Things to Do in Riviera Maya & the Yucatan - page 2
Love it or hate it, Avenida Kukulkan is a Cancun strip where nearly all visitors will end up. If you’re staying at one of the oceanfront resorts across from Nichupte Lagoon, Avenida Kukulkan is the pulsing thoroughfare that leads to all of the resorts. Lined with shops, restaurants, cafés, and thumping late nightclubs, it’s also home to what many visitors consider as Cancun’s best shopping. And, while brand name stores and high end labels aren’t very difficult to find, there are still pockets of local boutiques selling traditional, handmade Yuacatan crafts for those who take the time to explore.
The stores and restaurants and shopping malls aside, one of the best activities on Avenida Kukulkan is simply going for walk. Along the length of this long, flat strip, visitors can marvel at the manicured resorts and their ornately designed entranceways, or get views looking out at Nichupte Lagoon and people watch by the shops.
Less than 1% of the Earth is covered in coral—yet these reefs are home to over 25% of the world’s total marine species. Unfortunately, despite their abundance of biodiversity, coral reefs across the globe are in a serious state of decline. That said, in places like the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park off the island’s southern coast, the establishment of a protected coral reserve is helping the reef to thrive.
In the warm waters off Cozumel’s coast, 26 different species of coral house 300 species of fish. Some fish, like the Splendid Toadfish, are endemic to the reefs of Cozumel—which means that the fish are only found here in these colorful castles in the sand. Hawksbill and green sea turtles are frequently spotted in the marine park’s 29,000 acres, which also encompasses mangrove forests and sandy sections of shoreline.
Take a break from the beaches of Cancun to explore artifacts from Mexico’s ancient past at the Maya Museum, one of the largest created by the National Institute of Anthropology and History. Inside the museum, visitors can see incredible items recovered from sites like Chichen Itza and Tulum, including the Woman of the Palms, ancient skeletal remains found submerged in a water-filled cave near Tulum. Next to the museum is an ancient archaeological site called San Miguelito, where visitors can stroll among the ruins and gardens.
This beachfront park has seemingly endless options for activities on the Caribbean Sea. From swimming in the warm ocean and playing in the sand to splashing around the water park or floating in one of the many pools, there are a variety of ways to enjoy a day in and on the water.
Day passes offer access to the many facilities, including beachfront lounge chairs and hammocks, reef tours and snorkeling, and options for massage, photos and scuba diving. Get there early to grab a chair closest to the water. There are dozens of beach games and water toys, themed pools and slides and even an underwater Mayan city to explore.
When you get tired from all the splashing, there is a buffet and full bar to keep you going, as well as a Mexican cooking workshop and shopping center with handicrafts, clothes and jewelry to take home with you.
This new theme park grants visitors the opportunity to experience the many parts of Mexico while visiting Cozumel. It showcases the history, culture and art of the country through several indoor and outdoor exhibitions.
Visitors can weave through an outdoors timeline with miniature scale models of famous sites and check out the art museum featuring handmade Mexican artisanal crafts. There are showings of a film about Mexico’s history and sights in their video experience room, as well as traditional Mexican food and beverages at the snack bar. For a relaxing yet colorful experience, take a stroll through the tropical gardens.
Mexican music can be heard throughout the park and both new and old Mexican architecture can be seen all over, making for an experience that covers both traditional and contemporary Mexico.
The Island of Cozumel was first incorporated into the Mayan Empire around 0 AD, and was apparently a thinly populated backwater, primarily important as a ceremonial island for women from the mainland. Although 24 archaeological sites have been identified, most are small and as yet unexcavated. The San Gervasio Ruins, dating to around 300 AD, are by far the largest and best developed for tourism, but still won't impress tourists hoping for the grand pyramids of the Mayan Imperial Cities. Adjust your expectations, however, and the sacred gardens of Ixcel, the Goddess of Fertility and Rainbows, are a serene escape. Most of the low, stone structures cluster around a central plaza, which archaeologists suspect was enhanced with wood and adobe building. The main temple, however, was probably the large Ka'na Na building, located close to the cenotes, or natural wells. There are several other intriguing ruins scattered throughout the jungle, all awaiting your personal interpretation.
Playa Uvas is one of the newer private beach clubs in Cozumel, and it is the closest to downtown and the piers. Facing the white sands and the turquoise waters, the club sits directly on the coastline and offers a variety of beach activities to its visitors. For the adventurous, there are snorkel tours, parasailing and kayaks, while those who would rather relax in the sun and feel the tropical breeze can opt for the lounge chairs, a beachside massage or the pool facilities. There is also a full bar and restaurant, as well as a small shop with souvenirs.
From Playa Uvas it is easy to admire the reefs of nearby Chankanaab National Marine Park. Options range from a day on the water in a catamaran to a day in the water scuba diving.
It’s hard to miss Fifth Avenue (Quinta Avenida) in Playa del Carmen as it is the city’s main street running through the downtown area. Fifth Avenue stretches parallel to the ocean and serves as both a street for cars and a pedestrian walkway for visitors exploring the city. Fifth Avenue is a popular place to rest your head while in Playa del Carmen as the hotels on the street boast an ideal location that provides easy access to the beach as well as being easy walking distance to shops, clubs and restaurants. The shops that line Fifth Avenue are aplenty and visitors can find local artisan crafts, clothing and other fashion accessories, fine jewelry and cigar shops (you can find Cubans here). It’s also not uncommon to see street performers entertaining the masses on Fifth Avenue.
