If you’re among the population that dreads bouncers asking for your ID (rather than feeling flattered) and consider beer pong tournaments legit weekend entertainment, chances are, you’re already clued into the allure of Cancun as a holiday destination.
The rest of us, however, may need a little convincing.
Amanda Pressner investigates the grownup side of this Mexican destination.
Every March, the northern hub of Mexico’s Rivera Maya transforms into the unofficial epicenter of Spring Break, complete with 24-hour parties, wet T-shirt contests, MTV cameras, and unfathomable amounts of alcohol.
The area’s 150 hotels and 24,000 rooms swell to capacity with several hundred thousand college students eager to make this the trip they’ll remember for the rest of their lives (or at least, until they make it back home).
But even if you can relate to their desire to make lasting memories, chances are, you probably aren’t as keen on sharing the same stretch of Yucatan sand—at least, not this month. Our advice to you: Don’t wait until school is back in session (and the weather heats up) to book your trip to this part of Mexico.
You may only know its up-all-night reputation, but there’s an entirely different side to the Rivera Maya, an 87-mile corridor that unofficially begins with Cancun and extends to Tulum in the south.
Headed to Mexico? Try the Mexico & Central American Travel category.
Between the two destinations, a ribbon of diamond white coastline has been developed almost exclusively for visitors who’ve graduated to a more sophisticated level of travel and entertainment.
In the past decade or so, several dozen high-end boutique hotels and all-inclusive reports have been built along semi-private stretches of sand. Besides offering an ultra laid-back vibe and service that virtually eliminates the need to lift a finger, these properties offer unparalleled access to some of the most incredible beaches and waterfront views in the Western Caribbean.
Because most properties afford guests their own little slice of paradise (the beaches are decidedly uncrowded here and there’s usually plenty of cabanas to go around) many newlyweds choose to make the Riviera Maya their honeymoon destination. Groups and families are drawn here as well, thanks to the proximity to eco- and adventure activities, reasonable room rates and the short flight required to get here. The only visitors that tend to be absent are students, who generally remain within close range of Cancun.
For more ideas, don’t miss Spring Break 2010: Alternative Destinations & Family-Friendly Vacations.
FROM ADULTS-ONLY TO FAMILY-FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATIONS
The El Dorado Royale is an adults-only property caters primarily to couples celebrating honeymoons and anniversaries, or those who simply want a romantic getaway. While the resort contains 605 suites, 11 swimming pools and seven restaurants, the property maintains an inclusive, boutique-like vibe by offering ultra-personalized service via solicitous staff members who always seem to remember your name. Consider one of the suites on the casitas side, as you’ll get access to the more secluded side of the beach, plus a dedicated concierge for the duration of your stay.
The “Gourmet Inclusive” exclusive concept at the 98-room Azul Beach Hotel means that you’ll get the chance to experience three-course candlelit dinners on the beach, a fresh fish fry, an all-lobster menu and 30 top shelf tequilas—all included in the price of your stay.
Kids aren’t just allowed here, they’re welcomed with open arms: Families with young children can get loaner baby equipment, access to kid’s club clubs and parent support. An exclusive Family & Friends vacation planner can also help coordinate group vacations.
Want fun in the sun? Don’t miss our Beach Vacations category.
Banyan Tree Mayakoba opened last March, the newest property in the eco-friendly Mayakoba resort development, located on the southern end of the Riviera Maya.
Boasting 132 all-pool villas (the smallest of which are a whopping 3,000 square feet), the hotel merges an Asian design aesthetic with that of Mexico’s local natural environment. For guests in need of pampering, the “Rainforest Trail” at the Spa Mayakoba is sure to be a draw. It’s a complete hydrotherapy and thermal circuit that borrows from both the European and Asian wellness philosophies.
Peter’s radio show recently made a stop on the Riviera Maya. Learn more about the area with: Mexico Travel Tips: Expert Travel Advice from the Riviera Maya.
No matter where you end up staying on the Riviera Maya, well-paved roads mean that you’ll have quick and comfortable access to region’s attractions.
Eco Theme Parks: These multi-acre adventure destinations offer a vast range of family friendly activities, including snorkeling, sea trekking, river wading, wildlife exhibits, dance shows and cultural activities. Two of the most popular parks are Xcaret (which offers more in the way of Mayan attractions and recreated settlements) and Xel-Ha, renowned for its aquatic attractions.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving: The world’s second-largest barrier reef is located just off the coast of Mexico, and you’ll find numerous operators willing to take you on a tour of this great undersea wonder. More technically advanced divers won’t want to miss the chance to explore the cenotes, flooded subterranean caverns that must be viewed with a scuba tank, flashlight—and a little courage.
Learn more: Diving in Cancun & the Second-Largest Barrier Reef.
Mayan Ruins: The Riviera Maya gets its name from the Mayan empire that once inhabited the area—and several well-preserved sites from that ancient civilization still exist. You’ll find only Mayan settlement ever built on the sea at Tulum, one of the best preserved at Cobá and the most popular at Chichen Itza.
Learn more about the ruins with Mayan culture expert Iliana Rodriguez in this broadcast of Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere: Its name in the Maya language means “where the sky is born” or “gift from heaven” and the moniker fits: Because this spot has such a diversity of biological species, both animals and plants, and it’s been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Nearly every major airline services Cancun, including American, Delta, Northwest and United (plus Mexican airlines Aeroméxico and Mexicana) and you can usually secure a nonstop flight from most major US cities. Rumors have been swirling for years about a new airport that services the Riviera Maya only, but as of this writing, it’s still a no-go.
By Amanda Pressner for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit Amanda and the other “Lost Girls” on the Web at www.lostgirlsworld.com. Their debut book, The Lost Girls, will be out from HarperCollins in 2010.
Related articles on PeterGreenberg.com:
- National Geographic‘s Costas Crist + Locals on Diving in Cancun
- Radio Show Riviera Maya Mexico
- Mexico & Central America Travel section
- Mayan culture expert Iliana Rodriguez – Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio
- Slideshow: Exploring the Underwater Wonders of the Caribbean
- Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Cancun & Riviera Maya, Mexico
- Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Riviera Maya, Mexico