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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Ancient wonders, Equinox at Chichen Itza, March 20, 2018

The ancient Mayan capital of Chichen Itza casts its spell whenever you visit it but on the day of the spring Equinox, the Pyramid of Kukulcan in the Great Plaza becomes a stairway to heaven and an ancient god returns to earth.

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 2018. Triangles of light and shadow form along the side of the north staircase and the figure of a snake appears, merging with the head of a stone serpent at the foot of the building, creating the illusion of a gigantic serpent slithering down from the heavens and across the ground towards the Sacred Cenote, the huge sinkhole in the forest a short walk from the central plaza.

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.

The Pyramid of Kukulcan was built some time between A.D. 550 and 800, with later modifications between 800 and A.D. 1000. The majestic pyramid we see today was erected over the earlier buildings during the Itzae period when the city reached its peak, between A.D. 1050 and 1300. The Itzae tribe had links with cultures in Central Mexico and this is reflected in their art depicting serpents like the ones at the foot of the pyramid staircases, 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 also 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 have identified the original 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.

The pyramid also represents the ancient Mayan calendar as the number of terraces and wall panels coincides with the number of months in the year (18) and years in a calendar round (52), respectively, and the number of steps in the staircases, including the top platform, equals 365, the days in the year.

A short distance from the Great Plaza is 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 one of the greatest ancient cities in the Americas and see why UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site and a global poll in 2007 rated it as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, book your Chichen Itza trip now from Thomas More Travel. The snake of light and shadow is also visible the day before and after the equinox, cloud cover permitting.

Equinox sunrise at Dzibilchaltun

Chichen Itza is not the only Mayan ceremonial center tin the Yucatan to have temples with solar, lunar or planetary alignments. The doorway of the Temple of the Seven Dolls at Dzibilchaltun (13 miles north of Mérida) makes a perfect frame for the rising sun on the day of the Equinox.

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Set sail on a romantic sunset dinner cruise in Cancun

Set sail on a romantic sunset dinner cruise in Cancun this February. Board the famous Spanish galleon Columbus for a voyage across the Nichupte Lagoon in the Cancun Hotel Zone. Dine on charcoal-grilled lobster and sip a Caribbean cocktail as you listen to the soft melodies of a saxophone player.

Enjoy the gentle breeze and watch the moon come up and the Cancun lights twinkle under a star-filled sky. Delicious food and romantic moments, this will be an unforgettable evening to celebrate love.

Two sailings at 5 and 8 p.m. Visit www.thomasmoretravel.com or ask at the Thomas More Travel desk in your resort for more information on this dinner cruise in Cancun.

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Maya Mystery, the Jungle City of Coba

Follow in the footsteps of 19th-century explorers on your own jungle adventure and discover Coba, ancient city of the Maya. Just 44 kilometers inland from Tulum in the Riviera Maya, Coba lies deep in the forest and many of its temples are still buried under a tangle of tropical vines, palms and tree roots.

German explorer Teobert Maler was the first European to visit Coba in 1891 after hearing tales of strange carved stones and temples hidden deep in the forest. Since then, a number of excavations have revealed that the long lost city is actually one of the Maya World’s largest archaeological sites, with an extension of around 70 square kilometers.

Coba is clustered around five shallow lakes, which would have provided inhabitants with fresh water in ancient times, and its name in Maya actually means “waters ruffled by the wind.”

The city reached its peak during the Maya Classic period, A.D. 250-900, when it was a regional capital and an important trade center, distributing goods to and from the Caribbean coast, Central America and cities in the Yucatán. Merchants would have bartered commodities such as honey, beeswax, cotton, henequen, cacao and copal incense that were produced in the region for sting ray spines, spiny oyster shells and salted fish from the coast and jade, obsidian, quetzal feathers and gold from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and other parts of Central America.

At the height of its power, Coba is thought to have had a population of around 70,000 people. Unlike other Mayan cities in the area, it was still inhabited at the time of the Spanish Conquest.

