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Summer sailing in the Mexican Caribbean

Mirror-calm seas and cloudless skies are perfect conditions for a summer day of sailing in the Mexican Caribbean and there are plenty of exciting options to choose from if you fancy a day at sea.

For starters, cast off for a morning of sailing and snorkeling in the bay between Cancun and Isla Mujeres, to Punta Nizuc or in Puerto Morelos National Marine Park. A few minutes of speeding through sparkling crystal-clear waters will have you out at the reef where wonders await you when you take the plunge. Part of the Mesoamerican Reef, the world’s second longest coral reef system, all three sites are perfect for snorkeling and rich in marine life. You’ll soon spot fish of all shapes and sizes in a dazzling kaleidoscope of colors. Yellow striped grunts, jacks and pork fish hover near the reef crest, queen angelfish, blue tangs and the occasional sea turtle sail by and rainbow parrotfish nibble at the corals. Look closer and you’ll see sergeant majors, neon wrasses, squirrel and butterfly fish among the corals.

Wherever you go, sailing in the Mexican Caribbean invariably includes a stop for snorkeling and swimming.

Isla Mujeres bound
Next stop Isla Mujeres, hop on board a luxury yacht or catamaran and set sail from Cancun to its sister island across the bay affectionately known as “Isla,” one of Quintana Roo’s Pueblos Magicos. As you make the crossing, relax and admire the view of shimmering turquoise waters. You can stop for a spot of snorkeling on the way and sail along the coast of Isla before docking.

Explore the tiny island on a golf cart or bike, shop for crafts, jewelry and art in the village and then head for famous Playa Norte, one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Sit down for a late lunch of delicious seafood at one of the restaurants along the waterfront and watch yachts and fishing boats sail by. You’ll want to stay on for the sunset; the views are incredible.

Cruise to Contoy, the island of birds
Go in search of nature and plan a trip to Contoy, the palm-fringed desert island of Caribbean legend and lore that is an important bird sanctuary and an incredibly beautiful spot to spend the day.

Over 150 species of birds make their home on the island year round or are migratory visitors in the winter. They include colonies of frigate birds and cormorants, terns, ibis, roseate spoonbills, herons and egrets that nest in the mangroves. Graceful terns put on a display of aerial acrobatics, living up to their name of sea swallows or golondrinas del mar; pelicans dive for fish and ospreys patrol the shoreline.

Contoy is a two-and-a-half-hour boat trip north of Cancun and the shades of turquoise and blue water that you’ll pass through en route are breathtaking. Once you reach the island, spend the time watching the birds, relaxing on the beach or snorkeling and swimming with rays and other fish in the sheltered bay. Only 200 people a day are permitted to visit Contoy.

Whale shark trips
If you enjoyed your trip to Contoy and are ready for more incredible wildlife encounters, board a boat for a whale shark trip during the summer. From mid-May to mid-September, these gentle giants gather to feed on plankton and fish eggs in the waters to the east of Contoy and Isla Mujeres and also off Holbox Island and Cabo Catoche.

Eco trips will take you out to the whale shark feeding grounds where you will see the world’s largest fish wherever you turn. You may even be lucky enough to spot giant manta rays, sea turtles and dolphins too.

Sailing along the Riviera Maya coast
If you are staying in the Riviera Maya, board a catamaran for a cruise along the coast. You’ll be following maritime routes once used by ancient Mayan traders and as you sail along the shoreline you’ll catch a glimpse of lone temples and watch towers guarding hidden inlets and palm-lined beaches.

If hopping on a boat means going in search of the big fish of your dreams, then there are plenty of fishing charters to available in the Riviera Maya, Puerto Morelos, Cancun and Isla Mujeres. The seasoned captain and his crew will take you right to where the fish are running.

When the sun goes down
Summer sailing in the Mexican Caribbean doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. Board a catamaran for a romantic cruise under the stars. Watch the sunset as you sail through Cancun’s Nichupte Lagoon on board the famous lobster dinner cruise or join a fun-packed expedition through the bay on a pirate ship.

Book your boat trip today
For information on cruises and yacht charters, eco trips and fishing excursions contact Thomas More Travel www.thomasmoretravel.com.

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Riviera Maya adventures, splash down in a cenote this summer

Traveling to Cancun or the Riviera Maya soon? Beat the heat with a cooling dip in the crystal-clear waters of a jungle cenote this summer. The limestone landscape of the Yucatan Peninsula is peppered with caves and natural wells or sinkholes called cenotes, which are gateways to a hidden world, a labyrinth of underground rivers. The ancient Maya venerated them as sacred places and they still have an aura of mystery. Join us on a journey to some of the most beautiful caves and cenotes in the Riviera Maya.

What is a cenote?
The Yucatan Peninsula is a vast limestone shelf with no surface rivers. Rainwater seeps through fissures and fault lines in the rock and accumulates in aquifers and underground rivers, which are the only source of fresh water in the area.

