Sea turtle season in Cancun and Riviera Maya begins in May
Sea turtle nesting season begins in May in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. All along the Mexican Caribbean shoreline, the Riviera Maya, Isla Mujeres, Contoy, Holbox, Cozumel, Sian Ka’an and the beaches of southern Quintana Roo, female green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles, and the occasional giant leatherback turtle, come ashore at night to lay their eggs in the sand. Forty-five to 60 days later, their eggs hatch and the baby turtles struggle out of the shells and begin their perilous dash towards the waves and a new life at sea.
The birth of the sea turtle is one of nature’s greatest wonders and Royal Resorts is proud to do its part to protect this ancient, and sadly, endangered species.
After refresher courses on turtle nesting habits given by biologists working for the Ecology department in Cancun City Hall, Security guards at The Royal Sands, The Royal Caribbean and The Royal Islander in Cancun, and Grand Residences in Puerto Morelos, have begun their annual summer vigil.
Night after night, these conservation guardians patrol the beaches in search of nesting female sea turtles. When they find one, they watch over her as she digs her nest and deposits her eggs. They then transfer the eggs to a nursery where they must dig another nest that is identical in shape and depth to the original. The sea turtle species, date and time of nesting and number of eggs are recorded and another long wait begins until they hatch.
Finally, the watch is over and guests are invited to see the baby sea turtles being released to race across the beach towards the waves and a new life in the ocean.
Royal Resorts is a Sea Turtle Conservation Pioneer
Royal Resorts has been protecting the sea turtle since 1985. Official record keeping began at The Royal Sands, The Royal Caribbean and The Royal Islander in 1998 and in 18 years we have protected 6,686 sea turtle nests and released 604,309 baby turtles! In 2015, there were 527 nests with 55,434 baby turtles at the Cancun resorts and a further 69 nests and over 5,000 hatchlings released at Grand Residences Riviera Cancun. We hope that our seaturtle guardians will be even busier this year.
Follow the Sea Turtle Nesting Season Rules
If you are due to visit Royal Resorts or Grand Residences Riviera Cancun or will be traveling to Cancun or the Riviera Maya during the summer, join us in protecting these beautiful creatures.
• If you spot a sea turtle on the beach at night alert the security staff
• Be very quiet and keep still
• Watch from a distance of ten meters
• Do not attempt to touch the sea turtle or crowd her
• Do not shine a torch or use the light on your mobile phone
• Please, no flash photography of nesting sea turtles or baby turtles
• No smoking
• Follow the instructions given by security staff at all times
• Security staff will release baby turtles after dark when predators such as seagulls and frigate birds have gone to roost. Changes in Federal environmental law here in Mexico mean that it is no longer possible for guests to handle baby sea turtles.
• Help us to keep our beaches and sea clean. Discarded straws, plastic bags, beer packaging, fishing lines and other garbage floating in the water are lethal to sea turtles and other marine life
• When snorkeling or diving watch sea turtles from a distance, do not swim towards them and do not attempt to touch them
• Wear a t-shirt when snorkeling as protection from the sun instead of applying sun block. Sun products pollute the water and are harmful to marine life
The sea turtle is protected by Mexican law and it is illegal to disturb them, persecute or hunt them and consume their meat or eggs.
First Sea Turtle Nests in the Mexican Caribbean
Volunteers patrolling the beaches in the Puerto Morelos area, Akumal and the Xcacel-Xcacelito Turtle Sanctuary in the Riviera Maya and the island of Cozumel have reported the first sea turtle nests of the season. There will be many more in the weeks to come.
The first sea turtle of the season spotted on a beach in the Puerto Morelos area was a huge leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the largest species in the world and seldom seen in the Mexican Caribbean. Known as tortuga laud in Spanish, the leatherback turtle can be up to seven feet long. It owes its name to its carapace, which is rubbery and ridged, unlike the harder bony shells of the green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtle.
All sea turtles are ocean wanderers and none more so than the leatherback turtle. It swims the longest distances between feeding and nesting areas; distances in excess of 7,000 miles have been recorded, there and back again. It can also dive deeper than any other turtle, to over 4,000 feet and can stay immersed for over an hour.
Leatherback turtles feed on jellyfish and many die as a result of swallowing plastic bags and other refuse they mistake for their prey.
Xcaret nurses 12 injured sea turtles back to health and releases them
In more sea turtle news, after a year of intensive care in the Xcaret Turtle Rehabilitation Center, 12 green and hawksbill turtles were released in May to begin life at sea.
The three hawksbill turtles were juveniles, around eight or nine months old when they were rescued in a state of extreme malnutrition. The nine green turtles were hatchlings born in the 2015 season that were too weak to be released. Xcaret vets were able to nurse them back to health.
The most important center of its kind in Mexico, the Xcaret Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center attends turtles brought in with injuries caused by boat collisions, entrapment in fishing nets, plastic garbage and swallowing fishing hooks. Others have been attacked by poachers, dogs or jaguars or are suffering from anorexia, starvation or diseases. The survival rate of turtles rescued in such circumstances is up to 67 percent at the Center.
Together with its charitable foundation Flora, Fauna y Cultura de Mexico, A.C., Xcaret has been involved in sea turtle conservation for more than 30 years. Flora, Fauna y Cultura manages several turtle camps in the Riviera Maya and on its watch it is estimated that more than 10 million baby turtles have been helped on their way to begin life at sea.
Check this blog for more sea turtle news during the season. You can also pick up a Save the Sea Turtle t-shirt from La Paloma Gift Shop at Royal Resorts and support conservation.
