Top 10 Things To Do on the Riviera Maya

Playa del Carmen is located on a pristine stretch of coastline on the eastern Yucatan peninsular, known as the Riviera Maya. The Riviera Maya offers world class accommodation, unique natural wonders, beautiful beaches and historic treasures which make it a popular vacation destination for people from all over the world. We’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 Things To Do to assist you with you next visit.

1. Experience the Unique Vibe of Playa del Carmen

Riviera Maya Playa del Carmen

‘Playa’ as it is known by the regulars, is a cosmopolitan town on the Caribbean Sea, securing a special place in the hearts of all who visit. Sparkling waters, fantastic restaurants, lively night life and friendly people are just some of the possible reasons why this town is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Riviera Maya.

2. Swim In a Cenote

Natural, geologically formed pools filled with cool clear fresh water are scattered all along the Riviera Maya. Known for their refreshing, healing qualities, swimming in a cenote is an absolute must for visitors. Our favorites are Cenote Azul, Cristallino and Dos Ojos (Two eyes).

3. Snorkel with Sea Turtles

Riviera Maya Akumal

The protected bay of Akumal is the feeding ground for a number of sea turtles. All year round, these majestic creatures feed on grasses growing from the sandy sea floor and don’t seem to mind inquisitive visitors watching them eat. Snorkel gear can be hired onsite.

4. Step Back in Time at Coba

Riviera Maya Coba

The ancient Mayan city of Coba makes a great day trip from Playa del Carmen. Take a guided tour and learn about ancient Mayan prophecies, hire bicycles to explore the vast grounds, then climb to the top of the main pyramid and imagine yourself as a powerful Mayan king surveying a great kingdom.

5. Chill out in Tulum

Riviear Maya tulum

The beaches of Tulum are famed for their underdeveloped shores and turquoise waters. Grab a good book, spread out a towel and soak up the laid back vibe.The Mayans who inhabited the city in ancient times certainly had good taste in real estate!

6. Dive the World’s Second Largest Barrier Reef

The waters off the Riviera Maya are home to one of the world’s most spectacular reef systems. Most dive companies are located in Playa del Carmen or the nearby island of Cozumel, and can arrange a tour to suit you.

7. Celebrate the Day of the Dead at Xcaret

Day of the Dead Playa Del Carmen

Xcaret is an ecological themed park offering excellent activities all year round, but its ‘Festival of Life and Death’ in early November is not to be missed if your visit coincides. Funerary exhibitions, ghoulish face painting, excellent theatrical performances and a variety of food stalls are just some of the highlights of the festival to mark the famed ‘Day of the Dead.’

8. Discover Untouched Natural Treasures at Sian Ka’an

South of Tulum, discover ‘Paradise on Earth’ at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a protected area of untold natural and ecological beauty. Take a boat ride through the lagoon to discover manatees, dolphins and unique bird life, then feast on fresh lobster at a water front restaurant in the tiny town of Punta Allen.

9. Become a Beach Afficianado at Xpu-ha and Xcacel

playa del carmen beach club

Discover the lesser known beaches of Xcacel and Xpu- ha south of Playa del Carmen, then decide which is your favorite. Is it the natural, rugged beauty of Xcacel, or the laid back beach bars and aquamarine waters of Xpu-ha? You decide.

10. Slip into ‘Mexico time’ in  Puerto Morelos

Riviera Maya Puerto Morelos

A sleepy fishing village just north of Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos retains a relaxed atmosphere whilst offering great restaurants and one of the best English book stores on the Mayan Riviera. Pick out a great book then read it over fresh ceviche or seafood tacos and forget about having a ‘To Do’ list at all.

For more information on transport options and tours for the above activities, contact our concierge service.

Getting Back to Nature at Xcacel Beach

The thing I love about Playa del Carmen is its magnificent location on the Caribbean sea. Playa is a lively town filled with all the modern conveniences of stores, restaurants, cinemas, and fantastic accommodation options. There are a myriad of activities on offer from diving to paddle boarding, sailing, snorkeling and many more. With so much to do, it’s impossible to be bored in Playa del Carmen!

