Riviera Maya Two Ways

The eastern shores of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula offer sunny beaches, exotic wildlife and diversity of culture 


For Nature Lovers

Jungles, coral reefs and the land and water in-between offer a wealth of natural beauty to explore.

Start at the Occidental Grand Cozumel Resort, whose amenities include an on-site dive shop offering diving and snorkelling tours. Put on a t-shirt or long-sleeved rash guard (sunscreen harms the reef) and head out for an excursion that stops at several prime locations along the Palancar Reef. Watch for parrotfish, stingrays and sea turtles as you glide across the surface of the Caribbean.

Natural wonders await you on the mainland, too. Among the regional highlights are the numerous cenotes (deep, freshwater-filled sinkholes). One popular and accessible example is Gran Cenote, just outside the town of Tulum. Arrive early to beat the crowds and swim or snorkel the brilliantly blue and chilly waters. Divers will want to book a tour to go deep into the cenote’s underground caves, considered sacred by the Mayan people of the region.

To go off the beaten path, arrange a tour to the 6,520-square-kilometre Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, south of Tulum Beach. Mexico Kan Tours runs daylong adventures that include snorkelling, swimming and viewing of wildlife such as sea turtles, sea stars, frigate birds, cormorants and pelicans.

For Culture Seekers

Encompassing the ancestral lands of the Mayan people, the region is rich in historical sites and modern-day culture.

Mayan ruins are a must-see, best enjoyed in the company of an expert guide who can explain the significance of the pyramids, temples and ball courts built by this ancient civilization (one of the only civilizations in the world to invent writing). Chichen Itza is the biggest and most well-restored site, while the more-spread-out Coba offers fewer crowds, more shade and the chance to climb up its pyramid.

Near Chichen Itza, Mayan culture and colonial Spanish architecture meet cosmopolitan Mexico in the city of Valladolid. Spend a day (or a few) exploring its colourful streets, stopping in at folk-art gallery Casa de los Venados and the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena, which dates back to the 16th century.

The Mexico Espectacular evening show at Xcaret Park, with direct access from the Occidental Grand Xcaret Resort, gives visitors a crash course in Mexican history. A team of more than 300 puts on a performance that starts with the traditional Mayan ball game of Pok ta’ Pok, followed by reenactments of the Spanish conquest and the emergence of the country of Mexico, and then a showcase of the songs and dances of Mexico’s diverse regions.