More Things to Do in Riviera Maya & the Yucatan
Cancun’s best, most festive and most authentic fiesta tradition, Xoximilco, is an eponymous throwback and homage to the floating gardens and canals of Mexico City’s famous neighbor-hood Xochimilco. Xochimilco means “field of flowers,”and this Cancun attraction brings all the beauty and splendor of the floating gardens of Mexico City to the tropical paradise of Cancun. Today, a visit to Xoximilco entices guests with Central American traditions like floating flower-strung boats, live music serenades and some of the best food in Cancun.
While the tranquil waters, white beaches, and endless stucco strips of bars and shops that line Cozumel's touristy West Coast provide most vacationers with everything they need, the wild east may be calling to you. The rugged East Coast, facing the waves of the wide-open Caribbean, is much less accessible and developed, which is precisely its appeal. There are many of gorgeous deserted beaches lining the coastal road, but none like El Mirador. This is - emphatically - not a swimming beach. El Mirador lookout rocky point sculpted into an amazing seascape of natural bridges, blowholes, tide pools, and spires, with an astounding sapphire backdrop you'll never forget. Climb the tower for magnificent views.
Near the ancient town of Merida, you’ll find the massive but beautifully ruinous structure known as the Dzibilchaltun Ruins. Though somewhat of a tongue twister for traditional English speakers, the name means “place where there is writing on the stones,” but unfortunately, due to erosion, you’ll no longer find much writing on the stones here. Instead, the intrepid explorer is rewarded with over 8,400 architectural structures to discover, many of which have astronomical (as well as religious) significance. Explore the stunning interior of the Temple of the Seven Dolls, listen to stories of absolute power at the Open Chapel and learn about the rich ancient Mayan civilization that was inhabited all the way through to 1500 A.D. when the Spaniards arrived.
The El Rey Ruins (or Las Ruinas del Rey) are a spectacular archeological site in Cancun's Hotel Zone, with 47 structures estimated to have been inhabited by the Mayans as early as 900 AD. There are two primary platforms and temples believed to be the remains of religious ceremonial buildings and market areas.
El Rey was named for the ceremonial mask and skull found on the site to honor the Mayan Sun God and over the years further excavations have incited speculation over the ruins history. Although, the El Rey Ruins are not as large in size when compared to Chichen Itza, many visitors enjoy taking pictures of the hundreds of Iguanas that call the ruins home. The Iguanas are unafraid of humans as the park guides keep them well-fed with tortillas.
Celestun, a fishing village located along the Yucatan coast, is home to a wildlife refuge within Celestun Biosphere Reserve. The lush landscape of the reserve is full of mangroves and covers over 146,000 acres, making it the ideal place for animals and especially birds to inhabit. The refuge is home to over 300 bird species, including the popular flamingo.
The best way to get to the Celestun Bisophere Reserve and see the wildlife refuge is via boat. You can hire a guide with one in the town of Celestun and then depart for the reserve. You'll travel along the Ria Celestun, from which it’s easy to spot wildlife, and boats can also stop at swimming spots for a refreshing dip.
While the center of Merida is all Spanish Colonial in architecture and layout, Paseo de Montejo is the product of a brief period when the French controlled Mexico and built a grand boulevard lined by mansions. Several upscale hotels, nightclubs, and hot restaurants are on this stretch, retaining their original interesting façades. It’s a pleasant street for walking, with wide shady sidewalks and interesting shops and galleries here and there. It ends at a roundabout with the city’s history laid out in stone on a relief in the center. Just before that are two places showing where we’ve come: a small tourist shopping mall on one side and a Super Wal-mart on the other.
If you stay on this boulevard heading north in a car, eventually it turns into a highway that goes 40 minutes to Progreso’s beach and cruise ship dock, on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a long, hot walk to get here from the center, however, so most visitors see Paseo de Montejo on a horse carriage.
Marvel at more than 100 famous faces (and bodies!) at Cancun's only wax museum. Wax figures from the world of entertainment (music, television, movies, sport and politics included) cover the 7,500-square-foot (700-square-meter) museum, providing visitors with some surreal photo opportunities. Each wax figure has been carefully and meticulously crafted, with everyone from Albert Einstein and Queen Elizabeth to David Beckham and Amy Winehouse on display. With a collection of well-known children's characters as well, the Cancun Wax Museum is especially popular with kids, and is therefore the ideal attraction for families. For maximum convenience and to avoid disappointment, it's best to book a Cancun Wax Museum admission ticket in advance.
Insider's Tip: A visit to the Cancun Wax Museum makes the ideal start or end to a day of shopping; the museum is located inside the La Isla Plaza shopping village in the Cancun Hotel Zone.
Things to do near Riviera Maya & the Yucatan
- Things to do in Playa del Carmen
- Things to do in Cozumel
- Things to do in Cancun
- Things to do in Merida
- Things to do in Progreso
- Things to do in Costa Maya
- Things to do in Valladolid
- Things to do in Chichen Itza
- Things to do in Tulum
- Things to do in Isla Holbox
- Things to do in Bacalar
- Things to do in The Cayes
- Things to do in Petén
- Things to do in Central Highlands
- Things to do in Western Highlands