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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2016, record breaking year for tourism in Mexico

A record-breaking 34.9 million foreign tourists visited Mexico in 2016, 8.9 percent more than in 2015 according to the latest figures published by the Bank of Mexico. Tourism revenue was up 10.3 percent when compared to 2015. The World Tourism Organization also announced that Mexico is set to climb one spot in the World’s Top Ten Visited Countries to No. 8.

With a favorable exchange rate for international visitors, expanding global air connectivity and a wealth of tourist attractions beyond its beautiful beaches, Mexico has great potential for future growth.

In 2017, airlines around the world are adding new routes to Mexican cities, boosting the number of flights on existing routes and switching to larger aircraft to cater to increased demand. Mexico’s airline partners have announced the addition of one million new seats this year on international direct flights from more than 20 countries (source: Mexico Tourism Board).

Mexican destinations continue to figure among the lists of must-see places in international travel magazines. The country is also growing in popularity as a retirement haven, either full-time or seasonal. International Living gives Mexico the top spot in its Annual Global Retirement Index 2017. This survey rates a variety of factors including cost of living, real estate, climate and healthcare.

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Beach Hopping in the Riviera Maya, Xcacel

Discover picture-perfect Xcacel, a spectacular palm-lined bay in the Riviera Maya with untouched reefs festooned with sponges and sea fans in shallow water just offshore and a secret cenote.

A track leads from the highway through the forest, mangroves and a coconut palm grove to the beach. Once you have taken in the spectacular views of white sand and sparkling turquoise waters, don your mask and flippers and get ready to explore Xcacel’s coral gardens. As you explore, you’ll spot parrot fish, pork fish, blue tangs, butterfly fish and sergeant majors, and you may be lucky enough to see spotted moray eels and turtles.

After a spot of snorkeling, bask in the sun or go for a stroll along the beach and visit the cenote hidden in the mangroves. Peaceful and breathtakingly beautiful, this is a place to celebrate nature.

Due to its importance as a turtle-nesting site, the Quintana Roo state government designated it as a turtle sanctuary in 1998, thus protecting it from development. There is a turtle camp at the site and volunteers patrol the beach at night during the summer on the look out for nests. Recent sightings of other rare creatures such as deer, ocelots and the nocturnal jaguar in the Xcacel area have led to pledges to boost protection of this natural treasure.

Contact tourdesk@royalresorts.com for more information or ask at the Thomas More Travel desk in your resort.

Whenever you go snorkeling or diving, please rinse off suntan oil before going in the water as it is harmful to marine life. Wear a white t-shirt to protect your skin from the sun instead.

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Go off the Beaten Track in the Yucatan Peninsula

Have you ever wanted to go further afield and explore more of the Yucatán Peninsula during your Royal Resorts vacation? A world of wonders awaits discovery beyond the spectacular beaches of Cancún and the Riviera Maya and Thomas More Travel offers private tours with a vehicle, driver and guide so that you can see more of the area at your own pace and leave the driving to someone else.

How about spending the day in the Yucatan’s colonial twin towns and Pueblos Magicos (Magical Towns) Valladolid and Izamal? Both are rich in history and traditions and surrounded by cenotes, archaeological sites and haciendas.

Head for Merida, capital of the Yucatan for a couple of days and use it as your base for exploring the southern part of the state. Tour the Puuc Route, famous for the ancient city of Uxmal and the smaller sites of Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna, all sharing UNESCO World Heritage status. Visit some of the restored haciendas in the area and the Loltun Caves. You can return to Merida via the Convent Route, a chain of villages with colonial churches, caves, cenotes and archaeological sites that starts with Mani and includes Mama, Teabo and Acanceh.

Alternatively, turn your sights south from Cancun and the Riviera Maya and head for central and southern Quintana Roo. Discover the ancient Mayan sites of Muyil and Chacchoben, the historic towns of Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Tihosuco in the Zona Maya or the Caribbean fishing villages and dive spots of Mahahual and Xcalak on the Costa Maya.

Further south is spectacular Bacalar, the Lagoon of Seven Colors, state capital Chetumal and the archaeological sites of Oxtankah, Kohunlich and Dzibanche.

For an unforgettable trip into the wild, visit the ancient Mayan capital of Calakmul in southern Campeche, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its monuments and the biodiversity of the jungle protected by the vast Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.

