Cancun is one of the world’s best known beach towns and with reason. The pristine waters, white sand beaches and killer nightlife make it one of the most popular destinations in Mexico. But for an even better experience, head just an hour down the coast to the Riviera Maya.
Little more than a series of beach villages a couple of decades ago, the Riviera Maya is now home to amazing resorts that are perfect for everyone from families to couples looking for a romantic escape. My favorite town is Playa del Carmen, a town that has witnessed a renaissance in recent years. For history buffs head to nearby Tulum, a beautiful collection of Mayan ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
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Talk to the Animals
While many Americans head to the Yucatan when winter’s chill has settled over the United States, other visitors prefer the summer months. That’s when sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Helping the baby turtles make the long (at least it’s long when your legs are as small as a baby sea turtle’s) journey from the beach to the Caribbean is the highlight of many humans’ vacations. In contrast to the baby turtles, another summer visitor, the whale shark, is the world’s largest fish—with some measuring more than 40 feet and weighing more than 20 tons. Though they are sharks, there’s no need to worry if you choose to swim alongside them when they visit the warm waters off of the Yucatan. The generally slow moving and docile fish survive on plankton and small fish.
Photo by Curtis and Renee Dunn/Flickr.
Home-made Ice Cream From a Scooter? Por Su Puesto!
As I began to dust off my rusty Spanish and acclimate to the unique culture of Tulum, I began speaking with many of the locals who either worked at the hotel, drive my taxi or were wait staff at local restaurants. I was only going to be in Tulum for 5 days and I did not want to miss a single experience so I asked over and over again for recommendations. One afternoon over a post-beach cocktail, my bartender asked if I could hear the faint ding of a bell (I later learned that it was actually the sound of a rusty wrench hitting a bicycle bell that no longer functioned). When I told the bartender I could, he advised me to run out to the street to witness one Tulum's local treasures, a man of about 80 years old who rides his scooter up and down the main beach causeway serving fresh, hand made ice cream as local children and day workers run to the street to flag him down.
Tulum is still a somewhat unknown tourist area of Mexico and I feel lucky to have witnessed it as it currently is. It is a place with local flare, bits of European influence and eco-chic charm.
As my first solo trip, what I enjoyed the most about Tulum was it's local personalities. Whether it was the man selling hammocks on the beach to the bartender serving up cocktails at the most popular restaurant to the tour guides who took a great deal of pride in showing you "their Tulum", traveling alone created the perfect reason to get to know them.
I encourage anybody traveling there to start a conversation with any local they encounter and I guarantee you will walk away with a new perspective. I look forward to returning to Tulum and truly hope it remains the hidden gem of the Yucatan.