With its exotic seaside boulevards and demure Caribbean personality, Mexico's Yucatan peninsula embodies everything one could wish for from a paradisiacal ancient realm. The “Mayan Riviera” constitutes over 170 km of emerald green jungles, pristine white beaches and rugged bays - interspersed with booming colonial port cities and old Mexican fishing pueblitos. Extending from Northerly Cancun to the exposed surf strips of Punta Allen, the world's fourth most popular cruise route packs a punch no matter where you find yourself deposited.
Less than forty years ago, the Yucatan Peninsula was little more than a broad territory of ancient virgin rain-forest, punctuated by archaic fishing pueblos inhabited by indigenous descendants of the Maya. The fortunes of Quintana Roo State (which spans the Eastern length of the Peninsula) were forever altered following a tourism summit in 1974. Bounded by coconut plantations with a smattering of ruins beyond the coast, Kan Kun (Mayan for “Vipers Nest”) on the Yucatan tip proved the perfect location for the world's first purpose-built tourism resort. Modern day Cancun remains the hub of the Riviera, extorting cruise visitors with superb diving locations (at the world's second largest coral reef); a throbbing party-capital ambiance and endless excursion opportunities into the dense jungles surrounding Nichupté Lagoon.
Deluged by Americans throughout the 1980's, Cancun kick-started a tourism revolution along the Mexican Riviera, awakening the sleepy ferry town of Playa del Carmen and the outlying Isla Cozumel. Playa del Carmen is one of the highlights for ferry cruises, featuring exclusive beach-front resorts nestled within the confines of the jungle; world class golf courses and a tranquil urban setting for shopping and socializing. In contrast to Cancun, it retains a quintessentially Mexican vibe – nights brought to life with beach-front mariachi concerts and traditional Maya dancers. Natural attractions include the enclosed Carmen Ceynotes (huge natural rock pools and subterranean chambers fed by salt-water rivers from the bay) popular for a long relaxing dip or once in a lifetime underwater cave diving experiences.
As Mexico's third largest offshore island, Isla Cozumel attracts a barrage of curious tourists to its tranquil shores, eager to explore the legendary dive spots to be found along the South coast. The pretty seaside port town of San Miguel de Cozumel remains the hub for snorkel and scuba-dive excursions to the nearby coral reefs, however it is the discovery of Cozumel's balnearios (natural spas) that have truly influenced its popularity.
Flanked by azure blue lagoons and thickset jungles, the X-Caret Eco-Archaeological Park located 18 km (11 miles) South of Playa del Carmen remains a popular pleasure trip from the colonial town. Serpentine rivers wend their way through canopied tunnels of the rain-forest, animated by coatis, spider monkeys and the bright crested clock bird. Where the lagoon bridges the sea, you'll find scuba-diving opportunities galore – a chance to get up close and intimate with the giant sea turtles and rays inhabiting the shallows. Nearby Xpu Ha Beach satisfies the wave-riding urge with huge breakers and plenty of strong currents beyond the ocean shelf.
Impressive archaeological ruins scatter the Mayan Riviera, many smaller sites curtained by dense jungles and mangroves. Located 130 km South of Cancun lies Tulum, a modernist city with a chic, bohemian attitude and variegated nightlife. High above the sheer limestone cliffs sleeps a walled town with three-sixty degree panoramic views across the port city and sun-baked temples of indescribable beauty. Dating back to around 400 A.D, Tulum is one of the oldest Maya sites on the Eastern flank of Yucatan Peninsula, dominated by El Castillo (The Castle) at 7.5 meters (25 feet) in height. Nearby sit the Temples of The Frescoes and Descending God, both famed for the extraordinary examples of early Maya carvings and art within their galleries.
Since the tourism boom of the 1990's, New Mexico has embraced the necessity for evolution of its most picturesque coastal towns. Second to the Mexican Riviera, it is one of the most advanced touristic developments in Mexico, with a melange of family-friendly and upscale resorts to suit the needs of any visitor. Whether you stake your base among the mega-resorts of Cancun, or choose to explore the 170 km of coastline in its entirety, the Mayan Riviera will have your heart without leaving a hole in your wallet.