About an hour south of Cancun, nestled on the coast of the Yucutan Peninsula, there is a wild and beautiful region called the Riviera Maya. You won’t find resorts crammed together along endless miles of sandy beaches. Instead, the coast is rocky and roads are limestone white surrounded by dense jungle with ocean waters as deep blue as sapphires.
We booked a trip to the Riviera Maya: an all inclusive package at a resort called the Grand Xcaret. The resort had a majestic jungle feel with enormous thatch roofs above sienna colored marble. Massive palm trees and vines were expertly placed around the central waterway and near paths and bridges. Macaws squawked from posts around the property and native birds tweeted from above. We spent time at the numerous pools and gorgeous beach. Our favorite was one with a submerged waterfall pool bar. That’s right, swim right on up through the cascading water and order a refreshing beverage!
The resort had a lot to offer including an adjacent archaeological park. We could have stayed on property the whole time, relaxing by the pool, snorkeling by the beach, wandering through the theme park, or watching the monkeys that swung from limb to limb overhead. But, we wanted a little more adventure.
Enter our new friends at AllTOURnative! We booked a Coba Maya Excursion with them and it was the highlight of our trip. We hopped into a van with a small group and headed about an hour into the National Park of Quintana Roo and the heart of the Maya people. (Yes, decendants of the ancient Maya still live in the region – much the same as their ancestors!)
We were led into to the jungle by our expert guide, Cesar. He was incredibly informative and helpful. His deep respect for the Mayan culture was evident. My favorite part: just before entering the jungle, he turned to the group and said “don’t touch anything… there are poisonous plants and trees… like that one which will give you 3rd degree burns!” The he says, “Also, if we stumble into a spider monkey habitat, everyone remain calm.” (Note: no one touched the trees and we didn’t see any monkeys!)
Once we were near the Coba Ruins, we hopped on squeaky rented bikes and rode two miles to the base of Ixmoja, the largest of the Nohoch Mul Pyramids. At 138 feet high, it boasts the best views of the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s super steep with only a large rope to hold on to when climbing down. It was incredible to climb the ancient structure and imagine life there over 2,000 years ago!
Following our visit, we ziplined further into the jungle to a “Cenote,” or sinkhole. The Riviera Maya has no surface lakes or rivers, everything is subterranean. So, there are thousands of caves, underground rivers and cenotes to explore.
Since the Maya are very superstitious of the Cenotes and what spirits may linger in the deep, we received a blessing from a real-life Shaman before rappelling 75 feet into what looked like the hole of a well. Cool, unbelievably clear water greeted us below in a giant underground lake. Cesar told us that, just last year, National Geographic had been there and found four skeletons in the deep waters below. We floated on inner tubes and watched the bats fly overhead before climbing out on a rope ladder!
Afterwards, we hopped into canoes and paddled to an open air grass hut where we enjoyed an authentic Mayan lunch of scrumptious chicken, beans, and squash. It was amazing!
We also booked a snorkeling excursion and explored three different ecosystems: an open cenote, an exciting (and chilly!) underground river, and out to the Great Maya Reef.
There is lots to see in the Riviera Maya. Pyramids, caves, villages, and of course, the snorkeling, diving and boating. Many touring companies have packaged an assortment of fun activities to suit a variety of tastes. The history is fascinating, the jungle is exciting, and the resorts provide the opportunity for lavish relaxation. Our visit was a true treasure… an adventure that we’ll remember for a lifetime!