Located alongside the blue-green waters of the Caribbean, the Mexican state of Quintana Roo offers visitors plenty of sunshine and white beaches in Cancun, its main hot spot. But there is much more to see and do in this part of Mexico, also known as the Mayan Riviera. From the shopping in Playa del Carmen to the seaside Mayan ruins of Tulum, visitors have many options for fun under the Mexican sun.
Just 45 miles south of Cancun, the seaside town of Playa del Carmen serves up a different vibe than the party city of Cancun. Located on Highway 307, the shops along Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) await. Traditional Yucatan crafts, sterling silver jewelry and Mexican textiles occupy charming boutiques. Carved amber jewelry from Chiapas pairs with handsome Mayan guayabera shirts as authentic gift choices. Haggling is expected. Tulum offers shopping, as well, with folk art, T-shirts, and jewelry, and Cozumel is a popular spot for Mexican silver and other types of jewelry.
Playa del Carmen, a one-time fishing village, still takes pride in serving the freshest seafood, along with a variety of other specialties. Breakfast at Media Luna offers selections such as potato zucchini pancakes and crepes. Yaxche offers authentic Mayan cuisine, and Blue Lobster is known for its ceviche and jumbo shrimp. In Cozumel's main town of San Miguel, one shop--Cinco Soles -- fronts a popular restaurant named Pancho's Backyard. The xylophone players add spice to complement the black bean soup and fish tacos. Puerto Aventuras serves up fresh fish, tacos, and good burgers -- as well as karaoke -- at Gringo Dave's and pasta and lobster top the menu at Tiramisu, which overlooks the marina.
Activities on Land
The city of Tulum, located about 40 miles south of Playa del Carmen, features the only pre-Columbian Mayan ruins located on the Caribbean. The ancient stone temples sit on a cliff, overlooking the beach and sea below. The most impressive structure is El Castillo, which is topped by a columned and carved temple. Visitors should arrive early. The ruins open at 8 a.m., and later in the day it gets hotter and more crowded. It's worth the trek to walk down the steps to the beach, where a dramatic photo can be taken of El Castillo perched on the edge of the cliff. Xcaret, six miles south of Playa del Carmen, has a more commercial theme-park feel with its Mayan Village and Ball Court. It includes live entertainment, such as Folklorico dancing, as well as a coral reef aquarium, butterfly garden, and aviary. For more options, tours with AllTournative Adventures--also located in Playa del Carmen--offer such excursions as daylong Coba Mayan expeditions, a Mayan zip-line experience, and a jungle crossing.
Activities on Water
Cenotes, or water-filled sinkholes used as swimming holes, abound in Quintana Roo. Many feature signs along the highway and cost little to visit. Swimming and snorkeling in these cool spots makes for a good afternoon stop. Dolphin experiences dot the Mayan Riviera, and one in Puerto Aventuras (a resort community 16 miles south of Playa del Carmen--is one example of interaction. The complex also features a museum, Museo Sub-Acuatico CEDAM, which displays Mayan artifacts. From Playa del Carmen, visitors take a 45-minute ferry ride to the island of Cozumel, where more attractions await. A visitor favorite is Chankanaab National Park, which features 60 different species of tropical fish, a sea lion show, botanical gardens, and plenty of diving and snorkeling opportunities. Just 10 minutes from Tulum, Xel-Ha makes a cool stop after walking in the heat of the ruins. A natural aquarium and water park, it offers visitors inner tubes for drifting through the crystal clear water. Snorkeling is another popular pastime, as is interacting with dolphins. An all-inclusive ticket covers any food and drink, as well as the price of admission. Colorful parrots inhabit the park, as well as turtles and tons of iguanas. The park also provides tree-strung hammocks for afternoon siestas.