The 2019 edition of our annual magazine Royal Resorts Life is now available online. Click on this link to read and download it. Get the latest news from Royal Resorts, including sightseeing ideas and activities for you to enjoy on your next trip to Cancun and the Riviera Maya. The 2018 Advisory Council Reports and […]
Members of the TripAdvisor travel community have rated Grand Residences and Royal Resorts among the Top Hotels in Mexico by including them in the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice 2019 listings. For the fifth year running Grand Residences has picked up several TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice 2019 accolades given to the best of the best in Mexico. TripAdvisor […]
Six of Cancun’s beautiful white beaches received Blue Flag certification in early July in recognition of the cleanliness of the sand, the quality and transparency of the water and the facilities offered for beachgoers. The international blue flag is now flying at Playa Delfines, Playa Ballenas, Playa Marlin, Chac Mool, Las Perlas and Playa El Niño. Elsewhere in the state, a popular bathing spot in Bacalar and Playa Posada del Mar on Isla Mujeres were also awarded Blue Flag status.
In terms of beaches with blue flags Cancun is the undisputed leader in Mexico.
Sea turtle season in Cancun and Riviera Maya begins in May Sea turtle nesting season begins in May in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. All along the Mexican Caribbean shoreline, the Riviera Maya, Isla Mujeres, Contoy, Holbox, Cozumel, Sian Ka’an and the beaches of southern Quintana Roo, female green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles, and the occasional giant leatherback turtle, come ashore […]
Coming down to the Mexican Caribbean this summer? Have your own National Geographic experience, a memory to treasure for a lifetime and something special to tell your family and friends about, swim with the whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. True ocean wanderers, these gentle giants are found in a handful of spots around the […]
Coming down to the Mexican Caribbean this summer? Have your own National Geographic experience, a memory to treasure for a lifetime and something special to tell your family and friends about, swim with the whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. True ocean wanderers, these gentle giants are found in a handful of spots around the world such as Fiji, Australia, Indonesia, Honduras and Baja California Sur, and in the summer it’s the turn of the Mexican Caribbean to welcome them as they gather here to feed.
From mid-May to mid-September, whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), gather in the northern waters of the Mexican Caribbean off the island of Holbox and in the ocean deeps to the east of Contoy and Isla Mujeres. What draws the world’s largest fish –they can measure up to 40 feet long– here? The answer is food! They are filter feeders and swim on the surface with their jaws open swallowing the plankton that is plentiful in the summer as the water heats up, rather like mammoth vacuum cleaners. But local marine biologists have also discovered that these gentle giants are rather partial to fish roe, in this case to the eggs of the little tunny which spawns here during the summer.
Sightings of over 200 whale sharks have been recorded in one day in the area and scientists believe that the Mexican Caribbean hosts the largest whale shark feeding aggregation or gathering in the world. The largest whale shark gathering here to date was registered in 2009, a staggering 420 of these creatures in one place on one day!
Known as the tiburón ballena in Spanish, local fishermen also refer to the whale shark to the pez domino or domino fish due to its dappled grey or dark blue skin. Biologists working in the Mexican Caribbean use the distinctive markings to compile catalogs of individual fish sightings. When divers encounter a whale shark they take a photo of a patch of skin behind the gills and above the left pectoral fin. The pattern of dots and stripes recorded does not change or fade with age and can be used to identify individual fish, almost like a fingerprint. These photos are uploaded to an international data bank to help track the shark. The location of the fish is recorded with a GPS reading and the findings are used to monitor whale shark movements. Some whale sharks are even being marked with a satellite sensor to study migration patterns.
Whale shark movements are still wrapped in mystery and scientists have much to learn about this enigmatic species. They are known to move from the Gulf of Mexico into the Mexican Caribbean and south to Belize and the Bay Islands in the Gulf of Honduras during the year, and some have even been tracked to Brazil. Other whale shark aggregation zones are Ningaloo Reef off the coast of Australia, Fiji, the Seychelles, Madagascar, the coast of Mozambique and Tanzania, India, Philippines, Belize and the Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur.
For nature lovers, divers and seafarers, a whale shark sighting is the highlight of a summer vacation in the Mexican Caribbean. From the moment you spot fins on the surface of the water and watch as a whale shark glides serenely past the boat to the emotion as you enter the water and watch a creature the size of a bus approaching you, culminating in a feeling of peace as you swim beside these beautiful creatures and share their watery world, the whole experience is unforgettable.
Your knowledgeable eco guide will tell you about whale shark feeding habits and behavior during the boat trip out to the whale shark area and point out other marine creatures. You might spot dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays leaping from the water, flying fish and a variety of seabirds.
There are two whale shark feeding grounds in the northern Mexican Caribbean: the sea between Holbox and Cabo Catoche where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean, and la zona de afuera, a stretch of deeper “blue water” to the east of Contoy and Isla Mujeres where boats will venture on calm days. Part of the area has been declared a marine biosphere reserve by the Mexican government.
Thomas More Travel offers whale shark trips during the season, for more information and reservations check www.thomasmoretravel.com or ask at the tour desk at your resort.
Whale Shark Conservation
As with all sharks, the whale shark is threatened with extinction. In other parts of the world it is hunted for its fins and at risk from boat collisions, pollution and the impact that climate and ocean changes may have on its food sources. In the Mexican Caribbean, the number of boats taking visitors out to the whale shark feeding grounds is strictly limited to protect them. Biologists are concerned that the presence of too many boats may stress the fish, interrupt their feeding patterns and cause them to move elsewhere. They have noticed that they tend to dive deep when several boats gather in the same place.
