,

All roads lead to Merida, Yucatan’s historic cultural capital

Looking for something different to do on your next trip to Cancun and the Riviera Maya? Spend a couple of days in Merida, one of Mexico’s oldest and loveliest cities. Known as “La Ciudad Blanca” or the “White City, Mérida boasts colonial churches dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, 19th-century civic buildings, and gracious old mansions imbued with all the opulence of la belle époque. Architectural splendor is only half the story: museums are many, concerts are staged every night and the traditional cuisine is a sophisticated blend of ingredients from the Old World and the New.

Merida experiences are many: dine under the trees in a gracious old square, listen to a traditional serenade, shop for colorful handicrafts and art or stroll through the different barrios or neighborhoods. As befitting its reputation as a cultural center, there is something different on every night somewhere in the city, from open-air concerts and dance performances to art exhibitions and even street theatre.

The Main Square

Center of civic life, the Main Square or Plaza de Armas should be your first stop. It is dominated by the San Ildefonso Cathedral, one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas (1562-1599). City Hall is across the park from the Cathedral, Palacio de Gobierno, the State Government building is on the north side of the square and Casa de Montejo, the home of Francisco Montejo, the Spanish grandee who founded Merida in 1542, is to the south. Visit the Casa Montejo Museum for a glimpse of Merida history and the impressive Banamex exhibition of folk art from all over the country, including some magnificent trees of life sculpted from clay.

The work of local artists is on display at the Macay Gallery (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Yucateco) and the Palacio de Gobierno, where a series of murals by the late Merida artist Fernando Castro Pacheco relate the creation story of the Maya, the Spanish Conquest, the Caste War, henequen boom and other episodes in the history of the Yucatan.

Visit the main square in the evening to see the magnificent cathedral lit up with a video mapping display and linger for a while for an ice cream or a marquesita, the Yucatan’s super sweet take on a waffle, and watch the world go by. Listen to local musicians, buy a bunch of flowers and even bargain for a locally made hammock or Panama hat. There’s a folk dance show every Monday evening in front of City Hall and the entire area is cordoned off on Sundays for Merida en Domingo, a gala event featuring craft and food stalls, live music and folk dances.

From the main square it’s a short walk to Merida’s bustling markets and the Yucatan Handicrafts Center in the former Las Monjas Convent.

Exploring Merida’s Historic Heart

Leave the main square behind and walk north along Calle 60 to Parque Hidalgo, you’ll soon see the 17th-century Church of the Third Order, the University of the Yucatan, one of the oldest in Mexico, and the opulent Peon Contreras Theater, home of the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra.

On Fridays, the theatre is the departure point for Noches de Leyendas, a street theatre tour of the historic city center.

With its 16th-century church, Plaza Santa Lucia is a gathering place for the guitar-strumming trios who play romantic ballads called trova and a free concert is staged in the square every Thursday night. There are a number of galleries, boutiques and craft shops around the square that are worth visiting if you are looking for Mexican folk art.

If you want to explore more of Merida’s barrios, head to Santa Ana or La Mejorada, site of the colonial convent of the same name and the Popular Art Museum. Both neighborhoods have many old houses that have been restored and are now homes, galleries and cultural centers, restaurants and boutique hotels.

Paseo Montejo

A trip to Merida isn’t complete without a visit to Paseo Montejo, six blocks north of Santa Lucia and one block from Santa Ana church. Inspired by the Champs Elysées in Paris, this wide tree-lined boulevard is a magnificent setting for the opulent homes of the henequen barons who became wealthy from the cultivation of henequen or sisal in the late 19th century and early years of the 20th century. Resembling chateaus, European town houses or even mosques, they are the legacy of the heady days when money flowed like water in Merida.

Start your walk in the small park at the beginning of the avenue, the venue for a Mexican evening of music and dance on Saturdays. If you are shopping for souvenirs, the FONART shop in the boutique hotel next to the square has a fine collection of Mexican folk art.

The twin houses called the Casas Gemelas start Paseo Montejo’s parade of palaces; others include Casa Medina and the beautiful Quinta Montes Molina, a home which still has the original 19th and early 20th-century furniture and art of the owners and is open to the public. The largest of all the mansions in Paseo Montejo is Palacio Canton, home of the Regional Anthropology and History Museum where ceramics, figurines, jewelry and other artifacts unearthed at the state’s many archaeological sites are on display.

For more Mayan culture, visit the Maya World Museum on Prolongacion Montejo. This vanguard museum has fascinating multimedia exhibits on the Maya World landscape, different aspects of ancient Mayan culture and society and the traditions that survive to this day. Other museums worth a visit in Mérida are the Museum of Popular Art and the Museum of Yucatecan Music, a tribute to trova songs.

Plan your Merida visit

Thomas More Travel offers Merida day trips and overnight stays that include a visit to the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal, and can assist you with accommodation and a sightseeing itinerary if you would like to stay longer. Merida is a three-and-a half-hour drive from Cancún via the toll road.

Related post

Celebrating five years at Grand Residences

Grand Residences by Royal Resorts is celebrating its fifth anniversary this December. Nestled on a breathtaking beach to the south of Puerto Morelos, our luxury resort continues to receive rave reviews for its spacious suites, upscale amenities, gourmet cuisine, hallmark Leading Hotels of the World® service and the exceptional vacation experience it offers owners and […]

Royal Resorts Signature Club Elite Membership

On your next vacation find out how you can take vacationing to a new level of luxury with stays at the award-winning Grand Residences, more vacation perks and world travel. The new Grand Residences Points-based Membership gives you exclusive benefits through the Royal Resorts Signature Club’s latest addition, the Elite membership. It includes: Exclusive Points […]

,

Discover the secrets of traditional Mexican cuisine with a Cancun cooking class

Have you always wanted to learn how to prepare traditional Mexican cuisine? If so, why not sign up for a Cancun cooking class on your next trip? You’ll have a fun morning discovering the fascinating history of one of the world’s richest cuisines and you’ll soon appreciate why it is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. After the session, you’ll sit down at lunchtime to eat the tasty dishes you helped prepare.

