Port of call: Yucatán Peninsula
The Yucatán Peninsula is in southeastern Mexico, separating the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico. It is a popular destination for resorts, ecotourism and as a cruising destination. The Yucatán Peninsula was home to the Mayan civilization and the Mayan language is still spoken in many parts.
Located in the eastern part of the Yucatán peninsula, Chichén Itzá was one of the largest Mayan cities during 750-1200 A.D. It is now the most visited archaeological site in Mexico. A popular destination site in Chichén Itzá is the Temple of Kuklkan, also known as El Castillo, a large, square-based, stepped pyramid rising to 75 feet tall. In 2007, El Castillo was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Tours of the area are offered multiple times a day. Many cruise ships offer excursions to Chichén Itzá. Go to www.chichenitza.com for more information.
If Chichén Itzá isn’t enough Mayan culture, then Tulum will surely satisfy those hoping to explore ancient ruins. Built in 1200 A.D., Tulum sits on a 45-foot bluff facing the Caribbean Sea and is one of the best-preserved Mayan coastal sites in existence. The stunning views the “city of dawn” offers of the ruins against the sea are not to be missed. Much of the architecture is similar to Chichén Itzá but on a smaller scale, making it easier to navigate. Many cruise ships offer excursions to this third most-visited archaeological site in Mexico. Visit www.tulum.com for more information.
Snorkel in a cenote
Located throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, cenotes are natural, freshwater swimming holes within a limestone sink hole. They were revered by the Mayans as holy sites and used as a source of water during the dry seasons. The water that fills these holes is naturally filtered through the bedrock, providing a clear view of the plant and marine life below. A number of cenotes are located close to Chichén Itzá and Tulum, making a great addition to your excursion.
If you want to kick your cenote experience up a notch, venture over to the Xel-Há park. Situated within the Riviera Maya region, the park consists of an underground river channeling into a lagoon to create a natural aquarium ecosystem with hundreds of species of plants and fish. You can snorkel or leisurely float down the river in an inner tube. Xel-Há has a variety of other activities available such as swimming with dolphins, zip line biking, and seas trekking—walking on the seabed in an oxygen helmet. Check out www.xelha.com for further information.
This thriving city is known for being a rite-of-passage for students on spring break, and the city is unabashed about it with its white sand beaches and plenty of discos. However, those seeking a tamer route can enjoy the local art scene that has flourished in the area and excellent restaurants serving up seafood and Mexican dishes. Visit www.cancun.com for more information.
Playa del Carmen
Originally a small fishing town, Playa del Carmen is now considered the trendiest spot in the entire peninsula. A multitude of luxury restaurants and boutiques can be found here, with most of the tourist activity focused around Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, which sits about two blocks inland from the beach. Playa’s location is also suitable for hitting popular areas like Tulum and the island of Cozumel. The reefs of Playa are just as great as other diving and snorkeling locations, offering coral, eels and sea turtles. Visit www.playadelcarmen.com for more information.