- Riffing on Mayan ruins
- Beachfront Boca Paila
- Barefoot and bohemian
- Fantasy island
- All white now
- Playa’s party central
- Less-is-more luxe
- Tropical Caribbean seaside
- White of appeal
- Remote Riviera shores
Riviera Maya Overview
- Crystal-clear Caribbean
- Coast life
- Back-to-nature sensuality
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived off Mexico’s Riviera Maya in the 16th century, they found an idyllic Caribbean coast of white sand beaches and turquoise waters…
Beneath these glistening bays, a barrier reef runs almost the length, from the Belizean border in the south to the Yucatan peninsula’s north-east tip. Some of the world’s finest dive sites are found around these tropical shores, where you’ll also find majestic Mayan ruins at Tulum and inland at Cobá. The Riviera Maya has a whole network of underground cenotes (limestone sinkholes), which you can dive, swim and snorkel in. Playa del Carmen has seen new visitors in recent decades as people have been drawn in by the laid-back lifestyle, perfect climate and beautiful beaches. Cancún was hand-picked in the Seventies as Mexico’s new holiday hotspot, touted as an alternative to loco Acapulco. The one-time undeveloped sand spit now welcomes more than two million people a year to its dazzling shores.
Remarkably Riviera Maya
The clifftop ruins at Tulum are not the finest Mayan art-and-architecture examples around (they were built long after the civilisation went into decline), but their spectacular location above the Caribbean does plenty to compensate. Grand and angular, they ascend skywards from their perch overlooking the shore. It was near here that the Mayans first encountered the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
- Hail them in the Playa del Carmen for shorter journeys, or ask your hotel to call one for you. Make sure you establish a price for your trip before you set off as few taxis have meters.
- Tipping culture
- Wages are low in this part of the world and most workers survive on their tips; 10–15 per cent is the norm, although taxi drivers won’t usually expect anything.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Shops generally open early and close at around 9pm, taking a siesta between 1pm and 2pm and 4pm and 5pm. Banks often close at 1pm, but you’ll be able to change money at one of the numerous casas de cambio.
- Packing tips
- Your regular beach-bound kit (swimwear, sunglasses, bucket and spade), and a beginner’s guide to archaeology, in case all those ruins make you want to jump around like a jungle-clearing explorer.
- Recommended reads
- Brush up on your Mayan history with A Forest of Kings by David Freidel, and have those temple inscriptions explained with Reading the Maya Glyphs by Michael D Coe.
- The chilli of choice in the Riviera Maya is the habanero, the one with the most intense spiciness – watch out for it as an eye-watering accompaniment in salsa form. The Caribbean shores bring in a daily catch, and a popular dish is ceviche – seafood marinated in lime or lemon juice. Other regional dishes include sopa de lima (lime soup with shredded chicken), huevos motuleños (eggs on a tortilla with beans, peas, ham, sausage and cheese) and poc chuc (chargrilled pork marinated in sour orange juice, with black beans and onions). Venison is often served wrapped in banana leaves, with a sauce made from squash seeds.
- Mexican peso (the US dollar is also widely accepted).
- Time zone
- GMT -6 hours.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for Mexico: 52; Playa del Carmen: 984; Cancún: 998.
- Do go/don't go
- The climate is normally excellent all year round. August and Christmas are very busy, so spring generally provides the best combination in terms of good weather and fewer crowds. Easter is a popular holiday all over Mexico, so book hotel rooms as early as possible if you’re planning to go then. August to October is hurricane season in the Caribbean, so be aware that this is a potential hazard.
Don't go home without...
…visiting Sian Ka’an, a Unesco-protected biosphere reserve filled with mangrove swamps, savannahs, freshwater lagoons and a barrier reef. It’s a nature-lover’s dream. And you can sail through it by boat.