Il territorio

Oh, Mexico! you just keep me coming back for more. Truth be told, I can't get enough of the beautiful beaches, laid-back vibe, artsy flair, and adventurous excursions that await in vibrant Mexico. Most recently, I visited Cancun and the Riviera Maya and was entranced by the experience. Located on the eastern part of the Yucatan peninsula on the Caribbean Sea, this tropical destination has something for everyone's history buffs will love visiting the Mayan ruins, while outdoorsy types will dig the area's natural cenotes. Most of the hotels and resorts offer enough activities and amenities to keep you entertained during your entire stay, but special excursions abound for those who want to get out and experience this unique region.


Since the Riviera Maya region occupies more than a 90-mile stretch, it's important to be strategic in your choice of final destination. The decision to visit Cancun or the Riviera Maya boils down to a few key factors: those looking for easy access to lively nightlife, plentiful shopping and a more urban feel might want to hit the sands of Cancun, while the Riviera Maya lends itself to a more outdoorsy, easy-breezy feel and is more spread out in general. (You'll also find more all-inclusive options in the Riviera Maya.) Some of the most popular destinations in the Riviera Maya include Playa del Carmen, Tulum (recently vaunted as "Mexico's most stylish beach destination" in Travel + Leisure) and the island of Cozumel.

No matter where you choose to lay your head, be sure to take advantage of the ample activities available throughout the region. Many hotels will arrange excursions for you, or you can enlist the services of independent tour companies like Aventuras Mayas or Alltournatives, which offer hotel pickup.

In my opinion, visiting the Mayan archaeological sites is an absolute must—whether you head inland to well-known Chichen Itza, little-known gem Ek Balam, or beachside Tulum. I recommend Ek Balam, as you can actually climb the temples and see the ruins up close (the others have "look, but don't touch"-style policies due to high foot traffic). On my visit there, I was actually able to view intact Mayan inscriptions, though I was unable to decipher any apocalyptic meaning.

Archaelogical eco-park Xcaret is another popular place to visit—offering diverse options such as a coral reef aquarium, butterfly pavilion, dolphin swimming, caves, beaches, underground pools and natural underground rivers. If you love nature, a trip to the Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm is sure to bring you out of your shell; turtle fans in particular may want to visit in September and October, when guests can participate in baby sea turtle releases at select resorts such as Barcelo Maya Beach Resort.

Go scuba diving or snorkeling in one of the coastal cenotes, or underwater caves, like Ponderosa.
One uniquely Mexican thing to do on your trip is visit a cenote, a type of underground swimming hole indigenous to Mexico. Subterranean swimming is a one-of-a-kind experience that you're not sure to forget anytime soon. As part of the Ek Balam excursion I took through Alltournatives, we visited Cenote Maya Park, where you can zipline, rappel, or simply on foot descend into the cavernous cenote. (Afterwards, they'll serve you a steaming hot Mexican feast!)

Zipline through the Riviera Maya's lush jungles with a company like Selvatica.
And, of course, no visit to Cancun and/or the Riviera Maya is complete without sun and fun—make sure to indulge in some snorkeling, scuba diving or simply swimming in the gorgeous Caribbean sea during your trip.


Get your passport ready! For all destinations in the Riviera Maya, all roads lead to Cancun International Airport (CUN). One of the busiest airports in the Caribbean, CUN set its own arrivals record in 2011 with more than 13 million travelers. The airport is located about 25 minutes from Cancun, 45 minutes from Playa del Carmen, 60 minutes from Akumal and 90 minutes from Tulum. (For my recent stay in Xpu-ha, it took us about an hour and 15 minutes to get there.)

For that reason, you'll want to be especially diligent about arranging ground transportation ahead of time, so that you don't get dinged on last-minute cab fare. Many hotels offer their own airport transfer services; you can also find a list of airport-approved options here.

More than 20 airlines fly into CUN, including Air Canada, TACA, Copa, United and US Airways (Star Alliance); American Airlines (OneWorld); and Aeromexico and Delta (SkyTeam). Other airlines include AirTran, JetBlue, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Virgin America, Sun Country and several specialty airlines.

For $27USD, you can gain access to the airport's independent VIP lounges in Terminals Two and Three, which afford free Internet/wi-fi, open bar, canapés, massage chairs, and other amenities. On the return trip, Mexican singers and dancers add a festive feel as you walk to your gate, and there is plenty of duty-free shopping to distract until your flight takes off. (I stocked up on hot sauce for my husband!)

Rumor has it that a Tulum-based Riviera Maya airport has been in the works for quite some time and will start development in 2012.


PAVOREAL Beach Resort
Carretera Federal Cancun Tulum, km 237
77780 Tulum - Riviera Maya - Mexico
Tel Mexico: +52.984.8757100
Tel Italia: +39.071.9256276

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