Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, Mexico
I am floating down a slow-moving river bordered by mangroves and sea grass, the water so clear I can see to the bottom. I have nothing to do but sit back and let the current take me. There are hardly any people around, only the occasional bird.
Locals and tourists scoff at the notion that they might not be safe here or along the Riviera Maya (www.rivieramaya.com), which stretches south of
It's hard not to, especially in places like
Thanks to help from the Mexican government and the Fairmont Mayakoba resort (http://www.fairmont.com/mayakoba) located about an hour away in Playa del Carmen, the Muyil community is trying to grow a sustainable tourism business that can employ people in their community and showcase Mayan culture. Soon, there will be a restaurant and a museum partially funded by Fairmont.
"We need to develop strategies so that guests can experience the region even when staying at a big hotel," said
Kids at the
There are family cooking classes, complete with a walk through the chef's organic garden, and menus that offer a variety of sustainable options, including the
I love that the profits from the Mayan handicrafts sold at the resort are returned to the local communities; the honey from the local sting-less Melipona bees used in one of the resort's signature spa treatments also comes from a local Mayan village.
Certainly you have your choice of hotels in this region -- more than 300 from tiny 16-room beachfront hotels like the
Most first-time visitors, though, think massive all-inclusives are the only option. And even larger hotels like the Fairmont (check out the deals that can save you up to 30 percent on room rates, spa treatments, resort credit and more), just 45 minutes from the
"We want to support the authentic local experience," explained Santos. That's not to say you won't also enjoy the five pools (the kids we met certainly were enjoying the waterslide) the beach, the golf course and the spectacular spa.
Our Mayan guide Vitzil, for his part, wishes more large hotels would support such efforts -- and that more tourists know that they exist -- so that more people in his village (just 300 people) could find work here. (The
I can't think of many places that offer the chance to learn about an ancient culture and experience nature at its best. Before we jumped into the river, our small boat passed through two narrow canals just three feet deep -- one built by ancient Mayans to facilitate transportation between the inland Mayan cities and the ocean. We even stopped at an ancient Mayan military checkpoint.
Earlier, we'd toured the archaeological park in the jungle where some 50 ancient palaces and temples have been uncovered, though many remain just big piles of stones. My favorite is the one that is 60 feet high, home to a fertility goddess.
By the side of the lagoon, we ate a traditional Mayan lunch prepared by a local chef -- ceviche (the best I've ever had with shrimp, fish, mango and pineapple marinated in lime juice), avocado salad and panyuchos (fried tortillas with black beans, meat and cheese). We sipped wine and quizzed Antonio about life in his small village where they still speak the Mayan language. One of the challenges of growing the tourism business, he explains, is that locals must learn English.
We took a final dip in a Cenote -- a freshwater swimming hole that is part of the underground river system crisscrossing the peninsula -- as a local family played in the water.
Just as ancient families did long ago, I thought as I jumped in.
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