Mexico is ideally situated with the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Caribbean Sea to the southeast. A country with such a varied landscape from mountains, deep canyons, and deserts.
It is scattered with remnants of their mythical Mayan past, the extent of this empire is still causing revelations.
The archeological sites are surrounded by lush green forests interspersed with water parks, restaurants, and resorts. The balance between the two has been managed seamlessly in Playa del Carmen and the surrounding area. A mix between old and new give tourists a unique insight into Mayan life whilst taking advantage of the amazing scenery to provide water sports, nightclubs, and eco parks.
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The Grand Bahia Principe Coba is situated in Akumal on the east coast of Mexico, an hour and a half from Cancun.
This resort features nine restaurants, eight bars, a theatre, two pools, a spa, a children’s club, teens club, and children’s water park. The hotel offers paddle boarding, surfing, kayaking, tennis, and snorkeling. Their international entertainment programs are for adults and children both day and night. You could risk a few dollars at their casino or swim with dolphins at their dolphinarium.
They have 90 hectares for golfing, a gym, and aerobics classes. If doing exercise is really what you want to do when you can be sunbathing by the sea. The resort includes a subaquatic activities center to learn how to sail a catamaran or scuba dive.
The inside has a Mediterranean feel with tiled floors, terracotta walls, and large black decorative chandeliers in the foyer.
The thatched huts outside allow you to lounge by the pool and relax during activities. You wouldn’t need to leave this resort, but the breath-taking scenery of Mexico’s east coast awaits you.
Coba is located northwest of Tulum. This ancient Mayan city was once a hub of activity. It has the largest network of stone causeways or roads. Once home to 50,000 people, it was abandoned after the Spanish invaded.
The main pyramid sits like a mountain of stone at 138 feet tall. There are 120 steps which you can climb to the top which seem to rise into the sky in a magnificent feat of engineering. This is unique to still be able to climb to the top of one of these pyramids. A rope down the middle of it will help you get there and when you do the view is stunning.
Thick green forest as far as you can see lies like a blanket over the land and the people wandering around at the bottom like ants.
It can take a couple of hours to walk around the site or hire bicycles to cycle over the 30 square miles of this largely unexcavated site.
The archeological zone of Tulum is a must see. This Mayan Port City was a walled Mayan site from the 13th century. The ruins here lie like a scene from treasure island.
The clifftop Castillo, once a temple, sits on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by greenery and palm trees, overlooking the glistening turquoise sea, which turns to dark blue towards the horizon.
You can get a real sense of the daily life that happened here as you walk amongst the stone village and the pillars that have been standing for centuries, as an iguana scuttles across the stones.
Once a trading and religious center, the site is 62 kilometers south of Playa Del Carmen and a short drive north of Tulum. Partially restored murals can be seen, the colored paint lasting all these centuries later. Each generation added their own architectural style, so the buildings are unique to this region of central America.
The best time to visit is first thing in the morning or before closing while it is quietest, to get a real sense of the atmosphere. Once you have strolled around the ruins you can visit the beach here so you can combine history and relaxing in one.
The archeological zone of Muyil is one of the earliest and longest inhabited by ancient maya just 15 kilometers south of Tulum. The pyramid here is the highest on the riviera coast at 17 meters tall. It rises in the typical step style, a tree growing from the structure, rising up to spread its canopy over the top of the pyramid. There is a wooden boardwalk to stroll along that winds through the forest in this 38-hectare jungle.
The observation tower looks over the lagoon, only nature as far as the eye can see. This site is not as popular, so it is more likely to have it to yourself and drink in the magical atmosphere.
Tankah Pueblo is a local community surrounded by cenotes. Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock which expose water underneath.
Like a large crater in the ground, the water sits meters below. Either use the steps or jump straight in.
There are several cenotes at this site, one, which in parts is gloomy, includes a bat cave, where the bats will fly by over your head from their hideaway amongst the rock ceiling.
Another you can zip line over to view the jungle surrounding you and clear waters below. Bright yellow kayaks await you at the other side so you can row back over the turquoise water.
Another, the blue cenote, is the clearest and the best for snorkeling. The greenery and rocks at the bottom are the habitat for a variety of fish that dart past the swimmers.
The village nearby is a traditional Mayan village. The locals in the village wear white smocks with brightly colored flowers. The thatched houses blend in with the thick forested surroundings. Stop here for lunch and to experience the authentic Mayan way of life.