Cancun cooking schools

Spend the morning at Yum Cooking School in Downtown Cancun and learn about fruit and vegetables native to Mexico, dishes and cooking techniques that date back to the pre-Hispanic period.

Following the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century, waves of settlers introduced new ingredients such as herbs, spices, sugar, coffee and citrus fruit from Europe and the Middle East. A Cordon Bleu-trained chef will show you how to make dishes from the pre-Hispanic and Colonial periods and contemporary Mexican recipes.

Chef Claudia Garcia and her husband are your hosts at Mi Cocina es Tu Cocina in the leafy Los Alamos neighborhood on the outskirts of Cancun. Claudia begins the class with an introduction to the staples in the Mexican diet, such as corn, beans, avocado and chili and continues with a demonstration of salsa and tortilla preparation.

A menu of starters, soup, a main course with side dishes and a dessert is prepared during the session. Claudia divides the country into five gastronomic regions and chooses a different one for each class.

Cooking school in the Puerto Morelos jungle

Spend the day at Mexico Lindo Traditional Kitchen, Workshop and School, a bright yellow jungle casita on the Ruta de los Cenotes, six kilometers inland from Puerto Morelos. With Chefs Alejandra and Tomas you’ll learn how to make traditional dishes from the Yucatan, Central Mexico or Veracruz and a selection of Mexican classics.

After a light breakfast of Mexican pastries, hot chocolate or café de olla, you’ll visit the organic garden to gather some of the vegetables, fruit and herbs that you’ll be using during the class.

There’s plenty of space in the cheerful yellow and pink kitchen for you to try your culinary skills cooking seven different recipes. There are five different class options ranging from Yucatecan specialties or seafood from the coasts to Mexican finger food and some of the country’s most famous dishes. You’ll also learn the secret of a good salsa; enjoy a pre-lunch botana or snack and a tequila tasting.

Lunch is served in the thatched palapa and there’s time to visit the little store and stock up on salsas, local honey, community products and Mexican crafts.

The other famous Puerto Morelos cooking school, the Little Mexican Cooking School is currently closed but private cooking classes with Chef Cristobal are still available through its website.

 

Booking your Mexican cooking class

Thomas More Travel offers Mexican cooking classes, visit www.thomasmoretravel.com or call in at the tour desk during your next Royal Resorts visit.

Related post

Celebrating five years at Grand Residences

Grand Residences by Royal Resorts is celebrating its fifth anniversary this December. Nestled on a breathtaking beach to the south of Puerto Morelos, our luxury resort continues to receive rave reviews for its spacious suites, upscale amenities, gourmet cuisine, hallmark Leading Hotels of the World® service and the exceptional vacation experience it offers owners and […]

Royal Resorts Signature Club Elite Membership

On your next vacation find out how you can take vacationing to a new level of luxury with stays at the award-winning Grand Residences, more vacation perks and world travel. The new Grand Residences Points-based Membership gives you exclusive benefits through the Royal Resorts Signature Club’s latest addition, the Elite membership. It includes: Exclusive Points […]

, ,

Exploring Playa del Carmen, beach vibes and Mexican culture

When was the last time you visited Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya’s vibrant waterfront capital? If it has been a while since you browsed the craft stores on Fifth Avenue or watched the world go by at a local café, or you have never visited this chic town before then why not plan a day or an afternoon there on your next Mexican Caribbean vacation?

Head for the beach

Most visitors to Playa del Carmen make a beeline for the beach and vistas of soft white sand, gentle surf and palm trees swaying in the breeze. You can set your towel down for the day on your own piece of paradise or be pampered with a comfy sun bed, cocktails and live music at one of the chic beach clubs that line the shore.

Relax and soak up the view or join in a game of beach volleyball and soccer. For the activity-minded, there’s snorkeling, paddle boarding, windsurfing or even kite surfing along the shoreline.

Parque Los Fundadores

After a day at the beach you’ll be ready to stretch your legs and go for an afternoon or evening stroll through Playa. Parque Los Fundadores, the original town square behind the ferry terminal is a good place to start. The views of the Caribbean and the island of Cozumel on the horizon are spectacular. The water changes color from turquoise to a band of darkest indigo that marks the course of the Cozumel Channel, an ocean trench thousands of feet deep.

There’s always something going on in this small square. You may see a wedding party emerge from the white chapel to a mariachi fanfare and the applause of the crowd that gathers to see the bride and groom.

Next to the chapel, the Papantla Flyers from northern Veracruz draw a crowd every hour as they climb a thirty-meter-pole. They tie ropes to their feet and launch themselves into space, arms outstretched like wings, circling the pole and descending until they make their landing. All the while, one man remains on top of the pole dancing and playing a reed flute. This is the representation of an ancient Totonac ritual to worship the sun god.

Elsewhere in the park, children play on slides and swings, families buy Mexican snacks from stalls and visitors pose for photos in front of the impressive Portal Maya. This is an arch erected in 2012 to commemorate the end of an era in the ancient Mayan calendar and the dawn of a new cycle.

Fifth Avenue

All roads in Playa del Carmen lead to Quinta Avenida or Fifth Avenue, the main street that runs north for miles from Parque Los Fundadores. For shopping, dining and people watching, this is the place to be. Visitors from all over the world mingle with local families out enjoying the evening air. Start your walk and you’ll soon hear Spanish, Maya, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German and Dutch.

Even the most demanding of shoppers will find Playa’s brand of style and color and quirkiness hard to resist. Craft shops, boutiques and art galleries share space with international brand stores and sprawling open-air shopping centers such as Paseo del Carmen, Quinta Alegria and Plaza Corazon.

If it is clothing you are looking for, you’ll find international brands, Brazilian beachwear and designer clothing from Mexico, Italy, Indonesia and beyond. Imported perfumes, leather bags and luxury goods and the shimmer of Mexican silver, gold, and gems are everywhere.