If you swim with the whale sharks help protect them by following these rules:
• Keep a distance of 16 feet between you and the whale sharks as you swim alongside them
• Do not touch them
• You will only be permitted to enter the water with your guide, two people at a time. Follow the guide’s instructions carefully
• Enter the water slowly and carefully, do not jump
• No flash photography when taking pictures of whale sharks
• Do not apply sunscreen, oil or any kind of lotion the day you are due to swim with the whale sharks. Use a t-shirt to protect you from the sun instead. This rule also applies whenever you go snorkeling or diving, as the chemicals on your skin are harmful to corals and marine life.
• Don’t forget your camera, take water and a hat
A tip for visitors who are prone to seasickness, Dramamine or ginger tablets are recommended, as there may be a swell especially en route to the “blue water” east of Contoy.
Whale Shark Festival, Isla Mujeres
If you are interested in learning more about whale sharks, the latest research findings and conservation initiatives underway around the world, don’t miss the Isla Mujeres Whale Shark Festival, July 18-24.
On March 31, The Royal Sands had a surprise visitor from the sea, a sick dolphin that had swum into the shallows, possibly in pursuit of fish, and beached itself. We are happy to report that Dolphin Discovery vets have been able to nurse it back to health and it was released back into the wild today north of Isla Mujeres.
Dolphin in the shallows
When the dolphin was spotted on March 31, The Royal Sands lifeguards, guests and employees from the neighboring hotel Casa Turquesa tried to keep it cool and help it. Knowing that dolphins will beach themselves when sick or dying, Royal Resorts staff notified Zofemat and Profepa biologists and Dolphin Discovery, which is part of an alliance to rescue marine mammals to the presence of the mammal. They requested aid for the creature, which was very weak and showing signs of distress.
Dolphin Discovery vets were quick to arrive on the scene and determined that the animal, a female estimated to be around 25 years old, was very ill. The government biologists and vets decided that the best course of action was to transport her to the Tortugranja Park on Isla Mujeres for treatment.
After an examination and ultrasound study, the dolphin was found to be suffering from a serious renal disorder, kidney stones and mouth wounds and was very underweight. In her weakened state she had been unable to keep up with the rest of the dolphin pod and had swum inshore. The initial prognosis was not very encouraging and vets thought she might not survive.
On the Road to Recovery
Once she began to receive treatment, the miracle dolphin named Maya by Dolphin Discovery staff, began to show signs of improvement and to put on weight. Finally, after a month of round the clock care, the vets decided that she had recovered enough to be set free and to eventually find another dolphin pod. A microchip was fitted in order to be able identify and track her at sea.
Sources: Royal Resorts staff, Novedades, Dolphin Discovery
This world-famous resort was a deserted finger of sand, the sigh of the surf and the cries of sea birds the only sounds, and the only visitors the family that tended the coconut palm plantations and fishermen from the nearby village of Puerto Juárez. How times have Cancun is celebrating its 45th anniversary today, April 20. And to think that in 1970, changed!
The Birth of Cancún
During the term of Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, 1964 – 1970, politicians and planners concluded that Mexico needed to use its enormous potential for tourism as a tool for national development.
The Bank of Mexico’s preliminary study concluded that Mexico should tap into this lucrative market by building a new beach resort. The question was where? With 9,000 kilometers of coastline bordering the Pacific, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of sun, sand and sea. Planners were spoilt for choice. However, they had to find a spot that satisfied certain requisites, including a good climate, extensive beaches and other attractions, a suitable geographical location, proximity to major tourism markets, land availability and an abundant labor supply.
The search was on to find the ideal location. In 1968, a team of Bank of Mexico researchers headed by a young Harvard graduate and banker called Antonio Enrique Savignac embarked on a mission to find the beach that was to become Mexico’s first planned resort. Months of fieldwork and analysis followed before they selected their candidates: Cancun in the territory of Quintana Roo on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, the Los Cabos area and Loreto in Baja California Sur, Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo in Guerrero and Huatulco in Oaxaca. After careful debate, the planners chose Cancun.
Cancun, the Gateway to a World of Attractions
Cancun (one translation of its Mayan name is “nest of snakes”) was selected for a number of reasons. Not only does the island offer miles of pearly white sand, a turquoise sea and a tropical climate, it is close to a variety of natural and historical attractions. The world’s second longest reef lies just offshore; the islands of Isla Mujeres, Cozumel and Contoy are an easy boat ride away and the coast south of Cancún – now the Riviera Maya – offers more beautiful beaches and the spectacular inlets and lagoons at Xel-Ha and Yalku.
The planners also thought that visitors would be able to explore the archaeological sites such as Tulum and Chichen Itza dotted throughout the area, that are the legacy of the Maya, one of the most important ancient civilizations in the Americas. Other side trips include Mérida, capital of the neighboring state of Yucatán, smaller colonial towns and the old henequen haciendas or estates. With the passing of the years, this rich offering has expanded to include Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, the world-famous parks of Xcaret, Xplor, Xenotes, Oasis Maya, Xoximilco, Rio Secreto, cenotes and the biosphere reserves of Sian Ka’an and Rio Lagartos, among others.
Although somewhat isolated from the rest of Mexico (something that improved flight connectivity in recent years has reduced), Cancun is ideally located in terms of access to the major tourism markets of the United States and Canada, just a two to three-hour flight away from cities along the eastern seaboard of the United States.
Moreover Cancun would boost the regional economy and become an important source of jobs for the population of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Let Building Begin
The Cancun project was approved in 1969 and work began in 1970. To transform 17 kilometers of sand, swamp, dune and jungle into the Hotel Zone we know today, build an airport and a city on the mainland where there was only dense forest, and install the infrastructure required by tourists and residents alike was an enormous engineering challenge. Nevertheless by 1974, work was well underway on Mexico’s first master-planned resort.
