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The Mayan Riviera: Cancun, Playa del Carman, Cozumel and the Yucatan

Cancun Mexico
Magic of the mayans Mexico

The Mayan Riviera: Cancun, Playa del Carman, Cozumel and the Yucatan

story by: Tom Ricketts

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is one of the world’s busiest holiday spots, and for great reason. There’s something for everyone here, adventure activities, unique wildlife, great beaches, parties, and fascinating history.

Easily the largest and most well known destination in the Yucatan is Cancun. This booming beachside city is home to around 750,000 people and holds the regions international airport. People come here for the great beaches and tropical climate. However this isn’t your Fiji or Cook Island style beach destination. The resorts here are massive, some with over 1000 rooms. Most are ‘all inclusive’ resorts which generally means all your food and drink (even alcohol) is included in the price. The resorts have a huge range of facilities such as multiple pools, nightclubs, golf courses, watercraft and anything else you could want. It’s a ‘fly and flop’ destination for the US and Canada, so many travellers will simply fly in, get to the resort, and not leave again until it’s time to fly home.

Riviera Maya and Playa Del Carmen
Stretching south along the beach from Cancun is the region known as Riviera Maya. The resorts are much more spaced out here and there’s even small, boutique accommodations for those not wanting the large resort atmosphere. Anchoring the region is the much sleepier town of Playa del Carmen, home to only 150,000 people. Playa has a good range of restaurants and bars to keep you happy, and a small but vibrant nightlife scene if you’re in the mood. This is your best bet for a relaxing beachside holiday without the throngs of American tourists.

Just off the coast of Playa del Carmen is the island of Cozumel. The island is fringed with beautiful beaches, all of which have resorts like the mainland, but it’s the diving that attracts tourist here. The island is the northern end of the Belize Barrier Reef, second only in size to the Great Barrier Reef. The crystal clear waters here are home to over 250 different species of fish including turtles and stingrays.

If you want to get a taste of real Mexico, the best opportunity is the inland city of Merida. Merida is home to roughly one million people, but has the third largest ‘centro historico’ in the world after Mexico City and Havana. Beautiful colonial buildings of Spanish, French, British and Dutch influence dominate the city centre. It’s also home to many museums and galleries, making it the best place to learn about the Mayan culture.

Chichen Itza and Tulum
A holiday to the Riviera Maya wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one of these ancient cities. Probably the most famous remnant of the Mayan Empire is the city of Chichen Itza. The dominating feature of the city is the amazing step pyramid called El Castillo. This triumph of engineering was built sometime between the 9th and 12th centuries and towers 30 metres above the surrounding jungle. Another amazing structure is the Great Ball Court. The court is rectangular in shape, measures 168 metres by 70 metres, and is surrounded by an eight metre high wall. Tulum is distinct for being the only Mayan city built on a coast. It’s thought it acted as a port for a larger city inland city called Coba. While not as impressive as Chichen Itza, its location on the beach makes it a wonderfully picturesque spot, and it’s much handier to the resorts too.

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