The word “cenote” is derived from the Maya word d’zonot or ts’ono’ot which means “flooded cave,” “abyss” or “depths.” They are formed over thousands of years as rainwater reacts with the porous limestone to form carbonic acid, which dissolves, erodes and weakens the rock. Over time, the fissures are enlarged and tunnels and caves are formed. Erosion is twofold, from rainwater on the surface and the underground rivers flowing through the rock. Eventually the rock becomes so unstable that huge slabs carve off and cave roofs collapse, leading to the creation of sinkholes.

Cenotes can be deep lakes or shallow pools and they may suddenly appear as a result of subsidence and a rock fall in a cave. There are several different types of sinkholes: open cenotes are those in which the ancient cave roof has collapsed completely. Partially open cenotes still have a section of the cave roof, there are still others that have a small opening in the roof through which sunlight and the roots of jungle trees filter in and there are cenotes in caves along the course of underground rivers.

The number of these enigmatic natural wells scattered through the peninsula is unknown, in the state of Yucatan alone there may be as many as 8,000, some of which are the source of legends.

The Maya believed that cenotes were sacred places – they were associated with the rain god, Chaac, and were the gateway to Xibalba, the Underworld, the domain of the gods. Even today, some communities believe that the aluxes or spirits that are the guardians of the cornfields dwell in caves and cenotes and others tell of mythical creatures such as golden crocodiles or huge serpents.

Visiting cenotes in the Riviera Maya and Yucatan is an unforgettable experience. Their cool crystal-clear waters are inviting and a welcome surprise after the steamy midday heat. As you swim or snorkel, look down into the depths and marvel at Mother Nature. You’ll see pillars and sculpted columns that look like the turrets and spires of a submerged city and in the distance the black holes of caves and tunnels leading into the unknown.

Here’s a guide to some of the most beautiful cenotes in the Riviera Maya

Dos Ojos Cenote Park
A visit to the Dos Ojos Cenote Park gives you the chance to explore the mysterious underworld of the Yucatan, the intricate labyrinth of caves and underground rivers deep in the limestone rock.

Dos Ojos is the site of two of the longest underground rivers in the world and some of the Riviera Maya’s most beautiful cenotes or sinkholes. With a guide you’ll go snorkeling in several cenotes or sinkholes, try zip lining and enjoy a day in the jungle.

Dos Ojos Park is also home to the Museum of Prehistory, which casts light on the amazing discoveries of fossils and the bones of the earliest humans to settle the Yucatan Peninsula made by archaeologists and cave divers during ongoing explorations of area cenotes.

Aktun Chen
The Aktun Chen cave system lies in the jungle just south of Akumal. There are spotlights in one of the three galleries to show the turquoise waters of the cenote and the delicate beauty of the stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones sculpted by water and calcite over millions of years.

Zip lining, swimming and wildlife watching – spider monkeys, coatimundis and toucans are local inhabitants – are other activities available in Aktun Chen park.

Nohoch Nah Chich
This incredible cenote is the mouth of Sac Actun, the longest underground river system in the world (almost 154 kilometers explored to date).

The Jungla Maya trip offered by Alltournative gives you the opportunity to participate in eight different activities in one day: swimming and snorkeling in Nohoch Nah Chich and Yaxmuul cenotes, abseiling, zip lining, a 4×4 Unimog ride, biking and walking along forest trails and watching a Mayan priest perform a ritual venerating the ancient gods and nature itself.

Cenotes in the Puerto Aventuras Area
A cluster of cenotes lies in the forest to the west of Highway 307 between Puerto Aventuras and Akumal. One mile south of Puerto Aventuras is the Kantun Chi eco-park where two majestic caves and four cenotes (Kantun Chi, Sas Ka Leen Ha, Uchil Ha and Zacil Ha) will surprise even the most intrepid traveler. Cenote Azul is another large jungle cenote with several inlets for snorkeling. The water is so tempting that you may not be able to resist the urge to take a running jump!

Christened by divers, Taj Mahal is one of the most spectacular in the area; shafts of sunlight like an underwater laser show illuminate endless vistas stretching into the distance. Even more poetically named is Jardín del Edén or Garden of Eden, a large cenote rich in marine life and rimmed by exuberant vegetation that is ideal for an afternoon picnic.

Rio Secreto
Rio Secreto is another labyrinth of limestone caves and still clear pools that mirror intricate columns, stalactites and stalagmites. Guided tours available through this hidden treasure.

Exploring the Ruta de los Cenotes
Have you been along the Ruta de los Cenotes, the highway west from Puerto Morelos that leads through the jungle to a chain of beautiful cenotes and eventually links up with the village of Leona Vicario on Highway 180? Rustic signs indicate turn offs for jungle trails leading to cenotes open to the public such as Las Mojarras where you can zip line, dive in from a tower or just enjoy the view.

The seven mouths that give the Siete Bocas cenote its name glow gently as the sunlight penetrates the turquoise depths. The strange rock formations in this cenote are incredible.

Next stop along the Ruta de los Cenotes is the mysterious underground pool of Boca de Puma. Located in a private jungle reserve, this cenote offers a variety of adventures ranging from snorkeling and zip lining to rock climbing, rappelling down a cliff wall and biking. Finally, follow a winding trail to Verde Lucero, an open cenote in a forest clearing where another rustic zip line provides hours of fun.