The Cancun Master Plan divided the spindly 7-shaped island or Zona Hotelera into four zones: A, B, C and D which were destined for exclusively for hotels or mixed use areas for hotels and residential projects. It also envisaged the Convention Center, an 18-hole golf course, malls, marinas, gardens and other attractions. An International Airport was to be built on the mainland to the south of the city and the Hotel Zone. Until the airport was inaugurated, smaller planes landed at Cancun’s first airstrip, which was located between the modern-day Boulevard Luis Donaldo Colosio and the Comercial Mexicana store on Avenida Kabah. You can still see a replica of the original rustic control tower at the entrance to the city.
The Master Plan also stipulated that development would take place in three stages and building began on the bayside arm of the island between the mainland and Punta Cancún. The second phase extended from Punta Cancun to Punta Nizuc and the third from Punta Nizuc to the south.
As Cancun Island was barely 50 meters wide, it soon became clear that much more land was needed for the ambitious project. In a feat of engineering, dredging and land reclamation, the island was widened to between 250 and 300 meters to make way for the first hotels.
The First Tourists Arrive
The first three hotels were inaugurated in 1974 with a total of 332 rooms and by 1975, 15 hotels had already opened.
One of the destination’s pioneer companies, Royal Resorts was founded in 1975. Building began at its first resort, The Royal Cancun in 1977 and it opened in 1978.
By 1980, Cancun had 47 hotels and was welcoming 460,000 visitors. The event that put it well and truly on the world map was the 1980 North-South Summit, a gathering of international leaders from some of the world’s richest and poorest countries which included Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterand, Hans Dietrich Genscher, Indira Ghandi and Mexican President José Lopez Portillo.
By 1989, Cancun had topped one million tourists, passing the 3,000,000 mark in 2000. It has never looked back, despite occasional adversity in the shape of hurricanes, the 2009 flu scare, the global recession and misplaced safety concerns. In 2014, Cancun and Puerto Morelos alone welcomed 4,922,978 visitors and its popularity keeps growing.
The urban planning of downtown Cancun was a far cry from the rigid grid plan introduced by Spanish settlers in the 16th century and still used in Mexico’s colonial cities today. The new city was divided into supermanzanas or independent neighborhoods that were separated by major avenues.
The master plan stipulated that each supermanzana would have a park, school and other services.
The earliest supermanzana parks were planted with native species of tree such as chicozapote, ceiba, chacah, ciricote and cedar; figs to provide shade and flamboyant, cassia, caesalpina and macoulis or pink poui for color. Some even have lime, orange, mango and guava trees.
Buildings began to spring up along Avenida Tulum and in the area known as the Crucero. Las Palapas Park was laid out in 1974 and City Hall was inaugurated in 1975. The city’s first church, Cristo Rey, was completed in 1976, by which time Cancún already had a population of 18,000.
The first streets were surrounded by dense jungle and longtime residents have a wealth of stories about sharing their backyards with monkeys, toucans, snakes, crocodiles, tarantulas and other forest creatures! Some tell how they even came face to face with the elusive jaguar on its nocturnal prowls.
A project is underway to restore the city center and give Ave. Tulum and Yaxchilan and the connecting streets a much-needed facelift. Another proposal is to improve and promote walkways from the center to Market 28 and attract more restaurants, cafés and stores to invest in the historic heart of Cancun.
The first Cancun settlers are called the Pioneros and they celebrate the city’s anniversary every April with special events such as a parade along Ave Tulum, a mass, seminars with pioneers, picnics and a gala dinner dance.
Cancun’s Enduring Popularity
So Happy Birthday to Cancun, the resort that has been the flagship of Mexican tourism for 45 years, an honor it now shares with the Riviera Maya. Today, Cancun has more than 150 hotels, and a cosmopolitan population that is nearing one million. Its inhabitants hail from Quintana Roo, Yucatán and from every state in Mexico, and when they moved here they brought their customs, cuisine, traditional dress, music and dances with them. They are joined by a growing expat community, which is also proud to call this place in the sun home, whether fulltime or for a few weeks every year.
We hope that you will join us in wishing Cancún Happy Birthday, Feliz Cumpleaños!
Here’s to many more years on the sun-kissed shores of the Mexican Caribbean.
Share your Cancun Memories
Many members of the Royal Resorts Family are longtime visitors to Cancun and remember the early days when vacationing here was not only enjoyable, it was an adventure. Perhaps you remember the first airport, fishing in the bay and catching lobster, boarding the rickety buses for an evening of dining downtown or walking along a deserted Caribbean beach at dawn. Why not share your Cancun memories with us? We would love to hear from you!
As the sun sets in the west and the shadows lengthen in the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, a collective sigh of amazement goes up from thousands of people standing at the foot of the Pyramid of Kukulcan on March 20-21, the spring equinox. They gather to witness an amazing spectacle, the mysterious shadow of a serpent rippling across the stone, the powerful symbol of an ancient god returning to earth.
Dominating the Great Plaza, the 25-meter-high El Castillo or Pyramid of Kukulcan is a feat of ancient engineering and a solar clock, aligned so precisely by its creators to catch the rays of the setting sun on the days of the spring and fall equinoxes in March and September. Isosceles triangles of light and shadow form along the side of the north staircase and the figure of a snake appears, merging with the head of a stone serpent at the foot of the building. The illusion is created of a gigantic snake slithering down from the heavens and across the ground towards the Sacred Cenote.
The snake symbolizes Kukulcan, a great leader and ruler of Chichen Itza associated with the feathered serpent god (known as Quetzalcoatl in central Mexico), who is said to return to earth to give hope to his followers. It also heralds the spring planting and fall harvest seasons for the Maya.
