Sea­side de­light

Ex­plore the Riviera Maya away from the tourist-in­fested Can­cun

The Coffs Coast Advocate - - LIFE - BY Rae Wil­son

THE true beauty of Mex­ico’s Riviera Maya is out­side its usual en­try point. So if you’re fly­ing into Can­cun for your Mex­i­can hol­i­day, give the tourist trap full of ob­nox­ious Amer­i­cans a wide berth.

Stay in Playa del Car­men or Tu­lum and visit the at­trac­tions from there.

Tu­lum

Tu­lum is a quaint sea­side town with coastal vis­tas that will make your friends turquoise with envy when you post pho­tos on so­cial me­dia. But perched upon 12-me­tre tall cliffs it is the ru­ins of a for­mer Mayan walled city that acted as a ma­jor port for the area that cap­tures the most at­ten­tion. You can wan­der around imag­in­ing what life must have been like there be­tween the 13th and 15th cen­turies. Hire a bike to ride to the site and hire a tour guide so you get the back story on the well-pre­served build­ings. Take bathers for the beach at the bot­tom of the cliff.

Playa del Car­men

There’s a food mar­ket on the cor­ner of Avenida Ben­ito Juarez and 15 Avenida Nte that has in­cred­i­ble Mex­i­can food – authentic, su­per cheap and oh so de­li­cious. There are pho­tos to point to if you don’t have a lick of Span­ish. But, of course, there are myr­iad spots along the main tourist strip too. If you fancy a drink, there’s a bar called Pez Vela with swings as seats and there’s a mar­garita bar called Fat Tues­day. Or hire a lounge chair and or­der drinks or snacks to be brought to you be­tween swims in the pic­ture-per­fect Caribbean. It’s also the per­fect launch pad for other Riviera Maya ad­ven­tures.

Chichen Itza

This ar­chi­tec­tural marvel is worth the day trip. One of the seven won­ders of the world, each sec­tion of El Castillo, or the Pyra­mid of Kukul­can in Mayan, rep­re­sents a part of the Mayan cal­en­dar. At the equinox in spring and au­tumn, the sun aligns per­fectly with one of the stair­cases to cre­ate tri­an­gles with light and shad­ows that give the il­lu­sion of a ser­pent slith­er­ing down the side. Tour com­pa­nies head to Chichen Itza from all over the Yu­catan penin­sula but to avoid the crowds, you can catch an early bus your­self. ADO buses leave Merida at 6.30am and ar­rive just af­ter the site opens at 8am so you can have the place al­most to your­self. They also leave Can­cun and Playa del Car­men but not un­til 8.45am and 8am, re­spec­tively.

Div­ing

The Riviera Maya has a huge col­lec­tion of sink­holes, re­sult­ing from the col­lapse of lime­stone bedrock that ex­posed ground­wa­ter be­neath, known as cenotes. The Mayans once used them as wa­ter sources and some­times for sacri­fi­cial of­fer­ings. There are plenty to choose from but Dos Ojos (mean­ing two eyes) comes highly rec­om­mended for new div­ing and snorkelling ad­ven­tures. The fish and co­ral near Isla Mu­jeres, near Can­cun, love their very own un­der­wa­ter mu­seum. From cars to peo­ple and dogs to weave through, the 400 stat­ues have un­sur­pris­ingly be­come a hot div­ing spot.

Tur­tles

If you’ve ever had the burn­ing de­sire to swim among tur­tles, Aku­mal Bay is your sure-fire chance. Un­like most snorkelling trips in the big blue where you might chance see­ing the grace­ful ocean dwellers, the pro­tected wa­ter at this bay is a per­fect habi­tat for them to feed.

Ha­vana

It’s ac­tu­ally a short 70-minute flight from Can­cun over to Cuba so why not also ex­plore the land of the cigar be­fore trade with Amer­ica changes the land­scape? Peo­ple aren’t wrong when they say Cuba is stuck back in the 1950s, it’s like a time warp. Clas­sic cars, di­lap­i­dated build­ings and the ab­sence of global brand­ing are among the most ob­vi­ous signs.

The Por­tal Maya sculp­ture on Playa Del Car­men’s main Caribbean beach and, top right, Chichen Itza is an ar­chi­tec­tural marvel – mod­elled on the Mayan cal­en­dar – in Mex­ico; and be­low right, the Mayan ru­ins at Tu­lum are perched on a cliff above the Caribbean.

PHO­TOS: RAE WIL­SON

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