Stores selling Mexican folk art or artesanía from all over the country line “la Quinta.” Look out for hand-painted blue and white Talavera pottery from Puebla, colorful vases and plates from Hidalgo and Guanajuato, glass hearts from Guadalajara and San Miguel de Allende and arboles de la vida or trees of life. There are strange wooden figurines from Oaxaca called alebrijes, angels and day of the dead skulls. Shop for Huichol yarn paintings and beadwork and brightly colored textiles and embroidered cushions, dresses and blouses from Chiapas, Yucatan and Oaxaca.

For a unique memento of your Mexican Caribbean vacation, pick up a Yucatecan hammock, a wooden jaguar, embroidered cotton napkins, and mobiles and lamps made with strings of shells, seeds and carved gourds. They are produced by artisans from the villages of the Zona Maya in central Quintana Roo using sustainable forest resources and are available in several of the stores lining the street. In one of the small plazas on the left-hand-side of Fifth Ave you can also find naive-style art by Mayan painters from the Guatemalan highlands.

By now you are probably ready to embark on a culinary adventure – the restaurants along la Quinta and neighboring streets serve everything from traditional Mexican dishes to Thai cuisine, Italian pasta and Caribbean seafood. Order a plate of tacos, sample home-cooked Mayan recipes or indulge your craving for Argentinean grilled beef or French fare.

Café culture is alive and kicking in Playa del Carmen and la Quinta is thronged with open-air eateries serving freshly ground Mexican coffee, baguettes and homemade gelato.

As soon as dusk falls, the rhythm picks up along la Quinta. Thousands of lights glimmer in the trees, candles are lit and the musicians gather for their nightly parade.

Mingle with the crowds and listen to the beat of world music as you walk along. You’ll hear trumpet serenades and song from strolling mariachi bands and the rippling melodies of “La Bamba” and other jarocho favorites from the state of Veracruz. Guitar-strumming trios from the Yucatan play romantic ballads and there are even accordion players from Northern Mexico. Another block down the street, you can listen to reggae, jazz and rock, Cuban salseros and lilting flutes and pipes from the Andes.

Street artists always draw a crowd on Fifth Avenue, as do mimes dressed as Mayan warriors and famous Caribbean pirate captains. If you like to people watch, sip a margarita or martini in one of the open-air cafes or chic terrace bars.

For night owls, there are candlelit beach bars, dance clubs and stylish hideaways that draw a crowd and have found their way into the leading travel magazines as the places to see and be seen in Playa.

Playa’s ancient heritage

The Maya were the first to settle in Playa del Carmen and you’ll see the crumbling temples of ancient Xaman-Há in several parts of town and in Playacar, the resort and residential community to the south of the ferry dock. Pottery and other archaeological finds indicate that there was a settlement here as far back as 300 B.C. Initially a fishing village, it grew in importance during the Post-Classic period of Mayan civilization (A.D. 900 – 1521), reaching its peak around 1450 as a trading port and the embarkation point for the sacred island of Cozumel, site of the shrine of Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility and childbirth.

Museum hopping in Playa

There’s more to do in Playa than beach time and shopping, it now has three very different museums to visit.

The exhibits at the 3D Museum of Wonders on 10th Avenue are 3D drawings and famous paintings decorating the floors, walls and ceiling that create optical illusions. Come face to face with a lion or a dragon, drag a zebra out of the jungle, surf the waves, fly like the birds and even pose in a shell like Botticelli’s Venus.

The state of the art L’Aquarium has 45 spectacular aquariums on three floors of the Plaza Corazon Mall on 5th Ave and Calle 14 (the entrance is on Calle 14). Exhibits showcase the coral reef and other marine ecosystems and there are more than 200 species of multicolored fish and marine creatures.

On 5th Avenue, the Frida Kahlo Museum celebrates the life and work of this iconic Mexican artist. It features paintings and sketches by Frida, multimedia displays and work by local artists inspired by her.

Visiting Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is 68 kilometers to the south of Cancún along Highway 307 and the journey takes about 40 minutes by car. You can arrange a tour or a private van with Thomas More Travel. There are also regular buses and vans during the day from the bus terminal in Downtown Cancun.

Related post

Emergency drill at Cancun Airport, Friday, December 7

Royal Resorts would like to share the following information received from Cancun Airport authorities. On December 7, 2018, a drill will take place to test the airport’s Emergency Planning and response in the event of a possible accident involving a plane coming into land. More than 300 people will be participating in the drill, including […]

Timeless Traditions: Day of the Dead in Mexico

It’s that time of year again when Mexican markets are full of orange marigolds and sugar candy skulls and trails of flickering candles lead to ornate altars laden with flowers, offerings of food and photos of loved ones. The whisper of prayers is carried on the breeze and people prepare to join a procession. In […]

, ,

Discover Merida’s history by night

Are you planning a visit to Merida, the historic state capital of the Yucatan? If you are, don’t miss the colorful video mapping projections in the main square in the evenings. First up is Casa de Montejo, the 16th-century residence of the Montejo family, Merida’s founding fathers, where A Meeting of Two Worlds: Dialogue of a Conquistador is screened on Wednesday evening at 8:30 p.m. This tells the story of the Conquest of the Yucatan by Francisco de Montejo “El Adelantado” and the fate of the Maya. The projection is narrated by a guide and is followed by a jarana folk dance performance.

The imposing San Ildefonso Cathedral is the backdrop for the next video mapping on Friday at 8:30 p.m. Sacred Stones tells the story of the founding of Merida in 1542 amidst the ruins of a much earlier Maya city called T’ho and the construction of even more churches, convents and mansions during the Colonial period.

There is another video mapping projection at the Monumento a la Patria on the tree-lined Paseo Montejo boulevard. All three video mapping events are free of charge.

At 6 p.m. during August, the City Tourism Information Office offers a free guided walking tour through the historic heart of Merida. The tour takes in major landmarks such as City Hall, Casa de Montejo, the Cathedral and Government House to see the famous murals depicting the history of the Yucatan by local painter Fernando Castro Pacheco. The tour is also offered Monday to Saturday at 9:30 a.m. year-round and takes about an hour and a half. Visitors should arrive at the Tourism Information Office 15 minutes before the tour departs in order to register and the guide speaks English and Spanish.

