The magnificent Riviera Maya is located on top of a mysterious underground river in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, in between the high-rise glamour of Cancun and the historic Mayan ruins of Tulum. It was a scattering of peaceful fishing towns dotting the Caribbean coast only a few years ago. Today, it has come to life as a popular worldwide vacation spot for sunbathers, adventurers, naturalists, and divers.
The area has 75 miles (120 km) of white sand beaches and the second-largest barrier reef system in the world, starting 18 miles (29 km) south of the Cancun International Airport and stretching south to Punta Allen. Many of Mexico’s most important archaeological sites can be found there; these places were formerly inhabited by the enigmatic and illustrious Mayan people.
The Maya civilization, which had its beginnings in the Yucatan approximately 2600 B.C., is likely the most well-known of Mesoamerica’s ancient civilizations. The Mayan empire, which originally included Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in what is now southern Mexico. Without the use of metal tools or beasts of burden, the Maya developed an advanced civilization and built intricate ceremonial structures including temple pyramids, palaces, and observatories. Along with their remarkable achievements on Earth, the Maya also turned their attention to the sky, keeping tabs on heavenly motions and the passage of time to build sophisticated calendars, including calculating the solar year to be 365.242 days. Even today, academics still wonder about their hieroglyphic language.
The Maya, who sought direction from the skies, established a hierarchical form of administration around 300 B.C. The Maya sacrificed ritual animals and waged war to appease the gods, who were responsible for their abundant grain harvest.
It is believed that the Maya invented Pok-ta-pok, an early form of basketball. A sizable stone amphitheater served as the venue for the game. On a rectangular pitch, there were two competing teams. It seems that the goal of the game was to hurl a natural rubber ball through a vertical stone hoop that was placed around 20 feet (6 meters) above the ground. There was heated competition because the losing squad frequently became a sacrifice to the gods. (According to some academics, the winning team was the one that was sacrificed. Whichever version is true, there was no doubt that the game might cause a player to “lose his head.”)
For several centuries, the Maya suffered from poor harvests and strife between city-states before inexplicably disappearing from view about the year 900. By the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the late 16th century, their once magnificent temples and palaces had begun to fall into disrepair and were completely engulfed in a dense jungle growth. The area was under Spanish rule for 300 years.
About 6 million people now are descended from the Mayans, making them the biggest group of indigenous peoples living north of Peru. Some Maya people today still work as farmers and craftspeople, just like their predecessors did centuries ago. The Riviera Maya region still has a significant Mayan population.
The difficulty of preserving the region’s priceless natural resources has grown along with the Riviera Maya’s development. Government representatives, hoteliers and tourism business owners, academics, and members of the maritime community all collaborate to create and carry out environmentally responsible development plans.
With moorings established at well-liked dive locations, its waters are preserved as marine reserves. The majority of dive shops are affiliated with the Riviera Maya Association of Dive and Watersport Operators (APSA), which reminds divers to maintain proper buoyancy and refrain from contacting the reef. Additionally, recent government initiatives to protect cenotes will soon be in force.
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, one of Mexico’s largest protected regions and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located fifteen miles south of Tulum. “Where the sky was born” is the meaning of its name. All of the Yucatan peninsula’s ecosystems, including dry and wet forests, beaches, dunes, mangroves, swamps, grasslands, hardwoods, hammocks, freshwater and saltwater lagoons, and a 62-mile (99-km) length of the Great Maya reef, are represented in the park. The abundance of nature can be enjoyed by visitors without any Disney-style frills or T-shirt shops.
It is simple to understand why the Riviera Maya is a top holiday spot for divers and tourists from all over the world with its stunning reefs and fascinating cenotes, historical ruins, and a wealth of natural resources. It will continue to be a popular spot to visit year after year with an eye toward preservation.
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