Xenotes Oasis Maya
The Xenotes Oasis Maya trip gives you the chance to explore four very different cenotes in one day, trying your hand at snorkeling, zip lining and kayak. The four cenotes are named in Maya after the four elements: K’áak or Fire, Há or Water, Lik’ or Wind and Lu’um or Earth. All are filled with crystal-clear water and strange rock formations, and each has its own charm.

Expert guides point out native flora and fauna as they escort you along jungle trails, explaining how cenotes are formed and their importance as sacred sites for the ancient Maya. They will also tell them about Mayan mythology, including the tale of the Aluxes, the guardian spirits of the forest and the milpa or cornfields. Xenotes, Oasis Maya is for small groups of visitors and includes the use of snorkeling gear and a life jacket, a gourmet picnic and transport.

Stay posted for more on cenotes to visit in the neighboring state of Yucatan and on cenote exploration next month on this blog.

Booking Riviera Maya cenote trips
Thomas More Travel offers trips to these Riviera Maya cenote parks and to many more in the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan.

Cenote tips
Do not apply sun cream if you are going to swim in cenotes as it pollutes the water. When visiting cenotes always follow instructions of your guide and park staff. Never swim alone. Do not venture into cenotes or areas of water where swimming is expressly prohibited and do not venture into tunnels.

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7 great snorkeling trips in the Mexican Caribbean

Summer means snorkeling for many a visitor to the Mexican Caribbean. Lazy days spent swimming through crystal-clear waters and an ever-changing parade of colorful fish of all shapes and sizes. Don your mask and flippers and take the plunge on your next vacation; it’s easy, fun for all the family and addictive. Try it once and you’ll never want to stop! There are plenty of shallow water reefs, sheltered bays and inlets along the coast where you can indulge your latest passion. As an alternative, why not visit a cenote park for a guided snorkeling tour in a limestone sinkhole or a cave filled with water so clear that it is a window on a strange otherworld, a forest of stalactites and stalagmites. Thomas More Travel will take you to reefs in the Cancun area and the Riviera Maya. You can even charter a boat and escape fellow swimmers on your own adventure. Here are 7 great snorkeling trips in the Mexican Caribbean to discover.

Reefs in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres area
Protected by a marine reserve, the chain of shallow water reefs in the bay between Isla Mujeres and Cancun and south to Punta Nizuc, is an excellent place to start exploring the Mesoamerican Reef, the world’s second longest, a reef system that runs south along the coast through the Riviera Maya and the Costa Maya and into the neighboring country of Belize. Trips are available to the reefs off Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc in Cancun and El Farito and Manchones Reef approaching Isla Mujeres. You can also go snorkeling in El Garrafon Park on the southern tip of Isla Mujeres.

Marine life ranges from elk horn and brain coral and gardens of sea fans to sergeant majors, jacks, grunts, damsel and angelfish, rays and moray eels.

Cancun Underwater Sculpture Museum
One of our 7 great snorkeling trips in the Mexican Caribbean is right here in Cancun. The Cancun-Isla Mujeres National Marine Park is the site of the world’s largest underwater sculpture museum known as MUSA. A Cancun icon, the museum was inaugurated in 2009 and has more than 500 statues by British sculptor Jason deCaires-Taylor and other artists submerged in different locations in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres Reef Park, including Punta Nizuc and Manchones Reef. More are planned for snorkelers and divers to admire.
Apart from their artistic appeal, the figures provide a habitat for corals and sponges to colonize, attracting small fish and crustaceans and creating new reef communities.

Puerto Morelos
Spend a day on the beach and snorkeling in Puerto Morelos, 20 minutes to the south of Cancun Airport. Also protected by a national marine park, the reef is home to species such as angelfish, trunkfish, snappers and octopus and is one of the most beautiful and pristine in the area. As a result, it makes our list of 7 great snorkeling trips in the Mexican Caribbean.
The biodiversity of the Puerto Morelos reef has attracted marine biologists for many years and the fishing village is the site of two marine research centers: the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) field station and a Mexican Fisheries Institute facility.

Akumal
This picturesque bay has a palm-lined beach and several offshore reefs at different depths for diving and snorkeling. Marine life is varied and abundant; royal grammas, spotted drums and damselfish dart through the corals and parrotfish and eagle rays are frequently observed. The greatest thrill of all, however, is to spot a green or loggerhead turtle grazing on the sea grass. Watch from a distance, do not approach her or make a noise. Akumal means “place of the turtles” in Maya.

From Akumal you can also walk or drive north along the coast road to Half Moon Bay or Bahia de la Media Luna for snorkeling. The corals are much closer to the shore here and the sea bed is rocky so you’ll need reef shoes.

Yalku
Located just to the north of Akumal, Yalkú is a caleta or inlet of turquoise water fed by underground streams that is popular for snorkeling.
Take the coast road north from Akumal and follow the signs past Half Moon Bay to Yalku. As soon as you jump into the cool and crystal-clear waters you’ll see a variety of colorful reef fish that feed or breed among the mangrove roots and submerged rocks. Sergeant majors and damselfish patrol the shoreline, queen angelfish cruise by and lone barracudas guard their territory. Listen and you will hear the sounds of parrotfish gnawing at the rock and look carefully and you may see a camouflaged peacock flounder or ray emerge from the sand. This is a lovely spot, especially early in the morning before it fills up.
A local cooperative manages Yalku and charges a fee for admission. Life jackets are available and there are restrooms and a little open-air cafe.

