Located in the heart of the ancient Mayan’s stomping grounds, the Riviera Maya or Mayan Riviera runs along the turquoise blue Caribbean Sea and consists of beautiful white sand beaches, tropical jungles, rivers (both above and below ground), cenotes and ancient Mayan archaeological sites. Located in the Mexican Caribbean, the Riviera Maya is in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula and spreads south from Cancun, past the charming beach town of Puerto Morelos to the tiny fishing village of Punta Allen in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Nature Reserve.
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The Riviera Maya is renowned for being one of the best areas along the Mexican Caribbean coastline for water sports and beach activities because it offers expansive beaches with clear, turquoise-blue, warm sea water. Featuring a spectacular underwater world of colorful fish and uncommon marine life along its coral reefs, this part of the Caribbean Sea is home to the great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef in the world, spanning from Cancun all the way south to Guatemala in Central America.
The Riviera Maya is the perfect place to enjoy water sports and activities, such as jet skiing, parasailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming in cenotes (cave-like sinkholes with natural wells fed by underground rivers), swimming with the dolphins and whale sharks, zip-lining, horseback riding, jungle tours and much more. Another prime attraction of the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan Peninsula are the many ancient Mayan archaeological ruin sites, such as Chichen Itza, Tulum and Coba, just to name a few.
The Riviera Maya is home to many nature and eco parks. The development of conservation and environmental protection measures has resulted in many protected nature reserves and parks. Thanks to conscientious efforts, many endangered plant and animal species have been saved from extinction. While vacationing in the Mexico Caribbean, a visit to the nature parks will provide many unexpected, wonderful surprises.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Located just south of Tulum, the Sian Ka’an (meaning “where the sky is born”) Biosphere Reserve is a breathtaking, expansive, protected nature reserve and UNESCO World Heritage site. The quiet serenity and beauty of Sian Ka’an wilderness is mesmerizing.
Consisting of 1.3 million acres of land, Sian Ka’an spans 70 miles of Caribbean coastline, protecting its crystal clear lagoons, wetlands, mangroves forests, savannahs, jungles, coral reefs, plants and animals. Some of the many animals on the reserve include pumas, jaguars, ocelots, three different monkey species, crocodiles, three turtle species, various bird species and colorful tropical plants.
Activities and tours can be scheduled at the Sian Ka’an Visitor Center, located about 11 miles (18 kilometers) south of Tulum on the beach road towards the village of Punta Allen. The Visitor Center also offers lodging with easy beach access and ecotourism activities, such as sustainable training, kayaking by day or by night through the wetlands, bird watching tours, sea turtle eco tours and bicycling through the reserve.
Isla Contoy (Contoy Island) was declared a National Park in 1988 but has been protected by the Mexican government since 1961 because of its unrivaled natural beauty, consisting of secluded white sand beaches and native palm trees.
Although the island is very small, it is identified as the most important nesting place in the Mexican Caribbean for sea birds, with more than 150 bird species migrating and residing there. Some of the more easily spotted birds are the brown pelican, double-crested cormorant and frigate.
The island is also an important nesting place for various species of endangered sea turtles. Located 30 miles north of Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy offers guided tours by resident biologists.
Xel-Ha, which means “spring water” in Maya, is home to what is considered to be the largest natural open sea aquarium in the world. This natural park offers a myriad of water and land activities and ecological attractions.
The sister park of Xcaret, Xel-Ha is located south of Playa del Carmen in the Riviera Maya. Although similar to Xcaret, it is smaller and more water-oriented. The park offers snorkeling, scuba diving, exploring cenotes, swimming with dolphins, bicycle riding and hiking and exploring tropical forests. There are also several adventure activities, such as jumping from a cliff into the river or swinging from a rope into a cenote. It’s a great place to enjoy the natural wonders of the Riviera Maya.