On Friday and Saturday evenings there’s another walking tour but with a difference, street theater. During a stroll through the main square and surrounding streets, visitors see scenes of the city’s history played out. Noche de Leyendas is a street theater performance that makes the past come alive. The tour starts outside Peon Contreras Theater at 9 p.m. Tickets must be purchased two hours before the show begins.

Visiting Merida
Thomas More Travel offers trips to Merida and can help you with transport, accommodation and a sightseeing itinerary if you would like to plan a longer stay in this beautiful city.

Related post

Emergency drill at Cancun Airport, Friday, December 7

Royal Resorts would like to share the following information received from Cancun Airport authorities. On December 7, 2018, a drill will take place to test the airport’s Emergency Planning and response in the event of a possible accident involving a plane coming into land. More than 300 people will be participating in the drill, including […]

Timeless Traditions: Day of the Dead in Mexico

It’s that time of year again when Mexican markets are full of orange marigolds and sugar candy skulls and trails of flickering candles lead to ornate altars laden with flowers, offerings of food and photos of loved ones. The whisper of prayers is carried on the breeze and people prepare to join a procession. In […]

, ,

Guide to great snorkeling in the Riviera Maya

Summer means it’s time for snorkeling in the Riviera Maya. Lazy days spent swimming through crystal-clear waters and an ever-changing parade of colorful marine creatures of all shapes and sizes. Dive right in on your next vacation; snorkeling is easy, fun for all the family and you’ll soon be hooked. Try it once and you’ll never want to stop! There are plenty of shallow water reefs, sheltered bays and inlets along the Riviera Maya coast where you can indulge your passion. Here’s a guide to some of the best spots for snorkeling in the Riviera Maya:

Cancun-Isla Mujeres Area
Protected by a marine reserve, the chain of shallow water reefs in the bay between Isla Mujeres and Cancun and off Punta Nizuc, the southern tip of Cancun island, is an excellent place to start exploring the Mesoamerican Reef, the second longest in the world. Trips are available to the reefs off Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc in Cancun and El Farito and Manchones Reef in the bay between Cancun and Isla Mujeres. Snorkeling is also a popular activity in El Garrafon Park on the southern tip of Isla Mujeres.

Marine life ranges from elk horn coral reefs and brain coral formations to gardens of sea fans gently waving in the currents. They are a habitat for a variety of fish from sergeant majors, grunts and porkfish to damsel and angelfish, jacks, rays and moray eels.

 

Cancun Museum of Underwater Art
The Cancun-Isla Mujeres National Marine Park has another attraction to offer snorkelers, the world’s largest underwater museum of art (MUSA), inaugurated in 2009. Around 500 statues by British sculptor Jason deCaires-Taylor and other sculptors have already been submerged in different locations in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres Reef Park, including Punta Nizuc and Manchones Reef and more are planned.

Apart from their artistic appeal, the figures are a habitat for marine life. Corals, sponges and sea fans, small fish and even lobsters are colonizing them. New reef communities are being created and this will give popular coral reefs in the area a chance to recover.

 

Puerto Morelos
Our guide to great places for snorkeling in the Riviera Maya starts in Puerto Morelos, 20 minutes to the south of Cancun Airport. Protected by a national marine park, the reefs are home to species such as angelfish, trunkfish, snappers and octopus and are some of the most beautiful and pristine along the Mesoamerican Reef.

The biodiversity of reefs in the Puerto Morelos area 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.

 

Xel-Ha Park
Always a good place for a family outing, Xel-Ha is hailed by locals as the world’s largest natural aquarium. It is an enormous caleta or inlet of crystalline waters fed by cenotes in the surrounding mangroves and jungle.

Rainbow-colored fish from nearby reefs feed and breed in the inlet and swimmers will see shoals of sergeant majors, blue chromis and one of the park’s emblems, the parrotfish, as soon as they venture into the water. Snorkel over to the rocks where fish shelter and further into the lagoons and you’ll see even more marine life. There is a floating bridge over the mouth of the lagoon and it is here that larger fish such as snappers and jacks congregate.

 

Yalku
Located just to the north of Akumal Bay, Yalku is a smaller caleta than Xel-Ha and is also a great snorkeling spot. Look out for parrot, surgeon and butterfly fish, blue tangs and sergeant majors. Take the coast road north from Akumal Bay past Half Moon Bay and follow the signs, it is a five to 10-minute drive.

 

Akumal
This picturesque bay has a palm-lined beach and an offshore reef for diving and snorkeling. You can also walk or drive north along the coast road to Half Moon Bay or Bahia de la Media Luna where the corals are much closer to the shore. You’ll need reef shoes here because the seabed is rocky.

Marine life is varied and abundant in Akumal, even in the shallows. Royal grammas, spotted drums and damselfish dart through the corals and parrotfish and eagle rays are often sighted. 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 and she may swim past you, giving you the chance to see her beautiful markings. A vacation memory to treasure, no wonder Akumal means “place of the turtles” in Maya.

 

Cozumel
The reefs girdling Cozumel’s west coast and southern tip are world-famous in scuba circles but the island offers plenty of spectacular snorkeling spots too and is just a short boat ride from the Riviera Maya. Start with snorkeling in Chankanaab Park and book trips to other shallow water reefs. Another attraction is El Cielo, a stretch of seabed off the north coast of the island that is inhabited by thousands of starfish.

Reef Tips
If you decide to go snorkeling in the Riviera Maya, 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!

Booking your Riviera Maya snorkeling trip
Want to go snorkeling in the Riviera Maya or the Cancun-Isla Mujeres area this summer? Thomas More Travel offers a variety of trips to great snorkeling spots. You can even charter a boat with your own crew and escape fellow swimmers on your own adventure.

