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Secret Spots in Cancun and the Riviera Maya Gallery

Secret Spots in Cancun and the Riviera Maya Gallery


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Beat the crowds and enjoy this Mexican region at its finest

Dreamstime

Secret Spots in Cancun and the Riviera Maya

Dreamstime

As a leading destination in the Caribbean, Cancun and the Riviera Maya may come off as far too laden with tourists. Though it is primarily known for its amazing beaches and rowdy party scene, this region on Mexico’s Yutacán Peninsula still has plenty left to discover and much to offer in the way of hidden gems.

For instance, the region is full of amazingly beautiful cenotes, or natural freshwater wells that can contain fantastic caves or caverns ripe for exploration. So when packing your bags, we strongly suggest you make sure you have some snorkeling or diving gear. You can also step away from the tequila and learn about Mexico’s fascinating and unique wildlife at its natural parks or its rich Mayan history and heritage at a national museum or archaeological site. Not far off the coast are some islands which may not be on your bucket list but are still gorgeous and worth a visit all the same. If you’re considering a visit to the beautiful city of Cancun and the stunning Riviera Maya nearby, these secret spots are a must-visit.

Chaak Tun

mundosemfim/istockphoto.com

Not far from Cancun in Playa del Carmen, you’ll find Cenote Chaak Tun, a gorgeous cenote that has three caverns and a large pool of water. Two of the caverns are perfect for snorkelers on account of their clear water. You’ll need a hard hat and a life jacket (included with the entrance fee), as well as snorkeling equipment and a wet suit. Enjoy the beautiful sight of stunningly huge stalactites hanging above you as you explore the cenote, which is even home to a few bats.

Chikin Ha

Another cenote in Playa del Carmen, Cenote Chikin Ha has an open-air cavern with beautifully clear water in which you can see coral, fish, stingrays, and turtles swimming alongside you. Go snorkeling or scuba diving to explore the surrounding caverns or try zip-lining into the freshwater basin. You can even witness a traditional Mayan ceremony here or picnic out in the wild.

Coba

Gim42/istockphoto.com

The ruins of the ancient city of Coba aren’t as popular as Chichen Itza, which is exactly why it’s a better place to explore the history and culture of the ancient Mayan civilization. You’re allowed to climb the 130 steps to the top of the ancient pyramid, and in addition to its fascinating structures, the site also has restaurants, a campsite, and a few hotels, as well as local craft shops.

Dos Ojos

istockphoto.com

“Dos ojos” means “two eyes” in Spanish, and Cenote Dos Ojos is so named because it is made up of two cenotes connected by a large cavern zone. Located north of Tulum and south of Playa del Carmen, these underwater caves feature beautifully clear water that stays around 77 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, with a maximum depth of 33 feet. You’ll find a few species of fish, as well as a couple kinds of freshwater shrimp, in the water as you go for a cavern dive, cave dive, or for some snorkeling.

Ek Balam

Located in the Nothern Maya lowlands about 35 miles northeast of the more famous Chichen Itza ruins, the ruins of Ek Balam are the remnants of what used to be the seat of a Mayan kingdom from the Preclassic until the Postclassic period, dating back to about 1200 B.C. The main temple is one of the largest uncovered structures on the peninsula, and you can climb the Acropolis pyramid to get a fantastic view of the area.

El Rey Ruins

Dreamstime

The ruins at El Rey Archaeological Zone in Cancun provide an amazing trip back in time to the ancient Mayan city of El Rey, which was at its height between A.D. 1250 and 1521. The largest archaeological site in Cancun, the complex contains 47 buildings, including a pyramid-shaped Mayan temple, and you can book a tour through your travel agent or your hotel, with many tours being available in multiple languages.

Half Moon Bay

Dreamstime

Located in the village of Akumal between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Half Moon Bay is a more secluded beach that’s great for kayaking and snorkeling. Witness the Riviera Maya’s diverse marine life: barracudas, turtles, small (and harmless) sharks, and all other kinds of fish.

Isla Blanca

istockphoto.com

Take a trip to Isla Blanca on a weekday, and you’ll enjoy a hidden beach with few to no people. Situated about 12.5 miles north of downtown Cancun, this beautiful beach is on a small peninsula and is known for fly-fishing and kiteboarding, with tours and lessons being given for both.

Isla Contoy

istockphoto.com

Just 30 miles north of Isla Mujeres, a popular destination for many people visiting Cancun, the small island of Isla Contoy is just over five miles long and has an area of a little over one square mile. A great spot to visit with beautiful white sand beaches, it’s an important nesting site for sea birds, but for humans, it’s exclusive; only 200 people are allowed on the island every day.

Isla Holbox

istockphoto.com

Just off the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Isla Holbox is an island northwest of Cancun free of cars and full of gorgeous beaches with amazing marine creatures such as whale sharks and sea turtles. You’ll also find all manner of exotic birds here in addition to flamingos and pelicans. The streets themselves are made of white sand, and because so few outsiders come to the island, it’s a relatively untouched paradise that’s also quite affordable.

Mercado 23

Everyone loves a good market, and Mercado 23 is one of the most popular in Cancun. The first market built in the city, this is a local hotspot full of produce, grains, crafts, and more. You’ll find plenty of things here that are both of good quality and inexpensive. Enjoy the best of the Yucatán Peninsula’s cuisine and immerse yourself in the traditional local culture.

Parque de las Palapas

Located in downtown Cancun, Parque de las Palapas is the main square of the city where locals gather to socialize among food vendors and entertainment such as live music shows and clowns. Get hold of some super-affordable and super-authentic Mexican street food and browse the stalls full of local arts and crafts.

Parque Natural Ria Lagartos

Located in Río Lagartos on the northern shore of the peninsula, Parque Natural Ria Lagartos is an amazing bird-watching destination that anyone will enjoy. You’ll find more flamingos than you’ve ever seen in your life, as well as plenty of other exotic birds — about half of Mexico’s 1,040 bird species — to photograph and marvel at on a guided boat tour, and you may potentially encounter crocodiles.

Punta Allen

Dreamstime

Punta Allen is a tiny fishing village located within the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve that’s just seven streets wide and has only a few blocks, with just one generator giving its people electricity from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then from 7 p.m. to midnight. It’s located on Ascension Bay, considered to be one of the best fishing spots in the world, and its stunning beach gives you the opportunity to swim, snorkel, or soak up the sun. Visit the lighthouse or the mangrove thickets, or even get in on some great birdwatching.