Contact Thomas More Travel for more information about private tours and sightseeing itinerary ideas.

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10 Mexican Caribbean Travel Experiences for 2017

Traveling to the Mexican Caribbean this year for a Cancun family vacation at Royal Resorts? Try something new during your 2017 trip. The Mexican Caribbean and the Yucatan offer a wealth of amazing places to visit and the opportunity to create unforgettable travel experiences. Where would you like to go and what would you like to do? Thomas More Travel is your guide to the area and here are 10 great trip ideas to whet your appetite for wanderlust.

Explore the Mesoamerican Reef

When you travel to the Mexican Caribbean for your Cancun family vacation you literally have the Mesoamerican Reef, the world’s second longest coral reef system, right on your doorstep! Take the plunge and explore a wonderland of reefs that begins near Contoy Island, runs through the Cancun-Isla Mujeres area, and south along the Riviera Maya and the Costa Maya into the neighboring country of Belize.

Stretching for nearly 700 miles, this immense reef system is home to more than 500 species of fish, large and small, 350 species of mollusks such as octopus, conch and colorful nudibranchs, tiny sea horses, turtles and many other wonderful marine creatures.

The Mexican Caribbean also welcomes ocean wanderers that move through the area to feed or breed during the year. They include eagle rays, golden cownose rays and manta rays, sailfish, marlin and the famous whale shark. The world’s largest fish, the whale shark congregates in the waters around the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and east of Contoy and Isla Mujeres during the summer months to feed on plankton.

Plan a family snorkeling trip in Puerto Morelos Marine Park, Yalku or Isla Mujeres or don your mask, flippers and tanks for unforgettable reef dives in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres area, Cozumel and Akumal. For an amazing experience further afield, visit Banco Chinchorro, a coral atoll off the coast from Majahual and Xcalak.
With clusters of submerged sculptures in several locations in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres National Marine Park, Cancun’s iconic Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA) is the largest of its kind in the world and well worth a visit. Snorkeling and dive trips are available.

Mesoamerican Reef

Spend the Day in Playa del Carmen

When was the last time you strolled down la Quinta Avenida, Playa del Carmen’s vibrant 5th Avenue? If it has been a while, on your next Cancun family vacation why not plan to spend the day in the Riviera Maya’s lively waterfront capital? You’ll find even more boutiques, craft shops, art galleries and international designer stores to browse through and plenty of new restaurants, bars, outdoor cafes and gelaterias to tempt your taste buds.

There’s more, after a spot of shopping or beach time why not take the family to Playa’s trio of attractions? First up is the Playacar Aviary where you can see toucans, parrots, macaws and other colorful native birds from southeast Mexico in a jungle setting.

Then head for the 3D Museum of Wonders on 10th Avenue. The exhibits at this very different museum are 3D drawings and famous paintings on 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.

Finally, visit Playa’s newest attraction, L’Aquarium, a state of the art aquarium with 45 spectacular tank installations 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 more than 200 species of multicolored fish and marine creatures.

Yet another museum is set to make its debut in Playa del Carmen later this year, the Frida Kahlo Museum. Timed to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the birth of this iconic Mexican artist, the museum will be the second of its kind in the world and will feature paintings and sketches by Frida and local artists inspired by her work.

L’Aquarium Playa del Carmen

 

A Vision in Pink

If you have never been to Rio Lagartos, the fishing village on the north coast of the Yucatan that is the gateway to the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, make 2017 the year that you explore this wetland wonderland. It is home to thousands of flamingos, so many that they dye the horizon salmon pink.

Local fishermen trained as eco guides take visitors on boat trips through the ria or estuary and mangroves to the salt flats and lagoons where the flamingos feed on the minute brine shrimp that give them their bright pink plumage.

In addition to flamingos, Ria Lagartos is a refuge for 364 other species of bird and the feathered population is swelled in the winter months by migratory ducks, waders, songbirds, birds of prey and even hummingbirds that fly south to escape the colder climes of the US and Canada. During your boat trip you can expect to see herons and egrets, ibis, roseate spoonbills, kingfishers, skimmers, white and brown pelicans and hawks. You’ll spot birds any time of the day but for the greatest number of sightings plan your visit for sunrise.