Related post

Emergency drill at Cancun Airport, Friday, December 7

Royal Resorts would like to share the following information received from Cancun Airport authorities. On December 7, 2018, a drill will take place to test the airport’s Emergency Planning and response in the event of a possible accident involving a plane coming into land. More than 300 people will be participating in the drill, including […]

Timeless Traditions: Day of the Dead in Mexico

It’s that time of year again when Mexican markets are full of orange marigolds and sugar candy skulls and trails of flickering candles lead to ornate altars laden with flowers, offerings of food and photos of loved ones. The whisper of prayers is carried on the breeze and people prepare to join a procession. In […]

,

Great Riviera Maya family trips to try this summer

Treat the family to a fun day out on your next Cancun vacation. Here’s a guide to some great Riviera Maya family trips and ideas for exploring further afield.

Watery fun, snorkeling is top of the list
After days on the beach, in the pool or at the Royal Resorts kids club it’s time to do some exploring and there’s one thing in the Mexican Caribbean that fast becomes a family favorite, a snorkeling trip. If your children can swim they can learn to snorkel and they’ll soon be ready to take the plunge and join you to explore the wonders of the Mesoamerican Reef, the second longest coral reef system in the world.

Shallow water reefs in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres area, Chankanaab Park on the island of Cozumel and Puerto Morelos and Akumal in the Riviera Maya are ideal spots for snorkeling, offering sightings of angel fish, parrot fish, sergeant majors and even sea turtles.

An alternative is to spend the day at Xel-Ha Park. This chain of turquoise inlets, lagoons and cenotes is a snorkeling paradise offering face to face encounters with a variety of colorful reef fish. And although you’ll want to dive into the clear water over and over again in search of new species, there are other fun activities on offer.

Follow the paths through the forest to the park’s cenotes, smaller inlets and caves. Leap off the cliff of courage into the water and then drift across the lagoon on a giant inner tube. You can also try your hand at zip lining, swim in a cenote and walk across the floating bridge at the mouth of the inlet where larger fish such as snappers and jacks swim placidly by. You’ll see dolphins, manatees and stingrays in different parts of the park and for an additional fee you and your children can swim with them.

During your day at Xel-Ha, you’ll learn about the mangrove forest that plays such an important role in the lives of reef fish as a breeding and feeding area and a refuge for juvenile fish. As you walk along nature trails around the lagoon and in the forest keep a look out for iguanas, coatimundis and raccoons and discover the ancient Mayan traditions associated with bee keeping.

For a panoramic view of the park’s inlets and cenotes and the Riviera Maya coast, climb Xel-Ha’s latest attraction, a lookout tower that is also a huge water slide that your children will love.

On the outskirts of Cancun Hotel Zone, Ventura Park has more fun pools, water slides and rides that will keep your children happy all day.

Park life
Spending the day at the Riviera Maya’s nature parks is a top family vacation activity and one that everyone will enjoy.

Heading the list is world-famous Xcaret Park just south of Playa del Carmen. Spending the day here is as much about fun in the water as it is about you and your children discovering the country’s rich traditions and wildlife.

Relax on the beach, swim in one of the park’s underground rivers and go snorkeling. You can see more treasures of the deep on a visit to the aquarium. Visit the sea turtles; there are tiny hatchlings, juveniles and huge turtles approaching maturity. Manatees swim in the lagoons and there are dolphins too (additional charge for dolphin swims and encounters).

Walk through the huge aviary, home to 90 species of birds from southeast Mexico, from hummingbirds to parrots, macaws and toucans. Sit for a few minutes in the peaceful sanctuary of the butterfly pavilion and don’t miss the regional wildlife enclosures where you can watch the antics of spider monkeys and coatimundis, deer grazing with their fawns and see the majestic jaguar.

Opened in 2017, the Children’s World area in Xcaret offers pools, water slides and cenotes for children under the age of 12 to swim in. As the little ones splash about in the water and run across rope bridges, parents can cool off and recharge in a shaded rest area.

As you wander through Xcaret you’ll see crumbling stone temples in forest clearings that are all that remains of an ancient Mayan port called Pole. There’s also a replica of a Mayan village where craftsmen work and the representation of the ancient Mayan ball game in the evening is a highlight.

During the day, you’ll see the Papantla Flyers from Veracruz climb a 30-meter pole and tie ropes to their feet. They then cast themselves off, circling the pole and gradually descending, emulating the flight of birds in an ancient ritual to honor the sun god. In the afternoon, you can watch the charros or Mexican cowboys display their equestrian skills as you enjoy a late lunch of mouthwatering traditional cuisine.

Be sure to stay on for the unforgettable Xcaret evening gala performance that showcases Mexican history, music, dance and song. It takes you from the days of ancient Mayan rulers to the sights and sounds of a Mexican fiesta, complete with a mariachi band. Your children will soon forget that they are tired and be so enthralled that they will be shouting “Viva Mexico” with the rest of the audience.

A shorter trip that younger children might enjoy is Crococun located just to the north of Puerto Morelos. They’ll see crocodiles, spider monkeys, parrots and toucans and can stroke white-tailed deer and other tame creatures.

For a fun morning in the Riviera Maya with older children, Xenses Park is a world full of illusions where what you see is what you don’t. There are two circuits with 17 different attractions that take park goers into a fantastic realm where nothing is what it seems. With names like the Pinwheel, Way of Dwarfs and Giants, Xensatorium, Xitrico Garden, Flutterfly and Sludgerie, the experiences take place on the ground, underground, in the air on zip lines and in the water and bring visitors into contact with nature.

After a visit to Xenses, head to Playa del Carmen for lunch and more optical illusions at the 3D Museum of Wonders where you can literally walk into 3D drawings on the walls, floors and ceiling. Not tired yet? Take the children to L’Aquarium, Playa del Carmen’s huge new aquarium.

Jungle Adventures
How about a day of jungle adventures? These are fun Riviera Maya family trips for older children who will soon find their adventurous spirit. They can fly through the jungle canopy on thrilling zip line circuits and swim in cenotes or sinkholes at Xplor Park, Selvatica or Aktun Chen. Other adventure tours include zip lining, abseiling down a cliff, kayaking, biking and nature walks and ATV drives.

Taking the family to Xenotes Oasis Maya gives you the chance to explore the jungle and spend the day at four different cenotes on the Ruta de los Cenotes inland from Puerto Morelos. Swim, snorkel and rappel down a cliff wall. Go kayaking, float in an inner tube and splashdown in a cenote on a fun zip line. Venture into ancient caves and enjoy a guided walk along nature trails in the jungle.