Río Secreto

Also in Playa del Carmen is Río Secreto, which literally means “secret river.” It’s the largest non-submerged cave in the Yucatán Peninsula. Explore the 600-meter underground river with a swim on a guided tour, exploring its many stalactites and stalagmites and amazingly magical spots.

Soliman Bay

Dreamstime

About 20 minutes north of Tulum, Soliman Bay is a truly hidden gem on the Riviera Maya, hidden by a wild mangrove forest. Its impressively pristine sand and gorgeously clear waters make for a stunning sight, and the latter is perfect for snorkeling and kayaking. You won’t find too many people on the shore with you, but you still won’t be too far from more popular attractions either.

Tankach-Ha

If you’re visiting the hidden gem that is Coba, you should also take time to visit CenoteTankach-Ha. You’ll have to go a few meters down a large, wooden spiral staircase to access the underground spot, but once you’re there, the beautiful clear water is a stunning sight and a great place for a swim.

Xpu Há

About 20 miles from Playa del Carmen and 60 miles from Cancun, Xpu Há is a small resort village with a stunningly pristine beach. With just two full-time inhabitants and one year-round occupied dwelling, it’s largely full of cabins, hotels, dive shops, and restaurants. Hit the beach for some nice seaside relaxation or explore Cenote Manati, one of the largest in the region, at the north of the bay.

Yal-Ku Lagoon

A nature preserve located right outside Akumal, Yal-Ku Lagoon is the perfect snorkeling destination. Its calm and clear blue waters allow you to see all kinds of tropical fish as well as beautiful limestone formations under the water. Sculptures have been placed throughout the grounds to make for an even more picturesque setting, and a snack bar is also available for when you get hungry.

Zacil-Ha

Margarita N./Yelp


It’s Close to Cancún, but Only in Miles

Playa del Carmen, Mexico — Forty miles down the Riviera Maya coast via Mexico 307, I was a world away from the relentless hubbub of Cancún, rolling along a narrow, winding flagstone road to the ocean through mangrove so thick that it blocked the sun in spots.

Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.

The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and climbing the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.

“It’s a few miles down the highway,” said Laura Zapata, president of the Riviera Maya branch of A.M.P.I., the Mexican association of real estate professionals. “But it’s a different universe.”

Certainly, that’s what Ara Der Sarkissian, 36, of Los Angeles, felt he was getting when two years ago he plopped down $1.3 million for a 1,500-square-foot beachfront condo at Rosewood Mayakoba, in the Mayakoba resort complex here being developed by OHL, a Spanish company. Mr. Sarkissian took a second mortgage on property he owns in Los Angeles, where he is a broker at his family’s real estate firm.

“It’s just that the beach was so beautiful,” he said, recalling that he fell in love with the place back in 2007, when he visited while on a cruise to nearby Cozumel. “This property can be anything you want to make of it — formal or laid-back.” Mr. Sarkissian said that because he stayed at the property only five to seven weeks out of the year — Rosewood leases it the remainder of the time — he has been able to pay off his loan and all fees to Rosewood and pocket a little profit most months.

Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007 — which is why Mr. Sarkissian said he thought his property was worth $2 million.

Mr. Sarkissian is one of about 10,000 Americans who are property owners here they constitute about 5 percent of the Riviera Maya’s total population of 235,000. The rest are an amalgam of Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Mexicans.

Mayakoba — a 1,600-acre development that will eventually feature 1,000 rooms and residences under the flags of Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Viceroy and Rosewood properties — has given the Riviera Maya a bit of a snooty reputation. But it is actually a demographically ecumenical place, one long mall of second-home possibilities that stretches from the lofty heights of Mayakoba to the more modest Playa del Carmen, where Paul Ilg, 75, and his wife, Geri, 69, of Clarkston, Mich., bought a home. The Ilgs decided to live half the year in what is Riviera’s fastest-growing beach town after Mr. Ilg’s retirement a decade ago from General Dynamics.

Though neither speaks much Spanish, plays golf or scuba dives, after a vacation here in 1999 they found a two-bedroom condo in the heart of town for $79,000, which they paid cash for by taking a second mortgage on their home in Michigan. They enjoy long walks along the town’s funky Fifth Avenue — 10 blocks of nonstop restaurants, cantinas, jewelry and T-shirt shops — and the “sweetness” of the town, despite the fact that its population has tripled in the time they’ve lived there. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Ilg estimates that his condo has appreciated to $180,000. (This kind of value is another reason that the American contingent here may be the only truly happy American homeowners I’ve spoken to lately.)

George Williams, a retired printing company owner from Seagoville, Tex., visited the region five years ago on a dive trip to Cozumel. He and his wife had always loved the beach life, and so he did some whimsical home hunting in Playa and bought a lot for $150,000 in one of its original gated communities. An airy, 4,000-square foot, $500,000 hacienda wasn’t far behind. “I wake up to the sounds of tropical birds,” he said. “We have our own iguana out back. That money’s in a better place than it could be. I’m a happy man.”

Mr. Williams’s neighborhood has the air of an established suburb in Southern California. But for a more bohemian feel — and prices — the town of Puerto Morelos, about 20 miles north of Playa del Carmen, is probably the ticket.

“You tell me where you can get beachfront anywhere else in the world for under $300,000,” said Amber Pierce-Schulz, a local real estate agent, after showing me a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot condominium on the water.

The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.

The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.

Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.

Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.

It’s hard to know if development on Cancún’s scale is inevitable, but if that happens, it most likely won’t be because of Ray Graham, 74, of Latrobe, Pa., who was relaxing at his hacienda near Bacalar — said by some to be the next Tulum. Insects swarmed through the air, and the humidity from the nearby lagoon made it difficult to breathe, giving the setting more an aura of the Mosquito Coast than any riviera.

But Mr. Graham and his wife, Reba, 70, had found what they wanted. “We like it out here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow and gazing at the jungle surrounding them. “It’s away from all that in Cancún. Away from everything.”


It’s Close to Cancún, but Only in Miles

Playa del Carmen, Mexico — Forty miles down the Riviera Maya coast via Mexico 307, I was a world away from the relentless hubbub of Cancún, rolling along a narrow, winding flagstone road to the ocean through mangrove so thick that it blocked the sun in spots.

Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.

The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and climbing the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.

“It’s a few miles down the highway,” said Laura Zapata, president of the Riviera Maya branch of A.M.P.I., the Mexican association of real estate professionals. “But it’s a different universe.”

Certainly, that’s what Ara Der Sarkissian, 36, of Los Angeles, felt he was getting when two years ago he plopped down $1.3 million for a 1,500-square-foot beachfront condo at Rosewood Mayakoba, in the Mayakoba resort complex here being developed by OHL, a Spanish company. Mr. Sarkissian took a second mortgage on property he owns in Los Angeles, where he is a broker at his family’s real estate firm.

