The blue of the Caribbean Sea along Mexico's Mayan Riviera is about as brilliant as I've ever seen it. The sun is scorching hot, and the music of the wind sifting through the palms is lulling me to sleep. All I want to do at my lovely hotel, Barcelo Maya, is lay back in one of those hammocks by the beach with a book and simply check out ... it's April 2011, and in Toronto at least, it has been a very long winter.
"C'mon Mom! Let's go!"
I'm snapped out of my reverie by my son's shouting. He's eight, feisty, fearless and perpetually energetic. I've promised him a weekend of Mexican-style, swashbuckling adventure and he's keen to get to it. So here goes:
Mayan Adventure No. 1 - Swimming with dolphins
Minutes from our hotel is Dolphin Discovery at Puerto Aventuras, a lagoon facility that is home to a cacophony of dolphins, manatees and sea lions. The action here is run with military precision by a team of trainers schooled in how to safely introduce the public (aged one to 81) to sea animals. We're kissed, hugged, sung to, and dragged by a pod of playful dolphins -- all for the price of a fish or three, which are constantly dropped in their smiling mouths by those precision-happy trainers. I'm squeamish about the resulting dolphin scat floating in the water, but my son doesn't even notice. He climbs out of the lagoon declaring that was his "best swim ever!" See dolphindiscovery.com.
Mayan Adventure No. 2 - Archeological discovery
Our next quest is to discover Tulum, an ancient (800 AD) Mayan city that is stone-walled-in on three sides, with the fourth facing a cliff that falls into the Caribbean. Tulum is called "Zama" (dawn) by the Maya due to its extraordinarily beautiful views (hermoso panorama) of the rising sun. It has a fortified surrounding wall, an ancient castle (el castillo), a number of tombs, and a perfect little beach, where the Spanish first landed in the 1500s. Our hot (hot, hot) Tulum tour seems mostly lost on my eight-year-old, who instead brandishes an empty plastic pop bottle as a sword and engages another boy in battle. But in the ensuing months he mentions Tulum often, so something must have stuck: "Mom, remember that fort place we went to? Where did they go to the bathroom?" See experienciasxcaret.com.
Mayan Adventure No.3 - Finding a hidden world
Topping an eight-year-old's list of awesome Mexican adventures would have to be Hidden Worlds, a rustic, deep-jungle Mayan adventure that includes zip lines roller coasters, snorkelling in the dark and sky-cycling. It starts with an Indiana-Jones-like ride in a Jungle Buggy that is the craziest, bumpiest, most hilarious adventure I've ever experienced -- and it's not even an attraction, it's just the way you get to Hidden Worlds' base camp!
Next comes riding a bizarre bike on a line strung up in the trees -- think zip-lining, only on a bike. Then comes a whiz on the Splashdown Zipline, which drops you with a whoosh into a cave of water. The Avatar that follows can only be described as a zip-line roller coaster through the jungle, with twists and turns and loads of speed -- in short, a mother's nightmare and an eight-year-old's "best ride ever!"
The adventure finishes with a snorkel in the dark through a cave of bats and cenotes. Yes, it is fascinating, but it's been six months since and this 40-year-old mom still isn't over those bats. See hiddenworlds.com.
Mayan Adventure No.4 - Exploring Xplor
Our final and undoubtedly most slick Mayan adventure is our visit to Xplor, a fantastically huge, clean and cool amusement park plunk in the midst of the Mexican jungle. Xplor has so much adventure it's hard to experience it all in a single day. There is a zip-line system extended for 4.4-km above the Mayan canopy, which includes water landings, a slide and two suspension bridges. There's an underground river raft system in which you paddle your own boat past stalactites and stalagmites. And there is an outdoor jungle track where you drive your own amphibious jeep.
"Faster, mom, faster! No one can pass us!" So much for that sleep in the hammock by the beach. See xplor.travel.
IF YOU GO TO MEXICO
Where to Stay
Barcelo Maya has five interconnected, waterfront hotels situated along Riviera Maya, an 80-minute drive from Cancun International Airport and within about 30 minutes of all mentioned attractions. All-inclusive stays are offered through Air Canada Vacations. See barcelo.com.