Dos Ojos Cenote Park
Also in the Akumal area, a visit to the Dos Ojos Cenote Park gives you the chance to explore the mysterious underworld of the Yucatan, an intricate labyrinth of caves and underground rivers deep in the limestone rock formed over millions of years by water erosion.
Dos Ojos is the site of two of the longest underground rivers in the world and some of the Riviera Maya’s most beautiful cenotes or sinkholes. With a guide you’ll go snorkeling in several cenotes or sinkholes, try zip lining and enjoy a day in the jungle.
Dos Ojos Park is also the site of the Museum of Prehistory, which casts light on the amazing discoveries of fossils and the bones of the earliest humans to settle the Yucatan Peninsula made by archaeologists and cave divers during explorations of area cenotes.

Xel-Ha
Always a good place for a family outing, Xel-Ha is one of our 7 great snorkeling trips in the Mexican Caribbean. Hailed by locals as the world’s largest natural aquarium, it is an enormous inlet of crystalline waters fed by underground rivers flowing through the surrounding mangroves and forest.

Rainbow-colored fish from nearby reefs feed and breed in the inlet and swimmers will see shoals of sergeant majors, tangs, blue chromis and one of the park’s emblems, the parrotfish, as soon as they venture into the water. Snorkel over to the rocks and further into the lagoons and you’ll see even more marine life.
Paths wind through the jungle around the inlet leading to secluded pools and cenotes, and attractions such as the Lazy River, the Cliff, the Mayan Cave and the dolphin area. For a breathtaking view of the turquoise waters, walk back across the floating bridge at the mouth of the inlet. Larger fish such as snappers and jacks congregate around the bridge.

Reef Tips
If you decide to go snorkeling, please follow these guidelines and help preserve the reefs for future generations.
* Do not apply sun lotion or any kind of lotion or perfume if you are going snorkeling, wear a t-shirt to protect your skin instead. Sun products and the oils and chemicals in creams and cosmetics damage the coral and pollute the water.
* Do not touch the coral or stir the sand up in the vicinity of the reef. The slightest touch can cause damage that will take the coral centuries to recover from.
* Do not remove shells or other marine creatures from the reef.
* Watch your step; spiny sea urchins can cause nasty wounds.
* Don’t forget your underwater camera!

BOOK NOW
Book these 7 great snorkeling trips in the Mexican Caribbean with Thomas More Travel and ask about more snorkeling and diving tours to the reefs of the Riviera Maya and Cozumel and to area cenotes. Book your trip now.

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Go Beyond the Beach, See More of Mexico

If you vacation in Cancun or the Riviera Maya for several weeks and have always wanted to see more of Mexico, why not go beyond the beautiful beaches and explore? A world of spectacular landscapes, historical sites and rich traditions awaits you. See more of Mexico, Thomas More Travel is now offering longer excursions to some of the country’s most famous archaeological sites, colonial cities and natural attractions. Here are three unforgettable adventures to get you started.

Nature, history and tradition in Chiapas
Explore the state of Chiapas, one of the treasures of the Maya World, a land of dense jungles and soaring mountains, ancient Mayan cities, colonial towns and highland villages inhabited by the Tzotzil and Tzeltal Maya.

Major attractions in the state include the ancient Mayan cities of Palenque, Yaxchilan, Bonampak and Tonina, Agua Azul and Misol Ha waterfalls, the colonial city of San Cristobal and the timeless Mayan villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan. Take a boat trip through El Sumidero Canyon and visit the Montebello Lakes deep in the pine forests near the Guatemalan border. Learn about organic coffee cultivation on a gracious old finca or estate in the highlands. Explore picturesque villages where weaving and pottery making are a way of life and venture into the jungle, one of the world’s green lungs, rich in biodiversity.

Wonders of the world, the Copper Canyon
One of the “Great Railway Journeys of the World” takes you from the city of Los Mochis on the Pacific coast up into the Sierra Madre to Barrancas del Cobre, the Copper Canyon. Carved out of the mountains by six rivers, this spectacular system of canyons and gorges is larger than the Grand Canyon and deeper in parts.

The small town of Creel is an excellent base for exploring the area and learning about the Raramuri (also known as Tarahumara) Indians who have inhabited the mountains for thousands of years. Visit the community museum and the crafts center. Popular side trips from Creel take visitors to Lake Arareco, Cusarare Waterfall and Urique Canyon. Basaseachi Falls, the highest waterfall in Mexico (246 meters) is further afield.
A feat of engineering, the Chihuahua al Pacifico railroad, known as the Chepe, crosses 39 bridges and has 89 tunnels on its way from the lowlands into the heart of the mountains and on to the historic city of Chihuahua. The views of the valleys, pine forests, canyons and peaks are majestic.