‘Playa’ is also perfectly located for exploring the surrounding Caribbean coastline, a pristine stretch of white sand and clear, turquoise water. I recently visited the nearby beach of Xcacel, about a 30 minute drive south of town.

Although not very far, Xcacel feels like a world away from civilization. There were no beach clubs or hotels to be seen as we made our way over the dunes and onto the shore. The wind whipped through my hair as I took in the rugged beauty of the scene, thundering waves crashing onto the sand.

Xcacel Beach

‘This is wild,’ I thought to myself, reminded of the power and beauty of mother nature when she is left untouched. I sat on the sand and dug my feet into its cool embrace, watching as my friends took to the water to body surf the ferocious waves.

Xcacel beach

A few people set up on the beach for the day with chairs and umbrellas, whilst two inquisitive local residents waddled past. A little girl ran over to feed the iguanas some of her lunch as I watched them tentatively, ready to make a run for it if necessary!

Xcacel beach

My friends had enough of being whipped around by the sea and collapsed onto the sand, panting. After basking in the sun for a while, we decided to check out the nearby cenote (natural fresh water pool). We made our way over the dunes and into a clearing dotted with palm trees, where a colorful sign pointed in the direction of a jungle path.

Xcacel beach

Surrounded on both sides by a wall of lush green foliage, we made our way along the sandy pathway, occasionally catching a glimpse of the azure sea over the dunes to our left.

Xcacel beach

The path curved inland, taking us through a mangrove filled with cool, shallow water.

Suddenly, the cenote appeared at the end of the path. It was unlike any I had seen before, smaller and surrounded on all sides by tangled foliage which seemed to rise out from the water. I donned my snorkel and observed the many fish living in the natural pool, some of them coming over to nibble on my feet, giving me a natural (but very ticklish!) foot spa.

Xcacel beach cenote

Sitting on a rocky ledge, I observed the scene; people swimming and laughing, the trees swaying in the breeze, fish darting through the clear water and birds perching on overhanging branches. It was hard to believe we were just a 30 minute drive from the luxury of our condo hotel in Playa del Carmen.

I was looking forward to getting back to civilization, but grateful to have experienced the rugged natural beauty of Xcacel beach and its ‘secret cenote’, an experience I won’t forget any time soon.

*Xcacel beach is about a 30 min drive south of Playa del Carmen, before Tulum, and can be reached by taxi, van or car. There is a small charge of 10 pesos (less than $1) per person at the gate.

Mexico Espectacular at Xcaret

Xcaret is an ecological theme park, located just six kilometers south of Playa del Carmen. It offers a wide range of natural and cultural activities such as swimming with dolphins, admiring unique animal life and snorkeling through an underground river.

My visit to Xcaret, however, was for one reason only, to see the ‘Mexico Espectacular’ show that had been recommended to me by a Mexican friend. I figured that if a local thought the show was worth seeing, it would have to be something special!

On entering the park I was greeted by these amazingly colorful flamingos and parrots and just had to stop for a photo with these beautiful creatures.

playa del carmen activities

The ‘Mexico Espectacular’ show begins every evening at 6 pm, so after a quick tour of the park, we made our way to the impressive open-aired theater. Despite being so large, it was already filling up, so we secured some seats near the back with a clear view of the stage. Shortly after, the lights fell and the large crowd was hushed into silence, holding flickering candles which shone through the darkness.

Mexico Espectaular at Xcaret

To our left, high up in the seating area, a group of musicians dressed in traditional Mayan costume began drumming and playing music, setting the scene for the performance. The stage was bathed in light and the first performers took to the stage in impressive tribal dress.

playa del carmen activities

Next came the highlight of my evening, a reenactment of an ancient Mayan ball game. I have visited a few ancient sites such as Chichen Itza, but could not imagine how the players would have successfully moved the ball through the stone rings on the outer walls of the court without using their hands.

playa del carmen hotel activities

But there on the Xcaret stage, right before my eyes, the ball was skillfully passed back and forth between the opposing teams using their legs, hips, shoulders and heads, but not their arms or hands. When the first team got the ball through the ring, the crowd went wild, including me as I was so impressed that it was actually possible!

