Along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, on the eastern shore of the Yucatán Peninsula, lies an 80-mile stretch of stunning, palm-studded, sugar-sand beach known as the Riviera Maya. Kissed by the warm, tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea, this stretch of paradise is teeming with sea life, attracting divers, snorkelers, and sport fishermen from across the globe. The world’s second largest reef system provides shelter from tropical storms as well as offering a sustaining presence for the ecosystem and tons of recreational opportunities. In fact, my wife Diane and I recently took a semi-submersible boat ride along the reef where large, submerged windows provided unrestricted views of giant sea turtles and all manner of fish and coral formations only a few feet away.
You will also find an abundance of Maya ruins that are accessible to the public. Climb ancient pyramids and take a guided tour to learn the secrets of the Maya culture, like how they managed to construct giant limestone structures that have survived for thousands of years.
The Riviera Maya is not a precise location but rather a region or section of Mexico’s Caribbean coastline framing the Yucatán Peninsula. Running from just south of Cancún on the north, down the coast to Punta Allen, this stretch of postcard-perfect beach includes the cities, towns, and villages of Cancún, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Tulúm, and Punta Allen at the southernmost point.
Formerly known as the Cancún-Tulúm Corridor, a local politician pushed for the renaming of this region to the Riviera Maya back in 1999, understanding the marketing appeal of such a name change. He was correct. The word “riviera” means a coastal region with a subtropical climate and vegetation, and the Riviera Maya is the perfect example of such a place. The name change also honors the indigenous Maya civilization which still has a prominent presence in this region.
Thanks to a large, efficient international airport in Cancún, a noteworthy public relations campaign, and the almost unbelievable, gorgeous beaches, the Riviera Maya has become the Caribbean’s number one vacation destination with over 5 million tourists visiting each year.
The area hosts two popular islands. The small island of Isla Mujeres (just offshore of Cancún) is easily accessible by a fleet of modern ferries and is popular with tourists and locals alike for day trips. There is also a sizeable population of expats living on the island and even larger number of snowbirds who descend on the island in the winter, wanting to avoid the cold weather up north.
The much larger island of Cozumel, just offshore of Playa del Carmen, is a bustling cruise ship port and has its own international airport. Cozumel is also served by a fleet of modern ferries from Playa del Carmen and is a noted international dive destination.
The weather on the Riviera Maya is warm and tropical, with average annual temperatures of around 78 F and summer highs in the high 80s F and low 90s F, with ample humidity.
As an iconic vacation destination, the Riviera Maya may be best known for its abundance of luxurious, all-inclusive resorts. These opulent properties are found occupying much of the prime, oceanfront real estate with a smaller percentage of private residences and condos mixed in. While Mexican law dictates that all beaches are open to the public, access to these beaches is strictly controlled by the private, gated resorts and condo complexes. However, there are public access points and public beaches. Once on the sand, you are free to walk the length of the beach and utilize any portion that you wish.
Cancún, with its modern airport, is the most active transportation hub in the area. With an enormous fleet of taxis, buses, and mini-vans, you don’t need to own a vehicle to live in Cancún. This is a modern city with a stable electric grid, high-speed internet, and a water and sewer system that keeps up with demands.
Well designed to serve the vibrant tourism industry, Cancún boasts over 700 restaurants, an estimated 500 hotels and resorts, dozens of clubs and nightspots, and modern shopping centers and theaters. Add in the numbers of similar businesses in Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, and Tulúm, and the total number of hospitality and restaurant businesses is well over 2,000, not counting the tour operators.
Those who live in Cancún are sometimes heard to say that it is not really Mexico, and as a resident I must agree. Cancún and much of the Riviera Maya is more of an international community with strong Mexican and Maya influences. English is frequently, if not perfectly, spoken, and those with U.S dollars to spend, rather than Mexican pesos, will be promptly served.
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