Guide to Riviera Maya

By Becca Hensley

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Elite Traveler.

Some call it a more soulful Mexico. Infused with a preponderance of Mayan culture and steeped in history, the Yucatán’s Caribbean mingles tropical hues and flora with Mexican high style. Flowing south from Cancún to Tulum, the beach district called Riviera Maya encompasses some of the area’s most exquisite crescents of sand, expanses of untrammeled jungle landscape (complete with jaguars and monkeys), and healthy offshore reefs. It’s trumpeted for stellar diving and snorkeling, and stands out as a prime spot to spy whale sharks. Though highly developed in parts, most construction has been conscientious, and the government has made sure that the region’s fascinating ancient ruins and temples (some of them listed by Unesco) reign as Riviera Maya’s true stars. With more artifacts discovered each year, these centuries-old finds continue to enrich our understanding of the past. Peppered with swimmable, fresh water springs—known as cenotes—Riviera Maya promises more than beach play. Those willing to leave the ocean adventures, sailboats and pool cabanas behind for the day can hike, ride horses, explore caves and temples and peruse museums. Opportunities to delve into local Mayan culture abound—from cooking courses to stints in a temazcal sweat lodge—a spiritual ritual meant to purify the mind, body and spirit. Cap that with nonpareil culinary offerings, exemplary hotels that brim with personality and, of course, potent margaritas—and you’re sure to begin planning your next trip before you even return home.