Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is the home of two of the most popular holiday resorts in the entire country, Playa del Carmen and Cancun. Years ago, neither was particularly developed (and sister island Isla Mujeres even less so), but since the hotels, restaurants and attractions moved in, they’ve become a firm timeshare owners’ favourite, for a lot of good reasons.
Part of the appeal of this Mexican destination is its combination of beach, culture and monuments such as Chichen Itza which are well worth a visit if you can tear yourself away from your poolside sunlounger.
Even today this region has a strong historical flavour, as traditional Maya life continues alongside the much-photographed tourist draw of Chichen Itza’s ancient ruins which give us an idea of how the Maya civilisation lived all those years ago.
The Riviera Maya has become very much a home-from-home for American timeshare owners in particular, as it’s easy to get to, the winter climate is great, and families return year after year to enjoy Mexico’s Caribbean coast with its turquoise waters and vibrant holiday atmosphere.
Venture further afield, though, and you’ll get a sense of what it all felt like before the region was ever developed. Away from the big centres, to the south, there are still settlements that sit“lost in time” where the feel of bygone days and a much earlier civilisation remains.
The Riviera Maya plays an important part in eco education. It’s one of those destinations where children can learn about the local wildlife and see the species in their natural habitats. In Campeche State, for example, there is a huge tropical forest called the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, or you can go turtle spotting along the coastline in Quintana Roo. Flocks of flamingos can be found at Celestun and Rio Lagartos in Yucatan while all along the Caribbean coast, precious coral reefs flourish, making this region the world’s second largest and most important barrier reef after Australia’s iconic Barrier Reef itself.
So what’s the difference between the top two resorts on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula? Playa del Carmen is a little calmer while Cancun is busier and was established as a vibrant resort first. If anything, the coastal resort of Playa del Carmen has a more European vibe, while larger Cancun is one big mix of stunning natural beauty and big luxury resorts to accommodate the crowds that love it here.
The entire region offers lots of opportunities for water sports and to get in touch with nature. The kids will love swimming with the dolphins or seeing the coral reefs close up with a professional scuba diver, and there are plenty of nature reserves and parks to discover if you fancy an afternoon away from the beach.
The Yucatan Peninsula – a history snapshot
This is a region with a fascinating past. The longest, most continuously settled part of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula shows evidence of Maya inhabitants as early as 2500 BC. Later, during the Classic Period which spanned 300-900 AD, they used solar, astral and lunar sycles to develop the famous and amazingly accurate Mayan Calendar. They were also experts in mathematics and had an intricate hieroglyphic system. The populations shifted from other parts towards Chichen Itza although this civilisation faded over time and collapsed in around 1200AD, succeeded by Mayapan and other important cities that may have included Tulum and Cozumel.
Even today, the ancient ruins at Chichen Itza have a mysterious, almost haunted feeling and are well worth the excursion if you are holidaying anywhere nearby.