The official currency of Mexico is the peso, but many places along the Riviera Maya accept dollars. Credit cards are often not accepted in small establishments so it is wise to travel with cash or travelers checks. In Playa del Carmen there are banks, automatic tellers (where one can withdraw cash from some international credit cards) and many money exchange offices. The other large towns also have many money exchange offices.
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The region known as the Riviera Maya was an important commercial and religious center for the ancient Maya during the Post-Classic Period (1000-1550 A.D.). Tulum, a Mayan fortress that looms over the Caribbean sea, is the most impressive site from this era, but there were other important towns such as Xaman-Ha (today Playa del Carmen), Xcaret (known by the Mayans as the port of Pole) and Xel-Ha, which was the first European settlement in the peninsula. Further inland is Coba, a city which had 50,000 inhabitants during the Classic Period (300-1000 A.D.).
Cozumel island, 45 kilometers long and 16 kilometers wide, lies quietly on the horizon in front of Playa del Carmen. During the Post-Classic period, it was a Mayan place of pilgrimage for paying homage to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. There are many archaeological sites along the coast; vestiges of the many outposts which were established to accommodate the pilgrims.
The Riviera Maya was still a busy trade route when the Spaniards arrived in the XVI century, although the great "Classic Cities", (Chichen Itza and Uxmal in the state of Yucatan, and Coba in Quintana Roo), had long been abandoned due to wars and conquests. During the next three hundred years, under Spanish colonial rule, the lack of adequate roads deterred any significant demographic growth in this region, which suffered a long period of partial abandonment.
The average annual temperature of the Riviera Maya is 25.5 degrees Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit), with fluctuations of 5 to 7 degrees. In July, August and September, visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the sky, which can change from overcast to clear in minutes. From November to April, there are usually blue skies and a cool northern wind. For a great month by month summary of Cancun's weather click here.
WHAT TO WEAR
Dress in Cancun and the hotels is very casual with the accent on comfort. Remember to pack comfortable walking shoes. The activities at the hotels and the area dictate sporting clothes. In the evenings you may want to dress up, but not too much. At some of the best spots and clubs you will feel more comfortable dressing up. However, black tie or any tie for that matter is not required.
The climate changes are minimal in the Riviera Maya, so visitors should always pack clothes for swimming and warm weather; light cotton garments and airy sandals are perfect. Rubber soled shoes are recommended for tours to archaeological sites. Boots, long sleeve light cotton shirts and Long trousers are best for those interested in jungle treks. A light jacket, shawl or sweater is advisable for the evenings of November, December and January.
The standard current in the hotels in Mexico is 110 volts AC. European travelers should bring a converter or check their electric devices in advance.
Tips and Taxes
In cases where the gratuity is not included or provided for, 15% is the accepted amount. Most items sold in Mexico have a "value added tax" or sales tax of 10% that is additional to the posted price. In Spanish, it is called IVA. You will see it itemized separately on your receipt.
People and Langauge
The original inhabitants of this part of Mexico were Mayan and although Spanish is the official language, most of the indigenous population still speaks their native tongue. In the past few years, people from all parts of the world have settled here, giving this region a cosmopolitan atmosphere. It is fairly easy to encounter English, German, Italian and French- speaking people, especially in hotels and in larger towns.
The over 100 kilometer stretch known as the Riviera Maya is in the middle of the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. It begins 32 kilometers south of the Cancun International Airport and ends at a quaint fishing village called Punta Allen, located on a small peninsula within the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Between these two points, there are many communities, each different in style and size and with its own unique character, as well as a variety of beautiful bays and solitary beaches. The largest towns are Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal and Tulum.
This magical region is also surrounded by many interesting places, such as Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Holbox, Contoy, Palenque, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Guatemala, Cuba and Belize. There are numerous travel agencies and tour operators throughout the Riviera Maya which offer different tours and travel facilities.
Visitors can enjoy many activities along the Riviera Maya, such as windsurfing, deep sea fishing, trips in kayaks and horseback riding, as well as simply becoming one with nature while resting on a solitary beach.
The Great Maya Reef, a coral reef of unrivaled beauty, is famous among lovers of scuba diving and snorkeling. There are many specialized dive shops along the coast; all offering courses for all levels of expertise, and tours, be it to the reef, the cenotes or the underground caverns. Cenotes are sink holes, created when pieces of land above the subterranean rivers collapsed millions of years ago. The cenotes, filled with crystal clear, tranquil, cold and refreshing water, were considered sacred by the Mayan. They vary tremendously in size, shape and depth, are usually surrounded by exuberant jungle and are a great place for swimming and snorkeling.
The entrance and exit of the underground rivers to the cenotes often lead to caverns, an underwater world which looks like an immense cathedral or tunnel. They are often filled with stalactites and stalagmites of different width and height; some are less than a foot long while others are well over 60 feet in length. Anyone who ventures into this incredible world will feel as through they are flying through space: the current is almost imperceptible, there is no movement, no noise and no sensation of weight, gravity or resistance. Unlike diving in the ocean, the visibility seems to be endless; the water is crystal clear and with the light from the cenote entrance, the surroundings acquire an intense blue color.
There are also two parks along the coast, perfect for a day of adventure. Xcaret is an eco-archaeological amusement park that offers a great array of activities, from floating in underground rivers or swimming with the dolphins to cultural events during the evening. Xel-Ha, further south is an incredible natural aquarium famous for snorkeling and swimming.
In the extreme south of the Riviera Maya is Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, which offers an opportunity to explore mangroves, ancient Mayan canals and walk through the jungle to observe an almost untouched wilderness.
This fascinating region is also in the middle of the amazing Maya World and tours to the major cities of this timeless civilization, such as Chichen itza, Tulum, Coba, Uxmal and Tikal, are easy to find.
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