feeding them.
The park is crossed by a slow river, which in certain parts is underground, where you swim and appreciate the landscape. People can store their belongings in lockers while they are in the river. Along the route through the water and also outside there are points where, just by passing the entrance handle, a camera shoots a photo; so you do not have to worry about keeping your cell phone or a camera in your hand because you can have memories of the best scenarios. Before leaving the park you can buy the CD with the photos.
For those who love water, the sunset on the beach is lovely. There are sun loungers, umbrellas, kiosks to drink from juices to cocktails, and natural pools. All that accompanied by the flamencos performing their evening routines.
Six restaurants, three of them specialized in traditional food, another in sea food and the others with an international gastronomic offer guarantee that the experience is complete. In three of the restaurants lunch is included in the ticket plus, as well as some drinks. With this option, the income that is around 100 dollars, can go up to 30 dollars more.
The show "Mexico Espectacular" is undoubtedly one of the main attractions of the park. With the staging of around 300 people, the most important moments in the history of Mexico are recreated one by one, from when the Mayans resolved their conflicts with the ball game or with a rite with fireballs, passing through the Spanish conquest and the decolonization, until arriving at the present of the Mexican towns in which the mariachis are symbol of identity of that country. Horses and macaws participate in the show.
Xcaret is part of a complex of three parks. Xel Ha is a place dedicated to sports on the water. jump from cliffs, with liana, rope ladders, floats, kayaking, diving, swimming with dolphins, underwater caves and snorkeling are some of them.
But if the intention is to have a great adventure, Xplor offers two circuits of 14 zip lines, travel through the jungle in an amphibious vehicle, two circuits of underground rivers to row in rafts, swim in a river of stalactites, walk through caverns and make hamacuatizaje . The ticket to enter both parks is around 120 dollars, but if you buy along with Xcaret you can get discounts.