The name "Riviera Maya" is slightly deceptive: it derives from the modern connotation of the word "riviera," which can refer to almost any popular tourist coastline. The title has little to do with the Spanish translation of "riviera," as no freshwater rivers actually flow above ground through the area's tropical jungles. Below sea level, however, lay thousands of cenotes—collapsed limestone caves that feature a network of freshwater rivers and underground lakes. The cenotes are a natural playground for scuba divers and snorkelers, as is the nearby Great Mayan Reef—one of the longest barrier reefs in the world. The luxurious Azul Fives Hotel resides between a natural cenote and the Caribbean Sea, as well as just 10 minutes from the bustling nightlife of Playa del Carmen.
Outdoor pools overlook the sea, and swim-up bars serve up tropical cocktails along the hotel's palm-fringed grounds, a haven for relaxation. During a holistic couples massage at the 15,000-square-foot Vassa Spa, vacationers can soothe sore muscles after a day spent scuba diving or arm-wrestling octopi. Balmy breezes waft in from a private terrace or balcony within the posh guest rooms, where ivory-flecked décor nods to the picturesque seascape.
For a romantic dinner, guests can settle into gauzy beachside cabanas with a bottle of wine. The hotel also caters to families with its Azulitos Kid's Club—a whimsical playroom and gym filled with Fisher-Price toys, a trampoline, and hands-on arts and crafts.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico: Popular White-Sand Beaches and Energetic Nightlife
Situated on Mexico's southeastern tip just below Cancun are Playa del Carmen's white-sand beaches, which stretch along the Caribbean Sea. Once part of a quiet fishing town, the beaches now welcome thousands of tourists year-round, with average temperatures hovering near 80 degrees. Crystal-clear waters make it easy for scuba divers and snorkelers of all levels to take the plunge into underground cenotes or the Great Mayan Reef, which is a hangout for turtles, lobsters, and whale sharks. Playa del Carmen's downtown buzzes with restaurants that serve a variety of ethnic cuisines, and upscale retail stores stay open late along 5th Avenue. Street dancers move to the upbeat rhythm of live music and anyone nearby operating a jackhammer.