“It’s just that the beach was so beautiful,” he said, recalling that he fell in love with the place back in 2007, when he visited while on a cruise to nearby Cozumel. “This property can be anything you want to make of it — formal or laid-back.” Mr. Sarkissian said that because he stayed at the property only five to seven weeks out of the year — Rosewood leases it the remainder of the time — he has been able to pay off his loan and all fees to Rosewood and pocket a little profit most months.

Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007 — which is why Mr. Sarkissian said he thought his property was worth $2 million.

Mr. Sarkissian is one of about 10,000 Americans who are property owners here they constitute about 5 percent of the Riviera Maya’s total population of 235,000. The rest are an amalgam of Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Mexicans.

Mayakoba — a 1,600-acre development that will eventually feature 1,000 rooms and residences under the flags of Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Viceroy and Rosewood properties — has given the Riviera Maya a bit of a snooty reputation. But it is actually a demographically ecumenical place, one long mall of second-home possibilities that stretches from the lofty heights of Mayakoba to the more modest Playa del Carmen, where Paul Ilg, 75, and his wife, Geri, 69, of Clarkston, Mich., bought a home. The Ilgs decided to live half the year in what is Riviera’s fastest-growing beach town after Mr. Ilg’s retirement a decade ago from General Dynamics.

Though neither speaks much Spanish, plays golf or scuba dives, after a vacation here in 1999 they found a two-bedroom condo in the heart of town for $79,000, which they paid cash for by taking a second mortgage on their home in Michigan. They enjoy long walks along the town’s funky Fifth Avenue — 10 blocks of nonstop restaurants, cantinas, jewelry and T-shirt shops — and the “sweetness” of the town, despite the fact that its population has tripled in the time they’ve lived there. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Ilg estimates that his condo has appreciated to $180,000. (This kind of value is another reason that the American contingent here may be the only truly happy American homeowners I’ve spoken to lately.)

George Williams, a retired printing company owner from Seagoville, Tex., visited the region five years ago on a dive trip to Cozumel. He and his wife had always loved the beach life, and so he did some whimsical home hunting in Playa and bought a lot for $150,000 in one of its original gated communities. An airy, 4,000-square foot, $500,000 hacienda wasn’t far behind. “I wake up to the sounds of tropical birds,” he said. “We have our own iguana out back. That money’s in a better place than it could be. I’m a happy man.”

Mr. Williams’s neighborhood has the air of an established suburb in Southern California. But for a more bohemian feel — and prices — the town of Puerto Morelos, about 20 miles north of Playa del Carmen, is probably the ticket.

“You tell me where you can get beachfront anywhere else in the world for under $300,000,” said Amber Pierce-Schulz, a local real estate agent, after showing me a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot condominium on the water.

The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.

The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.

Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.

Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.

It’s hard to know if development on Cancún’s scale is inevitable, but if that happens, it most likely won’t be because of Ray Graham, 74, of Latrobe, Pa., who was relaxing at his hacienda near Bacalar — said by some to be the next Tulum. Insects swarmed through the air, and the humidity from the nearby lagoon made it difficult to breathe, giving the setting more an aura of the Mosquito Coast than any riviera.

But Mr. Graham and his wife, Reba, 70, had found what they wanted. “We like it out here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow and gazing at the jungle surrounding them. “It’s away from all that in Cancún. Away from everything.”


It’s Close to Cancún, but Only in Miles

Playa del Carmen, Mexico — Forty miles down the Riviera Maya coast via Mexico 307, I was a world away from the relentless hubbub of Cancún, rolling along a narrow, winding flagstone road to the ocean through mangrove so thick that it blocked the sun in spots.

Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.

The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and climbing the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.

“It’s a few miles down the highway,” said Laura Zapata, president of the Riviera Maya branch of A.M.P.I., the Mexican association of real estate professionals. “But it’s a different universe.”

Certainly, that’s what Ara Der Sarkissian, 36, of Los Angeles, felt he was getting when two years ago he plopped down $1.3 million for a 1,500-square-foot beachfront condo at Rosewood Mayakoba, in the Mayakoba resort complex here being developed by OHL, a Spanish company. Mr. Sarkissian took a second mortgage on property he owns in Los Angeles, where he is a broker at his family’s real estate firm.

“It’s just that the beach was so beautiful,” he said, recalling that he fell in love with the place back in 2007, when he visited while on a cruise to nearby Cozumel. “This property can be anything you want to make of it — formal or laid-back.” Mr. Sarkissian said that because he stayed at the property only five to seven weeks out of the year — Rosewood leases it the remainder of the time — he has been able to pay off his loan and all fees to Rosewood and pocket a little profit most months.

Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007 — which is why Mr. Sarkissian said he thought his property was worth $2 million.

Mr. Sarkissian is one of about 10,000 Americans who are property owners here they constitute about 5 percent of the Riviera Maya’s total population of 235,000. The rest are an amalgam of Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Mexicans.

Mayakoba — a 1,600-acre development that will eventually feature 1,000 rooms and residences under the flags of Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Viceroy and Rosewood properties — has given the Riviera Maya a bit of a snooty reputation. But it is actually a demographically ecumenical place, one long mall of second-home possibilities that stretches from the lofty heights of Mayakoba to the more modest Playa del Carmen, where Paul Ilg, 75, and his wife, Geri, 69, of Clarkston, Mich., bought a home. The Ilgs decided to live half the year in what is Riviera’s fastest-growing beach town after Mr. Ilg’s retirement a decade ago from General Dynamics.

Though neither speaks much Spanish, plays golf or scuba dives, after a vacation here in 1999 they found a two-bedroom condo in the heart of town for $79,000, which they paid cash for by taking a second mortgage on their home in Michigan. They enjoy long walks along the town’s funky Fifth Avenue — 10 blocks of nonstop restaurants, cantinas, jewelry and T-shirt shops — and the “sweetness” of the town, despite the fact that its population has tripled in the time they’ve lived there. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Ilg estimates that his condo has appreciated to $180,000. (This kind of value is another reason that the American contingent here may be the only truly happy American homeowners I’ve spoken to lately.)

George Williams, a retired printing company owner from Seagoville, Tex., visited the region five years ago on a dive trip to Cozumel. He and his wife had always loved the beach life, and so he did some whimsical home hunting in Playa and bought a lot for $150,000 in one of its original gated communities. An airy, 4,000-square foot, $500,000 hacienda wasn’t far behind. “I wake up to the sounds of tropical birds,” he said. “We have our own iguana out back. That money’s in a better place than it could be. I’m a happy man.”