Ria Lagartos Reserve owes its name to the lagartos or crocodiles often spotted in the mangroves. Other resident wildlife includes spider monkeys, jaguars, deer, coatimundi and raccoons. The shoreline is also an important nesting area for sea turtles, particularly the hawksbill or carey, the smallest of the four sea turtles found in waters around the Yucatan Peninsula.

A trip to Rio Lagartos can be combined with a visit to the colonial town of Valladolid or the archaeological site of Ek Balam, 20 minutes to the north of Valladolid.

Pink Flamingos

Nights of Mexican Caribbean Magic

For a magical Mexican Caribbean evening how about dining under the stars on board a catamaran or a Spanish galleon? Other options are a Mexican gala of music, dance and tasty cuisine, a Mayan jungle experience or a Cirque du Soleil show.

There’s something about taking to the waves to watch the sunset, enjoying a lobster dinner and cocktails and watching the moon rise in a star-studded sky. Evening cruises depart from Cancun and sail through the lagoon and the bay. Luxury yachts and catamarans also ply the Riviera Maya coast.

Xoximilco Park is the place to go for a lively Mexican fiesta of music and cuisine. Board a trajinera or colorful gondola for a cruise along canals in the jungle where musicians serenade you at every turn. Dinner is a tasty selection of some of Mexico’s most popular dishes and beer and tequila flow freely.

Cirque du Soleil’s Riviera Maya show La Joya takes its inspiration from the annual migration of the monarch butterfly, Mexican nature and history and the passing of the love of life from one generation to another. Music, art and the grace of the Cirque du Soleil performers make it an experience for the senses. Four packages are available: VIP dinner and show, dinner, champagne and show, show, champagne and hors d’oeuvres and show only.

Xoximilco

Merida, Cultural Capital of the Americas 2017

Celebrating its 475th anniversary and being named Cultural Capital of the Americas 2017, the first city to have achieved this distinction twice, Merida should be on your must-see list this year. Lonely Planet, New York Times and the Huffington Post have all recently featured the capital of the Yucatan for its colonial treasures, rich traditions, cuisine, music and the hospitality of its inhabitants.

Spend the day exploring the city’s historic heart, visiting the 16th-century Cathedral and Casa de Montejo, home of Merida’s founding family, on the main square. Then stroll along Calle 60 past more colonial churches and leafy squares to Paseo Montejo, a wide boulevard lined by opulent mansions built at the height of the henequen boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Visit Merida’s many museums and art galleries, starting with the Gran Museo de la Cultura Maya and the Regional Museum for an introduction to Mayan culture. At the City Museum, you’ll learn that Merida’s origins go way back before 1542. The Spanish conquistadores built their city amidst the ruins of a much earlier Mayan capital called T’ho.

Shop for Yucatecan and Mexican folk art in craft centers, bustling markets and eclectic boutiques and galleries. After dark, sample the delights of the Merida dining cuisine and enjoy a different cultural event every evening. The program ranges from traditional dance performances and guitar trio concerts to a Mexican evening and Merida en Domingo, an all-day gala on Sunday.

Mestizas Merida Yucatan

Have a Family Park Outing

Treat the children to a day out at one of the Riviera Maya’s famous parks on your next Cancun family vacation. There’s plenty to choose from, whether you enjoy water sports, zip lining and jungle adventures or Mexican culture.

Spend the day snorkeling at Xel-Ha or “flying” through the forest canopy at Xplor or Selvatica. Visit four cenotes in one day at Xenotes Oasis Maya, explore a pristine cave system at Rio Secreto or combine Mayan history, cenotes and jungle adventures on the Coba Encuentro Maya, Jungla Maya or Cenote Maya tours.

With an array of natural and cultural attractions including a huge aviary, aquarium, a Mexican Folk Art Museum, underground rivers to explore and a caleta or inlet for snorkelling there’s something for everyone in the family at Xcaret. Be sure to stay on for the spectacular evening show. From the days of the ancient Maya and Aztecs to the coming of the Spaniards and all that ensued, it tells the story of Mexico through music and dance. It’s so colorful, vibrant and moving that it will have you shouting “Viva Mexico” with the best of them.

Xenses, the Riviera Maya’s latest park, is a strange world of optical illusion and fantasy where nothing is as it seems and the fun is endless.

