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Maya Riviera: Introduction

Perhaps I should go on about how the Riviera Maya has "endless stretches of pristine beaches of soft white sand gently caressed by the turquoise-blue waters of the Caribbean," yadda, yadda, yadda . . . but my bet is that you've already heard it. You've seen the ads, the brochures, and the articles in the Sunday travel section. So I'll spare you the purple prose and get right to the things you'll need to know.

The Yucatȥn's Caribbean coast is 380km (236 miles) long, stretching from Cancɐn all the way to Chetumal, at the border with Belize. The northern half of the coast has been dubbed the "Riviera Maya"; the southern half, the "Costa Maya." In between is the large Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

A long reef system, the second longest in the world, protects most of the shore. Where there are gaps in the reef -- Playa del Carmen, Xpu-Ha, and Tulum -- you find good beaches. The action of the surf washes away silt and sea grass and erodes rocks, leaving a sandy bottom. Where the reef is prominent, you get good snorkeling and diving with lots of fish and other sea creatures. Here mangrove often occupies the shoreline; the beaches are usually sandy up to the water's edge, but shallow, with a silty or rocky floor.

Inland you'll find jungle, caverns, the famous cenotes (natural wells leading to underwater rivers), and the even more famous ruins of the Maya. Activities abound.

So do lodging options. On this coast you can stay in a variety of communities or distance yourself from all of them. There's just about every choice you can think of: rustic cabins, secluded spa resorts, boutique hotels, B&Bs, all-inclusive megaresorts, whatever you want. With so many options, you need to make some decisions. I hope that this guide will help.

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