By Paula Conway
Originally printed in NYDailyNews.com
From miles of pristine white sandy beaches to impressively eco-friendly resorts, ancient Mayan temples, snorkeling, scuba diving and cave diving, Mexico’s hip Riviera Maya has it all — and, for those with kids in tow, there are even direct flights.
Here are our recommendations for making the most of it.
What To Do
Riviera Maya scores high when it comes to having tour operators who can point out its many unique aspects. For families seeking fun-filled days with activity levels suited to the needs of all, the convenience of booking through such an operator cannot be overstated. Our top picks:
Xplor (xplor.travel/) in Playa Del Carmen offers such adventures as ziplining through the verdant jungles, and underground floating and rafting tours in cenotes, freshwater sinkholes, which are exclusive to this area.
For adrenaline junkies there’s an extreme adventure tour with Hidden Worlds (hiddenworlds.com), near Tulum. This includes the jungle and splash zipline (down into the water!) and the Avatar, a sky cycling adventure where you do the work on a bike suspended above the jungle. There’s also the first roller coaster zipline in the world — insanely fun!
Water sports are taken to an entirely new level with the Dolphin Royal Swim at Dolphin Discovery (dolphindiscovery.com/mayan_riviera/riviera-maya-location-overview.asp). It’s like water-skiing with a push instead of a pull. Grab the dorsal fin and speed through the water on the ride of your life. Dolphin Discovery has several locations in Riviera Maya.
Explore Ancient Cities
Once the very heart of the Mayan civilization (about 2,000 B.C.-900 A.D.), the Riviera Maya is known for its archeological sites. Among the marvels to explore:
After telling of the Mayan culture, rituals and ways of life, professional guides walk visitors back in time to tour the ruins perched on the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean.
This large city of ruins features the Nohoch Mul, a 126-foot pyramid and the largest surviving temple from its time. Opt for a guided tour.
Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe is 45 miles south of Cancun.
Xcaret in Cancun once functioned as an important Maya trading center and is today a hybrid park and ecological sanctuary where many original structures still exist. Among the all-day family attractions: an authentic Mayan village, ceremonies and dances, a traditional Mexican cemetery, a Mexican rodeo and seven restaurants.
Where to Stay
Tucked away in jungle along a white sandy beach, yet close enough to Cancun for shopping and sightseeing, the exceptional Maroma Hotel in Cancun is for families who want to get away from the crowds and splurge a little. Rates start at $765 a night and include an a la carte buffet and complimentary snorkel trip every day. Maroma takes their younger guests seriously, with a game center and kids given their own guide to the many supervised activities, including classes on making cupcakes and Mexican kites.
Don’t skip a Sangrita or the signature hot chocolate. The Sangrita is a concoction of tomato juice, orange juice, fresh lime juice, onions and salt with a shot of tequila. Or, opt for the addictive hot chocolate, served year-round and only available at breakfast. The chocolate is made in a very old factory in Oaxaca and shipped to Maroma each week.
To book visit maromahotel.com, or call (52) 998-872-8200
The budget-wise, all-inclusive Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe is 45 miles south of Cancun on more than one mile of sugar-white sand beaches. Created with families in mind, this green, sustainable property has several specialty restaurants (Brazilian, Japanese, seafood among them), a disco for older teens and a water park and children’s club for the youngsters. Rates start at $268/night, and there’s another bonus; guests staying at one of the Barcelo properties have access to all five area Barcelo hotels, such as the Barcelo Maya Beach & Caribe, and the Barcelo Maya Colonial & Tropical, with 20 restaurants, theaters and pools.
To book visit barcelo.com/BarceloHotels/en-GB/Hotels/Mexico/MayanRiviera/MayaPalace/Home.htm or call (52) 984-875-1500
Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa offers outstanding all-inclusive room rates starting at $94 a night for families looking for an educational and eco-friendly vacation. The heart of the hotel is the Xcalacoco Experience, with a wide variety of nature activities designed to educate guests on the flora, fauna and natural surroundings of the hotel. There’s a kids-only aqua park with 17 different slides and a swim-up snack bar, a resident family of donkeys, Mayan dogs, parrots and Mayan honeybees, among many other species of animals. Don’t miss the Plant-A-Tree program (you dig and plant on the hotel grounds) and the SOS Sea Turtle Rescue. Sandos Caracol Eco Resort & Spa is on a mission to become the No. 1 environmentally friendly property on the Riviera Maya by upgrading 128 units to create ecological rooms that reduce CO2 emissions by 75%. Upgrades include low electrical consumption air conditioning, solar water heating and furniture made from certified wood. Now, that’s a green thumbs up!
To book visit sandos.com/en/playa-del-carmen-hotel-sandos-caracol-spa-resort.html or call 1-866-887-5601.
Jet Blue offers daily direct flights from JFK to Cancun. Visit jetblue.com for the best rates.