Mr. Williams’s neighborhood has the air of an established suburb in Southern California. But for a more bohemian feel — and prices — the town of Puerto Morelos, about 20 miles north of Playa del Carmen, is probably the ticket.

“You tell me where you can get beachfront anywhere else in the world for under $300,000,” said Amber Pierce-Schulz, a local real estate agent, after showing me a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot condominium on the water.

The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.

The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.

Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.

Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.

It’s hard to know if development on Cancún’s scale is inevitable, but if that happens, it most likely won’t be because of Ray Graham, 74, of Latrobe, Pa., who was relaxing at his hacienda near Bacalar — said by some to be the next Tulum. Insects swarmed through the air, and the humidity from the nearby lagoon made it difficult to breathe, giving the setting more an aura of the Mosquito Coast than any riviera.

But Mr. Graham and his wife, Reba, 70, had found what they wanted. “We like it out here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow and gazing at the jungle surrounding them. “It’s away from all that in Cancún. Away from everything.”


It’s Close to Cancún, but Only in Miles

Playa del Carmen, Mexico — Forty miles down the Riviera Maya coast via Mexico 307, I was a world away from the relentless hubbub of Cancún, rolling along a narrow, winding flagstone road to the ocean through mangrove so thick that it blocked the sun in spots.

Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.

The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and climbing the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.

“It’s a few miles down the highway,” said Laura Zapata, president of the Riviera Maya branch of A.M.P.I., the Mexican association of real estate professionals. “But it’s a different universe.”

Certainly, that’s what Ara Der Sarkissian, 36, of Los Angeles, felt he was getting when two years ago he plopped down $1.3 million for a 1,500-square-foot beachfront condo at Rosewood Mayakoba, in the Mayakoba resort complex here being developed by OHL, a Spanish company. Mr. Sarkissian took a second mortgage on property he owns in Los Angeles, where he is a broker at his family’s real estate firm.

“It’s just that the beach was so beautiful,” he said, recalling that he fell in love with the place back in 2007, when he visited while on a cruise to nearby Cozumel. “This property can be anything you want to make of it — formal or laid-back.” Mr. Sarkissian said that because he stayed at the property only five to seven weeks out of the year — Rosewood leases it the remainder of the time — he has been able to pay off his loan and all fees to Rosewood and pocket a little profit most months.

Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007 — which is why Mr. Sarkissian said he thought his property was worth $2 million.

Mr. Sarkissian is one of about 10,000 Americans who are property owners here they constitute about 5 percent of the Riviera Maya’s total population of 235,000. The rest are an amalgam of Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Mexicans.

Mayakoba — a 1,600-acre development that will eventually feature 1,000 rooms and residences under the flags of Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Viceroy and Rosewood properties — has given the Riviera Maya a bit of a snooty reputation. But it is actually a demographically ecumenical place, one long mall of second-home possibilities that stretches from the lofty heights of Mayakoba to the more modest Playa del Carmen, where Paul Ilg, 75, and his wife, Geri, 69, of Clarkston, Mich., bought a home. The Ilgs decided to live half the year in what is Riviera’s fastest-growing beach town after Mr. Ilg’s retirement a decade ago from General Dynamics.

Though neither speaks much Spanish, plays golf or scuba dives, after a vacation here in 1999 they found a two-bedroom condo in the heart of town for $79,000, which they paid cash for by taking a second mortgage on their home in Michigan. They enjoy long walks along the town’s funky Fifth Avenue — 10 blocks of nonstop restaurants, cantinas, jewelry and T-shirt shops — and the “sweetness” of the town, despite the fact that its population has tripled in the time they’ve lived there. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Ilg estimates that his condo has appreciated to $180,000. (This kind of value is another reason that the American contingent here may be the only truly happy American homeowners I’ve spoken to lately.)

George Williams, a retired printing company owner from Seagoville, Tex., visited the region five years ago on a dive trip to Cozumel. He and his wife had always loved the beach life, and so he did some whimsical home hunting in Playa and bought a lot for $150,000 in one of its original gated communities. An airy, 4,000-square foot, $500,000 hacienda wasn’t far behind. “I wake up to the sounds of tropical birds,” he said. “We have our own iguana out back. That money’s in a better place than it could be. I’m a happy man.”

Mr. Williams’s neighborhood has the air of an established suburb in Southern California. But for a more bohemian feel — and prices — the town of Puerto Morelos, about 20 miles north of Playa del Carmen, is probably the ticket.

“You tell me where you can get beachfront anywhere else in the world for under $300,000,” said Amber Pierce-Schulz, a local real estate agent, after showing me a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot condominium on the water.

The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.

The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.

Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.

Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.

It’s hard to know if development on Cancún’s scale is inevitable, but if that happens, it most likely won’t be because of Ray Graham, 74, of Latrobe, Pa., who was relaxing at his hacienda near Bacalar — said by some to be the next Tulum. Insects swarmed through the air, and the humidity from the nearby lagoon made it difficult to breathe, giving the setting more an aura of the Mosquito Coast than any riviera.

But Mr. Graham and his wife, Reba, 70, had found what they wanted. “We like it out here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow and gazing at the jungle surrounding them. “It’s away from all that in Cancún. Away from everything.”


It’s Close to Cancún, but Only in Miles

Playa del Carmen, Mexico — Forty miles down the Riviera Maya coast via Mexico 307, I was a world away from the relentless hubbub of Cancún, rolling along a narrow, winding flagstone road to the ocean through mangrove so thick that it blocked the sun in spots.

Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.

The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and climbing the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.

“It’s a few miles down the highway,” said Laura Zapata, president of the Riviera Maya branch of A.M.P.I., the Mexican association of real estate professionals. “But it’s a different universe.”

Certainly, that’s what Ara Der Sarkissian, 36, of Los Angeles, felt he was getting when two years ago he plopped down $1.3 million for a 1,500-square-foot beachfront condo at Rosewood Mayakoba, in the Mayakoba resort complex here being developed by OHL, a Spanish company. Mr. Sarkissian took a second mortgage on property he owns in Los Angeles, where he is a broker at his family’s real estate firm.

“It’s just that the beach was so beautiful,” he said, recalling that he fell in love with the place back in 2007, when he visited while on a cruise to nearby Cozumel. “This property can be anything you want to make of it — formal or laid-back.” Mr. Sarkissian said that because he stayed at the property only five to seven weeks out of the year — Rosewood leases it the remainder of the time — he has been able to pay off his loan and all fees to Rosewood and pocket a little profit most months.

Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007 — which is why Mr. Sarkissian said he thought his property was worth $2 million.

Mr. Sarkissian is one of about 10,000 Americans who are property owners here they constitute about 5 percent of the Riviera Maya’s total population of 235,000. The rest are an amalgam of Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Mexicans.

Mayakoba — a 1,600-acre development that will eventually feature 1,000 rooms and residences under the flags of Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Viceroy and Rosewood properties — has given the Riviera Maya a bit of a snooty reputation. But it is actually a demographically ecumenical place, one long mall of second-home possibilities that stretches from the lofty heights of Mayakoba to the more modest Playa del Carmen, where Paul Ilg, 75, and his wife, Geri, 69, of Clarkston, Mich., bought a home. The Ilgs decided to live half the year in what is Riviera’s fastest-growing beach town after Mr. Ilg’s retirement a decade ago from General Dynamics.

Though neither speaks much Spanish, plays golf or scuba dives, after a vacation here in 1999 they found a two-bedroom condo in the heart of town for $79,000, which they paid cash for by taking a second mortgage on their home in Michigan. They enjoy long walks along the town’s funky Fifth Avenue — 10 blocks of nonstop restaurants, cantinas, jewelry and T-shirt shops — and the “sweetness” of the town, despite the fact that its population has tripled in the time they’ve lived there. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Ilg estimates that his condo has appreciated to $180,000. (This kind of value is another reason that the American contingent here may be the only truly happy American homeowners I’ve spoken to lately.)

George Williams, a retired printing company owner from Seagoville, Tex., visited the region five years ago on a dive trip to Cozumel. He and his wife had always loved the beach life, and so he did some whimsical home hunting in Playa and bought a lot for $150,000 in one of its original gated communities. An airy, 4,000-square foot, $500,000 hacienda wasn’t far behind. “I wake up to the sounds of tropical birds,” he said. “We have our own iguana out back. That money’s in a better place than it could be. I’m a happy man.”

Mr. Williams’s neighborhood has the air of an established suburb in Southern California. But for a more bohemian feel — and prices — the town of Puerto Morelos, about 20 miles north of Playa del Carmen, is probably the ticket.

“You tell me where you can get beachfront anywhere else in the world for under $300,000,” said Amber Pierce-Schulz, a local real estate agent, after showing me a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot condominium on the water.

The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.

The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.

Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.

Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.

It’s hard to know if development on Cancún’s scale is inevitable, but if that happens, it most likely won’t be because of Ray Graham, 74, of Latrobe, Pa., who was relaxing at his hacienda near Bacalar — said by some to be the next Tulum. Insects swarmed through the air, and the humidity from the nearby lagoon made it difficult to breathe, giving the setting more an aura of the Mosquito Coast than any riviera.

But Mr. Graham and his wife, Reba, 70, had found what they wanted. “We like it out here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow and gazing at the jungle surrounding them. “It’s away from all that in Cancún. Away from everything.”


It’s Close to Cancún, but Only in Miles

Playa del Carmen, Mexico — Forty miles down the Riviera Maya coast via Mexico 307, I was a world away from the relentless hubbub of Cancún, rolling along a narrow, winding flagstone road to the ocean through mangrove so thick that it blocked the sun in spots.

Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.

The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and climbing the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.

“It’s a few miles down the highway,” said Laura Zapata, president of the Riviera Maya branch of A.M.P.I., the Mexican association of real estate professionals. “But it’s a different universe.”

Certainly, that’s what Ara Der Sarkissian, 36, of Los Angeles, felt he was getting when two years ago he plopped down $1.3 million for a 1,500-square-foot beachfront condo at Rosewood Mayakoba, in the Mayakoba resort complex here being developed by OHL, a Spanish company. Mr. Sarkissian took a second mortgage on property he owns in Los Angeles, where he is a broker at his family’s real estate firm.

“It’s just that the beach was so beautiful,” he said, recalling that he fell in love with the place back in 2007, when he visited while on a cruise to nearby Cozumel. “This property can be anything you want to make of it — formal or laid-back.” Mr. Sarkissian said that because he stayed at the property only five to seven weeks out of the year — Rosewood leases it the remainder of the time — he has been able to pay off his loan and all fees to Rosewood and pocket a little profit most months.

Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007 — which is why Mr. Sarkissian said he thought his property was worth $2 million.

Mr. Sarkissian is one of about 10,000 Americans who are property owners here they constitute about 5 percent of the Riviera Maya’s total population of 235,000. The rest are an amalgam of Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Mexicans.

Mayakoba — a 1,600-acre development that will eventually feature 1,000 rooms and residences under the flags of Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Viceroy and Rosewood properties — has given the Riviera Maya a bit of a snooty reputation. But it is actually a demographically ecumenical place, one long mall of second-home possibilities that stretches from the lofty heights of Mayakoba to the more modest Playa del Carmen, where Paul Ilg, 75, and his wife, Geri, 69, of Clarkston, Mich., bought a home. The Ilgs decided to live half the year in what is Riviera’s fastest-growing beach town after Mr. Ilg’s retirement a decade ago from General Dynamics.

Though neither speaks much Spanish, plays golf or scuba dives, after a vacation here in 1999 they found a two-bedroom condo in the heart of town for $79,000, which they paid cash for by taking a second mortgage on their home in Michigan. They enjoy long walks along the town’s funky Fifth Avenue — 10 blocks of nonstop restaurants, cantinas, jewelry and T-shirt shops — and the “sweetness” of the town, despite the fact that its population has tripled in the time they’ve lived there. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Ilg estimates that his condo has appreciated to $180,000. (This kind of value is another reason that the American contingent here may be the only truly happy American homeowners I’ve spoken to lately.)

George Williams, a retired printing company owner from Seagoville, Tex., visited the region five years ago on a dive trip to Cozumel. He and his wife had always loved the beach life, and so he did some whimsical home hunting in Playa and bought a lot for $150,000 in one of its original gated communities. An airy, 4,000-square foot, $500,000 hacienda wasn’t far behind. “I wake up to the sounds of tropical birds,” he said. “We have our own iguana out back. That money’s in a better place than it could be. I’m a happy man.”

Mr. Williams’s neighborhood has the air of an established suburb in Southern California. But for a more bohemian feel — and prices — the town of Puerto Morelos, about 20 miles north of Playa del Carmen, is probably the ticket.

“You tell me where you can get beachfront anywhere else in the world for under $300,000,” said Amber Pierce-Schulz, a local real estate agent, after showing me a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot condominium on the water.

The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.

The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.

Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.

Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.