The ball game was worth the ticket price in itself, but that was just the beginning. Over the next couple of hours we were treated to a visual and musical spectacular; a smorgasbord of traditional Mexican dance, music and colorful costumes.

playa del carmen activities

The crowd must have consisted of many Mexicans as well as tourists, because they clapped and sung along with their favorite songs, creating a lively and festive atmosphere.

playa del carmen hotels activities

My mind boggled at the sheer number of performers that rotated onto the stage throughout the night. Either it was a very large cast or they were extremely efficient costume changers!

playa del carmen hotels activities

Either way, I was so impressed by the quality of all the performances, as well as the wonderful live music played throughout the show.

playa del carmen activities

playa del carmen hotels activities

Even our very own Caribbean coast was represented!

It really was a magical night that surpassed any expectations I had. A celebration of Mexican culture and history, from the ancient Mayan era to the modern day, I can thoroughly recommend Xcaret’s ‘Mexico Espectacular’ show to any visitor to Playa del Carmen. A theatrical extravaganza in a world class venue, it’s hard to believe that it runs every single night of the year… but it does!

Tip: The Mexico Espectaular show is included in the price of all Xcaret tickets, and runs every evening from 6 pm. The ‘Xcaret at Night’ ticket allows entrance to the park from 3pm and costs US$59. Full day passes start at US$79.

Mexican Breakfast in Playa del Carmen… Would You Join Me?

Audrey is my sister’s best friend. They met years ago at a summer camp in L.A. She has never been in Mexico before she arrived last week to Playa del Carmen for her vacation. She called me to ask for some recommendations for the best beaches and activities at Playa del Carmen but mostly, she wanted to talk about Mexican food. Since this was her first time in Mexico, and she had no clue about our gastronomy, I gave her a Playa del Carmen tour and showed her my favorite places for breakfast.

Normally, her breakfast is cereal with milk or juice, and a toast with peanut butter and jelly, and on weekends she normally eats scrambled eggs with bacon and pancakes. If that’s your normal breakfast as well, and you want to try something different, you have to visit Playa del Carmen and join us on the Mexican food tour!

If I’m thinking about a natural setting among vegetation and trees plus Mexican natural food, my first thought is La Cueva del Chango (The Monkey’s Cave), located on 5th Avenue and 38th Street a few blocks from Condo Hotels. Don’t forget to bring your swimming suit, because Shangri-La beach is just a few steps away from this restaurant.

 

La Cueva del Chango Playa del Carmen

La Cueva del Chango

La Cueva del Chango is a very special place, because almost everything is homemade, even tortillas are “hechas en casa.” The typical Mexican breakfast is chilaquiles (tortilla with tomato sauce, chicken or egg, served with cream, onion and fresh coriander). We ordered chilaquiles with chicken and achiote (seasoning mixture from Yucatán) sauce served with onion and habanero chilli. We asked for a natural kiwi juice, and were given several options of fresh seasonal fruit juice, such as orange, watermelon, grapefruit, papaya, pineapple, melon, banana, chaya, lemon, and carrot.

 

I have to admit, the chilaquiles breakfast was very Mexican, but also quite spicy, so not for everyone. If you’re looking for something less spicy, you have to try the molletes, a homemade wheat bread with refried beans and cheese gratin with pico de gallo salsa on top (chopped tomatoes, onion and jalapeno chilli) – this sauce is not so spicy, because the chilli flavor is very subtle when mixed in the sauce.

Beautiful Playa del Carmen

After all that food we still wanted a dessert, and the waiter offered us a natural vanilla flan (a baked dish consisting of an open-top pastry with a sweet filling), served with an orange sauce. If you are a dessert lover, please don’t miss this flan!

