Mexico’s Mayan Riviera

Caribbean beaches, creative cuisine, luxurious hotels and one of the world’s seven wonders: Michael Edwards explores Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula

A plummeting Peso has made Mexico one of this year's travel bargains. The Mayan Riviera with its white-sand beaches, range of luxurious hotels and flights half-the-price of jetting into Antigua, Barbados or Jamaica, is another Caribbean that is rapidly being discovered.

"Soon Mr Trump he need a wall to keep his people at home," our waiter Josue joked. He pointed to a shoal of flippered Americans happily swimming through the warm lagoon towards the coral reef. Meanwhile, another four departed for one of the Riviera's top-class golf courses.



Xcaret, not so much a theme park but an all-action Indiana Jones day-out, provides a surprisingly comprehensive introduction to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula: flora, fauna, geology, art, history and music all packed into a day or two.

You and your life-jacket could begin by drifting on a subterranean river through gorges for 45 minutes, for the Yucatan Peninsula is one huge crumbly limestone finger of caves and underground rivers pointing into the Caribbean.   

Nor is there anything Disney or plastic on a steamy jungle trail which takes you past authentic Mayan ruins and natural waterfalls Then you walk through a vast aviary with high rope bridges giving astounding views of anhingas, golden eagles and vultures, then on into a butterfly zone. Afterwards, you can stop at a Mayan village to talk to locals as they practice their age-old handcrafts.

The Caribbean buffet, included in our Virgin excursion, in a restaurant overlooking the lagoon, close to the stingrays and manatees, is one of the most scenic places to take a lunch-break, before watching the bravest of visitors cautiously entering the water for their "hands-on shark experience." 

Having strolled around the Mexican Folk Art Museum, visited the church and taken sunset pictures of the park from the observation tower, you may well feel that Xcaret is outstanding value for money – just as the spectacular evening shows start-up. 

Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá

Classed as one of the Seven Wonders of the modern world, the vast site of Chichén Itzá gives an insight into an advanced civilisation. Over a millennium ago, whilst us Brits were still building huts with wattle-and-daub, Mayan architects constructed a vast 75 feet high stepped pyramid that they believed was a portal from this world into the next. During the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, the pyramid was designed to cast a shadow of a long serpent. But the Mayans never got around to inventing the wheel.

Archaeologists have estimated that at its peak the city of may have held a population of 60,000. This was a sophisticated society, comfortably capable of feeding itself, able to support a university and welcome visiting speakers. Remember, it was the Mayans, not the Romans who first discovered the concept of zero. 

The I shaped Mayan ball-game arena, 545 feet long, but not designed for spectators, exhibits startling mathematical precision. Clap and you will hear nine echoes each ascending the musical scale. Recent research suggests that victors at the ball-game became political leaders whilst the losers were honourably sacrificed. The gift of their bodies encouraging the Gods to provide essential rain. Ultimately it was a three-year drought which hastened the collapse of the Mayan civilisation.

Cenote swimming

Chichén Itzá

Returning from Chichén Itzá towards the Mayan Riviera coast, our Virgin excursion gave us a picture stop at Vallodolid, officially one of Mexico’s Magical Villages. Local planners have zealously preserved the original architecture of this charming Spanish colonial city. Moorish influences on its design gained it the nickname “The Sultana of the East”. The original church, a green central park and a ban on advertising all maintain the ambience of another era. 

Visiting Chichén Itzá’s baking site is hot work and our full-day excursion took in a visit to a Cenote, an underground pool for a cooling swim and a welcome Mexican buffet.

Throughout your Mexican travels, you'll discover that Mexican cuisine is far more varied than the culinary cliches of fiery habanero, salsa and mountains of tortillas. The catch of the day is often delicately flavoured with citrus flavours while creative Mexican chefs play with flavours such as a Cardamom Creme Brûlée complemented by a subtle mango chutney. The Mayan Riviera is full of such surprises.

You can view Virgin’s range of hotels stretching along the Mayan Riviera from Cancun to Tulum at Virgin Holidays Mexico

Virgin offer a range of other excursions as well as those to Chichén Itzá and Xcaret. You can sail away to Isla Cozumel, board the Virgin Ahoy for a Dolphin Adventure and visit the Mayan coastal ruins at Tulum. There’s even a day trip to Mexico City.

Last modified: April 7, 2021

Written by 11:02 am World Wide