Mexico’s Colonial Heartland
Visit three of Mexico’s colonial treasures, the cities of Queretaro, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. Rich in history, they are located in a fertile area of central Mexico known as the cradle of Mexican Independence as it was here that the movement for freedom from Spanish rule began in 1810.

All three cities are rich in Spanish colonial architecture, with opulent churches and mansions built with the wealth from silver mining. Their beauty, art, museums and rich traditions have earned them a place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. For a taste of the Mexico of yesteryear: peaceful squares and narrow cobbled streets, bustling markets and flower-filled courtyards, a trip to one or all of these cities is a must.

Ready for more amazing Mexico adventures
Get ready to go beyond the beach and see more of Mexico. Thomas More Travel can help arrange unforgettable getaways to Chiapas, Copper Canyon, Mexico City, central Mexico, Oaxaca, Puebla and Guadalajara on request. Ask at the tour desk.

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Swim with the whale sharks, a Mexican Caribbean summer trip highlight

If you are traveling to Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Holbox or the Riviera Maya this summer, you have the chance to see the gentle giants of the ocean, the whale sharks. This is an incredible wildlife encounter with the world’s largest fish, a Mexican Caribbean summer trip highlight.

From mid-May to mid-September, hundreds of whale sharks migrate to the northern waters of the Mexican Caribbean near the islands of Holbox, Contoy and Isla Mujeres to feed on plankton blooms caused by high temperatures, and eggs laid by spawning little tunny fish. Biologists say it is the largest whale shark gathering in the world.

Whale sharks are great ocean wanderers, migrating thousands of miles through the tropics during the year in search of feeding grounds with rich pickings of plankton and fish roe.

Fishermen in the Mexican Caribbean call whale sharks pez domino or domino fish in reference to their distinctive markings of stripes and spots. No whale shark is alike, they each have a unique pattern and taking photos of them is helping marine biologists around the world to compile a catalog. Through the use of this international database for identification purposes and tagging sharks they can start to map the movements of these enigmatic creatures during the year.

Imagine watching as a creature the size of a bus approaches out of the crystal-clear depths and then swims placidly by, its gaping jaws open to scoop up the minute plankton and filter the water through its gills. Suddenly wherever you look you see fins as the whale sharks eat their fill before diving deep. It is an awe-inspiring sight and one that wildlife watchers shouldn’t miss.

On the boat journey out to the whale shark area, there’s the added thrill of spotting wild dolphins and sea turtles. Huge manta rays also gather to eat plankton alongside the whale sharks and sometimes breach the water surface in spectacular flight.

Book your summer whale shark trip
Guided eco trips to the whale shark feeding grounds are available for small groups through Thomas More Travel. Book online at www.thomasmoretravel.com or at the tour desk during your stay.

 

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Four trip ideas for your next Cancun vacation

When you vacation in Cancun or the Riviera Maya, you really are on the threshold of a world of unforgettable travel adventures. On one hand, you have spectacular white sand beaches, the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, offshore islands and the wonders of the Mesoamerican Reef and on the other you have the ancient cities of the Maya, jungles and wetlands teeming with wildlife and the crystalline waters of the area’s many sinkholes or cenotes. Then there are the famous eco-adventure parks of the Riviera Maya, the traditional colonial towns of the Yucatan, biosphere reserves, Mayan communities and haciendas, among others. There is so much to see and experience, enough for a lifetime of incredible memories. Here are four trip ideas for your next Cancun vacation.

How about an unforgettable eco trip to the desert island of Contoy on your next Cancun vacation?

A two-hour cruise across a sea in impossible shades of turquoise brings you to the untouched island paradise of Contoy or “bird island.” Declared a national park in 1998, the mangrove forest, palm groves and dunes of tiny Contoy are home to 150 species of native and migrant birds. The island has one of the largest populations of brown pelicans in the Caribbean and a 5,000-strong colony of magnificent frigate birds, cormorants, spoonbills, ibis and ten species of heron. The island’s deserted beaches are a refuge for sandpipers, oystercatchers and other shore birds in the winter and a nesting site for sea turtles in the summer.

Spend your day on Contoy swimming in the bay with placid sting rays, snorkeling, sunbathing and bird watching. For an additional fee you can board a smaller boat and explore the mangroves where you’ll see the birds up close. Climb the observation tower for breathtaking panoramic views of the island and the Caribbean.

Sightings of flying fish, sea turtles and dolphins are frequent during the boat trip to Contoy and summer visitors may occasionally catch a glimpse of the manta rays and whale sharks that gather to feed in the waters of the northern Mexican Caribbean.

Contoy’s status as a reserve means that the number of visitors is limited to only 200 a day.

A Mexican night under the stars at Xoximilco

Your destination for the evening is Xoximilco, a jungle park between Cancun and Puerto Morelos that is inspired by the canals and world-famous floating gardens of Xochimilco on the outskirts of Mexico City. At Xoximilco, the mariachis strike up under a star-studded sky, tequila flows and dinner is served on board a colorful trajinera or barge that sails along tree-lined canals. This is a Mexican experience you won’t want to miss on your next Cancun vacation; it’s full of color, music and song, a fiesta to share with family and friends.

