Adventure in the Riviera Maya

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For several thousand years the Mayan culture thrived in the jungle region of the Yucatan Peninsula of what’s now the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. By the way, Quintana Roo is not a Tom Selleck Australian movie. The state was named after Andrés de Quintana Roo (1787–1851), who fought for Mexican independence.

The Mayans lived in harmony with nature and during their peak period of urbanization built large scale monuments that were functional, ceremonial and artistically sophisticated. They were a highly intellectual society that seemed to have everything going for it and then for some reason in the 8th and 9th century, they simply started to abandon the monarchy society and settled into smaller farming communities.

imgAContrary to popular rumor, the Mayans did not disappear! They are everywhere you look in the Yucatan. The language is still spoken and the villages are still inhabited. The Mayan society broke up but the people are thriving in the same place they’ve been for thousands of years. You see it in the faces and hear it in the voices. The Mayans are alive and well, thank you very much, and they would like to welcome you to their jungle.

img1FThe coastal jungle region of the Yucatan, known as the Riviera Maya, is the fastest growing tourism region in Mexico and while it was once the most ignored area in the whole country, it now is the hottest spot south of the Rio Grande for all-inclusive fun in the sun. The 45 minute drive from Cancun to Playa del Carmen used to be a two lane dirt track through the jungle with a solid green canopy overhead. Now, it’s a four lane split highway lined with fantastic all-inclusive resorts, golf courses and adventure parks.

img2A  Flying into Cancun is the best way to start your Riviera Maya vacation. The airport is comfortable and modern and from there, the better resorts will arrange to pick you up at the terminal. Taxis are available but be aware that there are still unscrupulous opportunists working at the airport. The normal taxi fare is about $30 to Playa del Carmen or one of the nearby resorts but if they can, they will charge you a great deal more and even have printed charts to show the fare is $125. Be polite but just say No.

Once you arrive at an all-inclusive resort, you’ll find them to be very modern, friendly, extremely security conscious and offer everything you would expect from a top resort anywhere in the world. Forget anything negative you’ve ever heard about travel in Mexico. It just doesn’t apply to Riviera Maya.

One of the mantras you’ll hear repeated everywhere you go is ECO. Everyone is talking about eco-tourism. Eco-friendly construction. Eco-environmentally sound products. It is the one theme that everyone agrees upon. They recognize how fragile the ecosystem of the area is and everyone is trying to preserve the resources for the future. Consequently, anything new is going to be ecologically sound and as the old inevitably makes way for the new the Riviera Maya is going to become one of the greenest places on earth. No pun intended!

Hacienda Tres Rios

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imgCAmong the new resorts along the coast is Hacienda Tres Rios and it takes green to a whole new level. The resort sits on a 326 acre nature park unlike anything ever constructed in this area. Yes, it’s all-inclusive and luxurious to a fault but it was built with sustainable tourism as the main requirement. It exists with nature and helps sustain the ecology of the area rather than consume resources. They maintain their own nursery to provide plants and flowers for the resort and also to reforest the mangrove swamps necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

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The resort has 273 suites built with native materials, all with great views of the Caribbean Sea.

img31You have all the standard amenities you would expect like full concierge service but there are so many extras like a pillows menu to choose a pillow that is comfortable for you and a video library to use with your in room DVD player. There is live entertainment in the evening and a Kid’s club to give you some quality adult time. The beach is also private to the resort.

imgEWhen you are ready for a cool dip, there are two swimming pools but they are laid out in a unique style to offer many connected sections spread out among the palm trees. The fitness center is stocked with state of the art equipment and instructors are scheduled for yoga and spinning classes. There is a steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi at the spa and you can schedule a 30 minute massage as the Ya’ax Ché Spa.

img27You won’t need your wallet or any cash while you stay at Tres Rios. All Service tips and taxes included including all daily activities for kids, teens, and adults. You have exclusive access to the 150 acre Tres Rios Nature Park and you can swim, snorkel and kayak in the rivers and centos and all your gear is provided.

img6There are bike tours, a SenseAdventure activity and a Botanical Garden and Nursery tour to enjoy as well.

If you want to be pampered in a luxury environment and still ‘go green” then Hacienda Tres Rios is the place to stay in Riviera Maya.

img29Even though they have everything you need at the resort, there’s a lot of excitement to be found at the many adventure parks a short drive down the coast. Again, you’ll find the maintenance of the fragile ecosystem is foremost when you visit these parks. The parks are very large and have more activities than you can do in one day so plan your day carefully and know ahead of time exactly what you want to do. Many are also all-inclusive so once you enter, everything including your lunch is covered.

Hotel Akumal Caribe

img12A little further down the coast but right in the middle of all the parks is Akumal, a small community with sandy white beaches, sun, surf, palm trees and a more ‘local’ feeling. If you are not looking for the all-inclusive experience, the Hotel Akumal Caribe might be the perfect getaway spot to call home during your adventures. It has a comfortable beach house feel and the waters off the coast are a divers paradise. The bar and restaurant is right on the ocean and has dance shows and live music during the high season.

img30While in Akumal be sure to visit the Centro Ecologico Akumal. This is the driving force behind the three main conservation programs. The Marine and Coastal Protection, Sea Turtle Protection and Water Quality in the Akumal region. The Director Paul Sanchez-Navarro Russell knows the ecology of the coastal region intimately and is passionate about preserving the resources for the future.