Xelha

Mayan Majesty

Famous Mayan metropolis Chichen Itza made international headlines in 2016 with the discovery of an even older pyramid hidden inside the famous Pyramid of Kukulcan. If you have visited Chichen Itza or the cliff top citadel of Tulum before, why not make 2017 the year you venture further in the Maya World?

Head inland from Tulum on the Mexican Caribbean coast to the ancient jungle city of Coba, one of the largest archaeological sites in the Maya World but also one of the least studied; 90 percent of its temples and palaces have yet to be excavated. For spectacular views of the surrounding forest and four nearby lakes, climb Nohoch Mul, the tallest pyramid in the northern Yucatan.
South of Tulum, the smaller site of Muyil is on the shores of a lagoon in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Exploring both sites on your Cancun family vacation is a chance to have your own jungle experience with plenty of wildlife sightings.

In the neighboring state of Yucatan, discover Ek Balam near Valladolid or pay a return visit to Chichen Itza, one of the World’s New Seven Wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Or is this the year that you travel further afield to the beautiful ancient city of Uxmal? Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Uxmal is famous for the artistry of its stone carvings and is the largest of a chain of archaeological sites known as the Puuc Route, all an hour’s drive south of Merida.

Tulum

Off the Beaten Track

Go off the beaten track during your next trip to the Mexican Caribbean and explore the Mayan communities of central Quintana Roo and the immense Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, an area collectively known as Maya Ka’an. A collection of community tours gives you the chance to visit rural villages, meet the Maya and learn about their culture, farming, herbal medicine, cuisine and beliefs. If you enjoy nature, other trips take you deep into Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve for bird watching, kayaking, snorkeling and a look at chicle harvesting. The sap of the chicozapote tree is the natural raw ingredient for chewing gum.

Sian Kaan

Explore at your Own Pace with a Private Tour

On your next Cancun family vacation, sit back and relax, let someone else take care of the driving as you explore the area at your own pace on a private tour available through Thomas More Travel. You have a van, driver and even a bilingual guide at your disposal and you can plan your own day, spending as long in each place as you wish. Visit one of your favorite Mexican Caribbean beaches for lunch or go somewhere new. Tour desk staff will be happy to help you put together a sightseeing itinerary.

Thomas More

See more of Mexico

If you are staying in Cancun or Riviera Maya for several weeks and you would like to go somewhere different this year, why not see more of Mexico? Thomas More Travel offers getaways to some of the country’s most famous destinations and an expanding internal flight network makes regional travel easier than ever. Guided tour packages are available to cosmopolitan Mexico City, the colonial cities of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Puebla, Copper Canyon in the northern state of Chihuahua and the beautiful state of Chiapas, a blend of breathtaking natural scenery, Mayan and colonial history and traditions.

Guanajuato

 

Book your 2017 Vacation Adventures with Thomas More Travel
Visit www.thomasmoretravel.com to book your 2017 vacation adventures or visit the travel desk in your resort during your stay for more tour ideas.

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Island Hopping in the Mexican Caribbean, Cozumel, Island of Swallows

Have you ever visited the island you can see from Playa del Carmen and The Royal Haciendas? It only takes a few minutes from cross the turquoise and indigo waters to Cozumel, Mexico’s largest inhabited island, and you’ll find incredible underwater beauty, beautiful beaches, rich history and traditions.
Most visitors to Cozumel are drawn by its spectacular coral kingdom, a chain of reefs off the west coast that was made famous by Jacques Cousteau and Mexican diver Rene Cardona. Magnificent coral buttresses and walls festooned by huge red, yellow and orange sponges and gently waving sea fans are honeycombed with caves and canyons and inhabited by 300 species of fish and other colorful marine life of all shapes and sizes. Water visibility is as high as 200 feet and the current enables divers to practice drift diving and literally fly past coral walls and drop-offs, keeping pace with sea turtles, huge groupers and schools of eagle rays.
Divers can spend a lifetime exploring reefs like Paraíso, Chankanaab, La Herradura, San Francisco, Yucab, Santa Rosa, Colombia, Maracaibo and the largest of them all, Palancar, famous for its coral pillars, caves and walls.
Some shallower reefs such as Chankanaab and Paraíso are great snorkeling spots and swimmers have their own up-close encounters with queen angelfish, parrot fish, blue tangs, sergeant majors and jacks. For visitors who would prefer to see the underwater world without getting wet, there are glass-bottomed boats and an unforgettable immersion on the Atlantis submarine, which dives to a depth of 100 feet.

