For some 80 miles, extending south from Cancún, the warm turquoise-green Caribbean Sea gently bathes the sugar-sand beaches of Mexico’s eastern shore. This spectacular stretch of bleached-white coastline is known as the Riviera Maya and has become the Caribbean’s most popular vacation destination. With year-round temperatures typically in the 80s F, plenty of sunshine, modern infrastructure, and first class healthcare, the Riviera Maya is also home to those who have discovered their retirement paradise here.
For the same reasons that five million tourists a year spend their hard-earned vacation dollars along this gorgeous length of coastline, expats have discovered that this vacation Mecca is also a wonderful place to spend their retired years. And with over 1,000 restaurants serving all types of international cuisine, and a selection of activities, boredom is never on the menu.
1. Make a Splash in and on the Water
Jet-skis are common here and can be rented from vendors right on the beach, up and down the coast.. These can hit high speeds for the thrill-seekers, but are also great for exploring clear bays and shallow areas around islands and mangroves, offering unique, private transportation to that hidden cove or secluded stretch of beach.
Marine life enthusiasts can take a boat out over the reef and watch schools of Atlantic Sailfish, White Marlin, Dorado, and other predatory species, as they search for sardines and other easy prey. Boating is also a great excuse to try water skiing and wakeboarding, or just to cruise along with a cooler full of cold drinks.
Swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving are also extremely popular along the Riviera Maya, as the tepid waters of the Caribbean are crystal clear and teeming with sea life. If you’d rather stay above the water, you can rent kayaks, power boats, and sail boats all along the coast, or you may want to take up surfing.
2. Get to Know the Area’s Archeological History
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is an archeological nucleus for the Maya culture. The area is dotted with dozens of ancient ruins that are easily accessible to the public, and a few that require a bit of a hike through the jungle. Some sites, like Chichen Itza, are impressive examples of the dominant culture of the time.
Exploring and becoming familiar with the archeological treasures of the Maya culture can involve trips to local museums, ruins, and even visits to the local villages and homes of Mayan ancestors. Living within a stone’s throw of several ancient ruins and seeing the ancestors of this ancient culture is truly magical and seems almost surreal.
3. Adventure Touring
Jungle hikes, zip lining, river explorations, cave exploring, and even off-road biking are all easily accessible in this area. If you want to set out on your own for some exploring, this is the place, although dozens of tour companies offer a variety of packages to every imaginable destination.
My advice is to grab a map, Google some interesting-looking locations, and go on a road trip for a few days. My wife and I recently drove from Cancún, south to the Belize border, exploring small towns, lakes and side roads along the way.
4. The Night Life…Great Restaurants and Shows
Granted, a large number of folks considering a retired life overseas may be a few years past the “party ‘till you drop” stage of their lives. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some great shows and nighttime entertainment, and the Riviera Maya has a lot to offer. With over 700 restaurants in Cancún, and hundreds more in Playa del Carmen and Tulúm, there is literally a restaurant for every taste and budget.
And if you want to take in some entertainment in the process, you can splurge for a spectacular dinner show at Cirque du Soleil’s new performance theater, or perhaps enjoy the Mayan Review show at La Habichuela in Cancún. And for a full-blown, super night club experience, you simply can’t do better than the ear pounding, spectacular multi-sensory production at Coco Bongo.
For a quieter evening, stroll along Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue, with its range of chic, upscale cafés, to larger venues with live entertainment.
5. Clubs, Causes and Civic Organizations
For those civic and community minded folks, the Riviera Maya won’t disappoint. There are many animal rescue and assistance organizations all along the coast. One of which is Cause for Paws, based in the small community of Puerto Morelos. The Rotary Club of Playa del Carmen (members are all expats) is thought to be the largest Rotary outside the U.S and has a number of projects running throughout the year.
The expats in Tulúm are involved with all things supporting ecology. You can often find recycling projects or beach cleanups all along the coast, and if you want to help kids, you can connect with The Little Yellow Schoolhouse on Isla Mujeres.
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