Finding Paradise In Sian Ka’an

Crystal lagoons and ancient ruins made the Riviera Maya one of Mexico’s top destinations By: Maribeth Mellin & Mollie McKenzie
Tulum provides a mix of beautiful beaches and ancient ruins. // (C) 2012 Riviera Maya Tourism Board
Tulum provides a mix of beautiful beaches and ancient ruins. // (C) 2012 Riviera Maya Tourism Board

The Details

New and Noteworthy:

Renovated Lounge in Cancun International Airport
AeroMexico, Mexico’s largest trans-continental airline, recently reopened its Cancun International Airport Premier Lounge. To provide members with better service, the lounge has been completely renovated, with spacious living areas and first-class services. Visitors to the Riviera Maya and Cancun can look forward to the many amenities that the Premier Lounge offers, such as direct documentation services for those traveling without baggage, airline executives to provide information and support, a business center, wireless Internet access, free local calls, coffee, snacks and a complimentary bar. www.aeromexico.com

Maroma Resort & Spa Upgrades Suites and Dining
Located on a 25-acre beachfront portion of a 500-acre coconut plantation on the Riviera Maya, Maroma Resort & Spa has renovated its suites and is offering a new dining plan as well as a new culinary experience called The Fisher’s Night. Four upgraded Ocean View Master suites along with the first-ever Garden View Master Suites boast large living rooms and spacious bathrooms, all in close proximity to the the resort’s private white-sand beach. The resort’s new dining options include The Fisher’s Night, where guests can eat fresh seafood straight from the grill. www.maromahotel.com

Sea Turtle Conservation
From June 21-24, when the mature turtles are laying eggs, the Sea Turtle Conservancy will bring a team of marine biologists to track the turtle’s movements. Biologists will attach a tracking device to mature turtles so that over the course of three months, from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds, they can learn of the turtles’ movements in what is called the Tour de Turtles. Guests are invited to be spectators during this fun, educational event. www.tourdeturtles.org

Where To Stay:

Esencia’s Aroma Spa, Playa Xpu-ha
Escenia’s Aroma spa, a boutique hotel and a member of Small Luxury Hotels, sits on a sprawling 50-acre estate that overlooks miles of the pristine, Caribbean white sandy beach of Playa Xpu-ha. The spa is offering its new Duke and Duchess Detox Package, starting from $3,166 for the four-night package and $5,566 for the seven-night package. This program will leave guests fully refreshed and rejuvenated. www.hotelesencia.com

Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso, Playa Paraiso
Ranked one of the top all-inclusive resort in the world by TripAdvisor’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards, the Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso provides traditional Riviera Maya hospitality. Besides its luxurious rooms and suites, guests can enjoy the resort’s top ranked golf course. Golfers can partake in complimentary rounds of golf at the golf club by booking at least a three- to four-night stay with rates based on double occupancy. The promotion is valid through Dec. 23. www.iberostar.com

Local Favorites:

Tulum, Quintana Roo
Awarded the number three destination on TripAdvisor’s annual Top 25 Beach Destinations in the World, Tulum is a rare and exotic mix of beach, archeology and village. The destination focuses on romance and relaxation and offers guests a modern take on traditional Maya spa treatments and cuisine.

Mayan Doomsday, Playa Del Carmen
It is said that the ancient Maya calendar predicts the end of the world on Dec. 21. Travelers can enjoy their few remaining days by experiencing the magic and mystery of the festivities, Maya ceremonies and rituals that will fill the streets, restaurants and beach clubs of Playa Del Carmen. Condo Hotels Playa Del Carmen offers a luxurious stay at any of their four properties — El Taj, Porto Playa, Maya Villa and Villas Sacbe. In observance of the auspicious day, guests will not be charged for the night of Dec. 21. A minimum three-night stay is required. www.condohotelsplayadelcarmen.com

Puffy white clouds float into eternity in Sian Ka’an, which means “The Place Where the Sky Was Born.” The Mexican government set aside this paradise of crystal-blue lagoons and ancient Maya ruins in 1986, just before the Riviera Maya exploded as one of Mexico’s most popular tourism destinations. The following year, the United Nations recognized the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reserve now covers more than 1.3 million acres, including a large portion of Mexico’s Caribbean coastline and a network of canals built by the Maya around the 11th century.

Few people live full-time in the sparsely populated reserve. Most stick close to the coast and provide tourism services for fishing fanatics who spend a week or more trying to hook record-size tarpon and permit. Punta Allen is the reserve’s largest community, with some one hundred families subsisting on lobster fishing at the tip of an isolated point between Bahia Ascencion and the Caribbean Sea. Centro Ecologico Sian Ka’an (CESiaK), a nonprofit organization created to protect the reserve, operates a small camp-hotel at a particularly gorgeous spot, with tented cabins right above the sea. The view from the property’s rooftop features white-sand beaches, blue sea, green jungles and dense marshes.

Guides from CESiaK and other organizations lead guests and daytrippers on tours through dense jungle to coastal dunes, describing a few of the hundreds of plant species and birds in the reserve and the coral reef that protects the coast and creates translucent shallows fllled with fish. During the summer months, when endangered sea turtles migrate to safe shores to lay their eggs, guides point out the subtle signs of a turtle’s nest.

The Maya roots of Sian Ka’an are more evident when entering the reserve from the roadside archeological site of Muyil a few miles south of Tulum. Community Tours Sian Ka’an, a local cooperative, trains and employs local guides to lead tours of Muyil and Sian Ka’an in addition to operating a visitor center beside an established community. Along the dirt trails leading to the site, guides explain the traditional Maya approach to native plant uses for healing and food as well as point out the tiny bees with brilliant green eyes and the swarms of dragonflies. The Muyil site was established around 300 B.C. and was excavated in the 1990s. The centerpiece is an impressive 57-foot-high Castillo dating to the 11th century, with traces of red and blue paint in one section. The tiny rooms inside may have been used by Maya traders traveling to the coast.

A sometimes slippery dirt trail leads from the ruins to an enormous lagoon, where guests board small boats for a mesmerizing ride across the lagoon to a narrow canal sculpted into the marshes by the Maya. Then, guests strap on life jackets, ease into the cool fresh water and float in a dreamy state with the currents toward the sea. Mangroves and tall grasses fringe low limestone shelves and, if everyone stays quiet, silence settles on the water. Above, billowing white clouds ascend toward the sun, and it’s easy to see how Sian Ka’an got its name.

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