Although the majority of its temples and buildings still lie under a mantle of vegetation, Coba is gradually revealing its secrets. The most recent breakthrough by Mexican archaeologists is the identification of a dynasty of 14 lords from the hieroglyphic inscriptions on stelae or standing stones at the site. This powerful house ruled the city from around A.D. 500 to A.D. 780 and had links to Ek Balam, Calakmul and cities in the Peten region of northern Guatemala.

Exploring Coba
A line of impressive ceibas, the sacred tree of the Maya, marks the entrance to the archaeological site and from there a network of trails leads off through the forest to the different clusters of temples. You can explore this huge site on foot or rent a bike or a tricycle, the traditional mode of transport in Maya villages throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.

From a distance you’ll see the crest of Coba’s most famous building soaring above the treetops. Standing 42 meters high, Nohoch Mul is the tallest pyramid in the northern Yucatán and the views from the top are spectacular. The narrow pyramid staircase leads to two temples where offerings of animals, conch shells, jade and a fragment of a stela were found.

About 70 meters southeast of the pyramid is Stela 20, the best preserved of 30 stelae, altars and carved panels found at the site. It depicts a lord standing on the back of a bound captive, surrounded by three other courtiers who appear to be paying homage to their ruler. Stelae were erected by rulers to commemorate events during their reign such as military victories, marriages and accessions.

Other building groups are the Cobá group, the oldest at the site, La Iglesia, another 24-meter-high pyramid crowned by a temple, the Ball Court, Las Pinturas, Xaibé or the Crossroads Pyramid and the Macanxoc group which has nine circular altars and eight stelae.

Coba is also famous for the sacbes or Maya causeways that radiate from the heart of the city. To date, 45 of these roads have been unearthed at the site, including the longest sacbe in the Maya World. This sacbe links the city with Yaxuna, near Chichen Itza, a distance of 101 kilometers. Sacbes were used for ceremonial processions, trade and military missions and to mark the boundaries of a city’s territory and influence.

Watch out for Wildlife
Maya mysteries aside, one of the thrills of exploring Coba is being in the jungle and catching a glimpse of some of the creatures that make their home among the trees. Towering chicozapote trees, tropical figs, cedars, chacas and ceibas compete for space, their branches festooned with lianas, orchids and bromeliads. Look up through the leaves and you may spot flocks of parrots and Yucatan jays, the yellow breast of the shy trogon and a flash of turquoise and russet as a motmot bird takes flight.

Families of spider monkeys move through the canopy in search of zapote fruit and agoutis, brocket deer and coatimundis forage in the undergrowth. Iguanas sun themselves on the rocks and huge morph butterflies in shades of iridescent blue flutter along jungle trails.

Choosing a trip to Coba
Thomas More Travel offers several different trips to Coba. You can spend the whole morning at the archaeological site or combine your visit with a side trip to the famous cliff top city of Tulum on the Caribbean coast and a refreshing dip in a jungle cenote or sinkhole.

Another trip takes you to Coba in the afternoon. After a guided tour of the ancient city and a visit to a potter’s workshop you’ll watch the sunset on the shores of the lake between Coba village and the archaeological site. Then you’ll venture into the jungle after dark to watch the representation of the ancient Maya ball game and part of the Maya creation story, the Popol Vuh.

For even more jungle thrills, the Mayan Encounter trip includes a guided tour of Coba, zip lining, rappel, snorkeling in a cenote, a visit to a Maya village for a nature walk, a Maya ritual and a lunch of traditional Yucatecan dishes.
Visit www.thomasmoretravel.com or call in at the tour desk in your resort during your stay.

Visiting Coba at your own pace
If you would like to rent a car and explore on your own, take Highway 307 south to Tulum and the turnoff to Coba. The journey to Coba takes about 90 minutes from Cancun and one hour from Playa del Carmen.

Twenty minutes north of Coba along the same highway is the tiny village and community reserve of Punta Laguna on the shores of a beautiful jungle-rimmed lagoon. For a small charge villagers will take you along jungle trails in search of the spider monkeys that make their home in the reserve.

On the return journey, call in at Tulum or Akumal for a late lunch on the beach and visit one of the many cenote parks in the Riviera Maya.

