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Every year, this heavenly destination offers the millions of tourist who come and visit a wide array of attractions in the southern part of Mexico. Whether visiting the Riviera Maya for a few days or several weeks, for the first or tenth time, you can always find something new to discover in this enigmatic land of the Maya, full of natural parks, archeological sites, water sports and much, much more.
The heart of the Riviera Maya is Playa del Carmen (or "Playa," as it is called by the locals) and it is a paradise where people everywhere come to visit. Playa is a place that offers a wide array of attractions for all types of travelers: lovely white, sandy beaches (some of them are among the best in the world); an outstanding selection of resorts that go from small unpretentious hotels to large and luxurious; an unbeatable list of restaurants, bars and night clubs and a number of unique stores. It is also the point of departure for numerous tours, as well as a great excuse to explore and visit the beautiful places that surround it.
The Yucatan Peninsula is famous thanks to its magnificent archeological sites, inheritance of the ancient Maya. The Riviera Maya, as part of this region, is a privileged area and home of the small but majestic site Tulum, a one of a kind site because it is set over a cliff, right in front of the Caribbean Sea. From its main building, El Castillo (The Castle), you can admire the Caribbean in its full splendor with its amazing turquoise colored waters. This pre-Hispanic site, aside from being the only Mayan archeological ruins by the sea, is also the second most visited in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Although it is located outside the Riviera Maya, Coba is an exceptional place to explore Mayan culture in depth. The archaeological site of Coba is located 66 miles west of Playa del Carmen. It is estimated that in the 19,768 acres that makes up this enormous site, there are more than 6,500 structures, most of them yet to be unearthed. The one hour and a half road trip to this ancient site is worth just going up the 138 feet to the top of Nohoch Muul, the tallest pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula. Once at the top, the view will leave you speechless. Admire the jungle of Quintana Roo in all its splendor.
Perhaps two of the main attractions of the Riviera Maya are the cenotes and the underground rivers. Cenotes (or "dzonots," in Maya) are sinkholes the ancient Maya used as ceremonial centers where they use to sacrificed human beings. They were also used as a source of drinking water as well. Nowadays, these beautiful pools of turquoise waters are refreshing sites for a cool dip. Its pristine, tranquil waters are ideal for swimming or snorkeling. Some of the most amazing cenotes in the area are Dos Ojos, Taj Majal, Escondido, the Gran Cenote, Ponderosa, Cristal and Calavera, as well as the still unexplored Route of the Cenotes (Ruta de los Cenotes).
The cenotes are part of a cave system of the region and were the entrance to the Mayan underworld. It is a place that, today, is a natural marvel for cave diving and offers the opportunity to explore the longest underground river system on the planet. The Riviera Maya is home to three of the longest underground rivers known to man:
Ox Bel Ha, Sac Actun and Dos Ojos.
The main attraction in the state of Quintana Roo and the Riviera Maya, however, is the powdery, white sandy beaches and the incredible turquoise waters of Mexico's Caribbean. There are 75 miles of the coastline that make up the Riviera Maya, where you can find some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Punta Maroma is “an exquisite secret in Mexico,” according to the Travel Channel. The white beaches of Playa del Carmen are also mentioned on the list of Forbes Magazine's most beautiful beaches of Mexico.
The Riviera Maya has several of the most important, attractive and unique parks in Mexico. Here you can find a variety of ecological, as well as underground, parks.
Xcaret is the most amazing ecological park in the Riviera Maya, located just a few minutes south of Playa del Carmen. Although it is a relatively new site, with no more than 20 years since its opening, Xcaret is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting parks in the whole country. It boasts unique attractions such as two underground rivers with pristine waters for swimming or snorkeling, a small archeological Mayan site, an incredible dolphinarium, exuberant flora and fauna all over the park, a wide variety of entertainment during the day and night, featuring Mexican traditions, and plenty of water activities to choose from.
Forty five minutes from Playa del Carmen, in the southern part of the Riviera, is Xel-Ha, an estuary that is home to the largest natural aquarium in the world. Hundreds of fish swim in the pristine waters of this natural Mexican marvel. The park has a wonderful cave and a river for snorkeling or swimming and a dolphinarium. It also offers several trips around the park, either on foot, by bus or on a bike, as well as numerous water and land activities for the entire family.
Aktun Chen is located 23 miles south of Playa del Carmen, just a few miles from Akumal. Here, you will find an astonishing cave system of 659 yards long and a cenote with unspoiled shallow waters. This natural underground park of 988 acres is nestled in the dense jungle and is ideal for people of all ages. Don't miss out on the opportunity to visit.
The name of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere in Mayan means "door to the sky" or "place where the sky starts." It is a national park declared as World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, located on the southern tip of the Riviera Maya. Its 1,309,659 acres of virgin jungle, a wide diversity of fauna and natural attractions, make it the perfect setting for the visitor looking for direct contact with nature. There are quite a few eco-tours to this magnificent natural reserve so find one that adapts to your needs.
In the vicinity of Playa del Carmen, and over 148 acres in size, lies the newest attraction of the Riviera Maya: Rio Secreto (Secret River). It's a theme park placed in the jungle with an underground and underwater cave system of exquisite untouched beauty, approximately 550 yards long. The trip through the caves underneath the Yucatecan Peninsula's porous surface lasts about one hour and a half. Navigate among stalactites and stalagmites, as well as rock formations of splendid attractiveness, while you travel down impressive underground rivers.
Among many of the attractions in the Riviera Maya, one of the most popular water activities is fishing. The crystal clear waters and the warm weather of southern Mexico give thousands of tourists the chance to sail away in small boats to go deep sea fishing or fishing in shallow waters. All throughout the year, you can catch mackerel, snapper, wahoo, shark and barracuda, as well as sailfish, marlin, tuna, and dorado from March through June. Or come down for sailfish season from April to May.
On the other hand, golf is a sport that is very popular in this part of the country. The Riviera Maya has several championship golf courses that have been designed by golf personalities such as Robert von Hagge, Thomas Leman, Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones. These courses offer spectacular settings and are surrounded by unbelievable natural landscapes. The challenging fields feature excellent greens and fairways, as well as sand traps and water hazards to keep golfers on their toes.