If all the members of the family like horseback riding, there are several ranches offering rides through the jungle to a cenote where you can cool off with a swim.

If you want your children to learn about nature, how about a trip to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve? A trip from Muyil to the south of Tulum combines a visit to the Muyil archaeological site in the jungle with a fun boat ride across the lagoon into the mangroves where you’ll float-swim through a canal. There’s even time for the beach and of course you’ll see plenty of wildlife along the way. Other Sian Ka’an options include visits to Mayan communities where you’ll have the chance to meet local people and learn about their lives and traditions.

Discovering Mayan culture
A day trip to the area’s famous archaeological sites is an option if you have older children, especially if you combine it with time on the beach or cenote visits. Tulum and Coba in the Riviera Maya are good sites to start with before heading to Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Always plan early trips to the archaeological sites so that you can beat the midday heat. If you do decide to go to Chichen Itza, the colonial town of Valladolid is a good place for a break and lunch and there are cenotes en route to Chichen where you can cool off.

 

Book your Riviera Maya family trips with Thomas More
From tickets to nature parks to snorkeling, dolphin swims, zip lining adventures, boat trips and much more, book your Riviera Maya family trips with Thomas More Travel. Visit the website now to get started and if you are staying at Royal Resorts visit the travel desk for more options.

 

Related post

Royal Resorts launches Grand Residences Points-based memberships

Royal Resorts is offering its members more options for a richer lifestyle that promises a lifetime of extraordinary memories. Introducing a new Grand Residences Points-based membership that provides exclusive benefits through the Royal Resorts Signature Club’s latest addition, the Elite membership. Discover what the new Signature Club Elite membership offers: • Exclusive Points access to […]

New Royal Resorts dining option, Mexican night at La Veranda

We have a new Royal Resorts dining option for you this summer, get ready to tuck into traditional dishes from all over Mexico! It’s Mexican Night in La Veranda at The Royal Sands in Cancun. Listen to mellow marimba music performed by a group from Chiapas as you sip a margarita, tequila or mezcal or […]

, ,

Return of the gentle giants, whale shark season in the Mexican Caribbean

If you are traveling to Cancun or the Riviera Maya this summer and love the underwater world, how about an incredible once-in-a-lifetime encounter with nature, a swim with a whale shark? You’ll have seen these gentle giants on TV in BBC and National Geographic programs but have you ever imagined coming face to face with one? The whale sharks start arriving in the Mexican Caribbean around the middle of May and from June to mid-September you have the opportunity to swim with the world’s largest fish.

Face to face with one of the great ocean wanderers
Whale sharks are great ocean wanderers, traveling thousands of miles through the tropics in search of the microscopic plankton that is their staple diet. In the summer they gather in the Mexican Caribbean where higher temperatures mean an abundance of plankton. Hundreds of whale sharks feast on plankton in the waters off the islands of Holbox, Contoy and Isla Mujeres. Biologists believe that this is the largest whale shark aggregation in the world and have discovered that it isn’t only plankton that attracts them but also fish roe. It is the spawning season of the little tunny fish and the whale sharks are partial to the eggs.

There are actually two whale shark feeding grounds in the Mexican Caribbean: the area between Holbox and Cabo Catoche and a stretch of deeper water to the east of Contoy and Isla Mujeres. Due to the importance of this area for whale sharks and other marine species such as sailfish, marlin, manta rays, dolphins and sea turtles, the Mexican government declared part of the zone a marine biosphere reserve.

Imagine snorkeling alongside a whale shark and watching as a creature the size of a bus approaches you and swims placidly by, its gaping jaws open to scoop up the plankton. With a final flick of the tail it disappears into the depths. It is an awe-inspiring sight and an emotional experience, one that wildlife watchers shouldn’t miss.

Spots and stripes, the domino fish
Whale sharks are also known as “domino fish” due to their distinctive stripes and dappled markings. Each fish has its own unique pattern and whale shark scientists around the world are compiling a photo catalog of them. Through the use of this international database for identification purposes and by tagging sharks they can now begin to map the movements of these enigmatic creatures and learn where they go as they visit different feeding grounds during the year.

Guided small group eco trips to see the whale sharks are available from Cancun and Isla Mujeres. During the boat trip out to the whale shark feeding grounds your guide will explain the whale shark rules, which include keeping your distance (five meters), not attempting to touch the creature and swimming alongside it instead of in front. Only two people per boat are allowed in the water at one time and are accompanied by the guide. The use of sun products and flash photography are not permitted.

On the journey out to the whale shark area, you may spot wild dolphins and sea turtles. Huge manta rays also gather to eat the plankton and sometimes breach the water surface in spectacular flight.

Another whale shark watching option is to plan an overnight trip to Holbox, the island on the north coast of Quintana Roo where even the wooden signs lining the sandy streets of the village show the famous pez domino as the whale shark is affectionately called by local fishermen. You can go in search of whale sharks in the morning, explore the Yalahau Lagoon and Isla de los Pajaros (Bird Island) in the afternoon and still have time for the beach and to discover the rustic laidback ambiance of the community.

Book your summer whale shark trip
Whale shark watching trips are available through Thomas More Travel. Book online at www.thomasmoretravel.com or at the tour desk during your stay.

Related post

Emergency drill at Cancun Airport, Friday, December 7

Royal Resorts would like to share the following information received from Cancun Airport authorities. On December 7, 2018, a drill will take place to test the airport’s Emergency Planning and response in the event of a possible accident involving a plane coming into land. More than 300 people will be participating in the drill, including […]

Timeless Traditions: Day of the Dead in Mexico

It’s that time of year again when Mexican markets are full of orange marigolds and sugar candy skulls and trails of flickering candles lead to ornate altars laden with flowers, offerings of food and photos of loved ones. The whisper of prayers is carried on the breeze and people prepare to join a procession. In […]

, ,

Travesia Sagrada Maya, Sacred Mayan Journey to Cozumel

The first rays of the sun touch the shores of the bay in Xcaret Park in the Riviera Maya and the sound of drums, flutes and conch horns reaches a crescendo. Mayan priests chant their salute to the dawn and clouds of aromatic copal incense waft through the air. Witnesses to a scene from ancient times, the audience watches Mayan oarsmen receive the blessing of the gods. They will be embarking on a perilous canoe journey to the sacred island of Cozumel to worship at the shrine of Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. It is the Travesia Sagrada Maya, the Sacred Mayan Journey, which takes place on May 25 and 26 at Xcaret and Cozumel.