On another note, bring cash to La Cueva del Chango, because they do not accept credit cards.

 

After this delicious breakfast Audrey and I went to Shangri-La beach, a really beautiful and peaceful white sand paradise with crystal turquoise water. We lay down in the shade of a palm tree, relaxed and listened to the ocean. Audrey was amazed with the view and I reminded her that the Mexican Caribbean looks like that that everyday… She couldn’t wait to plunge into the magnificent ocean.

Beaches in Playa del Carmen

Shangri-La Beach

 

After the day of swimming and sun, I took Audrey to my favorite coffee shop – Ah Cacao that also sells premium quality real chocolate from the Mayan lands of Mexico. It’s located on 5th Avenue and 30th Street (the other location is on Constituyentes Avenue and 5Th Avenue). They have a wide variety of hot and cold drinks, cookies, cakes and homemade bread – the perfect combination for your drinks.

 

Ah Cacao in Playa del Carmen

Ah Cacao

I ordered an Iced Coffee Americano, and Audrey took a Chocolate Frappe with real homemade chocolate – you must try this one if you are a chocolate lover!..

Delicious Frappe in Playa del Carmen

Delicious Frappe

These are two of my favorite places in Playa del Carmen for authentic Mexican breakfast and coffee– so enjoy the morning at the beach and Bon Appétit!

Playa del Carmen Tour: At the Mouth of the Well of Itza

Last Saturday, I woke up at 6:00 AM, and quickly got ready for my next adventure – it’s not every day that we have an opportunity to visit the 7th Wonder of the World! I put on my sneakers, shorts, a T-shirt, and packed my sunscreen and umbrella. Don’t forget to rest before you go there, because you will walk a lot!

The pick-up of this tour was at 7 AM from Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen. They gave us a small breakfast at the bus that includes juice, coffee, bread, fruit and a sandwich. If you’re traveling with kids though or if you want to take a lot of pictures, I recommend not taking a tour, but renting a car, and once at the ruins, hire a guide to take you through this amazing ancient Mayan city.

Chichen Itza Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza Aerial View

You might be thinking what is the meaning of my story’s title, so I’m going to explain it through my experience at Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza means “at the mouth of the well of Itza.” According to Wikipedia, this derives from chi’, meaning “mouth” or “edge”, and ch’en or ch’e’en, meaning “well.” Itzá is the name of an ethnic-lineage group that gained political and economic dominance of the northern peninsula. One possible translation for Itza is “enchanter (or enchantment) of the water”, from its “sorcerer”, and ha, “water”.

Valladolid Downtown

It’s an ancient Mayan city, located on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, between Valladolid and Merida, two hours from Playa del Carmen. It has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, mostly because of its spectacular and symbolic Kukulcan or El Castillo, the most impressive pyramid. The Maya name “Chichen Itza” means “At the mouth of the well of the Itza.”

The road to the ruins was very comfortable, and our bus made one little stop at small colonial village, Valladolid, where you can buy Mexican art craft and traditional jewelry.

The next stop was Chichen Itza! I prepared my bottle water and umbrella, because the sun was very bright and it was really hot.

Kukulcan's Pyramid Playa del Carmen
In front ok Kukulcan’s Pyramid

The guide explained that the ruins had different sections, Kukulcan pyramid being the most important and well-known. The temple has 365 steps (one for each day of the year.) Each of the four sides has 91 steps, and the top platform makes the 365th.

Mayan historical sources mention that a man who called himself Kukulcan arrived in Chichen Itza from the west (“Kukul” means “feathered” and “kan” means “serpent”) in the period that ended in 987 AD.

Equinox Playa del Carmen
Equinox

Twice a year, during the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, a fantastic phenomenon happens – at around 3:00 PM, the sunlight bathes the pyramid’s main stairway. It causes an optical effect imitating the body of a serpent going down, until it gets to the huge serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway.

