5 must-do activities in Mexico's fabulous Riviera Maya

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(Source: VisitMexico.com) (Source: VisitMexico.com)
(Source: VisitMexico.com) (Source: VisitMexico.com)
(Source: UNESCO World Heritage Centre) (Source: UNESCO World Heritage Centre)
(Source: Experiencias Xcaret Parque, xcaret.com) (Source: Experiencias Xcaret Parque, xcaret.com)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Turquoise Caribbean water and sugar-white sand coupled with warm breezes and gorgeous resorts - and all just a four-hour-and-15-minute nonstop flight from Sky Harbor! Do your travel plans include the Riviera Maya?

Stretching south of the Cancun Airport, you’ll find more than 75 miles of pristine beaches and fun, funky little towns, known as the Riviera Maya. Traditionally, this string of resort areas ran from the bustling town of Playa del Carmen to the ruins at Tulum, but now also includes the laid-back Puerto Morelos area, running down to the preserve areas of Sian Ka’an, with resorts set to open here in December 2017.

Want to kick back and enjoy the warm water and gorgeous scenery? You’ll find that in abundance here. Want to explore ancient Mayan ruins or snorkel an underground river? Yep. You can do that, too.

[MORE: Travel blog]

Here’s my list of “don’t-miss” activities for the Riviera Maya.

Chichen Itza - On UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, this impressive collection of ruins includes pyramids, temples, cenotes, ball courts and an observatory. Although you can no longer climb El Castillo, the central pyramid also known as the Temple of Kukulcan, the structures themselves are a fascinating monument to the Mayan civilization. Be sure to bring along sunscreen, a hat and lots of water. The heritage site is very large - you’ll be doing lots of walking. Located approximately three hours from the Riviera Maya, depending on the location of your hotel or resort, it’s well worth the drive!

Tulum - Perched on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean, Tulum is equally as famous as Chichen Itza, albeit much smaller and easier to navigate. As it is located just off the main highway running the length of the Riviera Maya, it’s easy to get here. Many visitors also bring along a swimsuit and towel because there’s a pretty stretch of beach just below the ruins. Make sure you have lots of room on your camera or memory on your phone; the views are spectacular!

Cenote Swim - There’s something very cool about walking down into a cenote - or exposed access point to a system of underground rivers and wells - then diving into the water. Often, you can’t even see the bottom, but the cenotes offer snorkeling, swimming or just floating and relaxing in a beautiful and peaceful setting. Some offer access to caves, while some are considered sacred spots. It’s one of the Riviera Maya’s signature experiences.

Snorkeling the Planacar Reef - Or any of the smaller reefs along the coast. They're all part of the second-largest barrier reef in the world, the 560-mile Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, you’ll find a large variety of snorkel and diving spots, including towering coral formations and caves teeming with a large variety of fish. If open water snorkeling isn’t your thing, you can also snorkel along the coast, with the island of Cozumel’s Chankanaab among the most popular spots, along with Xpu-Ha, located on the mainland.

Eco-Parks - Want to snorkel in an underground river? Explore a huge butterfly garden? Float through lush foliage? Swim with dolphins? You can do any - or all - of these things at Xcaret (ESH-ka-ret) or Xel-Ha (SHELL-ha), two large ecological preserves and, let’s face it, theme parks. Hugely popular with families and adventurers alike, these beautiful areas make the most of their locations, incorporating access to above- and below-ground rivers, cenotes and natural terrain to offer a wide variety of activities. This isn’t an inexpensive option. Admission to Xcaret starts at $89, but can go way up from there, depending on what you want to do. Xel-Ha starts similarly at $80 for basic admission, with many attractions and food packages available for an additional fee. You’ll also want to check into the cost of renting snorkel gear versus bringing your own, and biodegradable sunblock is required.

Getting to Riviera Maya

American Airlines offers daily non-stops to Cancun from Sky Harbor, while Southwest, Frontier and Spirit offer connecting service from Sky Harbor or Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport on selected days of the week. Fares range from the high $200s to more than $500 round trip, depending on the season. 


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