It’s hard to know if development on Cancún’s scale is inevitable, but if that happens, it most likely won’t be because of Ray Graham, 74, of Latrobe, Pa., who was relaxing at his hacienda near Bacalar — said by some to be the next Tulum. Insects swarmed through the air, and the humidity from the nearby lagoon made it difficult to breathe, giving the setting more an aura of the Mosquito Coast than any riviera.

But Mr. Graham and his wife, Reba, 70, had found what they wanted. “We like it out here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow and gazing at the jungle surrounding them. “It’s away from all that in Cancún. Away from everything.”


It’s Close to Cancún, but Only in Miles

Playa del Carmen, Mexico — Forty miles down the Riviera Maya coast via Mexico 307, I was a world away from the relentless hubbub of Cancún, rolling along a narrow, winding flagstone road to the ocean through mangrove so thick that it blocked the sun in spots.

Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.

The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and climbing the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.

“It’s a few miles down the highway,” said Laura Zapata, president of the Riviera Maya branch of A.M.P.I., the Mexican association of real estate professionals. “But it’s a different universe.”

Certainly, that’s what Ara Der Sarkissian, 36, of Los Angeles, felt he was getting when two years ago he plopped down $1.3 million for a 1,500-square-foot beachfront condo at Rosewood Mayakoba, in the Mayakoba resort complex here being developed by OHL, a Spanish company. Mr. Sarkissian took a second mortgage on property he owns in Los Angeles, where he is a broker at his family’s real estate firm.

“It’s just that the beach was so beautiful,” he said, recalling that he fell in love with the place back in 2007, when he visited while on a cruise to nearby Cozumel. “This property can be anything you want to make of it — formal or laid-back.” Mr. Sarkissian said that because he stayed at the property only five to seven weeks out of the year — Rosewood leases it the remainder of the time — he has been able to pay off his loan and all fees to Rosewood and pocket a little profit most months.

Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007 — which is why Mr. Sarkissian said he thought his property was worth $2 million.

Mr. Sarkissian is one of about 10,000 Americans who are property owners here they constitute about 5 percent of the Riviera Maya’s total population of 235,000. The rest are an amalgam of Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Mexicans.

Mayakoba — a 1,600-acre development that will eventually feature 1,000 rooms and residences under the flags of Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Viceroy and Rosewood properties — has given the Riviera Maya a bit of a snooty reputation. But it is actually a demographically ecumenical place, one long mall of second-home possibilities that stretches from the lofty heights of Mayakoba to the more modest Playa del Carmen, where Paul Ilg, 75, and his wife, Geri, 69, of Clarkston, Mich., bought a home. The Ilgs decided to live half the year in what is Riviera’s fastest-growing beach town after Mr. Ilg’s retirement a decade ago from General Dynamics.

Though neither speaks much Spanish, plays golf or scuba dives, after a vacation here in 1999 they found a two-bedroom condo in the heart of town for $79,000, which they paid cash for by taking a second mortgage on their home in Michigan. They enjoy long walks along the town’s funky Fifth Avenue — 10 blocks of nonstop restaurants, cantinas, jewelry and T-shirt shops — and the “sweetness” of the town, despite the fact that its population has tripled in the time they’ve lived there. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Ilg estimates that his condo has appreciated to $180,000. (This kind of value is another reason that the American contingent here may be the only truly happy American homeowners I’ve spoken to lately.)

George Williams, a retired printing company owner from Seagoville, Tex., visited the region five years ago on a dive trip to Cozumel. He and his wife had always loved the beach life, and so he did some whimsical home hunting in Playa and bought a lot for $150,000 in one of its original gated communities. An airy, 4,000-square foot, $500,000 hacienda wasn’t far behind. “I wake up to the sounds of tropical birds,” he said. “We have our own iguana out back. That money’s in a better place than it could be. I’m a happy man.”

Mr. Williams’s neighborhood has the air of an established suburb in Southern California. But for a more bohemian feel — and prices — the town of Puerto Morelos, about 20 miles north of Playa del Carmen, is probably the ticket.

“You tell me where you can get beachfront anywhere else in the world for under $300,000,” said Amber Pierce-Schulz, a local real estate agent, after showing me a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot condominium on the water.

The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.

The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.

Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.

Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.

It’s hard to know if development on Cancún’s scale is inevitable, but if that happens, it most likely won’t be because of Ray Graham, 74, of Latrobe, Pa., who was relaxing at his hacienda near Bacalar — said by some to be the next Tulum. Insects swarmed through the air, and the humidity from the nearby lagoon made it difficult to breathe, giving the setting more an aura of the Mosquito Coast than any riviera.

But Mr. Graham and his wife, Reba, 70, had found what they wanted. “We like it out here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow and gazing at the jungle surrounding them. “It’s away from all that in Cancún. Away from everything.”


It’s Close to Cancún, but Only in Miles

Playa del Carmen, Mexico — Forty miles down the Riviera Maya coast via Mexico 307, I was a world away from the relentless hubbub of Cancún, rolling along a narrow, winding flagstone road to the ocean through mangrove so thick that it blocked the sun in spots.

Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.

The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and climbing the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.

“It’s a few miles down the highway,” said Laura Zapata, president of the Riviera Maya branch of A.M.P.I., the Mexican association of real estate professionals. “But it’s a different universe.”

Certainly, that’s what Ara Der Sarkissian, 36, of Los Angeles, felt he was getting when two years ago he plopped down $1.3 million for a 1,500-square-foot beachfront condo at Rosewood Mayakoba, in the Mayakoba resort complex here being developed by OHL, a Spanish company. Mr. Sarkissian took a second mortgage on property he owns in Los Angeles, where he is a broker at his family’s real estate firm.

“It’s just that the beach was so beautiful,” he said, recalling that he fell in love with the place back in 2007, when he visited while on a cruise to nearby Cozumel. “This property can be anything you want to make of it — formal or laid-back.” Mr. Sarkissian said that because he stayed at the property only five to seven weeks out of the year — Rosewood leases it the remainder of the time — he has been able to pay off his loan and all fees to Rosewood and pocket a little profit most months.

Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007 — which is why Mr. Sarkissian said he thought his property was worth $2 million.

Mr. Sarkissian is one of about 10,000 Americans who are property owners here they constitute about 5 percent of the Riviera Maya’s total population of 235,000. The rest are an amalgam of Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Mexicans.

Mayakoba — a 1,600-acre development that will eventually feature 1,000 rooms and residences under the flags of Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Viceroy and Rosewood properties — has given the Riviera Maya a bit of a snooty reputation. But it is actually a demographically ecumenical place, one long mall of second-home possibilities that stretches from the lofty heights of Mayakoba to the more modest Playa del Carmen, where Paul Ilg, 75, and his wife, Geri, 69, of Clarkston, Mich., bought a home. The Ilgs decided to live half the year in what is Riviera’s fastest-growing beach town after Mr. Ilg’s retirement a decade ago from General Dynamics.

