If you are planning a Cancun family vacation this fall, make sure you get out and discover some of the wonders of the Riviera Maya and Yucatan. You’ll want to spend many of your days on the beach or snorkeling the Mesoamerican Reef, but when the spirit of wanderlust takes you and you are ready to go exploring here are five trip ideas to get you started. Thomas More Travel tour desk staff will have many more unforgettable travel adventures in store for you.
Chichen Itza by night
The ancient Mayan capital of Chichen Itza is a must-see for anyone on vacation in Riviera Maya and Yucatan but have you ever experienced the mystery of this UNESCO World Heritage Site after dark? The sounds of the jungle, a clear sky filled with stars and the sight of ancient temples and stone masks illuminated by moonlight are unforgettable and on top of that, the Kukulcan Nights Light Show is amazing.
Take an afternoon trip to Chichen Itza and explore at your leisure, then enjoy an early dinner and return to the ancient city in the evening to see the Kukulcan Nights 3D video mapping show. The temples in the Great Plaza are illuminated in different colors and the Pyramid of Kukulcan is the backdrop for the tale of the Maya creation story.
If you want to explore Chichen Itza at your own pace, renting a car is the perfect option giving you plenty of time to visit the colonial town of Valladolid en route. You could also visit some of the cenotes or sinkholes that pepper the landscape of the eastern Yucatan. Zaci, Dzitnup, Samula and Hubiku in the Valladolid area are all popular, as is Ik-Kil, which is a short distance from Chichen Itza. Another side trip idea is to tour the smaller archaeological site of Ek Balam in the morning. It’s only 20 minutes to the north of Valladolid so you can return there for lunch before setting off for Chichen Itza in the afternoon.
Go where the birds are, Sian Ka’an, Rio Lagartos, Contoy and more
Are you interested in wildlife? If you are then you should know that the Riviera Maya and Yucatan are wonderlands for nature lovers, with plenty of incredible sightings, particularly for birders. And the fall and winter offer even more thrills. More than 150 million birds migrate south from the United States and Canada to escape the bitter cold.
Birds on the move spend the season in the Yucatan’s coastal wetlands and jungles or pause to rest and feed before continuing south. The list of 226 winter migratory species includes wood storks and waders, ducks, hawks, white pelicans that migrate from as far north as the Arctic Circle and the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird that makes an incredible 30-hour journey across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop!
An eco trip to one of the area’s biosphere reserves will be one of the highlights of your Riviera Maya and Yucatan vacation.
Plan a visit to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, one of Mexico’s largest protected areas and home to more that 350 species of birds. You’ll see jungle dwelling species including trogons, woodpeckers and hummingbirds at the Mayan site of Muyil and aquatic birds such as little blue herons, osprey and wood storks during a thrilling boat ride through the wetlands and mangrove forest.
Stretching along the Gulf coast of the Yucatan, the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve is famous for the thousands of flamingos that feed in the salt marshes and lagoons but it is home to 365 bird species, including herons, roseate spoonbills, black hawk and skimmers.
Set sail on an eco cruise to Contoy, the Mexican Caribbean’s desert island that is a refuge for 150 species of resident and migrant waterfowl and sea birds. The island reserve is two hours to the north of Cancun and can only be visited on an eco trip.
Catch the dawn chorus as you have never heard it before, in a jungle reserve on the Ruta de los Cenotes near Puerto Morelos. You’ll hear the rattle-like calls of chachalacas, parrots chattering overhead and the soft whooping call of the turquoise-browed motmot, the Yucatan’s very own bird of paradise. Look out for flocks of bright blue Yucatan jays, solitary keel-billed toucans and scarlet tanagers and cardinals.
Watery family fun in Puerto Morelos
A Puerto Morelos snorkeling trip is a family favorite for a Cancun family vacation and with good reason. The coral reef you can see offshore is part of the Mesoamerican Reef, the world’s second longest, and it is famous for its spectacular elk horn coral gardens and rich marine life.
When snorkeling you will spot schools of fish such as jacks, grunts, blue tangs, porkfish and Atlantic spadefish near the crest of the reef. Solitary species such as parrot fish and trunkfish seem unperturbed by the strange intruders to their world. Pairs of angelfish sail regally by and tiny rainbow-colored fairy basslets, squirrel, damsel and butterfly fish shelter among the corals. You may even be lucky enough to see rays, eels and turtles.
Back to School: take a Mexican Cooking Class
Here’s a fun activity that is perfect for a Cancun family vacation, why not sign up for a Mexican cooking class? Discover the secrets of the Mexican kitchen with a local chef. As you learn about the fascinating history of Mexican cuisine, you’ll soon see why UNESCO declared it World Heritage in the category reserved for culture and traditions in November 2010. After the session, you’ll all sit down at lunchtime to eat the tasty dishes you helped prepare.
