Kept hidden from the public until 2007 and strictly adhering to its sustainable tourism model, the evocatively named Rio Secreto, or “Secret River,” is deserved of its reputation as the best kept secret of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. A dramatic series of caves carved out by the flow of an ancient underground river, the Rio Secreto is most famous for its large half-sunken cavern, one of few in the world that is accessible to non-professional divers.
Venturing underground, visitors can explore the eerie passageways that once formed part of the mysterious, yet much talked about Mayan underworld; swim in the fabled underground river; and admire the unique natural caves, dripping with stalactites, stalagmites and strikingly colored mineral formations.
The ancient Mayans believed hidden cenotes were sacred portals to the underworld. Given the dark, eerie surroundings and stalactites dripping from above, it’s easy to see how these subterranean caves inspired the paranormal awe. At Cenote Chaak Tun outside Playa del Carmen, venture inside an enormous cave where early Mayans once roamed, and splash in the cool, almost secret waters that are hidden back in the forest. Unlike some of the larger cenotes on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cenote Chaak Tun is still relatively unknown and has half the amount of crowds. Follow the beam of your powerful headlamp into the twisting cave, where the faint squeaks of bats on the ceiling add to the spooky soundtrack. Cool off in the refreshing waters that twist their way through the cave, and hear traditional Mayan tales of the legends, myths, and sacred beliefs towards this mysterious and powerful place.
It’s hard to miss Fifth Avenue (Quinta Avenida) in Playa del Carmen as it is the city’s main street running through the downtown area. Fifth Avenue stretches parallel to the ocean and serves as both a street for cars and a pedestrian walkway for visitors exploring the city. Fifth Avenue is a popular place to rest your head while in Playa del Carmen as the hotels on the street boast an ideal location that provides easy access to the beach as well as being easy walking distance to shops, clubs and restaurants. The shops that line Fifth Avenue are aplenty and visitors can find local artisan crafts, clothing and other fashion accessories, fine jewelry and cigar shops (you can find Cubans here). It’s also not uncommon to see street performers entertaining the masses on Fifth Avenue.
Think you have to fly all the way to Australia to experience one of the world’s great reefs? Think again. Off the shore of the Riviera Maya region of Mexico is a portion of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the western hemisphere and the second largest reef in the world. It is also commonly referred to as the Great Mayan Reef or Great Maya Reef. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef stretches from Mexico all the way down to Honduras and though it’s half the length of the Great Barrier Reef (the world’s largest), that doesn’t take away from its beauty and it’s a must-see while visiting the Riviera Maya if you love the ocean. For visitors to the Riviera Maya, which includes popular resort cities like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, you can easily arrange a snorkel or scuba diving excursion to experience the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. You’ll have the chance to see the colorful, live reef and the many sea creatures living among it, including tropical fish and sea turtles.