Discovering Secrets of the Mayan Riviera: Part 1

By Mari Pintkowski

So, you have decided to take a vacation and are searching for that special piece of paradise. If you have narrowed your search to Mexico’s Riviera Maya, bordered on one side by the multi-hued Caribbean and the lush jungle on the other. I invite you to consider the Tululm area, south of Playa del Carmen, with its world class beaches dotted with many interesting hotels to call home during your stay.

At times the sun, sand and wind are very dramatic along the coast, and you may find that they will drain rather than invigorate you after a few days. This is the time to think about what else this tropical region has to offer the interested traveler. Let me be your guide and introduce you to the wonders that lie beyond the silky white sand and turquoise waters.

La Flor de Tulum
Head west from the beach toward Highway 307 and pick up provisions in the bustling town of Tulum. Our first stop is at La Flor de Tulum, a small fruit market just south of the Municipal Police station, to select some tasty treats. In this colorful environment, with piñatas hanging from the palapa roof and fruits and vegetables of every color and texture, you will not be able to resist taking your camera out for a few photos of the artfully arranged produce.

Off we go, back north along the highway toward the stop light at the intersection of the beach road and the road to the Coba ruins. Turn left and stop at San Francisco Supermarket on the right or the little convenience store on the left to pick up a cooler, some ice, cold beverages and a few more snacks. Soon a new international airport will be constructed off this road that will change the character of the journey into the heart of the Mayan lands along the Coba Road that you are about to experience.

the Grand Cenote on the Coba Road near Tulum
Let the colorful butterflies be your guide and keep your eyes open for sights along the way that invite you to discover nature, firsthand. I suggest a stop at The Grand Cenote (less than 5 minutes from the interaction) which is magical with its white sandy bottom, and turquoise waters hidden beneath an array of stalactites and stalagmites. Slip into your swim suit in the changing room and slide into the cool waters surrounded by the jungle. If the parking lot is full, venture farther and explore the open-air Carwash Cenote on your left for an invigorating swim. Cenotes are fresh water sink holes that opened up during the ice age when the underground rivers began to flow, causing the limestone surface to crack and reveal a treasure unique to this part of the world. Cenotes have a mystical feel that fades easily when there is a crowd splashing in the water, so avoid those with parking lots full of tour busses.

Traveling down the newly paved and widened Coba Road you will see glimpses of life in Mayan villages and small rancheros along the way moving at a very slow pace. Maybe you will see a crew of local artisans constructing a palapa roof of either palm fronds or long, slender grass called zacate, a distinctive feature of traditional Mayan homes that has been adopted by many newcomers to the Yucatan. Along the way you may pass bent over figures clearing the roadside weeds by hand using a sharp, curved tool, or a man pedaling a three-wheel tricycle filled with wood for open-air cooking or transporting his family home after working in the milpa or community corn field.

limestone carvings from the Riviera Maya
When you see the colorfully painted VW bus on the left in front of a collection of simple houses at about Km 10, stop to see what Eric and the other artists are carving from chunks of limestone using simple tools and inspired by their personal visions of ancient gods and jungle creatures. They may even have a few finished pieces to sell. For a short time, you will forget that just days ago you arrived as a tourist at Cancun, one of the busiest tourist airports in the world.

This rural land from Km 15 onward on either side of the road through the first pueblo was deeded to the families in this village by the Mexican government and is referred to as Macario Gomez ejido land. You will notice small roads leading into the jungle cut in many spots along the road, and indication of development by Mexicans and foreigners setting down new roots.

The first tope (speed bump. If you are driving, you will soon learn to respect these traffic-calming devices) indicates that you are approaching Macario Gomez, the first of the three Mayan pueblos along the highway leading to the Coba ruins.

La Selva Mariposa B & B in the Yucatan jungle
If you haven’t made your reservations for the night, here is an elegant jungle B&B, La Selva Mariposa, located just 50 meters off the main road to the north, behind the Oasis beer store at the start of the village. Even better, make your reservations before you leave Tulum. (laselvamariposa.com).

Turn right down the short, meandering road through a lush jungle to the entrance of the bed and breakfast retreat announced by the carved sign of the butterfly (mariposa). As you get out of your car under the covered car-park you will hear the splashing of waterfalls inviting you to linger in this haven of tranquility. You will find a cenote plunge pool, an assortment of Mayan style waterfalls, gardens with over 300 different plants, including colorful orchids that hang from the towering trees above and vines that seem to curl before your eyes, gardens shimmering with butterflies and native birds. The rooms at La Selva (the jungle) are cool and tastefully decorated in fabrics and art gathered from trips to Guatemala and local artesian shops along the Coba road. Your refrigerator will be stocked with beer a