The temples of the ancient Mayan port of Polé lie within the boundaries of Xcaret Park. Once a trade center on the Caribbean maritime route, Polé was also one of the departure points for pilgrimages to Cozumel. On May 25, the canoes will depart for Cozumel once more, as they did over a thousand years ago. As the pilgrims’ families bid farewell, a flock of scarlet macaws flies overhead in a salute to the rising sun. A fitting tribute as macaws and parrots were sacred birds in the Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures and were associated with the sun god.

Depending on the weather and sea conditions, the Travesia Sagrada Maya crossing will take between six and eight hours. The pilgrims make landfall on Cozumel at Chankanaab Park at around 1 p.m. and walk to the shrine of Ixchel where they pray and leave offerings for the goddess.

The morning of May 26, they set sail again heading for the mainland with Polé in their sights. A cheer goes up from the shores of the bay when the first canoe of returning pilgrims is spotted and they are greeted with great joy and celebrations for their safe homecoming.

A journey of faith
After six months of arduous dawn training sessions, 377 oarsmen and women are ready to board their canoes for the Travesia Sagrada Maya. They will be following the sea route taken by ancient Mayan pilgrims who traveled from all over the Yucatan Peninsula to the sacred island of Cozumel (Kuzamil) to worship at the shrine of Ixchel, the goddess of fertility, childbirth and the moon and tides. Depicted as an old woman or a beautiful young maiden and also known as Ixchebelyax, Ix Hunic or Ix Hunieta, Ixchel was also the patron of fishing, painting and weaving.

This is the twelfth year of the Sacred Mayan Journey, which is the representation of a pilgrimage dating from the Late Post-Classic period of Mayan history (A.D. 1250-1519). From the backdrop of a Kii’wik or bustling Mayan market where trade goods were bartered and rituals in honor of Ixchel to the clothing, headdresses and face paint worn by the priests and priestesses, the nobility, dancers and oarsmen, everything has been carefully researched to make it as authentic as possible.

The Travesia Sagrada Maya originated as an initiative from the Experiencias Xcaret group to restore an ancient tradition and has been enthusiastically embraced by the people of the Mexican Caribbean as has the Festival of Life and Death at Xcaret, which showcases Mexico’s Day of the Dead traditions, October 30 to November 1 and 2.

The oarsmen come from the Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Cancun, Yucatan and other parts of Mexico and they are joined by expats that have chosen to make their home here. This year, 35 crew members are from Argentina, Canada, United States, Colombia, Venezuela, United Kingdom, France, Slovakia, Spain and Italy.

Some 218 dancers and musicians from Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, the Zona Maya in southern Quintana Roo and Xcaret reenact ancient rituals in Polé and Cozumel, portraying the goddess Ixchel, priests and priestesses, the ruler and his court, merchants and villagers.

If you would like to witness the Travesia Sagrada Maya or Sacred Mayan Journey ask at the Thomas More Travel desk about trips to Xcaret.

Related post

Emergency drill at Cancun Airport, Friday, December 7

Royal Resorts would like to share the following information received from Cancun Airport authorities. On December 7, 2018, a drill will take place to test the airport’s Emergency Planning and response in the event of a possible accident involving a plane coming into land. More than 300 people will be participating in the drill, including […]

Timeless Traditions: Day of the Dead in Mexico

It’s that time of year again when Mexican markets are full of orange marigolds and sugar candy skulls and trails of flickering candles lead to ornate altars laden with flowers, offerings of food and photos of loved ones. The whisper of prayers is carried on the breeze and people prepare to join a procession. In […]

, ,

Head to Holbox, the Mexican Caribbean’s secret island treasure

A swathe of dazzling white sand lined with palm trees and thatched casitas before you, you might think that you are on the Caribbean coast in the Riviera Maya, yet Holbox, Quintana Roo’s fourth island is actually located off the north coast of the Yucatán in the Gulf of Mexico. It is a magical spot, a haven for nature lovers, fishermen and visitors who simply want to discover a different side of Mexico. Thomas More Travel has a day trip that will enable you to do just that.

The adventure starts in the Gulf coast port of Chiquila where you board the ferry or a water taxi to cross Yalahau Lagoon separating Holbox from the mainland. Keep a look out for dolphins swimming alongside the boat, cormorants and osprey diving for fish.

Holbox (which means “black hole” in Maya) is part of the Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve, an area of mangroves, marshes and tropical forest rich in wildlife. Flamingos, herons and egrets feed in the lagoon, crocodiles and manatees are sometimes sighted and jaguars, pumas and ocelots, peccary and deer still roam the jungle further inland.

Cenotes and Bird Island
First stop on the Thomas More Travel Holbox day trip is Cenote Yalahau or Ojo de Agua, an open cenote or pool in the mangroves that is also a natural spring with fresh water bubbling up from an underground river. There’s a wooden observation tower next to the cenote with spectacular views of Holbox, Yalahau Lagoon and the Yum Balam wetlands.

Once you have had your fill of swimming in the cool, crystal-clear waters of the cenote it’s on to Isla de los Pajaros or Bird Island. This sand bar is a feeding ground for flamingos, different species of herons, reddish egrets, white and brown pelicans and cormorants.

Holbox Village
The boats tie up on the Holbox waterfront where lunch is served at a restaurant overlooking the beach. With its sandy streets, wooden houses, colorful street art and hand-painted signs depicting whale sharks, sea turtles, manta rays and flamingos, the rustic fishing village on Holbox has its own brand of Caribbean charm. Life has a slower pace and a stroll along the shell-strewn white beach to watch the fishermen unloading their catch, with pelicans and gulls waiting expectantly for scraps is not to be missed.