On arrival at Xoximilco, you’ll be greeted with a welcome drink and a tasty traditional snack of esquites (corn cooked in lime juice and topped with cream or mayonnaise, cheese and chili powder), then you’ll be ready to board your trajinera. There is a boat for each Mexican state and all are decked out in colorful and unique designs featuring symbols associated with the individual states, for example the monarch butterfly for Michoacan.

During your cruise through the forest, you’ll be serenaded by musicians from different parts of Mexico, such as guitar trios from the Yucatan, harp-strumming jarochos from Veracruz, the banda from northern Mexico and, of course, mariachis. You’ll also see scenes representing life in Xochimilco: canal-side wooden homes, men tending gardens and women paddling canoes filled with flowers, produce and warm tortillas for your meal. You’ll watch traditional dances and try some yourselves, hear ancient Aztec legends and dine on delicious Mexican cuisine.

Visit Izamal, the city of gold

Have you ever visited Izamal, the Yucatan’s very own “city of gold?” If not, go off the beaten track on your next Cancun vacation. Famous for its huge 16th-century Franciscan convent and imposing Mayan pyramid, this peaceful little town all decked out in bright yellow is often called the “city of three cultures,” a reference to its pre-Hispanic and Spanish heritage and the traditions of today’s Mayan inhabitants. It is the perfect spot for discovering the history and traditions of the Yucatan, shopping for handicrafts and sampling regional cuisine.

Inhabited by the ancient Maya as far back as the 3rd century B.C., Izamal became a sacred site with shrines to two deities: Itzamná (the chief god, inventor of writing, medicine and agriculture) and Kinich Kakmo (the sun god). Archaeologists have unearthed more than 20 major Mayan buildings around town, along with ceremonial roads called sacbes, tombs and house mounds. The principal temple is the pyramid of Kinich Kakmo, the third largest building in Mesoamerica in terms of volume.

After the Spanish Conquest, Franciscan friars took advantage of Izamal’s religious importance by building a huge mission on top of the Pap-Hol-Chac temple. The Convento de San Antonio de Padua was founded in 1549 and completed in 1618. Home to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, the patron saint of the Yucatán since 1648, it is one of Mexico’s ten most important shrines. The fortress-like building is also said to have the largest closed atrium in Mexico and one of the largest in the world, with no fewer than 75 arches.

The historic houses, arches, churches and civic buildings surrounding the convent are painted yellow and are part of the charm of this Pueblo Mágico. Explore its tranquil neighborhoods, sample the traditional cuisine, watch artisans at work and call in at the Community Museum in the main square.

Izamal is 158 miles from Cancún and 43 miles from Mérida, take the turnoffs signposted on the toll road or Highway 180.

Submerged sculptures, visit Cancun’s Underwater Art Museum

The Cancun-Isla Mujeres National Marine Park is home to the world’s largest underwater sculpture museum, inaugurated in 2009. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this famous icon on your Cancun vacation and see the colorful marine life that now makes its home among the statues. Snorkeling and diving trips are available.

More than 500 statues by British sculptor Jason deCaires-Taylor and other artists are submerged in different locations in the park, including Punta Nizuc and Manchones Reef.

In addition to its artistic appeal and the powerful symbolism of the sculptures, the museum has a message of conservation. As another attraction for snorkelers and divers, it takes the pressure off popular reefs in the marine park, giving them a chance to recover and for fish populations to increase. The statues have undergone a “sea change” over the years, transforming into gardens of coral, colorful sponges, sea fans and algae. These new reef communities have attracted damsel and butterfly fish and crustaceans such as lobsters that live among the corals. Large schools of blue tangs and angel fish are also returning to the area.

Go exploring with Thomas More Travel

Whether you want to visit ancient Mayan cities, enjoy a fun day out at the Riviera Maya’s famous nature parks, spend the day zip lining in the jungle or go snorkeling, Thomas More Travel has the tour for you on your next Cancun vacation. Visit thomasmoretravel.com to browse the tour collection.

Book all your travel adventures with Thomas More Travel

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The latest Cancun & Riviera Maya news

Here’s a round up of the latest Cancun & Riviera Maya news and an update from Merida, capital of the neighboring state of Yucatan.

Cancun is 47 years old this April

The Pioneros de Cancun (Cancun Pioneers Association) are gearing up to celebrate the 47th anniversary of the founding of Cancun on April 20, 2017. This group is comprised of members of the founding families who came here in 1970 to work on the construction of Mexico’s first master-planned tourist center. Cancun’s anniversary celebrations will include masses, processions, exhibitions and a dinner dance for the Pioneros Association.

Cancun’s pioneers built the first hotels, the roads and the infrastructure that the fledgling community on the mainland would need. Some came alone and sent for their families later while others brought wives and children with them into a new world of deserted beaches and dense jungle where it was common to see spider monkeys and toucans in the trees. This annual gathering on April 20 is a chance for them to meet up once more and swap memories.

Founded in 1975, Royal Resorts is a Cancun pioneer and The Royal Cancun story began in 1977. As we celebrate our 40th anniversary this year, what are your memories of Cancun in the early days? Drop us a line at memories@royalresorts.com and let us know.

