Following a relaxed few days in Cancún, we planned a day trip to get out and explore more of Mexico. There are so many different activities and trips you can take from Cancún, and simply not enough time for us to see them all. One place we both wanted to see was Tulum, famous for its ancient ruins and crystal clear cenotes for swimming. We booked onto a trip to see several stops on the Riviera Maya, a long stretch of coastline along the Caribbean Sea. It’s on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, and has many of the country’s best beaches.
Tulum, Riviera Maya
Our trip was booked with Cancun Passion, although I’m sure there are better tour operators out there. (Our trip was a little disorganized but great, nonetheless). The first stop on the tour was Tulum, which is around a 2 hour journey from Cancún. Tulum’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its fascinating Mayan ruins. The ruins themselves are on a cliff overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea. They’re also the only archaeological site that’s actually on the coast, and they’re stunning with an ocean backdrop.
We were dropped in Tulum’s town area, which is now famous for its juice bars with swing seats, yoga retreats, and boho hotels. Just a short walk away, you reach the archaeological site. Our guide told us a little about the history of the ruins, and their importance in the equinox. Incredibly, the buildings were constructed to accommodate for the sun and moon at specific times of year. Everything about them is incredibly considered.
Passing new pals, we then wandered the passage through the ruins and along the stunning coastline. It was very busy and packed with tourists which kind of ruined the experience for me. I can’t recommend highly enough getting there early.
Underneath the cliff, you’ll see Paradise Beach. It’s often thought to be one of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya. The world’s second largest Barrier Reef is just a short distance away too, the Mesoamerican Reef Barrier. Unfortunately, there was a little dark seaweed when we visited, but the view was nonetheless still beautiful.
The Mayan Ruins of Tulum
We learned all about each of the ruins, which appear to have been temples, although no one’s quite sure. It’s bizarre to imagine each of them painted in different colours as they were back in the day.
Wandering the relatively short pathway, we completed the circuit. Heading back to the coach, it was time for the next stop after a fresh green juice from a stall.
Cobá, Riviera Maya
The next destination on our whistle stop tour of the Riviera Maya was Cobá. Cobá is another ancient Mayan city, and the ruins are pretty awesome. It’s home to Quintana Roo’s tallest pyramid, as well as a historic ball court. Because Cobá isn’t as high on the tourist list as Chichen Itza, it means you can actually climb the pyramid too. Neighbouring sights include cenotes, and a lagoon full of crocodiles. We arrived a little later than intended on our tour. This worked out well considering we missed a few busloads of tourists. Because of time, we chose either a tricycle or a bicycle (around 75 pesos per person), to take us to the ruins deeper in the jungle.
The tricycle ride is actually great fun and well worth doing. Your guide will also wait for you while you check out each area of the ruins within the jungle.
The Pyramid and Ruins of Cobá
We reached the pyramid, thankfully while it wasn’t too busy. Getting up is much easier than getting down! It’s around 137 feet high with 120 steps, and a little more difficult than the pyramids of Teotihuacán.
The views from the top are pretty phenomenal, with a green carpet of jungle seeming infinite. It reminded me a little of the view from Pride Rock from The Lion King – I just needed a cat.
We scrambled down the hot rocks in the melting sunshine. Do make sure to take your time here, it’s a little sketchy in places. Other attractions in Cobá include the observatory and the ball court. Archaeological evidence suggests Cobá has been inhabited ever since 50 AD, losing its notoriety to Chichen Itza’s growing power.
Here’s the Observatory. Despite having this name, archaeologists haven’t found evidence of the real use of the building. In fact, it’s construction isn’t common in this Mayan ruin site with its rounded stone sections.
So far, archeologists in Cobá have discovered five ‘Pok-a-Tok’ playing fields. It’s a game with the objective to throw a four pound solid rubber ball through a stone ring fixed to a wall. A little like basketball, although neither feet nor hands can throw the ball. Instead, only elbows, knees or hips can be used which seems a little difficult.
El Gloria Cenote, Riviera Maya
After the excitement of Cobá, we took a short stop for lunch at a classic Mexican eatery not far from Tulum. There was a delicious buffet feast: pastor and asado tacos, fresh salad, and chilaquiles. Chilaquiles is a new dish I only discovered since arriving in Mexico. It’s essentially tortillas with salsa or mole, with pulled chicken, crema, and crumbled queso fresco on top. Pretty tasty too!
With full bellies, our next stop was visiting Cenote Gloria. I was pretty excited for this part of our journey to the Riviera Maya, having seen endless photos of people swimming in these glorious cenotes. We boarded a jeep to take us down some dirt tracks to the cenote, passing reassuring signs along the way.
Cenote La Gloria is truly beautiful – crystal clear waters perfect for swimming. It was empty when our group arrived which was also a treat. It’s a wonderful colour of water, and tiny fish nip around as you swim.
There’s a rope swing for anyone who dares. The cenotes are actually all connected through caves. If you’re into scuba diving, it would be so cool to swim along the connected tunnels into each of the cenotes. I have heard, however, that some cenotes have crocodiles, so be sure to check ahead.
We spent around an hour swimming around and exploring. It was such a great way to break up the day, and cool off our sunburn. The cenote was definitely a highlight of my Mexico trip.
We dried off before heading back to the jeep for a bumpy ride back to the coach. Running a little behind schedule still, we travelled the hour and a half journey back along the Riviera Maya to our final stop, Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Despite arriving at Playa del Carmen, it was good to see another coastal resort town in Mexico. It seems a little classier than Cancún, but still really fun with plenty of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs on the Quinta Avenida. There also appears to be a great shopping district with a contemporary mall near the main strip.
It would be great to go back and visit Playa del Carmen in the day and see the amazing beaches. It’s close to the world’s second largest barrier reef, and the island of Cozumel. This is definitely another trip for me in the future. Playa del Carmen’s also well known for its plethora of water sports, boating, and world class golf courses. I’ll for sure be back one day, but it was great to get a taster.
Our trip to the Riviera Maya was busy but full of awesome sights. I think the cenote was a definite highlight. Have you been to Mexico’s Riviera Maya? What are your favourite things to see there?