The Riviera Maya extends for 75 miles south of Cancún to Tulum. In recent years, the area has seen frenetic development, with theme parks and gigantic all-inclusive operations, as well as the upscale Mayakoba complex. Of course, the Yucatán is more than just a beach. The state capital, Mérida, and the colonial city of Valladolid are both exceptionally interesting and attractive. Try to set aside a day to see some of the renowned Mayan ruins such as those at Uxmal. The trendy resort town of Tulum encompasses several notable palaces and temples. Half an hour farther inland is the jungle-cloaked wonder of Cobá. Published in 1843, John L. Stephens’ memoir, “Incidents of Travel in Yucatan,” a wry and readable account of his party’s discoveries of ancient sites, remains a classic on the subject.
Pyramids and Royal Tombs
In addition to the ancient cities noted above, I like the ruins of Ek Balam, which see far fewer tourists than the more famous archaeological sites. Besides the expected pyramids, Ek Balam is notable for its system of defensive walls and an unusually well-preserved royal tomb, fronted by an ornate stucco façade in almost pristine condition.
Snorkeling fans should consider an excursion to Nohoch Nah Chich, a remarkable system of flooded caves, where you can swim among the stalactites and stalagmites. The Río Secreto system offers another opportunity to swim in an otherworldly cave.
Swim With Sharks
My preferred travel partner, Journey Mexico, can arrange a swim with 40-foot whale sharks (July and August afford the best opportunities). Swimming alongside one of these immense and graceful creatures is an unforgettable experience. At any time of year, it is possible to swim with trained dolphins, who seem eager to play and will even push you by your feet through the water.
A Jazz Festival in the Fall
Playa del Carmen’s Riviera Maya Jazz Festival takes place in the fall over the course of three days. The event is located on Mamitas Beach and is free for attendees (fees apply for those wishing to get close to the stage).