Adventures in the Riviera Maya

My husband and I took our first trip to Mexico. We loved every minute of the Riviera Maya.

Adventures in the Riviera Maya

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

The Riviera Maya is simply the Caribbean coastline south of Cancun to Tulum. The 81-mile stretch is filled with a mix of resort towns, nature parks, all-inclusive resorts, Mayan Ruins, and sprinkling of roadside attractions. This area appeals to both the adventurous traveler and the vacationer who wants to kick their feet up and relax. I tend to fall into more of the first category, I jam packed my six-day vacation with the ruins of Chichen Itza, the authenticity and rich culture of Valladolid, the Spider Monkeys of Punta Laguna, Snorkeling among the tropical fish of Yal Ku (this one was my favorite), exploring the cenote of Aktun Chen, wining and dining in Akumal, the Mayan ruins of Tulum, shopping on Playa Del Carmen’s 5th Ave, snorkeling (or nearly being lost at sea) in Punta Sur Ecological Reserve, and a day in Cozumel. Besides everything to do, the Mayan Riviera has an inviting atmosphere with a lot of likable people. It's a place which everyone should enjoy at least once.${QuickSuggestions} Having a car in the Mayan Riviera is essential. All the towns run along the coast but there is some distance between them. Every location has a little something different to offer, so deciding where you want to stay really depends on what is most important to you. One of the reasons we decided on Playa del Carmen it is because it’s centrally located and within short distance to many of the things we wanted to do and visit; however, if I would decide to go back to the Riviera I would stay in Akumal, because something about that little town captured what vacation is all about. If you have to decide where to stay I would first evaluate what you’re looking for in your vacation. In my opinion if you want luxury, nightlight, beaches, and water sports, then Cancun is your destination. If natural beauty, snorkeling, and diving are interests then Cozumel. If you want natural beauty, diving, snorkeling, and peace and quit go to Isla Mujeres. If nightlife, beaches, great food are priorities then Playa del Carmen. Any small town along the Riviera offers beaches, beauty, sightseeing, and a family friendly environment.

One other suggestion is to be sure to always have pesos with you. The gas stations only take pesos, roads, and places are poorly marked, and it helps to just be prepared.${BestWay} By far the best way to see the Riviera is by car. The road conditions are similar to what you find in most states. Most roads were paved and if dirt roads were rather smooth. One important thing to watch out for is SPEED BUMPS. Many of them are unmarked and huge. The road maps are very poor. Many roads have no names, or no signs, or neither. But on the positive side their isn’t very many roads so it’s kind of hard to get lost.

There are small fees for parking here and there, but nothing too bad.

We also took the ferry from Playa to Cozemul. Be aware that although lots of places sell tickets for the exact same ferry, the prices are not the same.

Mayan Palace - Riviera Maya (Grupo Mayan)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

We stayed at the Mayan Palace in the Riviera Maya. The Mayan Palace and the Grand Mayan share a facility and together form the Grupo Mayan. So when looking for the hotel, keep you eyes peeled for the Grupo Mayan, or you just might drive by a few times before realizing that it’s your resort.

A couple months prior to leaving for our vacation, I received a letter saying that there is a lot of construction going on at the resort and to be prepared for some minor inconveniences. I’m pleased to say that the construction was no inconvenience. We heard no noise while in our room.

The best part of the Mayan Palace is the POOL. It’s gigantic. I swam around the edge of the pool at a moderate speed and it took me a good 30 minutes to complete on entire lap. Every night we relaxed in the pool and listen to the mariachi band at the restaurant.

There were a few aspects of the Mayan Palace that weren’t as impressive. First of all, the beach was not exactly what I had in mind. The beach is really rocky and rough. The entire week we were at the resort the beach was red flagged which means that it’s not safe to swim. I also felt a little uncomfortable when I was required to put up a line of credit on my credit card for our room. The minimum amount was $400 dollars. Luckily, upon checkout this wasn’t an issue and there were no charges to my room. And the final item that I was little disappointed with was the price of the restaurants on the property. Everything was rather pricey for a quality meal.

Despite my negative comments, the over all experience at the Mayan Palace was very good. Everything was immaculate. The rooms and the entire property were beautiful. The staff were above and beyond what you can expect. The staff were very helpful and willing to make phone calls and communicate for us when necessary. The resort also offered tours to different attractions for very reasonable prices. My husband and I agree that we would return to the Mayan Palace.
Mayan Palace
Riviera Maya
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
52 9842064000

Turtle Bay Café & Bakery

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

Akumal only has a handful of restaurants but we enjoyed the Turtle Bay Café and Bakery. Everyone in my party (4 of us) all had different meal, and we all loved our food. But even better than the food were the smoothies. The smoothies were so delicious, fresh, and refreshing the in the summer heat. Prices were very reasonable around $10 for the meal and $3/$4 for a delectable smoothie.

The atmosphere is the typical relaxed Mexican style. Everyone was hassle-free and casual. And who doesn’t love eating a tranquil lunch in a hut, near the Caribbean Sea, in Mexico?

