Consider this happy fact: The Riviera Maya in Mexico, our southern neighbor, is a safe haven for tourists. The Mayan coast stretches along the Caribbean Sea from Puerto Morelas to Punta Allen and claims 125 miles of coastline, cultural riches, luxe hotels, pristine beaches, marine life, caves, cenotes and archaeological sites. It's Mesoamerican Reef System stretches from Quintana Roo all the way to Honduras and is one of the largest barrier reefs in the Northern Hemisphere.
We set off to explore Tulum, the most beautiful archaeological site of the Riviera Maya whose construction began in the pre-classic period (1800bc-250 ad). Its name means fortified wall in Mayan and it is the only walled city along the coast built to defend itself against attacks. The city was still inhabited during the first year of the Spanish colonization, but abandoned at the end of the 16th century and discovered again in 1842. The Maya called Tulum Zama, Dawn, because of its geographic location facing the sea and the commanding views of the rising sun.
Here the beautiful House of Chultun was a dwelling of an influential person; it has a two columned portico at the entrance and an inner sanctum with a small altar. At another site, a fortified wall used as defense, outlined the three sides of the town, west, north and south (the sea was to the east). The Temple of the Wind is outstanding with its many frescoes, altars, a ceremonial center and a dance platform. In the distance was Nohoch Mul, whose pyramid is the tallest in the Yucatan measuring 138 feet. The staircases leading to the various temples looked daunting, but it was well worth the trek. El Castillo is the most significant building in Tulum. It is a single-structured building containing an altar and overlooking the sea -- a spectacular spot that made a powerful impression on the invaders in the 16th century.
Immersion, Both Cultural and Aquatic
"Where the Sky Begins," what a lovely meaning for the Mayan words Sian Ka'an and also for the 1.3 million-acre Biosphere Reserve. Our van took us to a specified meeting place where Pastor, our Mayan guide, directed us to this magical jungle reserve populated by jaguar, spider and howler monkeys, deer, tapirs, green and loggerhead sea turtles and much more including 900 species of flora and rare birds such as the great blue heron, the brown booby, toucans, egrets and aquatic birds. Crocodiles too. However, the Pastor assured me that if I wanted to jump into a fresh water lagoon I would be fine.
The day was sweltering hot and the water looked cool and inviting so, throwing caution and good sense to the wind, I actually believed him. I'm glad I did. This is just about the most fun thing you can possibly do at Sian Ka'an because you immerse yourself both figuratively in a Mayan tradition of floating the lagoon and literally. Slow currents carry you through the narrow waterway with sky high mangroves on one side and tall reeds towering above on the other.
Pastor said, with pride:"Welcome to my office."
The man clearly loves his work. All too soon, a half hour later, our watery journey ended and we reluctantly climbed out of the lagoon -- cool, calm, and very happy.
White Wedding Day
The Riviera Maya is a dream place to celebrate a wedding or honeymoon. At Dreams Tulum, the property hosts 450 weddings a year so you know you'll be in fine and experienced hands. While there, I watched a wedding take place on the beach. As the bride walked a white carpet spread on the sand, a warm breeze caught her gauzy lace veil. Twirling it high in the air, it seemed to come alive, creating a very happy prospect for this celebration.
When you need a break from all that , get yourself to Playa del Carmen, a dynamic little nearby town known for its cosmopolitan nature: lots of artists, painters, musicians and dancers. It's a multi-cultural community with some great shopping so you can follow this place's example and have it all.
Follow Barbara Barton Sloane on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ofmeising