Recent visitors to the coast of Quintana Roo have surely noticed a pesky new addition -- a whole mess of sargassum on the beaches. This brown seaweed has been washing up on the shores near Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum for more than a year now, vexing hoteliers and creating an unsightly barrier between the powdery sand and the sea.
If sargassum has your clients worried about an upcoming trip or hesitant to book in the future, there are still ways to maximize their time in this diverse part of Mexico, which has so much more than beaches. Here are a variety of ways to enjoy a vacation in Quintana Roo beyond the coastline.
Mexico is home to more than 3,000 cenotes. These natural sinkholes are the entry point to a network of thousands of underground rivers and caves, which the Mayan people believed to be the entrance to the underworld. Today they are still just as sacred to the Mayan communities that remain in this part of Mexico. Travelers can explore many of them on their own, as adventure parks have been built around them, many with ziplining, ATV tours and snorkeling/scuba experiences.
Most recently, a cenote was discovered in the nearby state of Yucatan, approximately an hour and a half from Playa del Carmen. Aventuras Mayas, an ecofriendly tour operator, has finished building a 131-acre park around it. The cenote itself is awe-inspiring, as travelers descend nearly 70 feet below the earth's surface to explore a massive cavern with sheer limestone walls that lead to a brilliantly colored turquoise pool below. Three natural openings provide sunlight into the pool, casting natural spotlights into the water. Inside the cavern, Aventuras Mayas has built a playground of diving platforms, ziplines and a 50-foot rappelling experience from the highest entrance hole straight down into the natural pool below.
Explore the ruins
The Mayan ruins in and around Cancun and Riviera Maya are so much more involved than just Chichen Itza and Tulum. There are more than a dozen archaeological sites in the state of Quintana Roo alone, and that's not even counting the ruins in the nearby state of Yucatan -- many of which are within driving distance from Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
One of the more underrated archaeological sites near Playa del Carmen is Coba, which sits on the shore of two lakes. While much of the site is unexcavated, it is one of the largest sites to be discovered, and still has a temple that visitors can climb. From the top, take in a panoramic view of the surrounding jungles. Visitors can also rent bicycles at the front gate to explore on two wheels.
Between Playa del Carmen and Tulum is Xel-Ha, a once-coastal village with its own cenote. Within the cenote are five sweat lodges, in which visitors can still see the red paint that decorated the rocks around the cenote.
Muyil is another site that sits on a freshwater lake called La Laguna. It is one of the oldest cities found in the northern Yucatan peninsula.
Farther afield, but entirely worth the trip, is the site of Kohunlich, which is about three hours south of Tulum, near the Mexican border with Belize. This impressive city is packed with temples and structures that are in amazing condition. Some are also open for climbing, specifically the temple in the main plaza from which the king presided. The view over the sea of green is simply breathtaking.
Typically travelers are coming to Quintana Roo for the beaches, but there is also a rich cultural heritage within Quintana Roo and nearby Yucatan.
Valladolid is a prime example of a cultural colonial city on the rise. Near Hacienda Chukum, this city was founded in the 16th century and is absolutely worth a day trip. Valladolid was originally a Mayan city known as Zaci. When the Spanish arrived in the city they dismantled the temples and used the stones to build the buildings that exist today. Now, all that remains of the Mayan city is a cenote near town that holds the original name, Zaci. A must-see is the main plaza, Parque Francisco Canton Rosado, which is a lovely spot to sit and watch daily life. On weekends the park and the surrounding streets have live performers and dancing. At the edge of the park is the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena, which was built at a Franciscan monastery in 1552. Visit Calle Los Frailes for the best look at restored colonial buildings.
Less than three hours from Cancun is the city of Izamal, which is colloquially known as the "Yellow City." The entire city is painted in vibrant shades of ochre, creating a uniform look that is mesmerizing and has an outdoor museum vibe. Another name for Izamal is the city of hills, because of the remnants of Mayan pyramids that can be found throughout the city. Kinich Kakmo, for example, is one of the largest in Izamal. It has one of the largest footprints of any pyramid in the state of Yucatan, and entrance is free.