The lives of the locals here is so different to many people in this modern age. With only 41 residents, this is a close community living traditionally without any of the technological advancements of western society. There are twelve dwellings and only a small proportion have electricity. The village is impressively self-sufficient. Their crops are planted on raised wooden platforms to keep them away from iguanas and other animals.
The wooden houses they live in have no doors, creating a real community feel as families can come and go to each other’s houses, something most westerns would now see as alien as many don’t even know their neighbors.
There is a small pit at one side with a grill over it which serves as the kitchen and a hammock at the other to sleep in. The natives speak Mayan only and make money by creating jewelry and selling honey, collected from local bees. They also cook an authentic meal on firewood for tourists. The food is dished out from huge pots into ceramic bowls and tourists can sit at the rows of wooden benches under one of the thatched buildings to enjoy.
This aquatic theme park is in the state of Quintana Roo and makes the most of
ecotourism. Set in lush jungle with stunning clear waters, this theme park blends naturally with the scenery. There are plenty of activities for thrill seekers, such as cliff jumping, snorkeling, and cycling.
Climb to the lighthouse, 30 meters high, admire the view over the jungle before sliding all the way back down. Or float lazily in a tube along the rivers with the jungle reaching out to you from either side.
Xel-ha has cenotes and coves to swim in or jungle trails to walk along. If you are seeking some adrenaline, the zip lines will take you over the crystal-clear waters. There is a children’s world with activities for the young ones.
This theme park takes advantage of the natural beauty surrounding it, including keeping the ruins of a Mayan city and a Queen Conch Sanctuary which protects this endangered species.
The park has four restaurants and four bars and free bikes to use. Although it would probably be advisable not to use one of the bikes after being at the bar.
There are several other water parks to choose from, such as Xplor Park in Playa del Carmen, with underground caverns to swim through with the stalactites above your head. You can raft through the underground waters, caused by the meteorite that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Whatever water park you choose, will be the most scenic you’ll ever seen. Apart from the water parks, there are plenty of places to swim on the east coast that take in the beautiful surroundings.
The Rio Secreto is a limestone cave system near Playa Del Carmen. It is a protected nature reserve with 38 kilometers of caves. Swim through the clear waters and look up at the stalactites as they stretch from the ceiling and disappear into the water. The lights casting shadows on the formations and creating an atmosphere glow.
Gran Cenote in Tulum is another natural beauty. This limestone cenote and cavern is excellent for snorkeling and you might even catch a glimpse of a turtle. The wooden platforms blend in with the natural scenery of turquoise waters and
This ‘super club’ is a mix between Broadway and a Mexican carnival. Surrounded by colorful buildings lit up like Las Vegas and international restaurants in Riviera Maya. While it may seem to some as a bit tacky or over the top tourist attraction, the atmosphere here will have the most unwilling participant up on their feet.
This is a four hour show full of music, lights, acrobats, live salsa, and glittering costumes. The dance floor enables you to get up and dance with the show, encouraged by the staff who are also dancing like crazy (whaaat?!).
The all-inclusive drinks may also be the reason why you suddenly find yourself wanting to dance.
Pop music, electronic music, movie music, and rock is played as dancers in skimpy costumes and feathered headdresses shake their stuff on the stage. Or when acrobats perform in a cirque du soleil type show, their red ribbons falling down into the crowd as they contort themselves into all shapes. The huge screens at the front are filled with lights and images while a Freddie Mercury lookalike struts around on stage. Confetti, streamers, and balloons fall from the ceiling as the crowd cheer and the lights pulsate.
It may also be the only place on earth where you will find yourself watching Beetlejuice swinging upside down over the audience.
There are standing tickets or ones with a table (which I do NOT recommend, you won't be able to stay still I promise) which are available from most hotels outside Playa Del Carmen. Pick up is usually included.
After a night at Coco Bongo you may need to find yourself a nice quiet spot on the beach the next day to recover, so an activity free day should be planned.
The beauty of Mexico is unique. The lush jungles, historical sites, and tourist resorts all combine seamlessly together to create a holiday with a little bit of everything. The culture of the Mayan is embraced in a country that is also pushing forward with theme parks and a thriving nightlife. The mix of old and new builds a very special culture that can only be found in this part of the world.
To read about a different lush destination head to my Kauai blog post, I'm sure you'll love it.