On your 2020 Cancun vacation, why not plan to visit somewhere new in the area? Here are five trips in Riviera Maya and Yucatan to get you started and the staff at the Thomas More Travel tour desk in your resort will have many more recommendations for you during your stay.
Explore the Maya Underworld
Beneath the limestone landscape of the Yucatan lies a different world, an immense network of caves, cenotes or sinkholes and underground rivers sculpted by the slow drip of water over millions of years. Stalactites and stalagmites, columns mirrored in still turquoise waters, galleries opening up in the darkness, it is no wonder that the Maya believed that caves and cenotes were the gateway to the Underworld, Xibalba, the home of the gods, and held them sacred.
If you have never visited the caves and cenotes of the Riviera Maya and Yucatan, why not plan a trip in 2020? Start with Rio Secreto, a cave system in the jungle south of Playa del Carmen that is one of the area’s natural wonders.
For a day of cenote fun, watery splashdowns and zip lining, visit some of the cenote parks along the Ruta de los Cenotes in the forest near Puerto Morelos or in the Puerto Aventuras area.
Combine a trip to Chichen Itza or the colonial town of Valladolid with more cenote fun. Zaci, Dzitnup, Samula, Hubiku and Ik-kil head the list of cenotes in the eastern Yucatan and there are many more. Also opening in 2020 near Valladolid is a new cenote park called Xibalba operated by the Xcaret Group.
A trip to Merida is always a good idea, whether you have been before or are a first-time visitor. Full of history and traditions, it is a cultural capital with a different event going on somewhere in the city every evening. The dining scene is lively and varied and there are plenty of shopping options for visitors looking for Mexican folk art and the work of up and coming artists and designers. So many Conde Nast Traveler readers fell in love with Merida that they voted it the World’s Best City to visit in 2019 in the magazine’s annual readership poll.
Spend your days and nights exploring the historic heart of Merida: the Plaza Grande or main square where the Cathedral, City Hall, Casa de Montejo and Palacio del Gobierno are; Calle 60, its historic churches and theater and squares full of open-air restaurants and bars and the surrounding colonial neighborhoods or barrios such as La Mejorada, Santa Lucia, San Juan, Santa Ana and Santiago.
Head north from Calle 60 and stroll along Paseo de Montejo, the 19th-century boulevard lined by mansions once belonging to estate owners who grew rich from the cultivation of the native agave plant called henequen or sisal.
Museum hopping, people watching in a tranquil square, dining by candlelight as you listen to a trova guitar serenade and witnessing a performance of traditional jarana dances on the main square, these are just some of the magical Merida moments that await you.
Amazing wildlife encounters
Renew your ties with Mother Nature this year with a visit to some of the Yucatan’s wild places. From the jungle to the wetlands and the sea, go in search of colorful birds, animals and marine life.
On the Gulf coast of the Yucatan, Rio Lagartos and Celestun Biosphere Reserves are home to a wealth of bird and animal life including thousands of flamingos, 16 different species of herons and egrets, black hawks and kingfishers.
Sian Ka’an, the huge biosphere reserve protecting swathes of jungle and wetlands, beaches and coral reefs in northern and central Quintana Roo, is another wildlife haven that nature lovers won’t want to miss. It is home to the elusive jaguar, puma and ocelot, spider and howler monkeys, manatees, crocodiles and a variety of birds. Species you may see include roseate spoonbills, ibis, osprey, reddish egrets and shy boat-billed herons in the wetlands and jungle residents such as the keel-billed toucan, turquoise-browed motmot, coatimundis and agoutis.
One popular Sian Ka’an trip takes you to the archaeological site of Muyil in the jungle and then on a boat through the wetlands to Boca Paila on the coast. You’ll be following the route taken by Mayan merchants over 1,000 years ago. They dredged and widened a natural channel through the mangroves so that their trading canoes could reach the city of Muyil and a tiny temple is testimony to their presence.
Summer visitors can have their own amazing wildlife encounter with the biggest fish in the sea, the whale shark. From May to September, these gentle giants gather to feed on plankton and fish eggs in the waters off Holbox, Cabo Catoche and to the east of Isla Mujeres and Contoy. Eco trips start in June.
A highlight of trips in Riviera Maya and Yucatan is the chance to go back in history to learn about ancient Mayan culture. Explore some of the Yucatan’s amazing archaeological sites during your vacation. If you have been to Tulum and Chichen Itza, why not visit the jungle site of Coba in the Riviera Maya and Ek Balam, 20 minutes to the north of Valladolid or Uxmal, an hour’s drive to the south of Merida?
Mighty Uxmal is a Maya World treasure famous for the beauty of its temples and palaces and the artistry of its ancient stucco carvings. Shrouded in legend, the Magician’s Pyramid dominates the skyline. The Temple of the Birds, so named for the carvings of sacred birds on its façade, separates the pyramid from the Nuns’ Quadrangle, a courtyard surrounded by four palaces with magnificent friezes featuring masks of the rain god Chaac, snakes, birds and warriors. The Palace of the Governor crowns a temple mound with a panoramic view of the site. The House of the Turtles, the Great Pyramid, and El Palomar lie nearby.
During the Late Classic period of Mayan history (A.D. 600-900), Uxmal was a regional capital, controlling southwest Yucatán and a chain of smaller cities referred to as the Puuc Route: Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labná. Apart from location, these sites share a unique architectural and artistic style called Puuc. In recognition of their outstanding cultural worth, UNESCO declared them a World Heritage area in 1996.
If you have time to explore further afield in the Maya World, why not arrange a private trip to another World Heritage Site, the ancient city of Calakmul in the jungle reserve of the same name in southern Campeche? An alternative is to book a flight to see Palenque, another amazing Mayan capital and World Heritage Site in the hills of northern Chiapas.
Leave the Riviera Maya behind and follow highway 307 south from Tulum to explore the rest of Quintana Roo. First up is the area around the historic town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, formerly Chan Santa Cruz, the stronghold of Mayan rebels during the 19th century Caste War. Known as the Zona Maya, this is a land of rural communities steeped in history and rich in traditions. The best way to visit some of these villages is to take a Maya Ka’an community operated tour.
The Maya Ka’an collection of guided tours gives you the chance to meet the Maya and learn about their culture, farming, herbal medicine, cuisine and beliefs. If you love nature, other trips take you deep into Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve for bird watching, kayaking, snorkeling and a look at chicle harvesting. The sap of the chicozapote tree is the natural raw ingredient for chewing gum and has been used by the Maya since ancient times.
After exploring the Zona Maya get back on Highway 307 and take the turnoff marked Mahahual and Costa Maya. The stretch of coastline known as the Costa Maya runs from Mahahual to Xcalak and offers a chain of beaches, coastal lagoons for bird watching and kayaking, snorkeling and diving.
The treasure of southern Quintana Roo is Bacalar, the Lagoon of Seven Colors, an allusion to its many shades of turquoise, aqua and azure. A boutique hotel or thatched cabaña on the Bacalar shoreline is an excellent base for visiting state capital Chetumal and the archaeological sites of Kohunlich, Dzibanche and Oxtankah.
Start planning your 2020 adventures now with Thomas More Travel
Check the Thomas More Travel website for more ideas for trips in Riviera Maya and Yucatan and be sure to visit the tour desk in your resort during your vacation.
Check this blog during the year or the monthly Royal Reporter newsletter for more ideas for trips in Riviera Maya and Yucatan.