One of the other impressive mysteries of this place is how the temple transforms echoes into sounds of nature. If you stand at the base of the staircase and clap your hands, some lucky clappers will hear bird-like sounds, which will be the voice of a quetzal – a sacred bird in Mayan culture.

Great Court Ball Playa del Carmen
Great Court Ball

After this, we continued our journey to the Great Ball Court, measuring 554 feet (168 meters) long and 231 feet (70 meters) wide, and totally open to the blue skies. In Mayan culture, the players tried to hit a 12-pound rubber ball through stone hoops set high on the court walls. As scary as it sounds, the losing captain was being decapitated in the spring renewal ritual.

The last place to visit was the observatory called El Caracol (the snail), because it has an interior staircase that spirals upward like a snail’s shell. One of the theories is that the Mayans used this place to calibrate their astronomical observations.

Mayaland Playa del Carmen Restaurant
Mayaland Restaurant

After this long but very interesting walk I was starving, and the guide took us to the Mayaland restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious buffet that included Mexican food like cochinita pibil (slow roasted pork tacos), accompanied by a small folkloric dance show.

And this was still not the end of the adventure! Our last stop was the Ik Kil cenote, a big open natural water sink hole in the jungle, with a stairway down to the swimming platform. It’s a good idea to rent a lifevest, because the cenote is really deep. We stayed there just for half an hour, but it was so refreshing to submerge ourselves in the cool water after the long day of walking in the sun.

Ik Kil Cenote Playa del Carmen
Ik Kil Cenote

Next time you come to Playa del Carmen, don’t forget to visit this magical ancient place, and judge yourself why it was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!

Destination Weddings in Playa del Carmen and “Trash the Dress” Concept

Every girl has a dream of a fairy tale wedding. These days, fairy tales are becoming a reality as more and more couples choose to escape the kitsch-like environment of the boring events spaces of their native town, and to head for a tropical, romantic, and – equally important –  affordable destination weddings.

El Taj Hotel in Playa del Carmen

View from the pool at El Taj Oceanfront

On my recent visit to El Taj Oceanfront in Playa del Carmen, the atmosphere was festive. A beautiful bride in a tropically coral wedding dress was running up and down the stairs at this beachfront boutique hotel in Playa del Carmen and suddenly, she jumped into the pool with a glass wall, while the wedding photographer was snapping pictures of her floating underwater, her hair wild and and her dress hugging her body.

That was a typical photo shoot of “trash the dress,” which is a new concept in destination weddings. A romantic, tropical foreign country encourages more liberty and breaks traditional wedding standards by inspiring imagination and fearlessness in young modern brides. So instead of having their wedding dress spend decades in a closet till it gets yellow and old, they opt for having amazing pictures in their wedding dress that will stay forever, even for the future generations. These pictures can be of her in the sea, of her underwater, on the beach, in a pool, in the jungle…. you name it!

Weddings at Hotels in Playa Del Carmen

Trash the Dress photoshoot. By Del Sol

The vibrant, international Mexican beach town of Playa del Carmen, to me, is a perfect location for such joyful, free-spirited photo shoot (with its turquoise Caribbean Sea, jungle cenotes, which are natural sink holes, and amazing pools).

Wedding Photography at El Taj Hotel in Playa del Carmen

Wedding photoshoot at El Taj. Photographed by Del Sol

And in Playa, El Taj is the dream hotel for a perfect luxurious wedding. It faces the white sand beach and offers upscale multi-bedroom units with living rooms, private terraces, outdoor Jacuzzis and rooftops. Host your family and friends here, and have an amazing photo shoot with Del Sol Photography, which specializes in the most creative and daring wedding photography.

A living room at El Taj Oceanfront

I believe that your family and friends would be thankful, too, for the most unforgettable wedding experience of their lives. Hey, some blue Caribbean water and Mexican mariachi music cannot hurt. And if you stay at a penthouse at El Taj Oceanfront with 180 degree views of the bright blue sea, even better.

Contact Linda with questions about El Taj weddings: lindamktg@msn.com.