The main city of Riviera Maya is Playa del Carmen. Located in the heart of the destination, this once small fisherman’s village has now grown to a city with all amenities a tourist could ask for. Playa del Carmen, simply called ”Playa” by the locals, is a vibrant and lively city.
The main street is the famous 5th Avenue, or ”La Quinta Avenida”. This avenue with a length of more than 3 km, crosses the city and is completely pedestrian. Here you will find bars, nightclubs, shops. Handcraft stores, coffee houses and restaurants from every corner of the world and for every budget whether a taco at the taco stand or a romantic candle lit dinner on the beach, options are there for everyone.
Shopping is excellent and the variety is enormous. Souvenir shops and art galleries, silverstores and handcraft from the region mingle with hammocks, sombreros, tequilashops and designer stores. La Quinta starts at the outdoor shopping mall called ”Paseo del Carmen” which is located in between Playa and the hotelzone Playacar.
In Playacar you will find beautiful all inclusive chain hotels in a private and elegant area. Resorts are located on the beach and surround the Playacar Golfcourse, an 18 hole golfcourse designed by Robert von Hagge and a challenge according to the golfers as the greens are quite narrow. Meals and drinks are inluded in the greenfee and the golfclub also features a spa.
Amongst the all inclusive resorts you will find a small arqueological site called ”Xaman-Ha”. This was a ceremonial site where the ancient Mayas would practice purification ceremonies before they would make the crossing to the Island of Cozumel to worship Ixchel, Goddess of the moon and of fertility. During centuries the Mayas would challenge the Caribbean Sea to bring offers to Ixchel to favor fertility and to ask for blessings such as good health and abundant crops for their community. Xaman-Ha is also the name of the small bird sanctuary also located in Playacar. This is a cute little park with many species of birds from the region.
The nightlife of Playa has become famous in the region and guests from all over visit to have fun and dance the night away. The bars are located mainly in 12th Street and all within walking distance one from the other. As most of them are outdoors the street at night are as busy as during the day, and options range from dancing under the stars on the beach until watching the sunrise at the after hours club.
About 30 km further south you find the village of Akumal. Akumal means ”the place of the turtle” in the Maya Language and it was the first settlement of what has become the Riviera Maya, funded 52 years ago.
Inspite of tourist development the place has not lost it’s small village mentality and the atmosphere is laid back and friendly. Within the community you will find some hotels and guesthouses and many private villas and condominiums for rent. In the town there is a center on environmental issues created by the CEA (Centro Ecological Akumal) a nonprofit civil organization, whose primary interest is to create environmental awareness to residents and visitors and to ensure the environmental quality of the village. The main attraction of the village is Half Moon Bay, the beach area in the center of the village. As the coral reef runs very close to the shore there are very little waves and almost no current, which makes this beach area ideal for family vacations.
Half Moon Bay is home to the amazingly beautiful sea turtles, an endangered species that until today comes to the shore of Riviera Maya to lay their eggs. By just swimming out for about 100 meters you will have the unique possibility to snorkel with those fabulous creatures, as well as with stingrays and other multicolored tropical fish. At the end of the village there is a beautiful inlet called Yalku. This is the outlet of an underground river that mixes with the sea, so its water is brackish (mixed fresh and salt water). Yalku is a fabulous place to go snorkeling. The place charges a small entrance fee and there is snorkel equipment and life jackets for rent. You can also rent a palapa and spend the entire day here.
In Akumal you will find many different restaurants with excellent food and even better service. There are also some souvenir shops and supermarkets.
Tulum which original name is Zamá meaning “Sunrise” in the Mayan language is the best known and the most representative site of the region. This majestic archeological zone preserves impressing views that inspire its visitors to be part of the mysticism that surround them.
There are over 60 structures all perfectly well preserved, amongst them “El Castillo” or “The Castle” , the highest construction of Tulum, which splendor and unique beauty are framed by the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.
For the many murals and other painting that were found in the buildings it is believed that Tulum was an important ceremonial site dedicated to the Descending God. The site is open daily from 08.00 – 17.00 hrs. A little train will bring you from the parking lot to the entrance of the site, if you prefer you can also walk, it will take around 15 minutes. There is a fun outdoor shopping mall to buy a cold drink or some souvenirs after your visit to this stunning site.
Tulum Village is located at 3 km south of the archeological site. This cute little town is certainly worth a visit. Tourists from all over the world travel to Tulum because of its laid back atmosphere. Tulum is very popular amongst European backpackers who travel here to enjoy the beautiful beaches and the local ambience away from the crowd. There is a bus station for those who want to travel by bus. In the town you will find many different restaurants and bars as well as souvenir shops, Banks, internet cafes and supermarkets. Most of the tourists rent bicycles to move around but there is also taxi service available.
The Tulum area is also very famous for its cenotes. A cenote is a fresh water sinkhole connected to vast underground river systems that flow beneath the ground and connect several caves and caverns. The cenotes have provided fresh water to the locals for centuries and they were sacred for the Mayans as it represented the entrance to the Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. Nowadays they are a unique place to go snorkeling or scuba diving.
Tulum Hotel Zone
The hotel strip of Tulum is without a doubt unique in the entire world. It is located on the coast just south of the archeological site and at 3 km distance from the village of Tulum. The beaches along this 9 km long hotel zone are amongst the most beautiful beaches Riviera Maya has to offer. The sand is powdery and white and the beaches are endless. The hotels are small and constructed with materials from the region and with great precaution to protect the natural environment. It is probably best described as small palapa style bungalows in an unspoiled natural setting.
Most of the hotels depend on generators and alternative sources such as solar panels for their electricity. Only a few will offer power 24 hours a day, more common is that the electricity gets shut off at 11.00 pm. The hotels will provide you with candles to illuminate, and of course there is the moon and the millions of stars that will for sure make your stay memorable.
The ambience in Tulum is best described as “Hippy Chic”. People come here to be away from the hustle and the bustle of the cities, to relax and to be close to nature. Many tourists will come to meditate and to practice yoga, giving this destination a unique spiritual touch.