Few places in the world have developed as quickly as Mexico’s Riviera Maya, an 80-mile stretch of Yucatan Peninsula coastline running from just south of Cancun to Tulum.
The reasons? Easy flight connections from most of the USA and attractions found nowhere else, including more than 70 miles of beaches, the world’s second-longest barrier reef, golf courses by top designers, world-class diving, adventure activities from canopy zip lines to horseback jungle tours, several eco-culture theme parks, and more than a dozen Maya ruin sites.
Much of the Riviera Maya has been transformed into vast all-inclusive resorts and gated residential developments. But there is only one major town in this corridor, Playa del Carmen, located halfway down the coast. While Playa del Carmen has grown quickly, it still offers the authentic Mexican culture and beach-bum flair that first attracted adventurous Americans before the Mexican government decided to develop the region.
“It’s hard to imagine that this bustling, vibrant spot was a quiet little town with beach shacks when I arrived,” says an ex-New Yorker who came on vacation 17 years ago and never left.
Buyers drawn here today crave the organic vitality of an actual town rather than a gated community, complete with an array of restaurants, shops, bars and nightlife, mostly laid out along pedestrian-only Fifth Avenue. Most second homes in Playa del Carmen are condos, and nothing in town is far from the main street or the broad beach. It is also the port for the frequent 35-minute ferry ride to the offshore island of Cozumel.
Eight miles away, Cozumel is a world unto itself, famed for some of the best drift diving on Earth and popular with scuba divers and escapists for half a century. “We’ve always been a second-home destination, especially for Americans and Canadians,” says Ruth White. One of the Caribbean’s most popular cruise ports.