5 Lessons I Learned From Living on the Riviera Maya

The Riviera Maya is a glorious stretch of perfect Caribbean coastline extending the length of the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Framed by the vibrant, turquoise-green waters of the Caribbean Sea, this 80-mile expanse of sugary sand and swaying coconut palms has made this area the number one vacation destination in the Caribbean. I’m fortunate to live here full-time.

It’s not only the photo-perfect beaches, great weather, and tropical vacation lifestyle that makes this place special. There is also the visible presence of the ancient Maya culture—from its descendants to the countless physical ruins—that permeates this region of Mexico and infuses it with a calming influence, almost an ethereal, otherworldly vibe. Admittedly, you need to escape the all-inclusive resorts, giant Margaritas and oversized, photo-prop sombreros to feel anything other than a gleeful vacation ambiance, but living here full-time almost demands a more spiritual exploration.

And while the beauty of this place is immediately evident, you must allow for more than a visual experience. Maya influences, great weather, and the Riviera Maya’s magnificent tropical beaches and vast, lowland jungles have important lessons to teach.

1. Treat Each Day Like a Decadent Dessert

Savor and taste each moment. Whenever I speak with new arrivals, whether they are on a short vacation or have just begun to plant themselves in the sandy soil of their newly selected retirement destination, I am astonished at the speed at which they move. Life north of the border demands that you move quickly in order to survive and thrive in such a fast-paced environment. But the Riviera Maya offers the perfect environment to apply the brakes and encourage the healing of wounded, overwrought spirits.

Life on the Rivera Maya moves at a much slower, gentler pace. Nothing here is done in a hurry, and self-care and love for family take precedence over work and business. Mid-day rests are routine and family-owned businesses close their doors to celebrate a birthday or wedding. For those accustomed to living at high speed, this can be annoying…at first. Then you come to realize that you’ve had it wrong, all along.

Life here teaches you that each moment is to be savored and appreciated.

2. Don’t Worry About Time

Here on the Riviera Maya, time is a fluid concept. You learn that it doesn’t matter if the repair guy shows up at 2 p.m. as he said, or at 6 p.m. while you’re eating dinner, or even two weeks later. It’s no big deal. You’ll adjust.

Eventually, you will adapt to this lifestyle, not worrying about it at all. You might even put your wristwatch in a drawer once you realize that you sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, and appointments are understood to be approximate times, within reason of course.

This departure from compulsive timekeeping provides an immeasurable freedom, and leaves you wondering why you ever cared about what time it was in the first place.

3. Say “Yes” to New Experiences

Some of us are programmed to say “No” as our default setting, but in the Riviera Maya, you’ll find that saying “Yes” will lead to a lot more exciting adventures.

This is the place to stretch your boundaries and move outside your normal zone of comfort: Ride a bus to explore a new and distant destination. Sample a new food that you wouldn’t ordinarily try. Accept that invitation to a local child’s birthday party. Speak your uncertain, flawed Spanish with a smile to those you meet and watch them respond with kindness. Attend festivals and films you won’t initially understand. Work hard to make friends with locals even though your language skills may be marginal. In fact, invite a local couple to dinner at your home and laugh together as you work through communicating.

Tulum, Riviera Maya, Mexico
There’s a lot more to the Riviera Maya than just perfect beaches.

Most of all, recognize that many things in this country will be new and unfamiliar and the Riviera Maya is the perfect place to practice saying “Yes.”

4. Move Through Your Fears

Our family mantra is: don’t permit rear to be the thief that steals the life you could have. Cultivate your bravery and if you aren’t naturally brave, pretend to be brave. The result will be the same.

I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t do those things that made me a bit fearful, I’d likely not do much of anything at all. The Riviera Maya offers ample opportunities for explorations and adventures outside of what we’re used to. Some may be small, like exploring a new section of the city. Others may be a bit more challenging. From traversing underground caves and water-filled cenotes, to visiting new small villages and large cityscapes, the Riviera Maya is filled with opportunities for personal growth.

If you’re not looking for a physical adventure, try a culinary one instead…like fresh, homemade tamales. And the food prepared in the modest home of a Maya village elder is amazing!

5. Let Go and Learn to Trust What Comes

Perhaps the greatest lesson you can learn from living on the Riviera Maya is to let go and trust! Like many of us, I previously scheduled everything. I had no place for spontaneity. Now, I often plan nothing and just allow the nameless day to take me where it will, open to all possibilities.

These days, I’m not so much a navigator and pilot as I am a passenger with only a vague sense of my direction. I have worked to make spontaneity a lifestyle. Not every day, of course, but many days, and the Riviera Maya is the perfect environment to practice such a life.

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