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, we 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.
Swim With Sharks
Our 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.
Founded by the late chef David Sterling in 2003, Los Dos is an excellent cooking school located in a beautiful colonial house in the heart of Mérida. The school’s primary mission is to differentiate Yucatecan cooking from that of other Mexican regions. The “Taste of Yucatán,” an eight-hour, English-language program, begins with a fascinating lecture on the Yucatán’s culinary history and continues with a tour of Mérida’s lively central market, before returning to Los Dos, for the hands-on cooking class. This lesson was an experience that taught us more about the Yucatán than any history book ever could.
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, located on Mamitas Beach, attracts some of the best musicians and performers from across Mexico.