People from the US tend to have a love hate relationship with Mexico. They love the idea of the sun, the beaches, the margaritas and Senor Frogs….and they don’t truly love the media hype of Mexico being a dangerous place. As with all destinations, be vigilant. Anywhere you go or live, there are the ‘bad’ areas of town.
The Riviera Maya area- with Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel- is still a hotspot for destination weddings, family reunions, and corporate incentive travel. If you are in this area for any of these reasons, here is what I believe you should not miss!
Also, if you are planning a destination wedding or group corporate travel, it is always a memorable experience for your guests, clients, and employees if you plan day/evening trips and events for them. It is a way of appreciating them while ensuring a fun trip. So, include these 5 spots on your itineraries :).
1) Chichen Itza
This historical city has been declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is on the 100 places to visit before you die (if you are on facebook at all :). From nearly 600 to 1300 B.C.E. Chichen Itza was a prosperous metropolitan that was one of the leading centers for military, political, economic, and religious life in Mesoamerica. At Chichen Itza, there are thousands of ruin sites ranging from the massive central temple, to the famous “ball court”, to hundreds of beautifully crafted homes and palace walls.
Tip: The drive from Cancún or Playa del Carmen is long with endless jungle. I highly recommend taking a tour bus if you are coming from the coast. While I cannot speak for every tour company, the ones reserved from your hotel/resort/timeshare are usually reasonably priced, clean, and classy- plus snacks and drinks are included. Plus, if your an information junkie like I am, the tour guides provide historical detail about the location and the areas along the way- that it makes the trip totally worth it!
3) TulúmThis site is one of most picturesque ruin sites in all of México. Tulúm was occupied later than Chichen Itza, approximately 1200 to 1600 B.C.E. The walls of the city sit directly on the eastern shores of the Yucután Peninsula and overlook crystal clear waters. This site is much more accessible than Chichen Itza if you are staying somewhere along the Riviera Maya coastline- which also means many tourists.
Tip: Guides for this ruin site are available outside of the ruins, although I found them quite pricey to hire on the spot compared to the amount of time the guide spends with you. I personally suggest going with a reputable tour company (possibly recommended by your resort) for the best experience and bang fro your buck. Plus, hectic negotiating in the heat is no fun (at least for me). While having a guide may seem like an extra unnecessary expense, I love the extra history lessons and an explanation of what I am looking at versus “what a cool looking bunch of rocks”. Plus, your money supports the local economy- added bonus.
The site is very hot during the day in the summer months, and I highly recommend you bring your swimsuit to cool off on the beach directly next to the ruins.
4) Xcaret and Xel-Ha
These two attractions are large amusement parks that feature the natural wonders that this area of México has to offer. They aren’t like the amusement parks you may be used to in the United States. They are natural parks, meaning that the attractions are based within the surrounding ecology.
My favorite is hands down Xcaret, which is a snorkel park, a zoo, and a cultural center all rolled into one. It features numerous shows, an underground river, hiking trails, and an aquarium. It is a whole day affair and it is certainly worth it to stay for the evening show! I repeat, stay for the evening show- no matter how much you don’t want to be a tourist.
Xel-Ha is also a full day affair and is primarily a snorkel park. It’s great for those of you who aren’t into either the price or adventure behind taking a snorkel boat trip to one of the reef systems off shore. The park is an inlet from the ocean, which allows for snorkeling in an almost wave free environment. You will likely see many tropical fish, sting rays, and you can even snorkel up to a gate that holds 1,500 lb. manatees. The manatees are cool- swimming with the sting rays just freaked me out. I had to chill out in one of the many hammocks they have around the parks…not a shabby way to relax.
I know, I know, why go to Hard Rock on Cozumel when there are so many other natural and ‘Mexican’ things to see and do on this little island? Because, it’s the smallest Hard Rock Cafe on earth and it is super cute- that is why! Period, end.
Tip: Be sure to check the time of the last ferry off the island- they can change depending on weather and the tides.
Along with the fun comes things to be aware of:
- Don’t drink the tap water (this is my husband typing)!!! While many of the resorts/hotels in this area filter and treat the water, there is still bacteria in the water and you can never be too cautious. Drink bottled water, and if you go to a restaurant there is no harm in asking them to bring you a sealed bottle of water (to ensure that they didn’t just refill an old bottle).
- Know where you are going before you go! Unlike many U.S. cities, the streets are not always adequately marked. Having turn by turn directions to your destination is useful, but not if you are unable read the street signs in order to navigate your way. A map, in my opinion, is absolutely essential. I am sure a GPS unit would help, but you would have to purchase the maps for the area you are traveling to ahead of time.
- Use tour companies that your hotel/resort/timeshare recommends. They are likely to be reputable and honest.
So, that’s it folks! I am personally one who loves Mexico, and have not had a mean or unsafe encounter yet (knock on wood). Playa del Carmen was even where my husband and I chose to honeymoon…’nuff said.
Now, those are my top choices- did I miss any?