Among scuba divers, the Riviera Maya that part of Mexico that stretches from Punta Bete in the state of Quintana Roo all the way down to the border with Belize in the south has long been known for cenotes and cave diving. The reputation is well deserved; the Nohoch Na Chich cave system, in the heart of the Riviera Maya, is arguably Mexico's most spectacular cave, with stalactites, stalagmites and flowstone galore, and Nohoch is also one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world.
But to concentrate exclusively on the Mayan Riviera's cenotes is to ignore entirely the area's most obvious asset the beautiful and often wild Caribbean coastline, and the 600 miles of the Great Maya Reef (a barrier reef that extends all the way south past Belize and Guatemala to Honduras).
The Riviera Maya's coastal waters offer diveskin or rashie-friendly temperatures, spectacular blue water with Caribbean-quality visibility, and all the coral-encrusted, turtle-populated, tropical-variety diversity you could yearn for, served up with beautiful white-sand beaches that, in many cases, are still wild and deserted.
Not that you'll be the first one here. In Tulum, you'll find Mayan ruins in an amazingly beautiful seaside setting, and evidence of the area's earlier civilization is everywhere, from carved stelae standing in the middle of the jungle to the ancient names that some of the area's towns still bear.
And yes, when it comes to sheer natural beauty, the Riviera Maya is still the cenote- and cave-diving capital of the known universe. Open-water and cavern divers can experience water so clear that diving in literally like finning and floating in air: an experience that some have compared to flying in water. For those who adventurous enough to be cave certified or those who come here for world-class training the more than 70 cave systems of the Riviera Maya offer mile after mile of amazing passage, most in learner-friendly, low-flow environments. For those who want to walk the cutting edge, new passage is being mapped and explored every day, much of it by certified Full Cave divers who are volunteering vacation time.
But whether you're kicking long with the turtles on the reefs, taking in the stupefying clarity in the cenotes or just walking on the sort of beach that screams "postcard," it's easy to understand why the ancient Mayans considered this coast the garden center of the universe. A visit to the Riviera Maya definitely takes beauty to the spiritual level.