In ancient times, the city’s rulers, priests and astronomers would scan the heavens for portents, recording the movements of the stars and charting the passage of the seasons. They could predict the Equinoxes and on this day, they would have summoned their subjects to the main square for a ceremony invoking Kukulcan with prayers, rites and offerings. Imagine the awe of the populace as the shadow of the serpent appeared before them.
Experts believe that Kukulcan, the leader who gave his name to the pyramid, may have come from the west and that he resided at Chichen Itza some time in the 10th century. This coincided with the period when the city was ruled by the Itzae, a group of seafaring warrior traders or Putun from Chontal Maya territory in Tabasco and Campeche who had political and commercial ties with central Mexican cultures.
Built some time between A.D. 650 and 800 using only stone tools and with later modifications, possibly from 1000 to 1150, the pyramid is also a symbol of the Mayan calendar. Sitting on a square base measuring 55.5 meters on all sides, the pyramid has nine terraces, divided by two stairways. The number of terraces and wall panels coincides with the number of months in the ancient year (18) and years in a calendar round (52), respectively, and the number of steps in the staircases (91), in addition to the top platform, the entrance to the temple, equals 365, the days in the year.
This year, the Spring Equinox falls on March 20 but it is traditionally observed on March 21 at Chichen Itza as it coincides with an official Mexican holiday, the birthday of Benito Juarez, a 19th-century reformist president and national hero. The light and shadow snake is visible the day before and after the equinox, cloud cover permitting.
The Pyramid of Kukulcan is just one of the marvels awaiting discovery at Chichen Itza. This huge Mayan metropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a global online poll in 2007.
Dawn at Dzibilchaltun on the Equinox
Chichen Itza is not the only Mayan ceremonial center in the Yucatán to have temples with solar, lunar or planetary alignments. The doorway of the Temple of The Seven Dolls at Dzibilchaltun (13 miles north of Mérida) makes a perfect frame for the rising sun on the day of the Equinox.
Chichen Itza and Valladolid
If you would prefer to explore Chichen Itza at your own pace, why not arrange a private guided tour or rent a car and stop off in the colonial city of Valladolid on the way? This peaceful pueblo magico is steeped in history and tradition and is the perfect spot to spend a few hours before making your way to Chichen Itza.
Start with the spectacular Zaci Cenote and then stroll through the main square to the Cathedral. On Calle 40, just a short walk from the main square is Casa de Los Venados, a 17th-century restored mansion that is a private home and a museum with an impressive collection of more than 3,000 pieces of Mexican folk art. Guided tours of the property are available at 10 a.m. and are recommended. Admission is a $60 peso donation for local charities.
Then walk along Calzada de Los Frailes, the street leading to San Bernardino Church and Sisal Convent. You’ll pass more restored mansions, craft shops, a workshop where cacao is transformed into chocolate using traditional techniques, and the Coqui Coqui perfumery where native flowers and fruits are transformed into soaps, candles, essences and fragrances.
To the north of Valladolid, a side trip to the Mayapan artisanal distillery gives you a glimpse of the world of the blue agave, the plant that gives us tequila. Native to the state of Jalisco, the plant has adapted to the climate and soils of the Yucatan and is thriving in the fields surrounding the distillery.
When the plants are seven years old they are harvested for their root stem or piña, which is then roasted. The sugary liquid crushed from the cooked piña is fermented, distilled and stored in wooden barrels until ready to be bottled as blanco, reposado or añejado varieties of Mayapan.
Mayapan is not the only spirit produced in Valladolid, the town is also famous for Xtabentun, the fragrant anise-flavored liqueur of the Yucatan, which is made from honey and a native flower.
More impressive cenotes await you en route to Chichen Itza; Dzitnup and Samula are in villages on the outskirts of Valladolid (via Highway 180) and Balancanche Caves and Ik-Kil Cenote are located a short drive from the archaeological site.
Planning your Chichen Itza Trip
Thomas More Travel www.thomasmoretravel.com offers a variety of trips to Chichen Itza and you can also arrange a private tour to take you to the places mentioned in this post. An alternative is to rent a car and explore on your own.
The new evening Light & Sound Show in Chichen Itza is highly recommended if you decide to enjoy cocktails and an early dinner at one of the nearby hotels and then return to the site for the multimedia event.
Chichen Itza is located in the eastern Yucatan, 200 kilometers/125 miles from Cancun via the toll road (take the exit at Piste). An alternative route that takes longer is Highway 180 via Valladolid.
Take a look at some of the events coming up in Cancun, the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan in March and April. Be sure to check back regularly as we will be adding more events to the list
Last chance to see Momentos Sagrados Mayas Community Theater in X’ocen
On March 8 at 4 p.m. Yucatan Time (CST), the village of X’ocen near Valladolid in eastern Yucatan hosts a vibrant and moving community theater performance that is an extraordinary portrayal of Mayan traditions. A production of the Laboratorio de Teatro Campesino e Indigena Community Theater Workshop, Momentos Sagrados Mayas or Sacred Mayan Moments is brought to life by 270 actors of all ages hailing from seven different villages. Admission $150 pesos per person. More information and private tours with Thomas More Travel.
Festival de Las Culturas, Mahahual, 28 February – March 7
Artists from different parts of Mexico, United States, Italy, Spain, Italy and other parts of the world gather in Mahahual for this cultural festival which will feature art and photo exhibits, theater, dance, music and film.
Rum Trade Festival, Tulum, March 6-7
A festival that brings together the world’s leading rum makers from the Caribbean islands, Mexico and Latin America. The program includes rum tastings, conferences on the origin and history of rum, the perfect distillation, the art of cocktail making, and tendencies in the global rum market; live music, cocktail and the perfect mojito contests, cigars, fashion parades, a Caribbean show and much more.