After lunch it’s time to board a golf cart to explore the 25-mile-long island. The first 30 minutes are guided and then you have 90 minutes to yourself. Start in the picturesque fishing village itself then drive along the island for breathtaking views of white-sand beaches, the Gulf of Mexico and the wetlands in the distance. When you have returned the golf cart, walk along the beach where boats rock gently at their moorings to enjoy a drink at one of the thatched bars. This is the perfect spot to watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico in a glorious blaze of pink, gold, orange and red.

A Holbox Getaway
It’s easy for visitors staying longer just to soak up the beauty of Holbox and do nothing but sunbathe and swim. A morning stroll along the beach, escaping to a hammock in the shade of a palm tree for an afternoon siesta and enjoying island hospitality and fresh seafood, including lobster pizza, tikinxic and grilled octopus for dinner are the order of the day. Yet, for those who want to explore further there are plenty of options.

Hand-painted wooden signs and murals celebrate Holbox’s most famous summer visitor, the whale shark, tiburón ballena or pez domino, the ocean’s largest fish. From mid-May to mid-September, these gentle giants gather in large numbers to feed on plankton in the waters off Holbox and Cabo Catoche, the headland where the waters of the Gulf of Mexico meet those of the Caribbean. Local fishermen from Holbox and Chiquila offer eco trips out to the whale shark feeding grounds where visitors will see these huge ocean travelers skimming the water surface for plankton. Graceful manta rays, dolphins and sea turtles can also be spotted.

Sea turtles nest on the beaches of Holbox during the summer and on moonless nights the breaking waves sometimes glow with bioluminescence emitted by microscopic plankton.

Fishermen from Holbox and Chiquila also offer bird watching trips in the area, crocodile spotting and fishing. Some arrange trips to Cenote Yalahau, the Isla de los Pajaros and Isla de la Pasion where birds also feed and nest and then around the tip of Holbox and along the north coast. They will anchor offshore and you can literally sit in the clear, calm shallows and bask in the sun.

Longer excursions are available to Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve in the neighboring state of Yucatan, home to thousands of flamingos and east along the coast to Cabo Catoche. From Cabo Catoche it is possible to navigate the lagoons and mangrove forests to reach Boca Iglesia. In this remote spot are the ruins of the first chapel built by Spanish conquistadores in Quintana Roo, one of the earliest churches in the Americas.

If you decide to rent a car and explore at your own pace or arrange a private trip with Thomas More Travel in order to spend longer on the island, Holbox is a two-hour drive from Cancún (via the toll highway at El Tintal and Kantunilkin) and a 30-minute ferry ride from Chiquila. There are parking lots in Chiquila where you can leave your car, they are not permitted on the island.

En route to Chiquila and Holbox, take time to call in at the villages en route: San Angel and Solferino, both members of a regional community ecotourism network.
In San Angel you can visit traditional medicine and embroidery workshops, go mountain biking in the jungle, kayaking and bird watching in a nearby lagoon. Solferino has an orchid nursery in the shade of a towering ceiba tree that is reputed to be over 700 years old. The owner raises fragrant orchids native to the Yucatan Peninsula and tells visitors the local legend about the ceiba. It is said to be the home of the dreaded Xtabay, the serpent woman that appears to men in the jungle and seduces them with her beauty so that they lose their way and their minds. A group of Solferino villagers also offer eco tours to a jungle camp with a rustic zip line circuit and an observation tower for panoramic views of the jungle. Guides take visitors on a kayak trip to El Corchal, a strange flooded forest in the middle of a lagoon in the savanna.

Booking your Holbox trip
For information about the Holbox day trip and private tours visit the Thomas More Travel tour desk during your stay or email tourdesk@royalresorts.com

Related post

Emergency drill at Cancun Airport, Friday, December 7

Royal Resorts would like to share the following information received from Cancun Airport authorities. On December 7, 2018, a drill will take place to test the airport’s Emergency Planning and response in the event of a possible accident involving a plane coming into land. More than 300 people will be participating in the drill, including […]

Timeless Traditions: Day of the Dead in Mexico

It’s that time of year again when Mexican markets are full of orange marigolds and sugar candy skulls and trails of flickering candles lead to ornate altars laden with flowers, offerings of food and photos of loved ones. The whisper of prayers is carried on the breeze and people prepare to join a procession. In […]

,

Fishing season starts in the Mexican Caribbean

March heralds the start of the sport fishing season in the Mexican Caribbean.

Marlin and sailfish are migrating through area waters in pursuit of the schools of mackerel, sardines and anchovies that they prey on. Snapper, dorado, bonito, wahoo and barracuda are plentiful year round and local fishermen will take you right to where the fish are running.

Puerto Morelos is one of the most popular spots in the Mexican Caribbean for sport fishing, just a short boat ride away from the rich fishing grounds along the deep ocean trench between the Riviera Maya coast and the island of Cozumel known as the Cozumel Channel.

Other good fishing grounds in the area lie to the east of Isla Mujeres, along the Arrowsmith Bank, around Contoy and Holbox islands and further south along the Costa Maya and accessible from the fishing villages of Mahahual and Xcalak.

The lagoons 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 Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and Holbox and the Isla Blanca wetlands 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 planning a day out on the high seas or want to go bone fishing, Thomas More Travel will help you organize fishing trips and boat charters.

Related post

Third Royal Resorts Foundation Race, Feb 18

On a sunny Sunday morning in Cancun Hotel Zone on February 18, 2018, 700 people took part in the Third Royal Resorts Foundation Race in support of a good cause. Their goal was to raise money to build a kitchen at the Don Bosco Youth Center on the outskirts of Cancun.

Royal Resorts to Participate in Earth Hour 2018

On March 24 at 8:30 p.m., Royal Resorts will dim the lights for Earth Hour, the global campaign organized by WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature or World Wildlife Fund) to draw attention to the effects of climate change and the urgent need to protect the one thing that unites us all, the Planet. Non-essential […]