Get away from the crowds and explore the cultural side of Mexico.
Iam floating on my back, staring up at a cavernous ceiling from which hang dozens of mesmerising vines. Below me lies metres of the purest water I have ever had the pleasure of swimming in. It feels beautiful and eerie at the same time – a feeling exacerbated by the fact that I’m aware it’s a venue that may once have been used for ancient sacrificial rituals. It’s certainly a one-off experience, but then I am in something of an interesting place: a cenote.
Underground sinkholes with pools that connect to a series of river systems, most of the world’s cenotes are found in Mexico, which boasts more than 6,000 of them. They provided the water for Mexico’s ancient inhabitants, the Mayans, who also believed these mystical places represented the entrance to the underworld and sometimes used them for spiritual ceremonies.
Fast-forward to the present day and I’ve got more humdrum concerns in mind. With rumoured healing properties, I’m hoping that a dip in the cenote’s clear water will do wonders for my skin.
Still, hanging out underground in Mexico came as something of a
surprise, I must confess. When I first headed to the Yucatán Peninsula, I had little more in mind than sunbathing on a nice square of the 138km stretch of white sandy beach that lies south of Cancún, known as the Riviera Maya.
But doing only that would, I quickly discovered, be doing this beautiful part of the world a great disservice. The Yucatán Peninsula offers sun, sand and gorgeously turquoise sea, sure – but it also offers a great deal more: ancient ruins, jungles and lagoon, not to mention those cenotes. Then there’s the golf, scuba-diving, delicious food… you get the picture.
Of course, not everybody is aware of the country’s wonders. For many people, the word ‘Mexico’ brings other images to mind. Like hurricane crises and ferocious gang wars. MTV hasn’t done it many favours either, with its Spring Break coverage, featuring hoards of overexcited American teens behaving badly at the crowded beach resorts of its neon de facto capital Cancún.
Safe to say all this feels a million miles away if you head out of Cancún to the many other splendours of the peaceful Yucatán Peninsula, where honeymooners mingle happily with families, backpackers and culturevultures (when I say mingle, I mean not closely – one of the blessings of the Mayan Riviera is that it never feels crowded). While you do have to fly into Cancún – it’s an inter-continental hub that handles arrivals from all over Europe and the Americas – you can be sipping a cool drink overlooking the warm waters of the Caribbean within a couple of hours of touching down.
A seaside refuge
I stayed at the Viceroy Riviera Maya, just outside Playa del Carmen, which is a 45-minute drive from the airport. A seaside refuge that extends deep into the primitive Maya tropical forest, the luxurious resort comprises a series of thatched villas, each equipped with its own private plunge pool set into an oversized patio area.
Hanging out in the villa felt like a spa break in itself, but once I’d wrenched myself away from my
Prep time: 10 mins Cooking time: 2 mins
400g tuna loin 4 tbsp black sesame seeds 4 tbsp white sesame seeds 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 2-3 tbsp olive oil For mango salad, mix together: 1 large mango, sliced and finely cubed 1 tbsp chopped coriander 1 small red bell pepper, finely cubed 1 tbsp finely chopped mint 1 red chilli, finely chopped 1 lemon, juiced 2 tbsp olive oil
tuna into 4 long fillets and season with salt and pepper. 2Mix
together black and white sesame seeds with ground cinnamon in tray or shallow dish. 3Place
tuna fillet on sesame seed mix and pat it gently to ensure seeds form an even coating. Turn fish to coat other side. Repeat until all fillets are coated.
oil in frying pan and place fillets carefully in pan. Cook fillets for no more than 2 minutes for rare. If you like tuna well done, let it cook for a little longer.
tuna warm with a generous portion of mango salad.
The Viceroy Riviera Maya is a luxury seaside resort comprising a series of thatched villas, each equipped with its own private plunge pool