Though neither speaks much Spanish, plays golf or scuba dives, after a vacation here in 1999 they found a two-bedroom condo in the heart of town for $79,000, which they paid cash for by taking a second mortgage on their home in Michigan. They enjoy long walks along the town’s funky Fifth Avenue — 10 blocks of nonstop restaurants, cantinas, jewelry and T-shirt shops — and the “sweetness” of the town, despite the fact that its population has tripled in the time they’ve lived there. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Ilg estimates that his condo has appreciated to $180,000. (This kind of value is another reason that the American contingent here may be the only truly happy American homeowners I’ve spoken to lately.)

George Williams, a retired printing company owner from Seagoville, Tex., visited the region five years ago on a dive trip to Cozumel. He and his wife had always loved the beach life, and so he did some whimsical home hunting in Playa and bought a lot for $150,000 in one of its original gated communities. An airy, 4,000-square foot, $500,000 hacienda wasn’t far behind. “I wake up to the sounds of tropical birds,” he said. “We have our own iguana out back. That money’s in a better place than it could be. I’m a happy man.”

Mr. Williams’s neighborhood has the air of an established suburb in Southern California. But for a more bohemian feel — and prices — the town of Puerto Morelos, about 20 miles north of Playa del Carmen, is probably the ticket.

“You tell me where you can get beachfront anywhere else in the world for under $300,000,” said Amber Pierce-Schulz, a local real estate agent, after showing me a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot condominium on the water.

The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.

The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.

Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.

Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.

It’s hard to know if development on Cancún’s scale is inevitable, but if that happens, it most likely won’t be because of Ray Graham, 74, of Latrobe, Pa., who was relaxing at his hacienda near Bacalar — said by some to be the next Tulum. Insects swarmed through the air, and the humidity from the nearby lagoon made it difficult to breathe, giving the setting more an aura of the Mosquito Coast than any riviera.

But Mr. Graham and his wife, Reba, 70, had found what they wanted. “We like it out here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow and gazing at the jungle surrounding them. “It’s away from all that in Cancún. Away from everything.”


It’s Close to Cancún, but Only in Miles

Playa del Carmen, Mexico — Forty miles down the Riviera Maya coast via Mexico 307, I was a world away from the relentless hubbub of Cancún, rolling along a narrow, winding flagstone road to the ocean through mangrove so thick that it blocked the sun in spots.

Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.

The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and climbing the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.

“It’s a few miles down the highway,” said Laura Zapata, president of the Riviera Maya branch of A.M.P.I., the Mexican association of real estate professionals. “But it’s a different universe.”

Certainly, that’s what Ara Der Sarkissian, 36, of Los Angeles, felt he was getting when two years ago he plopped down $1.3 million for a 1,500-square-foot beachfront condo at Rosewood Mayakoba, in the Mayakoba resort complex here being developed by OHL, a Spanish company. Mr. Sarkissian took a second mortgage on property he owns in Los Angeles, where he is a broker at his family’s real estate firm.

“It’s just that the beach was so beautiful,” he said, recalling that he fell in love with the place back in 2007, when he visited while on a cruise to nearby Cozumel. “This property can be anything you want to make of it — formal or laid-back.” Mr. Sarkissian said that because he stayed at the property only five to seven weeks out of the year — Rosewood leases it the remainder of the time — he has been able to pay off his loan and all fees to Rosewood and pocket a little profit most months.

Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007 — which is why Mr. Sarkissian said he thought his property was worth $2 million.

Mr. Sarkissian is one of about 10,000 Americans who are property owners here they constitute about 5 percent of the Riviera Maya’s total population of 235,000. The rest are an amalgam of Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Mexicans.

Mayakoba — a 1,600-acre development that will eventually feature 1,000 rooms and residences under the flags of Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Viceroy and Rosewood properties — has given the Riviera Maya a bit of a snooty reputation. But it is actually a demographically ecumenical place, one long mall of second-home possibilities that stretches from the lofty heights of Mayakoba to the more modest Playa del Carmen, where Paul Ilg, 75, and his wife, Geri, 69, of Clarkston, Mich., bought a home. The Ilgs decided to live half the year in what is Riviera’s fastest-growing beach town after Mr. Ilg’s retirement a decade ago from General Dynamics.

Though neither speaks much Spanish, plays golf or scuba dives, after a vacation here in 1999 they found a two-bedroom condo in the heart of town for $79,000, which they paid cash for by taking a second mortgage on their home in Michigan. They enjoy long walks along the town’s funky Fifth Avenue — 10 blocks of nonstop restaurants, cantinas, jewelry and T-shirt shops — and the “sweetness” of the town, despite the fact that its population has tripled in the time they’ve lived there. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Ilg estimates that his condo has appreciated to $180,000. (This kind of value is another reason that the American contingent here may be the only truly happy American homeowners I’ve spoken to lately.)

George Williams, a retired printing company owner from Seagoville, Tex., visited the region five years ago on a dive trip to Cozumel. He and his wife had always loved the beach life, and so he did some whimsical home hunting in Playa and bought a lot for $150,000 in one of its original gated communities. An airy, 4,000-square foot, $500,000 hacienda wasn’t far behind. “I wake up to the sounds of tropical birds,” he said. “We have our own iguana out back. That money’s in a better place than it could be. I’m a happy man.”

Mr. Williams’s neighborhood has the air of an established suburb in Southern California. But for a more bohemian feel — and prices — the town of Puerto Morelos, about 20 miles north of Playa del Carmen, is probably the ticket.

“You tell me where you can get beachfront anywhere else in the world for under $300,000,” said Amber Pierce-Schulz, a local real estate agent, after showing me a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot condominium on the water.

The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.

The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.

Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.

Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.

It’s hard to know if development on Cancún’s scale is inevitable, but if that happens, it most likely won’t be because of Ray Graham, 74, of Latrobe, Pa., who was relaxing at his hacienda near Bacalar — said by some to be the next Tulum. Insects swarmed through the air, and the humidity from the nearby lagoon made it difficult to breathe, giving the setting more an aura of the Mosquito Coast than any riviera.

But Mr. Graham and his wife, Reba, 70, had found what they wanted. “We like it out here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow and gazing at the jungle surrounding them. “It’s away from all that in Cancún. Away from everything.”


