One of the most coveted perks at Travelzoo is the Travelzoo Experience, in which Deal Experts and other employees take advantage of the same travel, entertainment and local deals we publish to our subscribers and report back on their experience.
When browsing through the Top 20 this fall, I saw a vacation package for $599 for five nights in Riviera Maya through CheapCaribbean.com. My husband and I were celebrating our five-year wedding anniversary in October, and we had the opportunity to leave our two-year-old at home. We wanted a little bit of beach and a little bit of culture, and with its white sand beaches and rich Mayan history, Riviera Maya seemed to fit the bill perfectly for our Mexico vacation.
We ended up staying eight nights at the all-inclusive Barcelo Maya Tropical, a 4-star resort on the beach. Days were in the 80s and evenings were in the 70s. Occasionally there was a downpour of rain, but it would quickly end and be replaced by plenty of sunshine. The property had expansive free-form pools and was fronted by a beach and calm, crystal-blue water. One part of the beach was so shallow that we could wade out 200 yards to thigh-high water and spot schools of tropical fish.
We spent five days lounging around the resort (can't get enough pool and beach time!), but then it was time to explore some of the sights. We spent one day visiting Chichen Itza, some of the most impressive Mayan ruins in the region. The rest of the time, we decided to go off the beaten path.
On the way back from Chichen Itza, we stopped in the old colonial town of Valladolid. The city charmed me with its cobblestone streets and colorful storefronts. My husband, the avid photographer, was in heaven and found plenty of photo opps with its unique architecture. We ate at a buffet restaurant that showcased some of the Yucatan's specialties like cochinita pibil (pork or chicken with lemon and annatto slow-roasted in a banana leaf) and lime and chicken soup. Delicious. A few blocks away from the city's main square is Cenote Zaci, one of the Yucatan's thousands of subterranean fresh water sinkholes. It's known as the city's swimming pool, and both locals and tourists swam alongside each other enjoying the crisp, refreshing water.
The next day, we ventured south of Tulum to a biosphere reserve called Sian Ka'an. It's been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we had heard about the fantastic snorkeling and bird-watching opportunities, as well as pristine beaches. We started our journey in Jeeps and drove an hour and a half over bumpy, unpaved roads. Driving as far as we could, we then hopped into small motorboats and cruised to mangroves where we spotted exotic pink birds. We then boated into the open seas where we had an encounter with turtles and a swarm of dolphins. Our guide told us what we witnessed was one of the largest groups of dolphins he had seen in the area! Then it was time to get our snorkel gear on and explore the reefs. Looking at the colorful fish, swaying seaweed and anemones made me feel as if I was peering down at an aquarium. It was magical. Before docking our boat in Punta Allen, a small fishing village where we had lunch, we stopped at a pristine, unpopulated beach. It had the most incredibly clear blue water I had ever seen.
What I took away from this trip was that in Riviera Maya, you really can have the best of all worlds -- incredible beaches, luxurious resorts, and plenty of history and culture. And if you’re willing to get a little adventurous, you really can discover parts of the peninsula that just might surprise you.