The mixologists competing in the finals of the cocktail and mojito contests come from bars and nightclubs throughout Mexico.
Several Tulum locations. Tickets must be purchased for this event.
Cancun & Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival, March 12-15
The lovers of fine food and wine gather to celebrate cuisine and meet leading chefs from Mexico, the Americas and Europe. Events include a Star chef conference, Gala dinners, wine tastings, cooking classes, a catamaran cruise with celebrity chefs, gourmet tasting village and a closing beach party.
For more details see our Cancun & Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival blog post and visit www.crmfest.com for chef bios, event days, times and locations and to purchase tickets.
Festival Alas de Yucatan 2015, Sisal, March 13-14
For the fourth year running, the Gulf coast village of Sisal in Yucatan will play host to a birding festival to spread the message of conservation and the importance of the mangrove forest and wetlands as a habitat for herons, spoonbills and other waders, shore birds and countless other species.
The festival program includes birding trips into the marshes, bike trips, Mayan rituals and live music.
Equinox at Chichen Itza, March 21
The famous light and shadow serpent of Kukulcan appears on El Castillo Pyramid and descends from the heavens at sunset on the day of the Spring Equinox, also visible the day before and after (cloud cover permitting).
Elsewhere in the Yucatan, at dawn on the day of the Equinox the rising sun appears through the doorway of the Temple of the Dolls in the ancient city of Dzibilchaltun to the north of Merida.
Manos Mágicas in Cancún, March 28-29
The last weekend of every month, the lagoonside Jardin de Arte between the Semarnat Ecology Agency building and Playa Linda Bridge is the setting for the Manos Mágicas Festival featuring live music, art, cuisine, and organic produce craft stalls. Activities take place on Saturday and Sunday evening.
Semana Santa or Easter, April 2-5
Masses, processions and representations of the Crucifixion on Good Friday and masses on Easter Sunday are observed throughout Mexico.
International Public Art Festival, Holbox
April 13 – 19
For the third year running, the island of Holbox plays host to artists from Mexico, Spain, Chile, Ecuador and Canada participating in the International Public Art Festival, Soñando de Holbox. The event features murals, multimedia, short films, installation art and sculpture and the artists take their inspiration from nature, the islanders themselves, their past and hopes and dreams for the future.
The festival coincides with the season in which the island’s beaches are bathed with bioluminescence, a natural light exuded by minute marine organisms.
Akumal Comedy Festival
With events planned in Tulum on April 14, Playa del Carmen on March 15 and Akumal on March16, 17 and 18, the Akumal Comedy Festival brings together comedians from the United States to make festivalgoers laugh for a good cause. Tickets cost $150 or $200 pesos per person and all proceeds from this event go to the Red Cross in Tulum and Playa del Carmen. For more information on guest comedians, times and locations visit www.akumalcomedyfestival.com
Riviera Maya Film Festival
Movie screenings in Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Puerto Morelos and Tulum, experimental film, actors spotlight and much more. The Festival line up will be announced at the end of March.
Cancun International Fishing Tournament 2014
47th Regatta del Sol al Sol, Isla Mujeres
April 23-May 1
Yachts set sail from St Petersburg, Florida on April 24 bound for Isla Mujeres. Their arrival marks a week of island festivities including the Amigos Race.
Copa del Rey Polo Tournament, Puerto Morelos
Located in the jungle along the Ruta de los Cenotes, 11 kilometers from the coast, El Rey Polo & Country Club is a magnificent setting for a fast-paced sport that is growing in popularity in the Mexican Caribbean. If you would like to attend the Copa del Rey tournament, visit the club or arrange riding or polo lessons ask the Concierge for assistance.
Venturing deep into the jungle in search of rare wildlife; floating along clear canals winding through the mangroves; learning about Mayan culture and witnessing a timeless ritual, all these and more unforgettable experiences await visitors in Maya Ka’an, the Mexican Caribbean’s new ecotourism destination.
Maya Ka’an is a large expanse of central Quintana Roo comprising the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and the traditional Mayan heartland known as the Zona Maya. Formed by the districts of Tulum, Felipe Carrillo Puerto and José María Morelos, the Zona Maya is rich in natural beauty, history and traditions.
Visitors can choose between 16 different tours and activities taking them to nine different communities in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and the Zona Maya. Community tour operators handle all the trips, thus ensuring that local inhabitants benefit economically from tourism. With a master plan developed by Cancun-based conservation NGO Amigos de Sian Ka’an and funding from the Inter-American Development Bank, the goal of the Maya Ka’an project is to protect Sian Ka’an, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and bring sustainable development to villages in the Zona Maya.
The core Maya Ka’an communities are Punta Allen, Muyil and Punta Herrero in Sian Ka’an, historic Felipe Carrillo Puerto, capital of the Zona Maya, and Tihosuco (site of the Caste War Museum), Señor, Chunhuhub, Noh Bec and Kantemó. They all offer a range of activities, some showcasing natural attractions and others a glimpse of Mayan life.
Visitors can watch craftsmen at work and traditional cuisine being prepared, find out about farming techniques and the healing properties of native plants used since time immemorial. They’ll listen enthralled as village elders tell stories of the mythical Xtabay, a temptress part woman, part serpent who lures men to their doom deep in the jungle, and the Aluxes, the guardian spirits of the corn fields. On trips to Muyil, Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Tihosuco, they’ll learn about the history of the area from the days of the ancient Maya to the coming of the Spaniards and a series of Mayan uprisings against social injustice that culminated in the Caste War in 1847. In Muyil they’ll see men climb the trunks of chicozapote tree armed with machetes that they use to slash the bark and harvest the white sap as it begins to weep from the deep v-shaped gashes. This latex-like resin is collected, heated and processed to make bricks of chicle, the natural source of chewing gum.
