Cancun - Riviera Maya - Mexico
If you are the type of traveler that steers clear of the commercial tourist areas, you still should give Cancun and the Riviera Maya a try. Although you definitely will not be the only person visiting sites such as Chichen Itza or Tulum, you will soon forget about the hordes of other tourists because the sites themselves are truly incredible. Playa del Carmen is also a great town to visit for relaxed upscale shopping and delicious restaurants.
Tulum - Mayan Ruins on the Beach
Located on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, is hard to find a more mystical and enchanting place than Tulum. Although the actual Mayan ruins are not the most incredible examples of Mayan architecture, the combination of Mayan ruins and Caribbean aqua marine beach is truly mind blowing.
Even more entertaining, the ruins here are crawling with giant iguanas. Every structure has at least one giant lizard perched upon it basking in the sun. The iguanas are used to seeing people, so it is easy to get within a few feet of these guys to snap a photo.
If you have your car in the Cancun area, the drive to Tulum is pretty easy. It is about a 90 minute drive south from Cancun, and the road there is on paved highways that are in good condition.
There are also multitudes of charter buses that will drive you to Tulum for a pretty reasonable price. They are air conditioned, and they have a guide who will lead you around the site as well. Some guides are entertaining and knowledgeable, and some guides are annoying and don't really know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, there is no way to screen in advance for your guide - but you can always explore the sites on your own if you don't think your guide tells very funny jokes (just make sure to get back to your bus before it leaves).
Many of the Tulum charter tours also will stop
at one of the natural water parks, such as Xel-Ha,
for the second half of the day. You can snorkel
and swim at these parks, and they make a nice
addition to your Tulum experience.
Chichen-Itza, Mayan Pyramid
Chichen-Itza is another destination that is cluttered with tourists, but it is still worth the visit. The pyramid and the giant ball court are breathtaking. The acoustics of these structures are a great deal of fun to experiment with. If you stand at the base of the stairs of the pyramid and start clapping your hands, it creates an echo effect that sounds like a bird singing - very cool.
If you are in town during the spring or fall equinox, March 20-21 and September 21-22, there are huge gatherings of people who come to witness the sun's shadow that is cast upon the pyramid steps. The shadow forms the shape of a serpent body which connects perfectly with the serpent head sculptures at the base of the steps. Even cooler!
Driving to Chichen Itza from the Cancun area takes a little over two hours on well paved highways. There are some neat stops along the way. If you see a sign for 'cenotes' on the highway, these are exposed sections of underground rivers that run through the Yucatan. You can pay a small fee to swim in some of these beautiful fresh water pools.
If you are a scuba diver, you should also consider scuba diving in the cenotes, or visiting the island of Cozumel for incredible reef and wall diving.