Riviera Maya begins at Punta Brava, to the south of Puerto Morelos, and ends at Punta Herrero to the south of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. The Zona Maya, an important component of the Riviera Maya state of mind, is more inland and to the west. And from one end to the other, Riviera Maya offers exotic flora and fauna, spectacular landscapes, white sand beaches and turquoise, crystal clear waters—not only in the Caribbean Sea, but also in its underground rivers, the canals that wind through the jungle and the cold, pure cenotes. Thousands of migrants from across the Americas (Europeans too) are calling this home. A string of resort/residential enclaves now line the Riviera Maya shore, offering real estate to complement the over 75,000 hotel rooms that now call Riviera Maya home.
There are two main ways to arrive in this earthly paradise—via the Cancun International Airport or the Cozumel International Airport—and there are several ways to get around: by taxi cabs, vans (called colectivos or combis), or resort shuttles, though we most definitely recommend renting a car. Cozumel is the second entry airport. A new airport (just inland from Tulum) is under construction.
If you arrive at the Cancun International Airport (north of Riviera Maya) you’ll soon find yourself on a modern, four-lane highway headed south. This is Highway 307, thickly fringed with jungle punctuated here and there with businesses and entrances to myriad resorts. Running parallel to this highway is the Tren Maya, an ambitious railroad being built to connect five Mexican states and stretch over 1,500 kilometers. The Tren will eventually include a Cancun Airport transit terminal and includes stations throughout the Riviera Maya region (and points beyond).
Beyond the region’s main cities of Puerto Morelos and Playa del Carmen, there are even more resort enclaves, other coastal villages, eco-adventure parks, golf courses, and archaeological sites. If you keep going even farther south, you’ll eventually reach the Costa Maya region and from there Chetumal on the Mexico-Belize border.
If you land at the Cozumel International Airport, a cab can whisk you to the port and you can board a modern ferry that connects the island to the mainland, departing every hour for a 30-minute trip across the water (year-round. The ferry will drop you right off in Playa del Carmen very close to the famous Quinta Avenida, right in the thick of things!
And by the way, taking the ferry the other way round to Cozumel is also a great day trip.
As you may have guessed by now, the Mayan culture is the foundation of this area of the Caribbean. The Maya shaped the future of this region back in the Classic Period (300-1000 A.D.); they built their cities in privileged locations based on their deep knowledge of and love for nature, and access to drinking water. These cities were built near sources of freshwater, whether that was rivers, cenotes or lagoons, so they could secure their basic needs and thrive by expanding their commercial horizons during the Post-Classic Period (1000-1550 A.D.).
The result of this careful planning gave rise to cities such as Chunyaxche, now known as Muyil, which was built next to the lagoon that later gave the city its name. Located in the southern region, Muyil has stunning views of the jungle and the canals that stream out of the lagoon, and it’s surrounded by an astounding display of flora and fauna. Outside of Tulum City lies the city of Cobá, also built next to a great lagoon. There you can challenge yourself to climb the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula… It’s a magical place where your clients will find themselves catching their breath as they take in the magnificence of this Mayan city.
Towards the northeast, near the sea, is the legendary Tulum, originally named by the Maya as Zama, which means morning or sunrise. This is truly a must-see: it’s the only Mexican Mayan city that was built next to the Caribbean Sea. Make sure you arrive early, beating the tourism hoards.
Under Spanish Colonial
Over the next three hundred years under Spanish Colonial rule, the lack of adequate roads and the fierce resistance from the Maya themselves deterred European incursion into the area. Fun fact: for much of the 20th century this region was a major contributor to the world’s chewing gum craze! That’s right: this is where thousands of chicleros, collectors of natural gum or chicle, would collect the sap that turned into a billion-dollar industry for Wrigley, Adams, and other candy manufacturers.
Meanwhile, the area remained what was called a “territory” and didn’t become a Mexican State until 1974. By
the 1980s, the Mexican Government had begun to realize the enormous tourism potential of the region and had begun to build roads and other infrastructure. The “Riviera Maya” brand was born in1997, and its 120 km (86 mi) of scenic Caribbean coastline have not looked back since!
A Playground of Mexican Caribbean Delights
There’s also plenty to see and explore in the central reaches of Riviera Maya. Topping the list is Xel-Há (pronounced shell-hah), which was where the first European settlement in the peninsula was established. Then there’s Pole, or as it’s known today, Xcaret (pronounced sh-karet). This was once an important commercial port, where the Maya came to trade spices, food, clothing, and tools. Every year, Mayan pilgrims would arrive at the Pole, each of them eager to cross the Caribbean channel to the island of Cozumel, which is right across the water from Playa del Carmen. These adventurous souls would cross the water in sturdy wooden canoes, fighting the currents and praying to the goddess Ixchel (pronounced eeks-shell) for good fortune for their
families, fertility for their crops and their women, and good luck in their trade.
Playa del Carmen, known back then as Xamanha (pronounced shah-mahn-ha) was one of the first villages to be discovered by the invading Spaniards. Today it’s the biggest town in Riviera Maya (over 300,000 residents), chock full of attractions including restaurants with delicious fresh seafood, traditional cuisine, and international fare; great shopping both small shop, boutique, and mall kind; and some truly wonderful resorts.
Can the Riviera Maya be your Mexico for living the dream? Join our online community at www.choosingmexico.com and explore the TOPICS section to learn more.