Eco adventures include bird watching safaris in search of more than 350 species of birds that make their home in the jungle and wetlands, nature walks, boat and kayak trips through the lagoons and bays of Sian Ka’an and visits to the famous Cave of the Hanging Snakes in Kantemó.
Unique & Unforgettable Experiences
In Sian Ka’an
Laguna Negra (Punta Allen)
Enjoy a nature walk to a watchtower for panoramic views of the wetlands and lagoons of Sian Ka’an, followed by a kayak trip through the mangroves to Laguna Negra.
Bicycle Adventure (Punta Allen)
From the fishing village of Punta Allen take a guided bike trip through Sian Ka’an Reserve.
Board a boat from Punta Allen for a trip through the lagoons, mangroves and out to the reef in search of birds and marine creatures such as dolphins, sea turtles and myriad colorful fish. Includes snorkeling.
Punta Allen is one of the top locations in the Mexican Caribbean for fly fishing. Your guide will show you the best spots for permit, tarpon and snook in the area’s lagoons.
Muyil Jungle & Float
Discover the archaeological site of Muyil and then board a boat for an exciting journey through Muyil and Chunyaxche lagoons to a crystal-clear canal where you’ll float, letting the current gently bear you through the mangroves and your cares drift away.
Sunset over the Wetlands
A boat trip through the lagoons is followed by breathtaking sunset views across the immense wetlands of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Bird watching in Muyil
See some of the 350 species of birds that inhabit the reserve’s jungle and wetland ecosystems, Muyil is the ideal spot to start.
Maya Heritage: Chicle
Learn about the chicozapote tree and chicle, the latex-like sap that has been extracted from its bark since the days of the ancient Maya. In the 19th century, chicle became the natural raw ingredient for the chewing gum we know today. The chicle demonstration by inhabitants of the village of Muyil is followed by a boat trip through the lagoons and mangroves.
Follow the route taken by ancient Mayan trading canoes as you row your kayak across Muyil and Chunyaxche lagoons towards the Caribbean using a natural channel through the mangroves that the ancient Maya widened. You’ll see herons, egrets, ospreys and other birds during your journey.
In Felipe Carrillo Puerto
Kayaking in Siijil Noh Ha Lagoon
Try your hand at kayaking in the Siijil Noh Ha Lagoon and dive into the cool, clear waters of a cenote. You’ll also follow your guide along a trail to learn about the plants grown or harvested from the jungle by the Maya for their medicinal and cosmetic properties.
Restore balance, go back to nature and heal your mind, soul and heart with this experience in the village of Raxalaj Mayab. Healers harness knowledge passed down through the ages, Mayan music and dance and remedies with plants used in traditional medicine.
Discover the secrets of traditional Mayan cuisine in the village of Chunhuhub. Learn about corn, the staple crop of the area and the origin of mankind in Mayan mythology. Watch women prepare tortillas and other dishes using a pit oven or pib.
Cave of the Hanging Snakes
This cave is the site of an eerie natural spectacle that takes place at dusk. As night falls, thousands of the bats that make their home in the cave begin to stir and emerge from their roost to hunt for insects. As they take wing, snakes hidden in crevices in the cave roof hang down with gaping jaws, snapping up the bats in mid-flight, hence the name Cave of the Hanging Snakes.
Mayan Culture in Tihosuco
From the colorful mural in the roofless church, the Caste War Museum, craft workshops and the art of cotton spinning to the use of herbs for traditional healing and timeless ceremonies, the village of Tihosuco is a window on Mayan culture and history.
Meet the village elders of Señor and hear tales from the past and of life in a traditional Mayan community. You’ll learn about the stingless bee and Mayan honey, traditional medicine, sisal rope and craft making.
Ximbal Maya Circuit
This is a two-day trip that gives visitors the chance to spend more time in a Mayan community and wake up to the sounds of the jungle. The circuit includes Muyil, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Tihosuco and Señor.
Visiting Maya Ka’an
Thomas More Travel offers small group eco trips to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and can help you arrange Maya Ka’an tours www.thomasmoretravel.com. If you would like to go on one of the Maya Ka’an community trips please notify the travel agency with at least three days notice, as time is needed to contact the community tour operators. Visit http://mayakaan.travel/index.php?route=common/home for much more information on Maya Ka’an, a photo gallery and videos.
Top PGA golfers are gathering in the Riviera Maya this week for the OHL Classic tournament at the El Camaleon Golf Club in Mayakoba, November 13 to 16.
Up and coming players such as OHL Classic 2013 champion Harris English, Nick Taylor and Mexican talents Carlos Ortiz and Rodolfo Cazaubon will take to the fairway, joined by former PGA champions Justin Leonard, Angel Cabrera, Davis Love, III, Retief Goosen, Mike Weir and Padraig Harrington. The champion will take home a purse of US$1.098 million, 500 FedEx Cup Points and an invitation to the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.
Designed by PGA legend Greg Norman, El Camaleon plays to a par of 71 and is one of the most challenging and beautiful courses in the Mexican Caribbean. A 7,039-yard course, its challenging greens and fairways wind through the jungle and mangrove forest, past freshwater lagoons and limestone canals and along the shoreline, overlooking a pristine Caribbean beach. The jungle and mangroves rich in wildlife, especially birds, the views are incredible, natural features such as rock outcrops, cenotes or sinkholes and a cave dot the course and there are cleverly placed sand traps and water features to test the players.
In 2007, El Camaleon was the first golf course to host an official PGA Tour event in Mexico and the first official PGA Tour event to be played outside the United States or Canada. Now the leading professional golf tournament in Latin America, the OHL Classic is broadcast on ESPN2 in the Americas and Golf Channel Latin America.