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According to figures released by the Mexico Tourism Board, the country welcomed 10.6 million international visitors in the period January – March 2018. The statistics show an increase of 12.6 percent when compared to the same period last year and are an indication that Mexico’s popularity as a destination continues to rise.

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Go somewhere new in the Riviera Maya and Yucatan

Looking forward to your next visit to Cancun, this year why not plan to go somewhere new in the Riviera Maya and Yucatan? From beautiful beaches and coral reefs to jungle sinkholes and nature reserves, ancient Mayan temples to gracious old colonial cities, the area is full of incredible travel spots awaiting discovery. Here are some Riviera Maya and Yucatan trip ideas to get you started.

Akumal, place of the turtles
Ask longtime residents of the Mexican Caribbean to name their favorite beach and the odds are that many of them will say Akumal. This sheltered palm-lined bay in the Riviera Maya is a family favorite. Protected by a coral reef, the shallow waters are calm and crystal-clear, making it ideal for swimming and snorkeling.

Don your snorkeling mask and flippers in Akumal Bay and swim a few strokes away from the shoreline. You’ll soon start to see colorful reef fish and you may spot green turtles grazing on the beds of sea grass. Stay still and watch these beauties from a distance as they placidly glide by. In the Maya language Akumal means “place of the turtles” and they are everywhere you look here, in the water, on carved signs, as sweet wooden and pottery figurines and occupying pride of place in t-shirts and paintings by local artists. There’s even news that Akumal may soon have its own Sea Turtle Museum.

Head north along the coast road from Akumal Bay to Half Moon Bay, a rocky cove where the reef comes even closer to the shore. The snorkeling is good here too and the views are just as incredible. In fact, the water is so clear that you can sometimes see turtles coming up for air, rays breaching the surface and green and blue parrotfish swimming in the shallows.

Continue along the coast road to Caleta Yalku, a turquoise-colored inlet of crystal-clear waters constantly replenished by cenotes and underground rivers, hence the refreshingly cool temperature.The lagoon is a feeding and breeding ground for reef fish and one of the best snorkeling spots in the Riviera Maya. As soon as you climb down the wooden ladders into the water you’ll be surrounded by inquisitive sergeant majors, butterfly fish and blue tangs.

A local cooperative manages Yalku and charges a fee for admission. Life jackets are available and there are restrooms and a little open-air cafe. Try to get to Yalku early as it does tend to get quite crowded at midday.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Whether you drift along a channel in the mangroves where the only sound is the sigh of the breeze or follow a trail through the jungle in search of Mayan temples and rare wildlife, visiting Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is an unforgettable adventure and one you shouldn’t miss if you are a nature lover.

Straddling northern and central Quintana Roo, Sian Ka’an is a huge reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site protecting 1.3 million acres of tropical forest, mangroves, Caribbean beaches and a stretch of the Mesoamerican Reef.

Created by government decree in 1986, Sian Ka’an is home to 103 different mammals including the jaguar, peccary, tapir, howler and spider monkeys, and the West Indian manatee. It has one of Mexico’s largest crocodile populations and is an important nesting area for sea turtles. And yet its most visible treasures are birds, over 330 resident and migratory species have been registered here in the jungle and wetlands.

When you explore the wetlands you’ll spot up to 16 varieties of heron, roseate spoonbills, flocks of wood storks and ibis. Flamingos are occasional winter visitors and pelicans, frigate birds, cormorants and kingfishers nest in the mangroves. The jungle is home to species ranging from hummingbirds to parrots, keel-billed toucans and collared aracaris, trogons, turquoise-browed motmots and chachalacas.

Sian Ka’an means “where the sky is born in Maya” and the ancient Maya hunted, fished and traveled the wetlands. Muyil is the largest of the 23 archaeological sites found to date in the reserve and many boat trips through the wetlands depart from the neighboring lagoon of the same name. Boats make their way along a canal through the mangroves that was dredged by the ancient Maya so that their trading canoes could sail from the Caribbean coast inland to Muyil.

