Fortress Maya remade as a Caribbean tourist paradise

Not so long ago, Mexico’s Caribbean coast was considered to be one of the most savage coastlines in Central America. The caste wars of the Yucatán brought many fierce Mayan warriors to this remote locale and they did not immediately recognize Mexican law and the right of those of European descent to govern.

Fortress Maya remade as a Caribbean tourist paradise

Fortress Maya remade as a Caribbean tourist paradise

Not so long ago, Mexico’s Caribbean coast was considered to be one of the most savage coastlines in Central America. The caste wars of the Yucatán brought many fierce Mayan warriors to this remote locale and they did not immediately recognize Mexican law and the right of those of European descent to govern.

Even after a truce was declared in 1935, few non-Maya visited the area and many travellers considered it unsafe well into the 1960’s.

Much has changed in 50 years. Today the Riviera Maya region of Mexico, which stretches along the Yucatán peninsula between Cancún and Tulum has become one of the most popular vacation destinations in the entire country.

White sandy beaches, turquoise blue waters, and abundant marine life coupled with fascinating Mayan ruins and culture have helped to propel this region into an international tourist destination.

There are more than 38,000 hotel rooms in Riviera Maya and the number is expected to grow in the coming years.

Top Five Family-Friendly Attractions in Riviera Maya

It is ironic that the area that was once too dangerous for anyone of non-Mayan descent to visit has become particularly popular as a vacation destination for Canadian families. In addition to an abundant number of family-friendly resort options, the destination has a number of excellent attractions and activities that make great day trips for families.

• Tulum — The Mayans were the most advanced civilization in the ancient Americas and are credited with several important advancements during the 3000 years that the civilization thrived.

Some of their key developments include the concept of the number zero, the creation of a very accurate calendar, and the building of extraordinary ceremonial architecture.

Of all the ruined cities that remain to tell the tale of this civilization, Tulum is one of the most fascinating. It is the only Mayan site that overlooks the Caribbean Sea and the only walled city in the Mayan empire and one of the few Mayan cities known to have been inhabited when the conquistadores arrived in 1518.

Once an important Mayan trading centre, Tulum was abandoned about 75 years after the conquest.

Perched at the edge of a 12-metre limestone cliff, the Castillo (castle) is the most impressive structure on the site. The Temple of the Frescos sits in front of it and is also a key structure.

Fast Facts: For $5 you can enter the site and walk around the outside of the ruins. It will cost about $25 to hire a guide and this can be arranged at the entrance.

You can see the ruins in about two hours, but you may want to bring your swim wear and enjoy the beautiful beach that sits at the base of the limestone cliff below the ruins.

Be sure to bring drinking water.

Website: www.rivieramaya.com/en/mayan-world/.

• Xcaret — Xcaret (pronounced ish-car-et) is a 250-acre ecological theme park in the Mayan Riviera that has many different attractions including a river raft tour, a butterfly farm, an aquarium, underwater caverns and a replica Mayan village to name just a few.

Traditional music and dance ceremonies take place throughout the day, but the highlight is the “Spectacular Mexico Night Show,” a program designed to tell the history of Mexico through song and dance.

Fast Facts: You could easily spend a full day exploring Xcaret. Park entrance will cost $99 for adults and $49 for children aged 5-11 for an Xcaret Plus admission that includes a buffet lunch, snorkel equipment and access to exclusive areas of the park.

You can save money by purchasing your tickets in advance online. Multi-park passes that include Xcaret plus Xplor or Xel-ha parks will also save money over purchasing individual admissions at the door. Transportation from your hotel to the park can also be included at an additional cost. Website: www.xcaret.com.

• Xplor —This is the newest family adventure park in the Mayan Riviera. With 13 ziplines, amphibious vehicles, and amazing cenotes to swim or kayak through, the park has plenty of adventure to keep most families occupied for a full day. The park also has a great buffet restaurant onsite and stations where you can get filtered purified water or lemonade whenever you like. Both are included in the price of admission.

Fast Facts: Plan to go early and spend the full day at Xplor. Admission will cost $99 and $49.50 for children under the age of 12. Transportation from your hotel to the park can also be arranged at an additional cost. You can save money by purchasing tickets online more than 3 days in advance. Comfortable clothing, swimwear and water shoes are appropriate attire for the park. One of the zip-line circuits includes water landings, so you may want to wear swimwear on the ziplines also. Board shorts will be more comfortable for zip-lining than brief-style swim bottoms. Website: www.xplor.travel.

• Dolphin Discovery — If you have always wanted to swim with dolphins, the Dolphin Discovery attraction in Puerto Aventuras can help you live the dream. At Dolphin Discovery, you can choose from a range of experiences that allow you to interact with dolphins, manatee and seals. Dolphin Discovery is the only company in Latin America that is certified with the Alliance of Marine Mammals Parks and Aquariums. They are also certified with the International Marine Animal Trainers Association. These affiliations mean their practices regarding animal care and training go well beyond the standards set out by the Mexican government.

Fast Facts: Dolphin experiences start at $79 per person for an encounter and go up to $179 for a “trainer for Life” experience. Transportation from your hotel can also be arranged at an additional cost. Website: www.dolphindiscovery.com.

• Hidden Worlds — This is the most rustic of the Mayan theme parks – with a shabby, ramshackle kind of feel to it. Upon arrival, you are transported through the jungle at high speed over bumpy roads on a jungle buggy. Once you stow your gear in lockers, you can try out the various onsite activities including zip-lines, a roller coaster zipline, a skycycle, a repell into a cenote and a guided swim or snorkel in a cenote (underground water-filled sinkhole).

Fast Facts: Admission to Hidden Worlds will cost $80 for adults and $40 for children. If you buy online, your lunch is included in the price. There is a small onsite Mexican restaurant. Be sure to wear swimwear, water shoes or sandals that can get wet, and bring a towel. If you have back or neck problems this park is not recommended due to the jarring jungle ride. Transportation from certain areas is included in the price. Website: www.hiddenworlds.com.

More info on the Mayan Riviera: For more information on visiting Riviera Maya, visit the official tourism website at: www.rivieramaya.com.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.