Xcaret’s Scarlet Macaw Breeding & Conservation Program documentary overall winner at Boston College Film Festival Award

In more Cancun & Riviera Maya news, Flying Home: the Return of the Scarlet Macaw, the documentary on Xcaret Park’s scarlet macaw breeding and conservation program that is helping bring Mexico’s macaw population back from the brink of extinction, was named the overall winner at the 2017 International Corporate Citizenship Film Festival in Boston on March 26, 2017.

Produced by Xcaret and Mexican production company Bicho Studio, the documentary follows the macaws bred in Xcaret Park on a journey from their birthplace to the jungles of northern Chiapas and southern Veracruz where they spend time adapting to their new habitat before being released to the wild. It tells of the work done by Xcaret biologists and vets, university researchers, NGO’s and communities in the release areas. The film won in the Small Company category, Fan Favorite category and Best in Show category.

The International Corporate Citizenship Film Festival is the largest film festival that showcases the work of companies and professionals in the field of corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Xcaret began to breed macaws in 1993 and has been so successful that it is in the Guinness Book of Records for the numbers of chicks born. Survival rates are 80 percent and to date more than 1,000 birds have been raised from four original breeding pairs. A flock of them is set free every day at noon to fly over the Riviera Maya park and several flocks have been released into the wild. In only three years, this groundbreaking reproduction and conservation program has boosted Mexico’s wild macaw population by 80 percent.

Two popular Merida events get a facelift

On your next trip to Merida, the 2017 Cultural Capital of the Americas, you’ll find that two of the city’s most popular events, the Noche Mexicana on Saturday evening and the Merida en Domingo all-day gala have been revamped to make the experience even more enjoyable for residents and visitors.

Both weekly events offer you the chance to sample traditional antojitos or snacks such as quesadillas and tacos, shop for crafts and local art and watch musicians and dance performances from the Yucatan and other parts of Mexico.

The Noche Mexicana takes place in the park at the beginning of Paseo Montejo and on Sunday the main square, Calle 60 and other surrounding streets are closed to traffic for Merida en Domingo.

Contact Thomas More Travel if you would like to plan a trip to Merida during your Royal Resorts vacation.

Road works on Highway 307 in the Riviera Maya

Here’s some Cancun & Riviera Maya news to be aware of if you are due to be in the area in April or May, road works in the Riviera Maya. If you are going to be driving on Highway 307 in the Riviera Maya please take extra precautions as road works are underway in several places. Work will continue for the next two months and there may be delays in the mornings.

Work will take place every day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the highway between Playa del Carmen and Cancun. The affected stretches are from km 302+500 to km 320+00 in both directions and from km 322+000 to km 330+950, direction Playa del Carmen to Cancun. There are signs alerting drivers to upcoming road works and you should reduce speed.

For more Cancun & Riviera Maya news check this blog regularly.

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Upcoming Events in Cancun & Riviera Maya


(Photo courtesy of Experiencias Xcaret)

Here’s a round up of upcoming events in Cancun and the Riviera Maya in April and May, 2017.

Fundadores 2017 International Riviera Maya Fishing Tournament, Playa del Carmen, April 14-16

This tournament attracts fishermen from all over the state and the Caribbean. Competitors are asked to follow catch and release policy to help preserve fish stocks.

Representation of the Crucifixion, Playa Delfines, Cancun, April 14

Playa Delfines or El Mirador in Cancun is the setting for a representation of the Via Crucis and Crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday, April 14. Processions, masses and vigils also take place in other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula, Merida and throughout Mexico.

Anniversary of the Founding of Cancun, April 20

Masses, processions, exhibitions and more in Downtown Cancun to celebrate the 47th anniversary of the founding of Cancun.

Cancun International Capitan Armando Ferrat Fishing Tournament 2017, Cancun, April 21-23

This tournament attracts fishermen from all over the state and the Caribbean. Competitors are asked to follow catch and release policy to help preserve fish stocks.

Regatta del Sol al Sol, Isla Mujeres, April 28 – May 5

The 49th year of this famous yacht race from the St. Petersburg Yacht Club in Florida to Isla Mujeres. The event also features parties for the yacht crews and islanders, excursions and a race around Isla Mujeres.

Ultra Marathon 50K, Cozumel, April 29

A Jungle race on the island of Cozumel following a route from Villa Maya to Punta Molas lighthouse on the northern tip of the island. The distances are 50, 25 or 12.5 kilometers and 1.5 and 3 kilometers for younger runners in the 8 to 10 and 11 to 14 age categories. Running or trekking. Deadline for inscriptions April 8. www.circuitoultras.com

Puerto Morelos Fishing Tournaments, late April – early May

Cesar Martin Rosado Tournament, Puerto Morelos, April 28-30

Don Andres Garcia Lavin Tournament, Puerto Morelos, May 5-7

Travesía Sagrada Maya, Xcaret and Cozumel, May 26-27

One of the most famous events in the Riviera Maya in May, The Sacred Mayan Crossing is the reenactment of an ancient pilgrimage. Oarsmen set sail from the port of Pole (now Xcaret) in a fleet of wooden canoes bound for the island of Cozumel where they will worship at the shrine of Ixchel, the Maya goddess of the moon and fertility.