Turtle Bay Café and Bakery, is found near the Akumal Dive Shop, is good for breakfast or lunch.
Turtle Bay Bakery
Akumal, Mexico
+52 (984) 875-9138

Chichen Itza - Mayan Ruins

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

Chichen Itza is one of the most impressive sites I’ve ever seen. There is a lot of hype that surrounds this particular site, but without a doubt it lives up to it. The city was built by the Mayans as a political, religious, and military center. The city flourished from 300 to 900 A.D.

Chichen Itza is 4sq. miles and takes most of a day to see all the ruins. The most famous and impressive pyramid is El Castillo. Besides that pyramid there are many other sites to see including the Ball Court, the North Temple, 3 cenotes (nothing too spectacular), the Temple of Warriors, Market, and the Observatory. Besides all of the ruins, there are endless artisans selling crafts. After a little negation the prices were better than back at the coast.

The ruins don’t have maps throughout or even provide any direction. You can walk around on your own and read the signs (in both English and Spanish), or you can hire a guide. There are English and Spanish guides but they rush you through everything in about an hour and charge $40. In my opinion, the guide isn’t really worth it.

The hours are from 8am to 5pm, and admission is $11 a person. (And whoever is spreading the rumors about it being free on Sundays, is wrong!) Parking is also another $4.

Chichen Itza is about 60 miles from Cancun and is a good two- to three-hour drive from Playa Del Carmen, depending on the route and how fast you’re willing to drive. The roads to travel on are very good, but be prepared to pay some pretty hefty tolls (around $30 each way).

Although making a trek to the Chichen Itza takes almost an entire day, it’s worth every minute of it.
Ruins of Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza, Mexico

Punta Laguna

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

Punta Laguna is little (okay, actually a lot) off the beaten path. For a small fee you can go into the Jungle and see Spider Monkeys or Howler Monkeys in their natural habitat. We also paid about $40 for a one-hour guide (English and Spanish speaking guides are available). The guide was very good at spotting the monkeys and he knew exactly what trees the monkeys were in. The Spider Monkeys and the Howler Monkeys each have their own territory and stay away from each other. The one hour guide only took us to the spider monkeys and he said that we would have to pay for another hour to see the Howler Monkeys.

Overall, I really enjoyed Punta Laguna. The monkeys were really active and fun to watch. We were there at about 5 pm and we were told that’s prime time for monkey watching. Aside from the monkeys the rest of the lagoon isn’t real impressive. Wearing bug repellent is another way to make your visit a little more enjoyable.
Punta Laguna

Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Yal Ku

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

Yal Ku is a lagoon and also my place in Mexico. My husband and I love snorkeling but he isn’t a strong swimmer, so Yal Ku is prefect. The lagoon is a fresh water lagoon that combines with water pouring in from the gulf (so if you get some in your mouth, it doesn’t taste as bad). Plus, the water is completely calm. We spent hours in the water, and I didn’t need a life jacket or even get tired. As we slowly swam around, schools of fish swam all around us. We saw fish of all different sizes, colors, and species. This would be the ideal place for kids to snorkel (or weak swimming husbands – whatever).

A few things to know…..The lagoon is a little tricky to find, but it’s at the end of the road in Akumal (yes, just keep going until you can’t go any farther). There is a fee for swimming in the lagoon and they rent gear and life jackets on site. You can’t wear sun block in the water because it harms the fish. Besides the lagoon being prefect, there are many statues and plants that make Yal Ku a total package. Without a doubt, this was the best part of my vacation.
Yal Ku

Akumal, Mexico

Aktun Chen

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

A bit beyond Akumal we found Aktun Chen Nature Park. Aktun Chen means “cave with an underground river inside” and that’s exactly what it is. We paid $17 for a guided tour through the property. First they showed us a number of wild snakes that they’ve caught in the park (and if that doesn’t make you stay on the trails I don’t know what will). Then they took us through a couple caves. Each cave is better than the last, and you’ll get more than a few “Kodak Moments”. The guide does a very good job at providing a balanced amount of information about the stalactites, stalagmites, and other rock formations without getting overwhelming. The final cave is a 40 foot cenote with clear blue water. (A cenote is a cave with a fresh water pool in it.) Once everyone is standing on the bridge in the cenote, the guide goes through a series of lights that shine differently on the rocks in and the water. This allows you to really appreciate every aspect of the cenote.

The 988-acre park also had nature trails and we didn’t walk far to see deer, boars, parrots, and my favorite – spider monkeys. Again we had plenty “Kodak Moments” with all the animals.

One piece of advice – wear bug repellent and quality shoes.

Hours are rom 9am to 5pm.
Aktun Chen

Akumal, Mexico

Tulum Mayan Ruins

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

Tulum was a Mayan “fortress-city” built over the most rugged part of the coast. When exploring the ruins it is clear that builders of Tulum were interested in trade and defense. The ruins are in the perfect spot. The beautiful site faces out over the Caribbean. On the city’s other three sides they constructed shorter – more solid walls with watchtowers. The ruins at this site were not built with the same precision that other sites were, but Tulum is set apart from the other ruins because of its beautiful combination of nature and architecture.

