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Three Perfect Days: Riviera Maya

Once the land of the ancient Maya, the Yucatán Peninsula is home to pristine beaches, rugged ruins and very few tourists

Author Mike Guy Photography Ehren Jospeh

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DAY TWO | The arpeggios from Coco Bongo still ring in your ears this morning as you smear on some SPF 50, hop in your car and drive 10 miles south. You’re going to see a man about a horse at Punto Venado 1. Here, you help your guide, Tomás, saddle up a handsome bay, and you take off for a jaunt into the jungle. This area of the Riviera Maya is untouched by developers, and the low-canopy growth is pristine. As you clop-clop along the trail, spider monkeys follow, swinging along the mangrove branches and screeching critically at your poor riding posture. As you finish the trek on the beach, you realize you haven’t seen another tourist all day.

Take a quick refresher in the Rosewood’s rooftop plunge pool, check out and head to the Banyan Tree Mayakoba to sample the magical world of Saffron 2, the signature restaurant at this brand new, Asian-themed resort. Accented with curving, wood-planked roofs that arc above the jungle canopy like wings, Banyan Tree has a zenlike hush. At Saffron, you take a table at the end of a narrow wooden pier, and watch the alligators patrol the still water of the lagoon below. Servers deliver Thai dishes cooked with local flair— delicate squid rubbed with black habanero peppers and grouper grilled with pineapple and green curry.

Time for a dive. You pull off Highway 307 at the sleepy town of Akumal and bounce along the rutted road that curves the length of Half Moon Bay until you arrive at the extra-friendly Akumal Dive Shop 3. Strap on a scuba tank—or snorkel—and follow your guide out to the nearby coral recifes, where you find a wallowing procession of tortugas, large, highly charismatic sea turtles that call Half Moon Bay home. You rub one’s shell, to the dive master’s consternation.

On your way out of town, stop at Turtle Bay Bakery & Café 4, a cheerful watering hole where you replenish your fluids with a pitcher of sweetened chaya iced tea. Order a crisp and citrusy ceviche with prawns, calamari and fish caught in the bay to go along with it. As you cool off, you spot a sign mock-threatening that “All unattended children will be given a free kitten.”

Hit the road for Tulum, just 10 miles south. In the past few years, this tiny coastal town has grown into a destination for beach lovers, health nuts and yoga fanatics. Like Playa del Carmen, it has undergone a transformation since the beginning of the decade. Yoga resorts, spas and so-called “eco chic” lodges line the now-paved beach road.

Among the best is Azulik 5, a resort consisting of 15 postcard-perfect palapas perched on stilts. In keeping with the eco theme, there is no electricity here, and running water is limited to the toilets in each of the airy, screened-in huts. Mosquito nets adorn the beds, and there’s a large shaded porch with a plunge pool carved from a tree stump. It is romantic and rustic—so much so that after walking down the road to tony Maya Tulum 6 for an invigorating session of Iyengar yoga, you decide to order in fresh grilled camarones and spicy steamed vegetables, which you finish by candlelight before calling it a night. Namaste.



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