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Sun, Surf, and Sightseeing on the Riviera Maya, Mexico

Sun, Surf, and Sightseeing on the Riviera Maya, Mexico

Recently some friends in the U.S. emailed me to say that they were planning a short trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Cancun is a direct, four-hour flight from their East-Coast home, so they could be snorkeling in the Caribbean by early afternoon. That’s about as close to instant gratification as international travel gets. And it makes a three- or four-day mini-vacation very feasible.

Cancun can be great fun—I’ve learned to appreciate its First-World shopping and fine dining since I’ve lived in the Yucatan Peninsula. But my friends aren’t actually planning to stay there. Thanks to the Peninsula’s newly-improved highways, plenty of destinations are within easy striking distance of Cancun’s airport.

My friends want to visit Tulum, about 90 minutes from the airport. Playa del Carmen, which they’ll pass along the way, is half that far.

I’ve suggested that they catch lunch in Playa. I’ve always like Playa’s low-rise, boho chic, and the trendy shops and restaurants along Fifth Avenue. Sitting at an outdoor table, with a cold drink and fresh, tasty food before them, my friends can watch the street action and shift to vacation mode. In Playa, that doesn’t take very long.

Then it’s on to Tulum. This little town takes “laid-back” to a whole new level. Sure, I know there are some great restaurants and spas here. But personally, I never seem to get much farther than the beaches, which are some of the world’s most gorgeous—all white sand and turquoise water.

Sitting in a lounger under an umbrella, listening to the rhythmic whoosh of waves on sand, is a favorite way to meditate. (Actually, it’s so relaxing that it tends to lull me to sleep.)

But my friends—though they love the beach—are basically action types. I know that they’ll want to spend at least one day exploring something new.

Last time they came to Tulum, we made a trip inland to visit the Mayan ruins at Coba. So this time I’ve suggested Valladolid.

It’s only about 90 minutes from Tulum, along a good inland road. But it’s like walking into the past… a lovely little colonial city with seven historic barrios, or neighborhoods. Its main square, the zócalo, is tree-lined and tranquil. Near sunset the birds—it sounds like hundreds—start singing so loudly you can barely hear yourself. Locals come out for their afternoon stroll and vendors wheel out their carts to sell ice pops, sno-cones, or grilled corn-on-the-cob with chile.

I figure that Valladolid is the perfect yin to the beach’s yang. Plus there’s a restaurant there that makes great cochinita pibil—pork in pibil sauce, a Peninsula specialty.

Sun, surf, and colonial splendor? Not a bad combination for a three-day trip.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Mexico and other countries in IL’s daily postcard e-letter. Sign up for these free daily postcards here and we’ll send you a free special report – Why Millions of Americans Are Moving to Mexico.

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