Visit the Royal Resorts blog at www.royalresorts.com for listings of more events in Cancun and the Riviera Maya during the year.

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chichen itza
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Unlocking the secrets of the pyramid at Chichen Itza

The ancient Mayan capital of Chichen Itza casts its spell whenever you visit it but in March it seems all the more impressive. Thousands gather at the foot of the Pyramid of Kukulcan in the Great Plaza to welcome the spring and the return of an ancient god.

Also known as El Castillo, the 25-meter-high pyramid is a solar clock, aligned to catch the rays of the setting sun on the spring and fall equinoxes (March 20 and September 22 in 2017). 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 snake at the foot of the building, creating the illusion of a gigantic serpent slithering down from the heavens and across the ground towards the Sacred Cenote. The apparition of this mysterious figure is testimony to the skill of ancient astronomers and architects.

The snake symbolizes Kukulcan (also known as Quetzalcoatl in central Mexico), the feathered serpent god, returning to earth to give hope to his followers and heralding the spring planting and fall harvest seasons for the Maya.

 

A pyramid inside a pyramid

The pyramid of Kukulcan was built some time between A.D. 550 and 800, with later modifications between 800 and A.D. 1,000. The majestic pyramid we see today was constructed during the Itzae period when the city reached its peak, between A.D. 1050 and 1300. The Itzae had links with cultures in Central Mexico and this is reflected in their art depicting serpents, eagles, warriors and skulls.

When archaeologists first explored the pyramid, they dug through tons of stone and earth to find a second temple containing a chac mool statue, the enigmatic reclining stone figure with hands cupped to receive the heart of a sacrificial victim, guarding the entrance. There was a magnificent throne in the form of a red jaguar with jade spots and eyes in the inner sanctum. The sacred feline figure was discovered with an offering of coral, sacrificial flint knives and a turquoise mosaic disc.

Studies in the last two years have revealed more secrets hidden deep inside the pyramid. Using the latest tri-dimensional electric resistivity tomography technology, archaeologists have discovered that a cave containing a cenote lies beneath the structure and that there is an even earlier and much smaller temple dating from AD 550 to 800. Built before the Mayan inhabitants came into contact with other Mesoamerican civilizations, it is in pure Maya architectural style. This find means that there are actually three temples on the site built around each other at different times during the city’s history.

The only source of fresh water in the Yucatan, cenotes were the gateway to the Underworld, the home of the gods and were holy places. The earliest pyramid may have been located beside the cenote for religious ceremonies and later rulers added their own monuments on top as a way of channeling sacred power.

A short distance from the Great Plaza is another building associated with Mayan astronomy, the round tower known as El Caracol or the Observatory. It has a viewing platform and wells, which were used by ancient astronomers to mirror starlight, and it was aligned to catch sunsets and moonsets on both equinoxes and to mark the course of Venus.

If you would like to explore Chichen Itza, one of the greatest ancient cities in the Americas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, contact Thomas More Travel to book your day trip.

Several Chichen Itza options are available, including excursions that offer you the chance to call in at the colonial town of Valladolid, one of the Yucatan’s Pueblos Magicos (Magical Towns), explore cenotes or stay in the evening for the Chichen Itza Light & Sound show, Noches de Kukulcan, a spectacular video mapping screening.

 

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Set Sail in the Mexican Caribbean, it’s Sport Fishing Season

March heralds the start of the sport fishing season in the Mexican Caribbean and avid fishermen are preparing to go in search of the ‘big one,” a memory they will treasure for the rest of their lives.
The fastest predators in the sea, reaching speeds of over 68 miles an hour, sailfish and marlin move through area waters in the spring and summer hunting huge shoals of migrating sardines, anchovies and mackerel. Snapper; dorado, bonito and wahoo are also plentiful and knowledgeable local fishermen will take you right to where the fish are running.
The best fishing grounds in the area lie to the east of Isla Mujeres, along the Arrowsmith Bank, around Contoy and Holbox islands, off the coast of Puerto Morelos, and in the Cozumel Channel, the deep ocean trench between the Riviera Maya and the island of Cozumel. Further south along the Costa Maya, the fishing villages of Mahahual and Xcalak also attract sport fishermen.
Hidden in the mangroves, the calm lagoons that stretch along the Quintana Roo coast offer a different challenge – they are rich in bonefish such as tarpon, permit and snook and attract fly fishermen from all over the world. There are fishing lodges in the Boca Paila area and Punta Allen in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Holbox and the Isla Blanca wetlands around Laguna Chacmochchuc to the north of Cancun are also good spots.
Local marinas adhere to the catch and release policy to help conserve fish stocks and we urge you to join their campaign. The thrill of being out on the waves in pursuit of sleek marlin and sailfish should be enough and we hope that you will liberate any game fish you catch.
If you enjoy fishing and are looking for your own unforgettable encounter with the big fish of the sea, contact Thomas More Travel for fishing trips and boat charters.

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