Other Muyil trips include a look at the production of chicle, the original natural ingredient for chewing gum, which has been harvested by the Maya in the forests of southeast Mexico for thousands of years. Chicleros or harvesters cut the bark of the chicozapote tree with machetes and collect the white sap as it trickles down the trunk from the v-shaped gashes. The sap is then boiled and shaped into balls or blocks and processed for use in natural chewing gum.

Another option is to make your way to Punta Allen, a fishing village on the shores of Bahia de la Asuncion for fishing, diving, birding, bike trips and nature walks offered by Maya Ka’an community tour operators.

Valladolid
An easy one-and-a-half hour drive from Cancun, the colonial town of Valladolid is the perfect spot to spend the day learning about the history and traditions of the Yucatan and sampling local cuisine.

Stroll through the tree-lined main square, which is dominated by the 17th-century San Servacio Church and the Town Hall. Located behind the Town Hall, the San Roque Museum has exhibits on the history of Valladolid from the days of the ancient Maya to the Spanish Conquest, Colonial period, 19th-century Caste War and the Mexican Revolution.

Just a half block from the main square is Casa de Los Venados, a restored colonial mansion that is a private home and museum with an incredible collection of more than 3,000 pieces of Mexican folk art. The collection includes handwoven textiles from Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla and Hidalgo, huge ceramic trees of life, saints and jaguars, Day of the Dead art, Talavera pottery, sculptures, wood carvings, prize winning masks and piñatas and much more. There are guided tours at 10 a.m. (Valladolid time) and visitors are asked to make a donation in support of local charitable causes.

Next stop is Calzada de Los Frailes, a street lined with restored colonial houses that takes you as far as the sprawling San Bernardino Church and Sisal Convent. En route be sure to call in at La Casona to see the shrine honoring the Virgen de la Candelaria, the patron saint of Valladolid; the statue with its fountains is a mosaic made from fragments of Talavera pottery by craftsmen working at Xcaret Park.

Having already seen impressive Mexican textiles, ceramics, alebrije figurines and more in Casa de Los Venados you’ll be ready to start shopping for your own Mexican collection. There are several craft stores in the main square (one with its own chocolate workshop where you can watch cacao being ground) and a community craft center where you can pick up embroidered cotton dresses, blouses and shirts, leather and more. More stores await you on Calzada de Los Frailes, including the Coqui Coqui perfumery.

There are more colonial churches in the town’s barrios or neighborhoods and you should also visit the Zaci Cenote, a huge sinkhole with cliffs covered with ferns, vines and tree roots. Bats, swifts and motmots make their nests in the limestone and the clear turquoise water is a magnet for local children. There are many more of these mysterious natural wells to visit in the Valladolid area, the most famous of which are Dzitnup and Samula.

Before you leave Valladolid, call in at the Mayapan Distillery where the blue agave plant is harvested, cooked, crushed and the sugary sap distilled using traditional artisanal techniques to make a tequila-like spirit.

Valladolid is one of the Yucatan’s Pueblos Magicos (Izamal is the other), part of a Mexico Tourism Board program to promote smaller and lesser known villages and towns throughout the country that owe their magic to traditions, pre-Hispanic or colonial architecture or outstanding natural beauty.

Uxmal, a Mayan masterpiece
You may have been to Chichen Itza, the Yucatan’s famous World Heritage Site, but have you visited Uxmal, its rival in majesty? An hour’s drive south of Merida, Uxmal is one of the loveliest ancient cities in the Maya World and is a masterpiece of art and architecture. During the Late Classic period of Mayan history (A.D. 600-900), it was a regional capital, controlling southwest Yucatán and a chain of smaller cities known as the Puuc Route: Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labná.

Apart from location, these sites share a unique architectural and artistic style called Puuc. In recognition of their outstanding cultural worth, UNESCO declared them a World Heritage area in 1996.

Towering above the forest, the Magician’s Pyramid dominates the skyline at Uxmal. A maze of small temples behinds it leads you to the Nuns’ Quadrangle, a gracious courtyard surrounded by four palaces with magnificent friezes featuring masks of the rain god Chaac, snakes, birds and warriors.

Equally impressive is the Palace of the Governor crowning a temple mound with a panoramic view of the site. The House of the Turtles, the Great Pyramid, and El Palomar lie nearby.

