For many Americans, Mexico has been a cheap and easy escape for decades. In fact, Canadians and Europeans have jumped on that band wagon, as well as even those from lands down under. Of course I knew the geography had been changing, it has been all over the news and travel shows, but as I personally had not been south of the border as of late, I did not realize how much of an impact this had on our neighbors, the famous tequila loving country below Texas. Then I flew into Cancun. The sleepy little town in the state of Quinta Roo with fond memories I had, has been transformed into 20 miles of endless towering hotels and strip malls. It was absolutely horrifying. Not an inch of the endless white sand beaches were to be seen. The same m.o. for Playa Del Carmen and sadly, even Tulum.
If you love all inclusive resorts where you can lounge at the pool all day and have room service and spa appointments, with no intention of ever leaving the property, then I suppose Cancun and the Riviera Maya region, may just be what you are looking for. Don't expect to interact with any local culture or see animals which are not in a controlled environment. Akin to Las Vegas, but without the casinos or easy access tram. Accommodation is pricey, but flights here are still very affordable, so the masses still come. All is not lost however, the farther South or inland you head, the better your experience will be ( in my most humble opinion ). A trip to the Mexican Caribbean can be based anywhere between Cancun and Tulum, but at a minimum you should experience these top 3 destinations within this 100 miles stretch of Mexico's eastern shore.
Xenotes = See Note Ays. You might also see them written as "cenotes". Refreshingly cool, fresh water sink holes, where you can swim, snorkel, dive and explore an underground system hundreds of miles long, throughout the region. There are many of these locations in Quinta Roo, some are complete road side attractions, others more difficult to find. Most are the property of Mexico with entrance fees and rules and regulations, some privately owned. For the most part, you will end up visiting the road side options, which can be very busy, but well worth your time. I am not a diver, but you can take guided trips which begin in one cave and end in another, which would be truly magical i'd imagine. We know they are all interconnected, because the government has spent time and effort tagging turtles and amphibians, finding them from one cenote to the next, depending on the time of year. Additionally, when hurricanes come through the area, all of these fresh water caverns fill equally with water at the same time. Pretty incredible. It is very hot and quite humid in these jungles and the fresh water swims bring a delightful diversion to the beach. Entry fees range from 50 - 100 pesos per person, most have changing rooms and lockers as well as require showering before getting into the fresh water pools. Some even have a cafe on site, or even tequila tasting, with optional souvenirs.
Next up....one of the Seven Wonder's of the World. This claim to fame does change periodically as new discoveries make the list, but Chichen Itza has been a top world destination for many decades, with over 1.2 million visitors per year. Not the tallest Mayan ruin in the area, but certainly the most spectacular. Roads leading here are paved and signage is relatively easy to follow should you decide to rent a car. If this is the case, leave early and arrive at opening (9 am) with about 200 pesos in hand. Though you may see many vehicles parked on the road outside this UNESCO World Heritage site, I suggest paying the extra to park inside, so that you don't get any side swipe action whilst you are inside touring. There are a slew of local guide options who can also bring you here for the day, which may be the best way to arrive. Actually located in the next state over from Quinta Roo, the Yucatan. Depending on your location, it will take up to 2.5 hours to reach, making for a long day. As the second most visited site in all of Mexico, be prepared for crowds. Also be prepared for hawkers looking to sell you everything from a shot glass to a whistle which apparently sounds like a Jaguar. It's going to be hot. Bring water. The "Mouth of the Well of the Itza" was one of the largest Mayan populations in the region and thrived between 600 AD and 1221. Though you are unable to hike to the top of the pyramid, comfortable walking shoes are strongly suggested. There are places to grab a drink or food onsite, however, I recommend taking the time to stop in the city of Valladolid for sustenance before heading back to your accommodation. With a vast number of great eateries and fabulous shops, it is a must see and do, only about 45 minutes away, heading back towards the coast.
Lastly, my favorite. If I were to go back to Mexico's Eastern shore again, this is where I would stay. Sian Ka'an. The largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean, and another UNESCO World Heritage site. Mayan for "where the sky and waters meet as one", with incredibly diverse flora, fauna and marine life, this is THE SPOT to spend time. You can stay in Punta Allen with a bit of logistic help from the locals, as this vast reserve is quite a bit off the beaten path. I would also highly recommend Mexico Kan Tours and their amazing guide Pluma. Be sure to ask for him by name. You will know you found the right guy, by the feather in his hair. Seriously, he is amazing. He works closely with the local Mayan tribes and though originally from Mexico City, he speaks Mayan and knows more about the biosphere, it's history and diversity, than you will get anywhere else in the region. Pluma can also help you find proper accommodation in the park as well as guide you through some of those local cenotes, we chatted about earlier. From Manatees to Dolphins to over 300 species of Birds, this is an outdoor lovers paradise. Sian Ka'an is adjacent to a vast jungle; with a massive mangrove forest full of American Crocodiles and a plethora of incredible feathered friends, as well as a pristine reef with aquamarine crystal clear Caribbean waters full of brightly colored fish.
Ok! Start planning your trip. I was here during the month of July, low season, but still very busy as well as very hot and very humid.
High season is November to March, especially around the holidays, so try to book early. Any questions?
I am happy to help strategize and work on logistics.
You can always reach me @accordingtouna.
Looking forward to hearing how your trip goes!