First, head to the beach, the glistening beach, with its fine sand and its lapping, deliciously warm, blue-green waves and the occasional half-buried boulder that hides a massive iguana blissfully unconcerned with all the foot traffic around him. The beaches here, every bit as "Caribbean" as their Caribbean neighbors, almost single-handedly make the trip worth every penny and every hour sitting in an enclosed space thousands of feet above ground.
Later, spread out and explore -- the beach will be there when you get back. Upon closer look, you'll realize there's more to this popular vacation destination than its beaches and the overwhelming number of resorts.
Mysterious cenotes -- some too deep to reach the bottom, inlets, and lagoons offer unique swimming opportunities. Well-preserved Mayan ruins, built around 1200 A.D. atop a cliff in Tulum, transport visitors back to a once glorious time. Exotic wildlife, both on land and underwater, present a chance to interact with nature. Aquatic and cultural theme parks like Xel-Ha and Xcaret provide fun recreation for both kids and adults.
And then there are the vibrant and ever friendly locals who greet you like an old friend coming home after a long absence.
Even beyond that, there's more to experience. Venture away from the tourist spots and walk the local streets of Playa del Carmen. Have your fill of the best tacos you'll ever have in your life. Try off-the-beaten-path eateries that serve cheap delicacies like authentic tlayudas and delicious kastacan. And, of course, brush up on your tongue-rolling Spanish.
There's a good reason - or rather, many wonderful reasons - why families, couples, and singles, the young and the old, from many parts of the world, are drawn to this strip on the eastern shore of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. From its beautiful shores to its incredible Mayan ruins to its local haunts, the Riviera Maya is every bit a paradise.
Touristy, yes, but a paradise nonetheless.