Spend the morning at Yum Cooking School in Downtown Cancun and learn about fruit and vegetables that Mexico gave the world and dishes and cooking techniques that date back to the pre-Hispanic period. Following the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century, waves of settlers introduced new ingredients such as herbs, spices, sugar and fruit from Europe and the Middle East. The Cordon Bleu-trained chef will show you how to make dishes from the pre-Hispanic and Colonial periods and contemporary Mexican recipes.
Chef Claudia Garcia and her husband are the hosts at Mi Cocina es Tu Cocina in the leafy Alamos neighborhood on the outskirts of Cancun. Claudia begins the class with an introduction to Mexican staple foods such as corn, beans, avocado and chili and continues with a demonstration of salsa and tortilla preparation.
A menu of starters, soup, a main course with side dishes and a dessert is prepared during the session. Claudia divides the country into five gastronomic regions and chooses a different one for each class.
Another option is the famous Little Mexican Cooking School at Casa Caribe on Av. Rojo Gomez No. 768 in Puerto Morelos. A fun-filled hands-on cooking class in the kitchen will have you preparing between seven and eight delicious dishes to be served up for lunch later with traditional Mexican drinks.
In order to explain the sheer diversity of Mexican cuisine, the chef divides the country into seven gastronomic regions and showcases one in each session. You’ll watch and help prepare a selection of dishes from a particular region, and learn a great deal about traditions in the area.
After your meal on the terrace, the Little Mexican Cooking School shop is a great spot to pick up Mexican folk art, organic coffee, honey, vanilla, spicy salsas, preserves and other gourmet products.
Also in the Puerto Morelos area, Mexico Lindo Traditional Kitchen, Workshop and School is located at km 6.2 on the Ruta de los Cenotes. Learn how to make traditional dishes from the Yucatan, Central Mexico or Veracruz and a selection of Mexican classics in a bright yellow casita in a jungle clearing.
Visit the haciendas of the Yucatán
Travel back in time to the late 19th century and learn about henequen, the native agave that fuelled an economic boom in Yucatan so extraordinary that the miracle plant became known as “green gold.” It yielded a tough fiber used to make rope and sacking and for which international demand soared with agricultural mechanization. Fortunes were made overnight as Yucatan’s hacienda owners scrambled to turn more acreage over to the cultivation of the lucrative crop.
One way of learning more about the area’s henequen heritage is to take a trip that combines a hacienda visit with a tour of the city of Merida, the Yucatan capital. During the henequen boom, the city is said to have been home to more millionaires than any other city in the world. You can still see the opulent mansions of the henequen barons on Paseo Montejo, the boulevard inspired by the Champs Elysées in Paris and the impressive civic landmarks, such as the Peon Contreras Theater, that they commissioned.
The second leg of this journey takes you to Hacienda Sotuta de Peón, a working henequen estate 28 miles (35 kilometers) south of the city in the Tecoh district (take the turn off after the village of Itzincab) along the Convent Route.
The Sotuta visit includes a ride out to the fields in a traditional horse-drawn wagon or “truck” to see how henequen is planted and harvested. Workers in the machine house show visitors how the leaves were shredded to extract the fiber, dried and combed before being woven into rope and twine and used to make bags and mats. The fiber was packed into bales to be transported by rail to the Gulf coast port of Sisal where it was shipped overseas.
Visitors can also walk through the restored rooms of the estate house still decorated with the original furniture, French porcelain, crystal and art; see a traditional Mayan home and swim in the crystalline waters of the Dzul-Há Cenote.
Another hacienda that you can visit on your own without taking a tour is Hacienda Teyá, eight miles (12.5 km) from the city of Merida on Highway 180. Founded in 1683, Teya was a cattle and corn estate. Unusually for the era, the owner was a woman, Ildefonsa Antonia Marcos Bermejo Calderón y de la Helguera, the wife of the Conde de Miraflores.
Teyá was turned over to henequen in the nineteenth century and its prosperous owners enhanced the colonial estate house with neo-Classical-style features, which were even incorporated in the outhouses, especially the machine house.
By the 1970s, Teyá was deserted, derelict and on the market. A Merida businessman, Jorge Carlos Cárdenas Gutiérrez went to see the property in 1974 and fell in love with it. He sank his savings into the estate and painstakingly began to restore the orchards and gardens with his family, finally starting on the house and other buildings in 1985.
Famous for its restaurant serving Yucatecan cuisine, Teyá is also a popular setting for weddings, conventions and other special events. It has two chapels, rooms for cocktails and banquets and beautiful gardens. A swimming pool by day, the 1905 machine house is transformed into a magnificent ballroom for evening events.
Explore the Riviera Maya and Yucatan with Thomas More Travel
For assistance in arranging all your trips in the Riviera Maya and Yucatan call in at the Thomas More Travel desk in the lobby of your resort or visit www.thomasmoretravel.com.
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