Mexico has ruins, Mexico has beaches. But the only place in the country where you’ll find them both? That’s the Riviera Maya.
Our visit to Riviera Maya was short — only five days – but it was chock full, not only of beaches and ruins, but of tasty local cuisine, lush jungle, psychedelic jellyfish, and even some afternoon karaoke. When I think back, here are some of my favorite memories.
1. Walking along the beach in late afternoon.
This is a simple one: water and long horizons have a calming, relaxing effect on me. Add to that the smell of saltwater and the humidity of the coast and you have my happy place cocktail. So the first thing we did when we arrived? Take a long walk along the beach.
2. Psychedelic jellyfish.
3. Drinking champagne on deck under a full moon.
When we mentioned on our Facebook page having to fend off a cockroach on Valentine’s Day, one of our fans encouraged us to take a “real vacation.” In this moment, champagne flute in hand, it felt as though we had fulfilled her wish.
4. Ogling the size of the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.
Some things never change. The wealthier they are, the bigger they build. Same went for the Maya. Even cooler than the size of Chichen Itza’s El Castillo is the fact that if you clap loud enough along its side, the sound will bounce off the pyramid stone and echo back to you like a bird call. Someone’s clever.
5. Yucatecan lunch at a ruined hacienda.
I’ve already gushed about how excited I was to finally eat puerco pibil and to discover the genius of blended roasted squash seeds, so I won’t bore you by telling it all again. If you have an opportunity to eat a local meal at an old hacienda where vines and trees grow in and around the ruins of old buildings, jump on it.
6. Jumping into a cenote.
Before this trip, I had no idea what a cenote was or why swimming in a collapsed sink hole might possibly be considered inviting. On this score, I’m uninformed no more. You might even say I’m a cenote convert. It’s remarkable how the water inside of one stays so clean and cool. Don’t believe me? Just see for yourself here.
7. There’s more to Yucatecan food than tacos and enchiladas.
Traditional Mayan recipes take a modern twist at Yaxche Maya Cuisine in Playa del Carmen. This brought us in touch with dishes like turkey stuffed with minced meat and simmered in a burnt pepper sauce, conchinita pibil (young pig slow cooked in sour orange and achiote sauce), and cheese stuffed with ground pork and kol (Mayan white sauce). And Mexican wine? We found it surprisingly good. We favored the Chardonnay overall, but among the reds the Cabernet Sauvignon left us pleasantly surprised.
8. Back street Cozumel food tour with a human touch.
Most visitors to Cozumel never make it off the main street. But that’s where Cozumel Chef’s food tour takes a different approach. Emily Egge brings together not only a progression of local dishes, but she puts a local human face on this otherwise tourist town. Among the fun small plates we kicked off our afternoon with: breaded shrimp tacos served with fiery habenero hot sauce.
And that human touch? Our Cozumel day ended with the owner of a family run seafood restaurant singing with his daughter in his arm in the late afternoon.
9. Bicycle ride down the jungle road at Coba Mayan ruins.
In contrast to Chichen Itza where shade is at a premium, the Mayan ruins at Coba are located smack in the Yucatecan jungle. Rent a bicycle or hire someone to cycle you around the grounds. It’s downright pleasant.
10. Climbing to the top of the pyramid at Coba.
Most Mayan ruin complexes forbid tourists to climb to the top. Of course, this is completely understandable if the goal is preservation. Having said that, it’s pretty cool to be able to climb a Mayan pyramid to the top. Just don’t look down until you made it all the way. Ignorance is vertigo’s worst enemy.
11. The quintessential perfect white sand beach of Tulum.
When we consider an ideal beach scene, Tulum definitely competes for top honors. White sand, fabulously blue water, not overrun, no giant resorts or heavy development along the beach. Just beautiful.
Don’t you wish you could sit back with a cocktail here and spend the rest of the day? I know I do.
12. Ceviche and grilled seafood orgy.
I suppose this photo pretty much says it all. If it’s a fresh seafood fix you seek, check out Ana & Jose’s beachside restaurant at Tulum. We kicked off with ceviche towers, moved onto octopus carpaccio, then ended with the seafood mother lode. I never thought I could really ever fill up on fresh fish and seafood, until that day.
13. Tulum ruins without the crowds.
When we announced on our Facebook page that we were visiting the Mayan ruins at Tulum, one of our fans warned us of the crowds. However, arrived in late afternoon and not only was the heat backing off, but the light was soft and the people were few.
14. Relaxing in the bubble spa.