Vacationers have long flocked to the Mexican Riviera, a portion of the country’s Pacific coastline that includes the resort cities of Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco. But Mexico hosts another seaside playground on its eastern shore; an 80 mile-long stretch of sparkling Caribbean sand known as the Riviera Maya.

The Riviera Maya is the perfect place to go to enjoy the sea and that famous Mexican sunshine, but it is also a place where you can see some very unique things like the well-preserved ruins of the pre-Columbian Mayan city of Tulum.

Most visits to the Riviera Maya begin in the bustling party city of Cancún, and that’s where I kicked off my adventure. The Riviera Maya officially begins a few miles south of the Cancún airport, and there’s a nicely maintained highway that runs parallel to the shoreline that makes it easy to get to any attraction.

I started with a shuttle ride (Car rentals are available too.) to my headquarters for the trip, the Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda Resort on the outskirts of Playa del Carmen. The Blue Bay is an all-inclusive resort, so the cost of eating at any of their restaurants is already included in your lodging fee as is the cost of any and all adult beverages you may wish to consume.

The Blue Bay has a great beach and all the other activities you’d expect from a fine resort; you wouldn’t even have to leave the grounds if you didn’t want to. But the resort is just a short ride away from Playa del Carmen.

Playa del Carmen is a good-sized city but it’s very easy to find the 5th Avenue shopping district, and that’s the beginning of where the action is! Fifth Avenue is the city’s touristy area where dozens of shops are filled with Mexican arts and crafts, souvenirs of every sort and great places to relax with a cerveza or two. If you want to indulge in nightlife you’ll find it up and down Playa’s 12th Street (It intersects with 5th Ave.) where clubs like the Blue Parrot, Diablito Cha Cha Cha and the rooftop bar at Los Danzantes keep things going deep into the night.

Not far from the nightclub scene is the most famous stretch of sand in Playa del Carmen: Mamitas Beach. The always-happening Mamitas Beach Club is located right on the beach, and it’s a place for more casual partying any time of day.

Playa del Carmen is centrally located on the Riviera Maya and you can easily daytrip to do things like snorkel, visit the ruins at Tulum or visit the Mayan theme park called Xcaret. Located amid a lush jungle setting, Xcaret (pronounced ISH-kuh-ret) is a place where you can learn all about Mayan culture in an interactive way. Stroll through colorful memorials at the hillside cemetery, participate in a Mayan spiritual cleansing ceremony or swim with dolphins.

Hiking paths, jaguar viewing, wild parrots, horse shows, mariachis, live cultural performances and a great Mexican food buffet are just a few of the things that’ll keep you busy – there’s even a wine cellar! To fully enjoy Xcaret, plan on spending the whole day there.

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