Xcaret

img13Xcaret is a huge park with so many activities that it’s hard to decide what to do. First, wear your swimsuit. A great deal of the park involves water activities. They have a Shark Interactive Adventure where you img14swim with the sharks, Snuba Family that allows you to dive while your air tank stays on a surface raft, Snorkeling Tour, Paradise River which is a dry float trip, Swim with the Dolphins, Snorkeling Inlet, Natural Pools, The Beach, Lagoon, Underground Rivers, Sea Trek where you walk underwater in a divers helmet, and the Reef Snuba Tour.

img19If you get tired of being wet, there are Concerts, Tlacho Dinner theater, Pre-Hispanic Dance, Equestrian Show, Open Theater, Pre-Hispanic Ball Game, Papantla Flying Men, and Spectacular Night. For those interested in Flora and Fauna, there is the Tapir Territory, Bat Cave, Marine Turtles, Jaguar Island, Mushroom Farm, Orchid Greenhouse, Regional Wildlife Breeding Farm, Flamingos, Monkey Island, Butterfly Pavilion, Manatee Lagoon, and Deer Shelter.

There’s a lot more but you get the idea. One day here isn’t nearly enough. The price is very reasonable and if you book online before you go, you save 10%.

Hidden Worlds Cenote Park

img1Bimg1AHidden Worlds offers access to some of the region’s best cenotes. Cenotes are sinkholes with rocky edges containing clear groundwater. They are often connected by underground rivers and offer refreshing swimming and snorkeling on hot days. Your experience at Hidden Worlds will be less crowded and offer something found nowhere else. A skycycle! This is about the most unusual form of transportation ever invented. You cycle through the jungle tree tops to a remote cenote where you can snorkel in an underground river. Then, you skycycle back for a great lunch and some local souvenir shopping.

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You can either trek through the jungle along well marked trails or ride the home made jungle buggy to and from your destination. Besides the cenotes, they have ziplines and rappel lines for some added adventure. Be sure to try the zipline into the cenote with a splash down at the end. After you try it forward, be really adventurous and try it backwards.

Yucatan Explorer ATV Jungle Tour

img1DThis tour is either very dusty or very muddy depending on the time of year so wear your swimsuit and some clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. This is the original ATV tour company in the Yucatan and img1Ctakes you on a two hour jungle tour to a fantastic, clear, 60 foot deep cenote for a swim. You may also climb Mayan ruins as part of your adventure. Helmets are mandatory and be sure to purchase one of the bandanas for sale when you sign up for the tour. They are less than fifty cents and are priceless in the dust or mud.

Xplor

img23Xplor offers the best of three worlds. On the ground, above the ground and under the ground. This unique park has Amphibious Vehicles you drive on img2Etwo different circuits through both jungle trails, into underground grottos and over hanging bridges. The trails are over three miles long and while not difficult, require a licensed eighteen year old driver. Above ground there are several zip line circuits including one that carries you through seven different towers without ever setting foot back on the ground. Or zip line into deep img24natural cenotes for a refreshing water landing. Underground there are two different rafting circuits where you paddle your raft through crystal clear underground rivers with thousand year old rock formations overhead. If you want to get really wet again, take the aquatic trail and swim through the subterranean rivers formed 65 million years ago.

img25Xplor is all-inclusive and includes an incredible buffet lunch and fantastic fruit drinks custom mixed at the snack bar. You are provided with a helmet when you enter that has a coded chip installed. At various points in the park cameras will take your photo and you can walk up to one of the many photo kiosks and it will read your chip and show you every photo you are in. The photos are available for purchase as a package when you leave the park. Great souvenirs!

img1EThe Riviera Maya offers so much that one visit just won’t do. Plan on visiting often and know there will always be something new to do. This is Mexico but is far removed from the problems that plague the nightly news. The people are friendly and English is spoken everywhere. Take the same precautions you take when traveling anywhere and this will be one of the most enjoyable family vacations you will ever experience. Welcome to the jungle!

Hacienda Tres Rios
1-800-494-9173
http://www.haciendatresrios.com

Hotel Akumal Caribe
1-800-351-1622
http://www.hotelakumalcaribe.com 

Centro Ecologico Akumal
(011) (52) (984) 875 9095
http://www.ceakumal.org 

Xcaret
(011) (52) 998-883-0470
http://www.xcaret.com/ 

Hidden Worlds
(011) (52) 984-115-4514
http://www.hiddenworlds.com

Yucatan Explorer ATV Jungle Tour
(011) (52) 94 87 31626
http://www.atvexplorer.com 

Xplor
(011) (52) [998] 849 5275
http://www.xplor.travel/