Sure, that all-inclusive resort is mighty relaxing but there is more to the Yucatan Peninsula than swim-up bars, poolside service and unlimited buffets. Believe it or not, there are a whole slew of activities going on right outside those walls. Here are a few not to miss.
Built sometime around 700 AD, this Mayan archaeological gem was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1988 and is listed as one of the 7 wonders of the World. Located about 2-3 hours from Cancun and 3-4 from Playa del Carmen, this is a great check-off for that world bucket list of yours. The site opens at 9 AM and you may want to be there early as the sun and heat gets brutal in the afternoon. There are no swim-up bars but there is a cenote or two nearby if you need to cool off. There is also a nighttime experience with lights and dancing (Mayan style) and a spring equinox party for the more spiritual of you.
Also a Mayan archaeological site, though smaller than Chichen Itza, this is much more convenient to most resorts as it is 130 km south of Cancun but only about an hour drive south of Playa del Carmen. This is some of the best real estate on the Yucatan with the ruins located on cliffs 12 meters (39ft) above the ocean. Luckily it was preserved or it would be an all-inclusive by now. This is the last area built and inhabited by the Mayans and the only one ever established on the coast. There is a great little beach down below for swimming and after touring in the Mayan sun, a dip is recommended. Admission is cheap (5 or 6 bucks) and tour guides are available for $20 or so. It’s kind of confusing who is an official guide or not so do what I do and just make it up as you go.
There are Cenotes-natural sink holes and caves- all over the Yucatan. There are actually no surface rivers in this area so all the water comes from underground rivers occasionally coming up to form cenotes. There is everything from mom and pop operations right along the highway for $1-$10 to places like Hidden World’s Cenote Park starting at $35 and located about 35 minutes from Playa. The water in these cenotes is cold and refreshing. Some even have swim up bars or at least bar service for those of you who just can’t go without.
Located 44 km south of Playa, Xel-Ha is an eco-park with all the trappings. They offer, swimming with dolphins, sting rays and manatees along with the great-white tourists in their lagoon. With bars, restaurants and an all-inclusive package, you won’t get the shakes from leaving your resort. This is the first place the wife got me to swim with the dolphins and I found out, not only do they poop in the water, they do it all around me. Xel-Ha also has Zip-biking, Snuba, Sea-Treking and a whole bunch of other things you’ve never heard of or done in the water. Admission starts round 70 bucks and goes up from there. The all-inclusive rate includes a buffet and beer; yeaaah.
Xcaret is another archaeological eco-park similar to Xel- Ha. With an $80 admission it features a coral reef aquarium, butterfly pavilion and over 40 other activities. Not sure if unlimited beer is one of the activities but they do feature shows at night with over 300 actors and dancers to give you a taste of ancient Mayan culture.
Yal- Ku Lagoon/Akumal
Just a little more than a half-hour south of Playa in Akumal, depending on who is driving- you or a cabbie- is Yal- Ku Lagoon. This is a small operation, well worth stopping at for snorkeling. Even when the waters are choppy off-shore, the lagoon is peaceful and mellow. The water is cool and clear with coral reefs and rock formations making for an interesting swim for the experienced snorkeler and safe for beginners. Entree fees are only $6 or $7 and gear is available for rent. Nearby Akumal beach is famous for the sea-grass that attract turtles. Yes, swimming with turtles is about as exciting as it sounds, but everyone should do it sometime. It may not be on your bucket list like Chichen-Itza, but they do have beach-side bars to quench your thirst until you can get back to that resort.
by Michael Ryan