Riviera Maya: The Beach and Beyond

by Bob Curley

Sep 1, 2019
Destinations

MEZCLAR NEGOCIOS CON PLACER — mixing business with pleasure — is easy to do in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. In fact, hospitality is often the point of corporate trips to the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Here business travelers frequently come to take part in meetings at the region’s many conference resorts or call on companies in real estate development and construction firms involved in developing resorts along the 80-mile coastline between Cancún and the Riviera Maya.

In a destination with seemingly endless activities and nearly as many luxury resorts to choose from, the bigger accomplishment might be to work in some productivity along with the fun, not the other way around. The region’s name offers two clues to the Riviera Maya’s tremendous popularity: beautiful beaches on the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea and the ancient ruins of Maya cities like Tulum and Chichén Itzá, the latter dating back to the first century.

Riviera Maya also wows visitors with unique natural wonders, from water-filled cenotes — natural limestone pools used by the ancient Mayas — to the vast Sian Ka’an Biosphere. This nearly 1 millionacre nature preserve and World Heritage site features undeveloped beaches, mangrove-fringed lagoons and jungles prowled by jaguars and tapirs.

Sian Ka’an, a Mexican national park, lies at the southern end of Riviera Maya, close to Tulum, a once-sleepy coastal community that has become a hot destination for low-key, high-end tourism in recent years. The KASA Hotel Parota is typical of the boutique luxury resorts of Tulum but also welcomes families of all ages; the hotel’s location in the booming Aldea Zama resort community puts guests close to Sian Ka’an and Tulum’s downtown, beaches and Maya historic sites. Many of Tulum’s best restaurants are located in town (walking distance from the beach) and include the popular Taqueria Honorio, known for its breakfast tacos and cochinita pibil, a traditional, slow-roasted pork dish.

Popular with visitors, ecotours take in Sian Ka’an’s diverse wildlife, pristine beaches and Maya historic sites, but it’s hardly the only place on the Riviera Maya to fill your senses with the region’s natural beauty. Grupo Xcaret operates a network of ecological and cultural parks along the Riviera Maya coastline, including Xcaret with its underground rivers and coral reef aquarium; Xel-Ha, where you can swim in a cenote or mountain bike in the jungle; and Xplor, which boasts zip lines and amphibious vehicle tours.

The newest park, Xavage, features a ropes course, jet boat rides and whitewater rafting. Couples and families alike can choose from a host of activities. A stay at the Hotel Xcaret México is “fun-inclusive,” meaning guests can access all of the Grupo Xcaret parks as well as a dozen on-site restaurants, a spa, tours and transportation between attractions.

The Hotel Xcaret México has a conference center with about 13,000 square feet of meeting space, making it a great “bleisure” destination, but it’s hardly the biggest in the Riviera Maya. Cancún, a huge destination for pharmaceutical, medical and technology conventions and other incentives, has more than a dozen large meeting hotels as well as the 150,000-square-foot Cancún International Convention Center.

The all-inclusive Iberostar Cancún resort in the Cancún Hotel Zone houses the Peninsula Convention Center, the only beachfront convention facility in the city. Other Cancún hotels that attract business travelers as well as vacationers include the Moon Palace (home to the Moon Palace Arena and convention center), the JW Marriott, the Paradisus and Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach resorts, the elegant Ritz-Carlton, the youthful Hard Rock Cancún, the Hyatt Ziva, the boutique Nizuc, and the Grand Park Royal & Oasis resorts.

The Ritz-Carlton features one of Cancún’s best restaurants, the Mediterranean fine-dining Fantino, but many of the other top eateries are located on the lagoon side of the hotel zone. These include Fred’s House, serving both Maine and Caribbean lobster as well as tikin xic, Mayan-style whole fish prepared with adobo de achiote and sour oranges and grilled over a wood fire.

The JW Marriott in some ways proves the ideal bleisure resort in Cancún, in part because it pairs — literally and figuratively — with the Marriott Cancún Resort. Fresh off a $40 million renovation of both properties, the JW is one of the most luxurious hotels on the Cancún beach, making it the preferred choice for couples looking for after-work pampering and relaxation. The Kids Club at the Marriott Cancún, on the other hand, is great for families.