Home of a Mayan goddess and a refuge for pirates
In ancient times, Cozumel or Cuzamil, “land of the swallows,” as it was known was held sacred by the Maya as the site of a shrine to Ixchel, goddess of the moon and fertility. Ancient temples still dot the flat, forested landscape and there are lighthouses and lookout posts on the coast, testimony to the days of Mayan seafarers.
San Gervasio is the largest of Cozumel’s 25 archaeological sites and during the pre-Hispanic period it was a bustling city and a center of maritime trade. It was also visited by pilgrims who would travel hundreds of miles overland and then make the perilous sea crossing from Xaman-Há (Playa del Carmen) and Pole (Xcaret) to worship at the shrine of Ixchel.
In 1519, a Spanish expeditionary force led by Hernán Cortés landed on the island. From Cozumel, Cortes and his band of soldiers sailed into the west. They crossed the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall on the coast of Veracruz. Lured by tales of gold, they moved inland, crossing the mountains and reaching Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, now the site of Mexico City. By 1521, this ruthless band had defeated the Aztec army and overthrown a mighty empire, seizing its land and treasures.
During the Colonial period of Mexican history, Cozumel was largely forgotten and its deserted shores became a haven for pirates such as Captain Henry Morgan and Miguel Molas. In the 1850s, refugees fleeing the Caste War on the Yucatecan mainland settled the island.
Located in island capital San Miguel, the Cozumel Museum has interesting exhibits on the ancient Maya, the coming of the Spaniards, pirates and the 19th-century colonization of the island. Other displays showcase local festivals such as the Carnival and the El Cedral Fair held at the beginning of May. Learn about the formation of the coral reefs and the island’s flora and fauna. The tropical forest and wetlands are rich in wildlife, including endemic creatures such as the pygmy raccoon.

Exploring the island
If you are not going straight out on a dive, snorkeling or fishing trip, why not rent a car, moped or a taxi for a tour of the island? The island’s sheltered swimming beaches are all on the west coast but the rugged windswept east coast has some beautiful, deserted stretches of sand for a stroll but not for a dip. Strong currents and undertow make swimming dangerous on the windward coast.
Other island attractions include Chankanaab, a nature park with a crystal-clear lagoon and reef for snorkeling, a cenote or sinkhole connected to the Caribbean by an underground river, a botanical garden and dolphin swims. Punta Sur nature reserve on the southern tip of the island and Isla de la Pasión in the north are also worth a visit and are rich in birdlife. Arrange a boat trip to El Cielo, a shallow reef and calm stretch of crystal-clear water where the seabed is covered with starfish. Take photos but don’t disturb these living treasures.

Thomas More Travel offers trips to Cozumel for diving or sightseeing or you can make your own way there at your own pace using the ferry from Playa del Carmen.

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Did you know that one of nature’s greatest migrations takes place right here in the Yucatan?

When autumn temperatures began to drop in Canada and the United States more than 150 million birds take flight and head south for the warmth of the Yucatan following what is one of the world’s most important migratory routes for birds. The area’s coastal lagoons and salt flats and inland jungles welcome an additional 226 species of migratory birds, large and small, from birds of prey to waterfowl, waders and songbirds, and are a magnet for birdwatchers and nature lovers.

Some birds spend the winter season in the Yucatan or pause to feed and rest on the coast before continuing their journey south. Migrants include arctic terns, ospreys, wood storks, white pelicans from northern Canada, widgeon, teal, pintail, scaup and shoveler ducks, the painted bunting and the ruby-throated hummingbird that makes an incredible 30-hour journey across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop!

Birdwatchers and wildlife fans visiting the biosphere reserves of Rio Lagartos, Contoy and Sian Ka’an and other good birding spots are guaranteed plenty of winter sightings of colorful species in the mangroves and jungle.

Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

First stop for many exhausted migrant birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico, Ría Lagartos Reserve protects 60,348 hectares of mangroves, salt marshes, dunes and tropical forest that is home to jaguars, monkeys, crocodiles and 365 bird species, including North America’s largest nesting colony of Caribbean flamingo.