Spend the day watching PGA golf
Staying at Royal Resorts this week? If you like golf, don’t miss the chance to take in a day of PGA golf during your vacation. Contact Thomas More Travel to purchase tickets and arrange transport to the OHL Classic. Call in at the tour desk in your resort or visit www.thomasmoretravel.com for more information on the play schedule, course opening and closing times and transport. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the year, whenever you want to book tee times to play at a collection of prestigious golf courses in Cancun and the Riviera Maya or to sign up for the weekly tournament call the Golf & Restaurant Reservations Center at ext. 165. Royal Resorts members and guests are entitled to preferential rates at Playa Mujeres, Puerto Cancun, Iberostar Cancun, Iberostar Playa Paraíso, Grand Coral and El Cameleon at MayaKoba.
Flickering candles illuminate a petal-strewn trail to an altar laden with garlands of cempasuchil or orange marigolds and velvety red cockscomb flowers, crosses and images of saints, fruit and gourds full of food and drink. The scent of aromatic copal incense fills the air. The time of year that Mexico observes one of its richest and most colorful traditions, the Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos on November 1 and 2 is fast approaching. Everywhere you look stores are full of pan de muerto sweet bread, mounds of sugar candy skulls, whimsical representations of skeletons or La Catrina (Death) and sheets of cut tissue paper in vivid colors.
At this time of year, Mexicans believe that the souls of the departed are permitted to return to the world of the living for a short time and they welcome their loved ones back with elaborate altars decorated with flowers, the favorite food and drink of the deceased, water, fruit, treasured possessions, photos, toys and other offerings. They visit the cemetery where the deceased is buried and hold candlelit vigils by the grave; they take part in masses, processions and even serenades to honor them. According to tradition, the souls of children or angelitos return to earth on November 1, and adults on All Souls’ Day (November 2).
The Day of the Dead tradition has its roots in ancient Aztec, Mayan and Purepecha culture and was adopted by 16th-century Spanish missionaries, who transformed it into a syncretism of pre-Hispanic customs and Catholic ritual. Given its importance, UNESCO granted it World Heritage status in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity category in 2008.
Xcaret Festival of Life & Death
In the Riviera Maya, visitors can learn about this extraordinary outpouring of faith at Xcaret Park, where for the ninth year running, the Festival of Life & Death will take place from October 30 to November 2. This year the Festival’s special guest is Michoacan, a state famous for its rich heritage, including three of the country’s cultural offerings that have been declared UNESCO World Heritage: the Day of the Dead customs, Pirecua music and Mexican cuisine.
A delegation of 250 musicians, dancers, actors, artists, craftsmen and chefs from Michoacan will join Mayan communities from Quintana Roo and Yucatan and some of Xcaret’s 300 performers in Festival events. The program features two concerts hosted by acclaimed Mexican actor Ignacio Lopez Tarso and world-famous tenor Fernando de la Mora; Pirecua music performed by the Tata Vasco Orchestra, Bola Suriana and Los Caporales harpists among others, the theater representation of Purepecha legends and traditional dances from Michoacan such as Los Viejitos and Danza del Pescado.
A huge altar from Janitzio, the island in Lake Patzcuaro famous for its Day of the Dead processions and vigils, will have pride of place in the traditional exhibition of altars laden with flowers, food and other offerings.
Festivalgoers will be able to sample cuisine associated with Day of the Dead celebrations in Michoacan, Quintana Roo and the Yucatan and see exhibits by Michoacan artists and handicrafts produced by communities in the three states. As part of the Festival route through the park, visitors will see the altars and the traditional Mexican cemetery full of gravestones painted in bright colors and with epitaphs celebrating the person’s life and the things he or she loved in life
Mayan Hanal Pixan
The Mayan Day of the Dead is called Hanal Pixán, which means “feast of souls.” Throughout the Yucatán, families make the pilgrimage to the cemetery to visit the graves of their loved ones and erect altars to honor the souls of children and adults.
Tables set with offerings of mucbilpollo, large chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in a pit, and dishes of tan-chucua, a thick corn drink flavored with crushed cacao beans, pepper and aniseed are placed outside the house. Pumpkins, squash, corn, bread, fruit such as mandarin oranges and sugar cane, sweets, honey cakes and flowers are added and the candles are lit. Incense burns, prayers are said and as night falls on November 1, the Maya believe that the dead draw near to dine. The next day it is the turn of the living; they eat the mucbilpollo, washing it down with gruel, chocolate or balche, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and the bark of a tree.
Where else to see Day of the Dead Altars
Guests staying at Royal Resorts will be able to see altars on display at The Royal Sands and The Royal Haciendas and at The Royal Market. They will also be able to sample pan de muerto, which is traditionally served with hot chocolate.
Altars and other Day of the Dead symbols will also be on display at Cancun Maya Museum and in Las Palapas Park in Downtown Cancun and in Playa del Carmen.
In neighboring Yucatán, altars can be seen in Mayan villages and in larger towns throughout the state. In Valladolid altars are erected in the main square and outside San Bernardino de Siena Convent, and in Merida, local people and visitors can stroll along the Paseo de las Animas (the path of the souls), which follows Calle 66 between La Ermita and the City Cemetery and admire over 150 altars erected by local schools, universities and businesses.
Further afield, Mexico’s most famous Day of the Dead celebrations take place in Michoacán, Oaxaca, Veracruz and at Mixquic on the outskirts of Mexico City.
For more information on the Festival of Life and Death at Xcaret ask at the Thomas More Travel desk in your resort. If you book a trip to Xcaret during the Festival you will be able to see the altars and participate in the events, which take place in the evening.