Jaillan Yehia

5 Things You Must Try On Mexico’s Mayan Riviera

Written by Jaillan Yehia

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Mexico Mayan Riviera

Street art in Playa del Carmen

Mexico has a well-deserved reputation as a real beach paradise.

While living in Canada I realised that vacations to Cancun are, for Western Canadians, what holidays in Spain are for us Brits.

In other words, it’s totally normal to go to Mexico and spend a week (or two) at an All Inclusive Resort eating, drinking and sunbathing, totally guilt-free.

While there’s nothing wrong with a bit of R&R, I did a lot more than just lie on gorgeous white powder sand beaches while I was on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera, so I’ve compiled a list of 5 activities that will help you soak up the culture and vibe, as well as the sun, while in this most exotic part of North America…

If your holiday to Mexico’s Mayan Riviera is all set to include downing margaritas on a beach and repeat visits to the buffet (and why shouldn’t it) check out my little list of 5 things to do on the Caribbean coast of Mexico to make your holiday a bit more varied.

This list covers a few things I did and recommend doing in Mexico that will help you enjoy the local culture, wonderful wildlife and Mexico’s own unique pursuits  – as well as get a tan, relax and unwind.

About Mexico’s Mayan Riviera

Mexico Mayan Riviera

I was one of the 32 million tourists who head to Mexico each year, and flew to Cancun from Seattle (because at the time I was living in Canada). I learned that Cancun airport is the second busiest in the country after Mexico City, which tells you just what a major tourist hub it is.

Most visitors enjoy one of the country’s amazing beaches and famous resorts which are in the Gulf of Mexico, and on the stretches of sand along the Caribbean Coast. That could be anywhere from Cancun at the northern tip down the tourist-friendly stretch of the coast which includes the famous towns of Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

So what activities should you try while you’re in town?

1. Chef It Up At A Mayan Cooking Class

The name ‘Mayan Riviera’ references the fact that this part of Mexico has deep historical connections with the Mayan people, so lots of the excursions on offer are focused on learning about Mayan civilisation in different ways.

One that I really recommend for a completely different take on Mexico is a Mayan Cooking Class. Cooking classes on holiday are always a real insight into local culture so this is something I would recommend anywhere.

There are lots of places to choose from along the Mayan coast to try your hand at cooking Mayan style, and I found interacting with the Mayan ladies  – who spoke no words of English, and were universally tiny and smiley in equal measure – to be a very memorable experience.

We hand made fresh tortillas, marinated onions in citrus and cooked chicken in a fire pit, and they also sold hand crafted traditional items like embroidered blouses and hammocks, so it’s a great way to pick up a one of a kind souvenir.

2. Get Out Of Cancun  – And Onto The Water

Mexico Mayan Riviera

Boating on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera

Cancun is the location of many of Mexico’s biggest brashest resorts and sits right at the northern tip of the peninsula.

This is a lively area full of clubs, bars, restaurants and shopping and is undoubtedly the party town of Mexico’s Caribbean coastline and a popular place for organised activities.

But unless you’ve come to Mexico just for clubbing and group excursions, you’ll want to enjoy the real attractions here – and that’s the crystal clear water and the sense of freedom.

Outdoor enthusiasts are in for a treat; you can try every type of water sport off the coast, but if you want a real one-off adventure just find yourself a boat rental company in Cancun and make your own way to the smaller islands like Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox which have a totally different vibe to the big resorts and even the towns on the mainland, and offer a chance to relax in a totally idyllic setting.

3. Swim With Turtles At Akumal

Mexico Mayan Riviera

A turtle at Akumal beach

Swimming with turtles is especially important to me for a reason – I’d always wanted to see giant turtles and been unlucky on previous occasions in Costa Rica but at Akumal Beach, halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, I finally had that one-to-one moment swimming quietly with a sea turtle that I had always dreamed about.

Akumal is literally one of the best places in the entire world to swim with turtles (it actually means ‘place of the turtles’) and even though I have been lucky enough to release baby turtles into the ocean I have to admit that swimming with them was an even more epic experience and I’d encourage any visitor to the Mayan Riviera to try it.

4. Get Bendy At A Beach Yoga Class

Mexico's Mayan Riviera

Yoga on the beach on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera

One of the wonderful things about holidaying in this part of Mexico is the relaxed atmosphere and health-focused hippy culture be found in places like Tulum and Playa del Carmen, and the best way to soak up the zen vibes is to join in.

There are lots of yoga classes on the beach, I tried one at Puerto Morales a laid-back fishing village which now has yoga retreats and classes but retains the quaint and sleepy small town feel.

Wherever you are based on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera there’s bound to be a local beach yoga class, and rolling out your mat with the wind in your hair and the smell of the surf is a very special experience

5. Snorkel Underground In A Cenote

Mexico Mayan Riviera Cenote

Mexico Mayan Riviera Cenote

I’m a big believer in doing the things you can’t do anywhere else, and if there’s one thing synonymous with this stretch of Mexico’s Mayan Riviera it’s the cenotes (pronounced seh-note-eh’s  – I was wondering before I went!).

Cenotes are underground sinkholes which occur all around the Yucatan Peninsula and are filled with clear, fresh water which has been filtered by limestone, making them a unique and absolutely stunning environment in which to swim, snorkel and dive.

In fact if I had to pick one thing about Mexico’s Mayan Riviera which would bring me back for a return visit it would be to try out other cenotes; swimming and frolicking in these natural playgrounds is well worth leaving the beach for.

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