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The Mayan coast of Mexico—a gorgeous stretch of jungle and beach that faces the Caribbean along the Yucatán peninsula—is one of the world’s most celebrated places for unplugging. But unlike so many flop-and-drop resort destinations, it has a lot to offer in terms of sightseeing and activities.
Everyone arrives at the Cancun airport, always abuzz with activities. For lunch, take the short drive to Puerto Morelos, a sleepy coastal town whose sea-facing restaurants have stunning views. There are small shops where you can stock up on breezy sarongs and wide-brimmed beach hats, both crucial for the Riviera Maya ensemble. Take the afternoon to settle into your hotel and take part in local activities, which include everything from fishing and water sports to regionally inspired spa treatments and sunset yoga.
In the evening, get dressed up and head to Playa del Carmen, where you can have an al fresco dinner at Almirante Pech, a relative newcomer whose owners run several of Playa’s hot spots. Sample contemporary Mexican and Yucatecan fusion cuisine and people-watch while a deejay spins. Afterwards, have drinks at Alux, a unique bar set in a network of underground caves.
UNICO 20º 87º Hotel Riviera Maya
Day 2: Tulum Day Trip
Get up early to take the 45-minute drive south to Tulum, an eco destination with a hippie-chic vibe, whose thatched-roof cabana hotels and restaurants line a pristine white beach. En route, stop to tour the Tulum Ruins, an anthropological site centered around a massive Castillo (castle), which served as a temple or fortress, and overlooks the sea. TIP: Bring a bathing suit. Visitors can climb down a staircase that leads to one of the Riviera’s prettiest beaches.
Once arrived in Tulum, have a lunch of salad and thin-crust pizza at Casa Violetta overlooking the beach, then shop for handcrafted mementos at the many small boutiques lining the dirt road. Spend the afternoon on the beach, watching kite surfers gracefully cut through the waves. More active travelers should book a tour of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, which starts south of Tulum. The 1.3 million-acre reserve includes wetlands, mangrove swamps and tropical forest, and can be explored with a local guide. Toast to this active day with cocktails as Cesiak, a rooftop restaurant and bar that has sweeping views of the ocean on one side and of a lagoon on the other.
Day 3: Water, Family Fun or more Ruins
Options for your last day include:
*Active: Diving around Cozumel
The reef system around this island, a frequent stop for cruise ships, is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the world’s second-largest coral reef. Divers and snorkelers can see an incredible variety of sea life. Less intrepid beginners can also go snorkeling off the beaches of Akumal, where turtles can frequently be seen.
An amusement park meets a wildlife preserve at Xcaret, which encompasses spider-monkey and jaguar islands, a bat cave, underground rivers, a saltwater aquarium and a re-creation of a Mayan village. If it sounds a little gimmicky, it is; but it’s also an easy way to do a lot in the course of an afternoon when traveling with kids.
Take the two-hour drive to see the ruins of this ancient Mayan city that is surrounded by lush jungle and centered around two lagoons. If you have time, continue on to Valladiod, an utterly charming colonial town with some good restaurants and few tourists (while there stock up on the beautifully handcrafted perfumes of Coqui Coqui).
Celebrate the end of your Riviera Maya adventure with oceanfront cocktails and a Mexican dinner back at your hotel. Each of the Leading Hotels in this region celebrates this glorious destination in its own way.
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