Rooms at the JW feature Maya-inspired designs, including woodworking accents incorporating images of local quetzal birds and other wildlife. The private Club 91 lounge offers food and drink with a 14th-floor view, and the JW Lobby Bar has 150 different margaritas on the menu. Dining options include an upscale Japanese sushi and teppanyaki restaurant, an Argentine steakhouse, high-end Italian and the Tex-Mex Sedona Grill. The resort features both family and adults-only free-form pools, and the spa boasts an Olympic-sized pool, traditional Maya massages and detoxification rituals, plus enough fitness classes to keep spouses happy while their significant other is busy at conference sessions or meetings.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen © PABLO HIDALGO – DREAMSTIME.COM

Business travelers who prefer an all-inclusive experience can opt for resorts like the adults-only Paradisus in Cancún or Playa del Carmen, or the Grand Park Royal and Oasis resorts in Cancún or Cozumel. Located roughly halfway between Cancún and Tulum, Playa del Carmen’s bustling downtown hosts specialty shops, restaurants and tequila shops, mostly located along Fifth Avenue. La Cueva del Chango (The Monkey Cave) downtown, one of the top restaurants in the Riviera Maya, serves authentic Mexican cuisine in a lushly beautiful setting; the mole chicken is excellent.

Many of the city’s beach resorts, including those in the upscale Playacar development, lie within an easy walking distance to town and to the ferry terminal to Cozumel, a popular day-tripping destination for diving and exploring the Chankanaab ecopark. The island’s several resorts cater to both business and leisure travel, including the beachfront InterContinental Presidente Cozumel Resort and Spa and the high-rise Westin Cozumel, where guests can combine a beach stay with golf at the nearby Cozumel Country Club.

Just up the coast from Playa del Carmen, the exclusive, 1,600- acre Mayakoba enclave encompasses some of the most luxurious resorts in the Riviera Maya, including the Fairmont Mayakoba, the Banyan Tree Mayakoba, the Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya and the Rosewood Mayakoba. The resorts and Mayakoba’s El Camaleón Golf Course all connect via electric boats that shuttle guests using the natural waterways coursing through the property.

Playa Mujeres, an emerging resort destination less than 10 miles north of Cancún, while not technically part of the Riviera Maya, nevertheless offers a less developed alternative to the Cancún Hotel Zone. It includes resorts like the 5-star all-inclusive Atelier Playa Mujeres (set between the beach and a golf course); the adults-only Excellence Playa Mujeres; and the new Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa, with daily kids programs and a Rafa Nadal Tennis Center.

Playa Mujeres, like Playa del Carmen, is a port town with a ferry terminal linking the mainland to an intriguing offshore destination. Isla Mujeres attracts visitors with its tranquil Playa Norte beach, MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum and an annual Whale Shark Festival offering the unique opportunity to swim with the world’s largest fish.

Riviera Maya Info to Go

Cancún International Airport is the main gateway to Riviera Maya, with daily non-stop service from cities across the United States, Canada and around the world provided by dozens of airlines including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest, JetBlue, Spirit, Frontier, Air Canada and WestJet. Ground transportation options include the Cancún Shuttle, Cancún Taxi and bus service from CUN to Playa del Carmen as well as hotel shuttles and rental cars available at the airport. Cruise ships call at the island of Cozumel, connected by ferry to nearby Playa del Carmen.

Where to Stay in Riviera Maya

FAIRMONT MAYAKOBA This AAA Five-Diamond resort offers a daily Discovery Club & Adventure Camp for kids, Willow Tree spa with treetop treatment rooms, reef diving and nature trails. Carretera Federal Cancún, Playa del Carmen $$$$$

HOTEL XCARET MÉXICO This all-inclusive resort hotel’s amenities include access to a diverse line-up of family-friendly eco-parks including Xcaret, Xel-Ha, Xplor and Xavage. Carretera Federal Chetumal-Puerto Juárez Km. 282, Solidaridad, Playa del Carmen $$$$$

JW MARRIOTT CANCÚN RESORT & SPA Elegant surroundings, fine dining and a conference center shared with the family-friendly Marriott Cancún Resort make this a great bleisure resort. Boulevard Kukulcan Km 14.5, Cancún Hotel Zone $$$$

Restaurants in Riviera Maya

LA CUEVA DEL CHANGO Regional Mexican cuisine served in an intimate, imagined cave provides an escape from the bustle of downtown Playa del Carmen. Ave. 38 N., Mz. 4, Lote 3, Zazil-ha, Playa del Carmen $$

FRED’S HOUSE Enjoy fresh seafood and raw bar selections served on a deck overlooking the Cancún lagoon. Blvd. Kukulcan, Cancún Hotel Zone $$$$

TAQUERÍA HONORIO Try a local treat with traditional tacos for breakfast in downtown Tulum. Ave. Satélite S., Sm. 10, Lote 3, Centro, Tulum $$

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