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The Mexico of the Mayas – Mérida and Riviera Maya – The end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012 indicates to many the end of the world. For most people, however, it corresponds to the end of an era and the beginning of another one on earth. A historical moment, indeed! If there were one place in the world where we would want to be to experience this end of… something, which will also correspond with the winter solstice, it would be at the Chichén Itza pyramid in the Yucatan.

To have watched the sun rise on Chichén Itza - on the summer solstice this past June 21st while attending a sacred ceremony celebrating the sun - we can definitely say that on December 21st we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Rediscovering the Mayan civilization, known for its imagination and scientific knowledge, seeing up close the mythical sites, participating in a celebration of life, meeting some of their 1.5 million descendants in villages and tasting their cuisine, taking advantage of the unique beauty of the dozens of subterranean rivers, called cenotes, and caves that are almost as plentiful as the Mexican jungle, and getting our fill of the regenerative effects of the sun and the sea… this would be a beautiful winter holiday during the Christmas Season with your loved ones or the whole family!

To mark this memorable passage, special celebrations have been planned throughout 2012 in the Yucatan. The last ones, scheduled at Chichén Itza, will certainly be memorable:
-  December 21, 2012: The grand finale of the Maya Calendar, with artistic and astronomical activities.
-  March 21, 2013: The Spring Equinox, the first sign of the New World. 

String of pyramids   

The Yucatan peninsula harbors many pyramids. If you could visit only one, it should of course be Chichén Itza, with its large ball game grounds, which the Mayan are famous for. At Chichén Itza, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, we hope you will have the honor, like we had, to be accompanied by Professor Humberto Gomez, who shares his immense archeological knowledge of the Mayan world with great passion.

But why would you settle for a visit to only one pyramid? We encourage you to see more than one since the pyramids themselves and their natural and built environments vary greatly. Don’t hesitate to head to Cobà and Tulum.

Elegant Mérida

The Mayan world is also very present in the lovely small colonial city of Mérida. Once a rich city thanks to the exploitation of sisal which was woven into ropes used for hammocks, its palaces, private hotels and sumptuous buildings found on the Passage Montejo and surrounding the Independence Plaza are still intact, even though the sisal industry has been practically dead since the discovery of synthetic rope.

Some have been transformed into embassies or private properties for rich industrials, while others are now museums, such as the Municipal Museum of Anthropology and the Contemporary Art Museum.

The city can easily be visited in two or three days. Mérida is also a festive city with interesting nightlife. Club 30+ is part of this nightlife and is sure to please all who are 30 + with performances by excellent musicians of all styles and every popular period: reggae, salsa, disco, soul…. its choice of drinks is also wide and can accompany an array of real Mexican tapas (seasoned with habanero chili, the spiciest in the world). Large tables facilitate exchanging and sharing and it is impossible to stay off the dance floor!

Eclectic experiences around Mérida

One-day excursions are also available. Go to Dzibilchaltun to visit another archeological site and to swim in a cenote or at the small San Antonio Lulix camp, with its 4 lovely rooms and bistro in the heart of the wilderness, serving fresh homemade food cooked on site just for you.

Other worthwhile tours go towards Rio Lagartos to watch the pink flamingoes or to the beach and warm sea at Progreso, which is proud of its new Malecon that can be seen from the terrace of the Flamingos restaurant, where we were treated to the most delicious seafood ceviche.

Another must see is the superb Hacienda Santa Rosa with its 35 Mayan handicraft workshops, where craftswomen of all ages are still using ancestral techniques they have preserved to create gifts and everyday objects made out of sisal, as well as silver thread jewels.

Nature adventures

On Riviera Maya, the land is virgin; however, it is tamed just enough so that one can enjoy it safely and experience unforgettable moments. Where is this, exactly? At EkBalam, at Rio Secreto, and at Punta Venado.