Fishermen from the waterfront village of Río Lagartos offer boat trips along the ria or estuary and through the mangroves to the flamingo feeding grounds. Many of them are trained eco guides and carry checklists to help you identify the birds you see. Keep a lookout for flocks of white pelicans that migrate from as far north as the Arctic Circle, reddish and snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills, skimmers, peregrine falcons and kingfishers.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

Straddling northern and central Quintana Roo, this UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises 1.3 million acres of tropical forest, mangroves, Caribbean beaches and a 110-kilometer-stretch of coral reef. The biosphere reserve was established by government decree in 1986 to protect these fragile ecosystems.

Sian Ka’an is home to over 350 species of bird and you are bound to notch up a respectable tally of sightings during a visit. Sixteen varieties of heron and egret – including the boat-billed, tiger and agami heron – nest in the mangroves, along with ibis, roseate spoonbills, wood storks and frigate birds. Flamingos can also sometimes be spotted feeding in coastal lagoons. Parrots, motmots, laughing falcon, great curassow and ocellated turkey are some of the forest dwellers. The reserve also has a large breeding population of ospreys and protects a tiny colony of the rare jabiru stork, the largest bird in the Americas, in the wetlands.

Contoy

A two-hour boat ride to the north of Cancun, the tiny desert island of Contoy is sometimes referred to in Spanish as la isla de los pajaros or “the island of the birds.”

A two-hour boat trip to the north of Cancun, Contoy has been a protected area since 1961, and was declared a national park in 1998. It is a refuge for 150 species of native and migrant birds, including one of the largest populations of brown pelicans in the Caribbean, a 5,000-strong colony of frigate birds and 3,000 double crested cormorants. Other residents include ten members of the heron family such as the great blue heron, snowy egret and the yellow-crowned night heron. During the winter months, the island is a refuge for migratory ducks, plovers, sandpipers, oystercatchers and other shore birds.

Book your Bird watching and Eco Trips

Contact Thomas More Travel to book trips to Sian Ka’an, Rio Lagartos and Contoy, a Puerto Morelos birding trip and other reserves in the area. Email: tourdesk@royalresorts.com

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Timeless Merida, Yucatan’s Colonial Capital

Searching for the Yucatan of yesteryear? Plan a trip to Merida, one of Mexico’s oldest and loveliest cities during your vacation. 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 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 crafts or stroll through the different barrios or neighborhoods.

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 huge trees of life.

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 stay a while for an ice cream and a spot of people watching. 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 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.

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 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. Inaugurated in 2012, 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.

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Holbox, Untouched Island Hideaway

Located off the north coast of the Yucatán in the Gulf of Mexico, the island of Holbox 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 the Yalahau Lagoon separating Holbox from the mainland. Look out for dolphins swimming alongside the boat, cormorants and osprey diving for fish.

Holbox 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, manatees have been sighted and jaguars still roam the jungle further inland.

Fishermen from Holbox and Chiquila offer bird watching trips in the area, crocodile spotting, fishing, and whale shark watching in the summer.

Cool off with a Cenote Swim

First stop on the Thomas More Travel Holbox trip is the 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. Then it’s on to Isla de los Pajaros, a feeding ground for flamingos, different species of herons, reddish egrets, white and brown pelicans and cormorants.

The boats tie up on the Holbox waterfront where lunch is served at a restaurant overlooking the beach. With its sandy streets, wooden houses and hand-painted signs depicting whale sharks, sea turtles, manta rays and flamingoes, 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 a trail of 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 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.

After you have returned the golf cart, stroll along the beach where boats rock gently at their moorings and enjoy a drink at one of the thatched bars, the perfect spot to watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico in a glorious blaze of pink, gold, orange and red.

If you decide to rent a car and explore at your own pace or arrange a private tour 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. Take time to call in at the villages en route: San Angel and Solferino, both members of the Puerta Verde 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. A local legend tells that the immense tree is the home of the feared Xtabay, the beautiful serpent woman that appears to men in the jungle and bewitches them so that they lose their way and their minds.

A group of villagers also offer eco tours to a jungle camp where you can go zip lining and enjoy the view of the forest from a watchtower and a kayaking trip to El Corchal, a mysterious flooded forest in the middle of a lagoon in the savanna.

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

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