There is a general perception that all-inclusive trips, mostly to the Caribbean, are meant for those wishing to hang around in the beach, make use of the copious amounts of the free alcohol and food available. But it does not have to be, as my trip to Mexico years ago proved, even though it was to one of the all-inclusive Mecca – the Mayan Riviera.
Before ending up in Mayan Riviera, I did contemplate going to Cancun, as the idea of vacationing in a resort with more than a thousand rooms has always fascinated me.
But in the end, it was Mayan Riviera. According to one site, rivieramaya.com, MR begins at Puerto Morelos, which is just south of the Cancun airport, and ends up at Felipe Carrillo Puerto, about 200 km south.
And it was the Marina El Cid all-inclusive resort in Puerto Morelos where I ended up.
El Cid is located just outside the city centre, by the white sandy beach with placid sea. The resort has a huge pool, a couple of bars and four restaurants.
The staff members, particularly those handling the concierge and front desks, are friendly. The food is great, with lots of options – from delicious Bolognese sauce to grilled beef. The three specialized restaurants cater to Mediterranean, Mexican and Seafood lovers. The Hacienda Arrecife Restaurant specializes on Mexican food in the evenings, and I was there twice – the first time enjoying the Mexican version of Cazuela de Mariscos (a type of seafood soup with lots of fresh and huge shrimps).
I also enjoyed a cup of the delicious “Mayan Coffee” after a dinner.
Puerto Morelos in Mayan Riviera
In many ways, Puerto Morelos still retains its essence as a sleepy fishermen’s town, even if it has caught the attention of those wanting a Mexican alternative to Cancun, near Cancun. Life here supposedly runs at a slower pace and prices are lower than that of Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
It has a beautiful church with a dome, and all around the church are a few stores and restaurants. Across the church on one side is a playground and beyond that the beach and the sea with a dock jutting into the waters. One could see several boats anchored off the waters. Most of my visits to the city was during the daytime, and it appeared to be very safe. It is a city where tourists can just hang around.
But certainly tourism is catching up, with a number of hotels and cabanas, and all-inclusives such as the El Cid are also moving in. Several restaurants adorn the city.
The advantage of living in such a town is that I could find a few tourist agencies offering various tours, from scuba diving and snorkelling to trips to the ruins further south.
Trips Taken in Mayan Riviera
My major trip was to Tulum.
Situated by the sea, Tulum may not have been a glorious kingdom in the Mayan history, but it has its attractions. And Tulum was certainly one of the important Mayan cities on the Caribbean coast, and archaeological finds suggest the rulers and the citizens may have had trade links with other kingdoms in central and south America.
Tulum is a walled city, and it still contains a number of interesting ruins, including that of the ‘diving god’ (perhaps built in view of the steep cliff overlooking a green-watered sea). It can also be considered as one of the most fortified of Mayan cities with a number of watchtowers and thick walls.
Coba is known for its pyramid.
It is supposed to have been an important city/kingdom between sixth and tenth centuries, and its location between the coastal and the inland kingdoms gave it a special status as a connector city. At one point, more than 50,000 people supposed to have been living there.
Coba has not been studied as extensively as Tulum and the more known Chichen Itza pyramid.
But what is known makes it very interesting. One of the most interesting features of the Coba kingdom is the Sacbe, or the White Road, which is basically a raised paved road. Not just the Coba rulers, but Mayan rulers throughout constructed hundreds of such roads connecting temples, cities and kingdoms. The longest Sacbe is reportedly about 100 km long, connecting Coba with Yaxuna, close to Chichen Itza. There reports that archaeologists have discovered yet another longer road, perhaps as long as 300 km. Though now the roads have fallen into disrepair, some Mayanists suggest that these roads were another of those Mayan mysteries, as they seem to have managed to construct them in utterly straight lines.
While the Sacbe’s marvels can only be imagined through written reports, what can be marvelled by experiencing it is the pyramid called Nohuch Mul (Big Mound), and at 42 metres, is higher than the famous El Castillo in Chichen Itza. What’s more, one could even climb the stairs in this one.
But climbing is not for the faint-hearted ones. Some stones can be slippery while some are pretty high. But I did make it to the top and enjoyed a ‘roof-top’ view of the surrounding jungles. There are reports that many more ancient Mayan structures lie yet to be detected in the surrounding areas.
Another of the Mayan marvels in Coba is the ball-court. These are two, open-air, stoned structures with the stoned floor rising at an angle and a gap between the two structures. At the farthest end of the floor, just below what could have been the seating structure for the viewers, is a hoop, and supposedly the players from each side had to pass the ball through it with their elbows and hips.
One astonishing feature I noticed was that the slanted floor was almost perfectly even.
Now, there are reports that human sacrifices were part of the game. Some claim one of the players was sacrificed while others say the whole defeated team was sacrificed. Yet there are others who say the proud winners offered themselves as human sacrifices.
The next stop was a cenote. Sometimes referred to as ‘sinkholes’, cenotes are subterranean water bodies with underground water filtering through the limestone. The water is clear, and one could see the rock edges. And sometimes within the walls of the cenotes, caves can be found, leading to other cenotes. Diving through the caves are meant for professional divers.
Generally, locals and officials try to keep the cenotes clean, by requiring to have a bath before entering one.
The second major trip I undertook was a combined ATV-cenote tour. The plan is to take about a 40-minute drive through the rough terrain in the ATV and reach two cenotes. One of the cenotes was an open one.
Some Special Things I Enjoyed in Mayan Riviera
The Ah Cacao Restaurant in Playa del Carmen.
A real gem. It is a café house with some delicious desserts, such as brownies and candies, and drinks. Both cacao as well as chilli originated in the Americas and certainly the ancient tribes, including the Mayas, may have used both together. At Ah Cacao, the owners say they use only hand made products using authentic Mexican cacao products.
Their Mayan hot chocolate is a must-taste drink with sweetness mingled with a tinge of chilli.
Chillies: Mexico is a land of chillies. According to known history, chillies (also called chili) was cultivated first in the Americas, perhaps more than seven thousand years ago. And it gradually found its way to Spain from where it went to Asia.
These are some of the chilli varieties cultivated in Mexico: ancho, arbol, cascabel, chilaca, chipotle, guajillo, guero, habanero, poblano, serran.
And wherever I went there was plenty of chillies available, usually in the form of the various sauces or the spicy pickles.
Mexico is a land of speed bumps (called topes).
They can be found everywhere; sometimes just within a gap of a few metres, ostensibly to control speeds, but I also have the feeling they might be security-related.