Destination Discovery: Riviera Maya/Tulum
Along the Caribbean coastline of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula lies a sliver of white-sand-and-aquamarine-sea heaven—the popular destination of the Riviera Maya/Tulum region is a dose of culture and a lot of protected, preserved natural wonders exploding with vibrant hues. Here, sea creatures mix with emerald jungle foliage, and luxury resorts mingle with ancient Mayan civilizations. If it sounds spectacular, that’s because it is—it’s a safe bet you’ll be besotted with this Mexican-Caribbean paradise and never want to leave.
Where to Stay
Taking the place of the fishing villages that once dotted the Riviera Maya coast are extravagant hotels and resorts with sprawling golf courses, beautiful spa facilities—many offering traditional Mayan-inspired treatments—and easy access to the sandy shores. And while there are plenty of locations to choose from, Barceló Maya Beach Resort may be a good pick: It’s a beachfront multi-complex of five all-inclusive hotels—Barceló Maya Palace Deluxe; Barceló Maya Colonial; Barceló Maya Caribe; Barceló Maya Tropical; and Barceló Maya Beach—that allows you to select which best suits your travel needs, whether you’re vacationing with family, taking a honeymoon, or reserving a solo seaside stay.
Seeking cheaper digs? Try Tulum, known for its boutique bungalow-, cabana-, and palapa-style properties. This area does feature its share of high-end resorts, however—options include Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa, where gourmet meals, guest rooms, and nearly all other amenities, from pool and beach wait service to live nightly entertainment, are covered under its “Unlimited-Luxury®” concept.
Where to Spa
Situated on the site of a cenote and bordered by natural jungle, the 90,000-square-foot Spa at Grand Velas Riviera Maya easily satisfies. A 60-minute trip through the Riviera Maya Water Journey hydrotherapy circuit at this 42-treatment-room spa is included with each service (a clay room, ice room, and experience pool are among the eight steps).
Additionally, there’s the unique Kinan Spa at Belmond Maroma Resort, which boasts a design founded on the principles of sacred geometry calculated by Mayan astrologists. Another fun fact: The spa was constructed by the same family of native masons and woodworkers who built the resort 40 years ago. Notice the shell flooring and the hand-sewn beams made from Zapote trees as you make your way to one of the treatment rooms (request one with a private garden or one of the outdoor massage palapas; for the ultimate indulgence, ask for the rooftop tower room with awesome sea and jungle views). As well, those seeking a truly authentic experience should book the temazcal, the Mayan version of a sweat lodge.
Where to Snack
The luxurious, award-winning Rosewood Mayakoba resort paired the grand opening of its La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen with cooking classes that emphasize authentic Mayan culinary techniques and Mayan-Mexican dishes. The two-hour classes, held Mondays and Wednesdays, cater up to eight (private lessons are available upon request) and began January 2015; the debut also overlapped with the launch of the resort’s A Sense of Taste program, which introduces guests to regional gastronomy.
What to See
The Tulum ruins, of course. At this pre-Columbian Mayan fortress city, experience captivating views of the Caribbean Sea and beaches while educating yourself on this preserved archaeological site. Take time to explore, then walk the pathway around the ruins to a flight of stairs that leads you to a small beach. Cool off with a dip in the water to cap off this truly mystical experience.
Other sightseeing attractions include Xel-Ha, the largest natural aquarium worldwide, and Playa del Carmen, a hotspot popular for clubbing, shopping, and dining.
Where to Sweat
So you won’t sweat per se, but rather get wet with our workout recommendations for this region. Take advantage of the looming seaside presence—snorkel along the 600-mile Great Maya Reef, which stretches from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to Belize (plus, provides the opportunity to view the approximately 500 aquatic species that call the Riviera Maya home); cave dive in the remarkable (and abundant) cenotes; and top off your stay with a visit to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a protected area whose lush landscape extends from beaches and wetlands to freshwater lagoons and mangroves—it’s prime for kayaking, fishing, and swimming.