The Riviera Maya and A Visit to Tulum
I saw Tulum the first time at 17 years old. My love of Mexico began on two high school trips with my Spanish class. I started in Mexico City both times and travelled west to Puerto Vallarta the first time and east to Cancun the second time. Along the way, we visited several Aztec and Mayan ruins, including Tulum. I was hooked! My husband’s company shared the opportunity for a trip to Mexico as a reward for hitting sales goals, and I jumped at the chance to travel back down.
There have been lots of improvements since that first visit of mine. Southwest, our preferred airline, now has several direct flights to Cancun from my hometown. Our resort also provided direct transportation to the hotel. When we decided on a trip to Tulum, they scheduled the bus and tour guide for us as well. We did not change money at the airport, but opted to do so at the resort. The exchange rate at the airport is almost always worse.
Location and Activities
Located on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, the Riviera Maya starts south of Cancun at Playa del Carmen and extends to Tulum. It is easy to focus on relaxing on the beach white sand beaches and amazingly clear blue water in this area of the world. For me, visits to the Mayan ruins are at the top of my list. Riviera Maya is also known for its eco-tourism offerings. Boasting the second largest coral reef, next to the Great Barrier Reef, there are tons of opportunities for snorkeling and observing other wildlife. We chose to take advantage of the proximity to Tulum, but you are also within driving distance of Chichen Itzá , one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. I saw it back during my high school days as well. We stayed at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, which was in close proximity to all of these offerings:
- Playa del Carmen / 5th Avenue – 10 minutes
- Xcaret – 10 minutes
- Isla Mujeres – 20 minute ferry ride from Cancun
- Xel-Ha – 45 minutes
- Mayan Ruins in Tulum – 50 minutes
- Mayan Ruins in Chichen Itzá – 3 hours
- Cancun International Airport – 38 miles (35 minutes)
Most of the resorts are all-inclusive, meaning food, beverages, and lots of activities are included in your room package. You may pay extra for some excursions, like snorkeling on the reef, but others like yoga on the beach and paddle-boarding are likely included. Many also have great kids’ centers where the kids can enjoy activities while the parents sneak off to the spa or just enjoy relaxing on the beach.
Each of the resorts boasts their own pros/cons, but I look for one with a large section of private beach. We had the chance to stay at an amazing resort, Grand Velas Riviera Maya, outside of Cancun in Playa del Carmen. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area as it has a little something for everyone. There were three sections, each with their own perks:
- Grand Class Adults Only – we stayed in this section
- Ambassador Family Friendly – lots of great dining options
- Zen Grand Natural View – closest to the convention center and spas.
Our room was on the top floor and featured a plunge pool on our terrace! The room was huge, and we had meals served a couple of times in the room with plenty of space to spare. They actually set up breakfast on the terrace one day, which I would highly recommend.
One of the best parts of the resort was our personal Concierge. Our room happened to be right outside Luis’s desk, but that didn’t mean we got better service. His service was IMPECCABLE for everyone. We were on the beach, and he would appear just to make sure we didn’t need a snack or a drink. He arranged on-the-beach massages for our entire group, our trip to Tulum, and a snorkeling excursion. I can’t rave enough about the service we received at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.
At an all-inclusive resort, food and beverages are part of the price of your reservation. Everything is all-you-can-eat, and we tried several of the resturants. Our favorite, by far, was Frida. The corn soup was to-die-for. I could have eaten an entire bowl for my meal. It also boasts a AAA Five Diamond Award-Winning restuarant, Cocina de Autor. We made it through the 13 courses at Cocina, but I truly only enjoyed about 3. It was a little too creative for me, but our waiter did pair a wine with each course which ended up being the highlight of the evening.
Aside from the relaxation on the beach, my favorite part of this trip was visiting Tulum again. It is the third most-visited archeological site in Mexico, after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza. This walled-city is perched upon a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. There are several theories to its purpose for the Mayan people, from a university, housing for the social elite and as an important trade outpost. You can get a guide in front of the gates to walk you through the city and share all of these theories and more. Our guide was actually a fan of the alien-connection which added to the entertainment factor.
In addition to visiting the ruins, the small stretch of beach at Tulum is always ranked in the top 15 in the world, with some ranking as high as 3rd. The quality of the sand, clarity of the water and amazing surroundings make this a unique experience. Swimming in the shadow of acient Mayan ruins? Yes, Please!
I can’t wait for our next visit to Riviera Maya, and you can bet that Tulum will be on my list again!