The most important building in Tulum is a large stone structure above the cliff called “Castillo”. On the beach below, where the Maya once came ashore, we went for a refreshing swim. (Tulum are the only ruins were you combine a visit to the ruins with sunbathing.) The beach itself was absolutely great, but I wasn’t prepared for the crowds that were jam-packed on the beach, especially later in the day.

At Tulum you are not allowed climb the ruins and in fact, the ruins are roped-off. The hours were 7 to 5. The entrance to the ruins is about a 10-minute walk from the archaeological site. (Save yourself a walk in the heat and spring ($1.50) for the tram ride. Trust me, you won’t regret it!). At the entrance there are many artisans’ stands, a bookstore, a museum, a restaurant, and quality bathrooms. The ruins cost $4 a person and each car is charged $3 to park.
Tulum Mayan Ruins

Tulum, Mexico

Parque Punta Sur

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

Punta Sur Ecological Reserve is a large area that encompasses the entire southern tip Cozumel Island. The area is a ecological reserve but it feels like a park. When entering the park you see a few small Mayan Ruins and a lagoon with crocodiles and a lookout tower. Farther down the road you’ll come to the lighthouse which you can climb for a spectacular view. You’re required to park near the lighthouse (unless you’re on a special tour from the city of Cozumel). From the lighthouse you can take an informative wagon ride past some mangroves to a beautiful beach. At the beach you can relax in a hammock or under an umbrella (no extra cost). Or you can rent snorkel gear and venture out to the reef.

Being we live in the Midwest, we aren’t accustom to swimming in the ocean. We were told life jackets weren’t required. I did decide to wear life jackets and I believe it saved my life. The undertow was so strong and swimming was a real struggle. I didn’t even make it out to the reef before I decided to head back to solid ground. Once back on the beach I returned my life jacket and when speaking with the man renting equipment, I learned that the beach was one step from being red-flagged (or closed).

Overall, this was the biggest disappointment of the trip. Without a question the beach is prefect and the view is breathtaking, but I was eager to see the reef and some sea turtles and this experience feel far short.

To get there you need to rent a car and admission is $15 a person.
Parque Punta Sur
Costera Sur Highway Km 27
Cozumel, Mexico, 77600
No phone available


Member Rating 0 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

After we left Chichen Itza we stopped in the city of Valladolid for a late lunch. We were really impressed with authenticity and rich culture this town had, that other tourist city lacked. The prices for lunch were extremely impressive (4 people had sandwiches, french fries, a few drinks, and a good tip for $16). We walked through the main square or Plaza Principal and enjoyed the atmosphere. A few artisans lined the edge of the Square with their crafts.

We didn’t have time to enjoy some of the other items Valladolid had to offer, but we were told that there was “Ek Balam” some smaller ruins, A couple Cenotes, and a number of colonial buildings.

Be aware that with authenticity and a less tourist geared city, also comes communication difficulties. My little bit of Spanish was not nearly sufficient enough to have any type of quality communication.

Playa del Carmen - 5th Ave.

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

Playa del Carmen is the most happening place on the coast with one of the best stretches of beach. Most of the restaurants and nightlife are on 5th Ave. The 5th Ave. is a pedestrian street (no driving on it). The atmosphere is casual and comfortable. The local architecture has elements of native building (i.e. rustic walls and thatched roofs). Playa del Carmen was a little more a tourism city than I anticipated. More and more mainstream resorts are moving in, we were hassled about see timeshare presentations, and most restaurants had American menus. The shopping on 5th Ave. was great, but the merchandise gets a little repetitive. On 5th Ave. you can find anything you want. You can take the ferry to Cozumel, wine and dine, find 24-hour doctors, try some free samples of tequila, or anything else that you might need. In particular there is a general store on 5th Ave where you can find any supplies that you might need that are harder to find in other places.

A Day in Cozumel

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by kathyjohanna on July 26, 2007

We rode the passenger ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel. We arrived in Cozumel at the Muelle Fiscal dock, which is one block from the town’s main square. The trip took about 30 minutes and the round trip ticket was $16 a person.

From the moment we stepped off the ferry we found ourselves among the hustle and bustle of Cozumel. There were crowds filling into the shops and restaurants, lots of traffic in the streets, and tourists everywhere. There were a few cruise ships docked in the island and a lot commotion everywhere.

The island of Cozumel is 28 miles long and 11 miles wide. Driving a car was relatively easy (besides that we got stuck with a stick shift that looked as if it was 40 years old – so ask questions before renting). Outside of the city we followed the paved roads and make one big loop around the edge of the island (except the northern part due to hurricane destruction). The Eastern edge of the island is beautiful with aqua blue-green waves crashing into rocks, but not a place to swim. On the east side, civilization is far and few between. As we rounded the southern tip of the island we come to Punta Sur which is a nice place to stop (read review for more info). As we go up the western edge of Cozumel the island is much more urban with restaurants, huge resorts, crowded beaches, and boats cruising around in the water. The side of the island is the priciest place in Cozumel or the Riviera Maya we explored.

Overall, we enjoyed Cozumel, but one day there was enough. The scenery was stunning (especially the west side), everything was more expensive than in Playa del Carmen. In addition, the crowds in Cozumel were significantly larger than in Playa.

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