You can combine a visit to Uxmal with a trip to the Yucatan capital Merida or head south from Uxmal to visit the other archaeological sites on the Puuc Route, the Loltun Caves and colonial towns such as Ticul and Mani and Oxkutzcab on the Convent Route.

Go off the beaten track with a private tour
Book your own driver and guide for the day and let Thomas More Travel take care of everything. Private tours are a great way to go off the beaten track in the Riviera Maya and Yucatan and visit archaeological sites, colonial towns and rural communities or your own beach hopping getaway. If you already know where you want to go you’ll be able to drive straight there, if not, travel desk staff will be happy to help you create an unforgettable sightseeing itinerary.

Thomas More Travel, your vacation guide
Visit www.thomasmoretravel.com to book tours in the Riviera Maya and Yucatan for this year’s Cancun vacation and be sure to visit the travel desks during your stay at Royal Resorts for more ideas.

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Ocean adventures, snorkeling with sailfish

Come face to face with the fastest fish in the sea this season. If you love the sea, a once-in-a lifetime ocean adventure awaits you in January and February, the chance to go snorkeling with sailfish as they move through the Mexican Caribbean.

Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) migrate through area waters in large numbers from January to June tracking schools of sardines, anchovies, mackerel and jacks. Their pursuit of prey is incredible to watch and they can reach speeds of over 68 miles an hour (110 kilometers per hour) when hunting.

When sailfish detect a school of smaller fish, they circle and gradually close in, unfurling their impressive dorsal fins or sails and using them to trap their prey. The frightened fish stay together forming a swirling silvery bait ball designed to confuse enemies. Undeterred, the sailfish dart in from every side, tearing the bait ball apart and picking the fish off one by one using their rapier-like bill to spear and slash in a graceful underwater “ballet.”

Sailfish change color when they are hunting; their gray or blue skin pulses with iridescent stripes as they move through the water, Scientists believe that the color change is designed to disorientate their prey and warn other sailfish to keep their distance, thus avoiding collisions.

Set sail with Thomas More Travel for a voyage to the east of Contoy and Isla Mujeres to go snorkeling with sailfish. Be on the look out for the flocks of frigate birds that follow the migrating fish, a sign that the sailfish are near. You will be accompanied by a knowledgeable guide and will watch from a safe distance as the sailfish hunt their prey. During the boat ride, you may also spot sea turtles, manta rays, dolphins, schools of bonitos and wahoos. There has even been the occasional sighting of false killer whales.

The snorkeling with sailfish trip is only available in January, February and early March, before the start of the fishing season. You must be fit and a good swimmer to take the tour. Pregnant women, minors under the age of 15 and non-swimmers are not permitted. Contact tourdesk@royalresorts.com to book this tour or ask at the Thomas More Travel desk in your resort for more details.

A Year of Unforgettable Oceanic Encounters
The Mexican Caribbean offers underwater wonders year-round and incredible dive sites along the second longest reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Reef.

Schools of spotted eagle rays migrate to the reefs of Cozumel between December and February. Marlin and sailfish hunt in area waters from December in the spring and early summer.

From mid-May to mid-September, it is whale shark season and time for a memorable encounter with the world’s largest fish. Whale sharks gather during the summer to feast on plankton blooms and the eggs of spawning little tunny fish. During a boat trip out to the whale shark feeding grounds off Holbox and to the east of Contoy and Isla Mujeres you can also catch a glimpse of the graceful manta rays that are also partial to plankton. And while you can spot sea turtles swimming near area reefs year-round, the females come ashore at night to lay their eggs from May to September. In the late summer and fall, you may be lucky enough to spot the tiny turtle hatchlings on their madcap dash into the waves to begin life at sea.

In late fall, schools of golden or cownose rays, sometimes in their thousands, migrate south from Florida across the Gulf of Mexico to the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and are often seen near the island of Holbox.

For information on eco trips to see these natural wonders, other marine creatures, scuba and snorkeling tours and more, contact Thomas More Travel, email: tourdesk@royalresorts.com

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