The Riviera Maya of Mexico
Yearning for sun, sand and eye-popping natural beauty? A trip to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula -- and its crowning resort developments in Cancún and the Riviera Maya -- offers something for just about everyone.Playa del Carmen prides itself on being the anti-Cancún destination, and it’s true that the Riviera Maya beach town exudes a hipper, more laid-back vibe than gringo-friendly Cancún to the north. But make no mistake: Playa, as locals call it, is big-time touristy all the same. Having said that, the local experience is there for the taking for anyone who’s willing to veer off the beaten path and embrace the Mexican way of life. How do you accomplish that in a city where tourist traps are lurking around every other corner? Here are some tips.
Biking shall set you free
Gone are the days when Playa, once a small fishing village, could easily be covered on foot. At last count the population had surpassed 150,000 inhabitants, making it the Riviera Maya’s largest and fastest-growing city. As a result of the population boom, city limits are constantly expanding and more folks are turning to bicycles as a mode of transport. Bike rental shops are everywhere in town and most charge about US $10 a day, including lock and helmet. To get a look at everyday life in Playa’s residential neighborhoods, simply pedal west beyond Highway 307 or head north of Avenida Constituyentes. If you need a quick snack break you’ll find plenty of enticing ice cream shops around town, or drop by local fave La Floresta (at Highway 307 and Calle 14 Norte), a lunch-only roadside eatery specializing in fish and shrimp tacos.
Divers and snorkelers must -- yes, must -- head to Cozumel. The Palancar Reef is Cozumel's most famous dive -- you'll only see one-third of the wall's amazing sights with one tank. Snorkelers and novice divers should head to the Colombia shallows for great visibility and some of the area's most spectacular coral formations.