Once the land of the ancient Maya, the Yucatán Peninsula is home to pristine beaches, rugged ruins and very few tourists
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ESRA CAROLINE ROISE;
CHILIS AND YOGA BY SHUTTERSTOCK
ARMANDO CHABLE, 24, LIFEGUARD
“Right off Mayakoba there is a reef that has some of the best fishing in this region. It’s just beyond the north of Mayakoba. You can even fish from land if you have a big enough fishing pole.”
SYLVIA ARANDA, 19, SHOPKEEPER
“Tulum has a lot of really nice places to walk in the jungle and see nature. Go south on the beach road to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. There’s a trail that starts in the Maya Tulum parking lot.”
CHRISTIAN VARGAS, 32, STREET VIOLINIST
“There is no better place in Playa del Carmen than La Quinta at night, but I also like dancing at Coco Bongo, and very late at night there is a great party on the beach at the end of Twelfth Street.”
RAFAEL NOH EHOC, 19, PEDICABBIE
“After biking around these Coba ruins all day, I like to go into the village to a place called Ki’ Ja Nal and have cocinitas there, or whatever the kitchen is cooking. Every day the food is different, but the woman who owns it is a very good cook. I like the stewed chicken. It’s simple.”
FOOD OF THE GODS
How to eat like a Mayan // Ancient Mayan cuisine was based on the “three sisters,” the staples of all North American food: maize, squash and beans, together with tapir, peccaries and various other animals you’ve never heard of. Experts say the Mayans also dosed every dish heavily with fiery chili peppers, which grew like weeds in the Yucatán 3,000 years ago. Today, the basic ingredients are the same with some extras. Chaya is a delicious leafy relative of spinach and is found throughout the Riviera Maya in everything from veggie juices to omelets. Significantly, the Mayans are believed to have been the first people to use the cacao (a.k.a. chocolate) bean, in a dish called xocolatl, which was a fiery mocktail meant to please the gods. Made of corn meal, honey, cacao and chili peppers all ground together, this bitter and incendiary concoction is more difficult to find today, but it’s worth the effort.
FIND INNER PEACE
Tulum is crazy about yoga // The quick trip from Chicago or Washington, D.C. and the mystical vibe together draw yankee yogis to Tulum like bees to organic miel. Three top yoga resorts:
Maya Tulum is one of the toniest, with exquisitely built thatched-roof cabañas and state-of-the-art studios and spa treatments. Meals are top-end vegetarian, and breathlessly praised Ashtanga classes have recently attracted guests such as Heather Graham and Anne Hathaway.
Cabanas Copal Hotel is a much more “rustic” setting, with a bar and restaurant, homey staff and a spa. Enjoy all-day classes in the “jungle yoga palapa.”
Amansala is a newly rehabbed and more fitness-oriented resort, with strength classes and “Bikini Bootcamp” to go along with the yoga.