It’s Close to Cancún, but Only in Miles

Playa del Carmen, Mexico — Forty miles down the Riviera Maya coast via Mexico 307, I was a world away from the relentless hubbub of Cancún, rolling along a narrow, winding flagstone road to the ocean through mangrove so thick that it blocked the sun in spots.

Over the last 15 years, as Cancún’s growth has begun to max out, vacationers and retirees have looked to the Riviera Maya, the 100-mile stretch of blue-green Caribbean and bleached white sand that stretches south to Tulum. There are now a total of 35,000 hotel rooms, condominiums and timeshares on a coast that not long ago was largely fishing villages backed by scrubland and verdant jungle.

The result is a kind of anti-Cancún. That resort town, Mexico’s most famous, is all about the vertical, the high density, the buzz and the next margarita. The Riviera, though, is about the horizontal (resorts can’t be more than four stories), low density (developers can build on only 5 percent of their land), environmental sustainability, diving the world’s second-longest barrier reef (after the Great Barrier in Australia) and climbing the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba.

“It’s a few miles down the highway,” said Laura Zapata, president of the Riviera Maya branch of A.M.P.I., the Mexican association of real estate professionals. “But it’s a different universe.”

Certainly, that’s what Ara Der Sarkissian, 36, of Los Angeles, felt he was getting when two years ago he plopped down $1.3 million for a 1,500-square-foot beachfront condo at Rosewood Mayakoba, in the Mayakoba resort complex here being developed by OHL, a Spanish company. Mr. Sarkissian took a second mortgage on property he owns in Los Angeles, where he is a broker at his family’s real estate firm.

“It’s just that the beach was so beautiful,” he said, recalling that he fell in love with the place back in 2007, when he visited while on a cruise to nearby Cozumel. “This property can be anything you want to make of it — formal or laid-back.” Mr. Sarkissian said that because he stayed at the property only five to seven weeks out of the year — Rosewood leases it the remainder of the time — he has been able to pay off his loan and all fees to Rosewood and pocket a little profit most months.

Mexican economic growth forecasters expect the Riviera Maya to experience a 15 to 20 percent decline in sales of such seven-figure-and-up properties, like Banyan Tree’s villas, and so appreciation of existing properties may slow as well. But it will be decelerating from a growth of 19.5 percent in 2007 — which is why Mr. Sarkissian said he thought his property was worth $2 million.

Mr. Sarkissian is one of about 10,000 Americans who are property owners here they constitute about 5 percent of the Riviera Maya’s total population of 235,000. The rest are an amalgam of Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Mexicans.

Mayakoba — a 1,600-acre development that will eventually feature 1,000 rooms and residences under the flags of Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Viceroy and Rosewood properties — has given the Riviera Maya a bit of a snooty reputation. But it is actually a demographically ecumenical place, one long mall of second-home possibilities that stretches from the lofty heights of Mayakoba to the more modest Playa del Carmen, where Paul Ilg, 75, and his wife, Geri, 69, of Clarkston, Mich., bought a home. The Ilgs decided to live half the year in what is Riviera’s fastest-growing beach town after Mr. Ilg’s retirement a decade ago from General Dynamics.

Though neither speaks much Spanish, plays golf or scuba dives, after a vacation here in 1999 they found a two-bedroom condo in the heart of town for $79,000, which they paid cash for by taking a second mortgage on their home in Michigan. They enjoy long walks along the town’s funky Fifth Avenue — 10 blocks of nonstop restaurants, cantinas, jewelry and T-shirt shops — and the “sweetness” of the town, despite the fact that its population has tripled in the time they’ve lived there. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Ilg estimates that his condo has appreciated to $180,000. (This kind of value is another reason that the American contingent here may be the only truly happy American homeowners I’ve spoken to lately.)

George Williams, a retired printing company owner from Seagoville, Tex., visited the region five years ago on a dive trip to Cozumel. He and his wife had always loved the beach life, and so he did some whimsical home hunting in Playa and bought a lot for $150,000 in one of its original gated communities. An airy, 4,000-square foot, $500,000 hacienda wasn’t far behind. “I wake up to the sounds of tropical birds,” he said. “We have our own iguana out back. That money’s in a better place than it could be. I’m a happy man.”

Mr. Williams’s neighborhood has the air of an established suburb in Southern California. But for a more bohemian feel — and prices — the town of Puerto Morelos, about 20 miles north of Playa del Carmen, is probably the ticket.

“You tell me where you can get beachfront anywhere else in the world for under $300,000,” said Amber Pierce-Schulz, a local real estate agent, after showing me a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot condominium on the water.

The newest boomtown is Tulum, where the main draw is the ruins of a Mayan seaport. The Riviera can keep propagating fresh generations of condos and villas in a wide range of niches because of that endless beach — development theoretically can extend another 50 miles south of Tulum, with the exception of lands protected by an ecological reserve, to the border with Belize. But the real secret to its success may have more to do with Cancún and less to do with that vast coastline.

The Riviera Maya may pose as an anti-Cancún, but it benefits a great deal from the Mexican government’s emphasis on public safety and quality health care in and around its most valuable resort town. Though Mexico’s nationalized health care system ranks 61st out of 190 systems rated in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 — the last time the group did the survey — care there can cost less than half what it does in the United States, which was ranked 37th in the same survey.

Public safety in Mexico is difficult to make sweeping assurances about these days. But most of the drug cartel violence that has received so much publicity has usually occurred in the nation’s border towns.

Ultimately, a bigger problem for the Riviera Maya may be continuing to live up to its promise of delivering beauty without the excesses of Cancún. A drive through Tulum revealed the good news that, on the beach side, developments are adhering to low-rise, low-density dictates but also the bad news that, on the inland side, where developments of “shoe box” housing are serving buyers seeking less expensive homes, the beginnings of a backslide can be seen.

It’s hard to know if development on Cancún’s scale is inevitable, but if that happens, it most likely won’t be because of Ray Graham, 74, of Latrobe, Pa., who was relaxing at his hacienda near Bacalar — said by some to be the next Tulum. Insects swarmed through the air, and the humidity from the nearby lagoon made it difficult to breathe, giving the setting more an aura of the Mosquito Coast than any riviera.

But Mr. Graham and his wife, Reba, 70, had found what they wanted. “We like it out here,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow and gazing at the jungle surrounding them. “It’s away from all that in Cancún. Away from everything.”


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Comments:

  1. Molloy

    Probably there

  2. Alhmanic

    I apologise, but, in my opinion, you commit an error. Let's discuss. Write to me in PM, we will communicate.

  3. Rushkin

    Shtoto is interesting news. So I thought about it too



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