To begin with, one has to experience a swim in an open (outdoor) cenote in order to feel the freshness and the purity of the water. Then, get a little bolder and use the cables and harnesses to descend into a very large underground cenote - 80 meters in diameter - where floating devices are waiting in the darkness, only disturbed by a small beam of sunlight. As reassurance a Mayan priest gave us a benediction and blessed us with incense before our descent in the depths.

Going over a lagoon on a zip line or springing up from liana to liana are other small victories to savor before tasting the dishes and the traditional hibiscus juice prepared by a Mayan family.

For the more robust, take one hour in a MTB or go horseback riding in the private rocky paths that go through the jungle and lead to a secluded deserted beach, then go on to an Italian restaurant that has great style and attitude with its own lounge and beach beds on its own private beach, the Blue Venado. Quite a treat!

The highlight of a day on Riviera Maya is without a doubt a 90-minute expedition in the gigantic caves of the secret river. Equipped with hats, cap lamps, vests and capped shoes, we walk and sometimes swim in crystal clear waters between breathtaking stalagmites and stalactites. The guided visit is also very informative about the phenomena of these spectacular formations. We are even asked to turn off our lamps to better listen in silence to the noise of the water drops, which over time form the incredible underground landscapes.

Calm in Akumal

How moving and inspiring was this visit to Akumal?

A snorkeling centre was well organized, where visitors are given all applicable information about sea turtles before they can swim out and encounter them. Strolling along the beach afterwards, we could see the nests where turtles have deposited their eggs, well delimited and protected to ensure nobody walks on them by mistake. Every night, the Interpretation Centre team collects the eggs and brings them inside to protect them from the various predators. It’s part of the love and care they take while preserving the species.

It seems a little strange to watch sunbathers on their beach chairs arranged between these small “altars” devoted to the preservation of life. Nonetheless, if you are looking for a quiet stay on Riviera Maya, the charming hotels bordering the sea at Akumal would be a perfect choice.

Comfort zone

At Mérida, we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel. Living up to its reputation as a classic choice, both its restaurant and bar demonstrate good taste in all senses of the word. The beef carpaccio was memorable - I must admit I treated myself to 3 servings during the same meal… You can’t go wrong by choosing this hotel, very well located on Mérida’s nicest avenue near the historical centre, whose buildings and squares were built with the stones of five destroyed pyramids.

Also worth mentioning in Mérida is the boutique hotel Rosas & Xocolate. It is exquisite for its roses and the chocolate, served as food or drink in a martini glass, cocktail bites and in the fine cuisine, and enjoyed as colors on pillows and on the terrace, at the spa, and on the furniture which was all exclusively created for the hotel, as well as on the floors and walls of the large rooms. All of this is in honor of the owner’s mother, Rose, who loved chocolate.

At X Caret, on Riviera Maya, we stayed at the Occidental Grand X Caret, a vast complex built in the middle of the jungle, with parrots, koatimundis, agoutis and deer all around. A small river also flows through the site. All services are included, in quality and quantity, and the food - as varied as it is excellent - is served in superbly decorated restaurants. We appreciated the Mexican café, with preparations that are true fireworks shows in of themselves, as well as the natural seawater pool built between the rocks on the seafront.

At X Caret, the main boutique, Lapis, is a true temple for silver and lapis lazuli jewels. The vast choice, negotiable prices and overall authenticity are quite impressive.

Other Mayan states

Travelers with more than one or two weeks to spare can push the Mayan experience further by visiting four other Mayan states of Mexico: Quintana, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas.

Let’s all meet on Riviera Maya… next December 21st!


Sylvie Berthiaume

English version: Christiane Théberge

This trip was made possible thanks to the Conseil de promotion touristique du Mexique (CPTM) and the Riviera Maya Tourism Office. We would like to thank them for their invitations that allowed us to make such precious memories.


Chichen Itza

Mayan priests




Progreso beach

Hacienda Santa Rosa

Rio Secreto


Hotel Rosas & Xocolate pool


Lapis Lazuli













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