Riviera Maya Activities
To the right side of the entrance to the Cancún Convention Center is the Museo Arqueológico de Cancún (tel. 998/883-0305), a small but interesting museum with relics from archaeological sites around the state. Admission is $3; free on Sunday and holidays. It's open Tuesday through Friday from 9am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 7pm.
Another cultural enclave is the Museo de Arte Popular Mexicano (tel. 998/849-4848), located at on the second floor of the El Embarcadero Marina, Bulevar Kukulkán Km 4. It displays a representative collection of masks, regional folkloric costumes, nativity scenes, religious artifacts, musical instruments, Mexican toys, and gourd art; spread over 1,370 sq. m (4,500 sq. ft.) of exhibition space. Admission is $10, with kids under 12 paying half price. The museum is open daily from 11am to 11 pm.
Cancún has a small bullring, Plaza de Toros (tel. 998/884-8372; firstname.lastname@example.org), near the northern (town) end of Bulevar Kukulkán opposite the Restaurant Los Almendros. Bullfights take place every Wednesday at 3:30pm during the winter tourist season. A sport introduced to Mexico by the Spanish viceroys, bullfighting is now as much a part of Mexican culture as tequila. The bullfights usually include four bulls, and the spectacle begins with a folkloric dance exhibition, followed by a performance by the charros (Mexico's sombrero-wearing cowboys). You're not likely to see Mexico's best bullfights in Cancún - the real stars are in Mexico City. Keep in mind that if you go to a bullfight, you're going to see a bullfight, so stay away if you're an animal lover or you can't bear the sight of blood. Travel agencies in Cancún sell tickets, which cost $35 for adults, free for children under 6; seating is by general admission. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa are accepted.
Get the best possible view of Cancún atop the La Torre Cancún, Bulevar Kukulkán Km 4 (tel. 998/849-4848), and a rotating tower at the El Embarcadero park and entertainment complex. One ride costs $9; a day and night pass goes for $14. Open daily from 9am to 11pm.
Tulum -- A popular excursion combines a visit to the ruins at Tulum with the ecological water park Xel-Ha. Ancient Tulum is a stunning site, and my personal favorite of all the ruins. A wall surrounds the site on three sides, which explains the name (tulum means fence, trench, or wall). Its ancient name is believed to have been Záma, a derivative of the Maya word for "morning" or "dawn," and sunrise at Tulum is certainly dramatic. The wall is believed to have been constructed after the original buildings, to protect the interior religious altars from a growing number of invaders. It is considered to have been principally a place of worship, but members of the upper classes later took up residence here. Between the two most dramatic structures - the Castle and the Temple of the Wind - lies Tulum Cove. A small inlet with a beach of fine, white sand, it was a point of departure for Maya trading vessels in ancient times. Today it's a playground for tourists, and you can enjoy a refreshing swim. Admission to the site without a tour is $3.50 (no charge on Sun), parking costs $1, and use of video camera requires a $4 permit.
Ruinas del Rey - Cancún has its own Maya ruins (tel. 998/884-8073) - a small site that's less impressive than the ruins at Tulum, Cobá, or Chichén Itzá. Fishermen built the small ceremonial center and settlement very early in the history of Maya culture. It was then abandoned, to be resettled again near the end of the post-Classic period, not long before the arrival of the conquistadors. The platforms of numerous small temples are visible amid the banana plants, papayas, and wildflowers. The Hilton Cancún hotel golf course surrounds the ruins, which have a separate entrance for sightseers. You'll find the ruins about 21km (13 miles) from town, at the southern reach of the Zona Hotelera, almost to Punta Nizuc. Look for the Hilton hotel on the left (east) and the ruins on the right (west). Admission is $4.50; free on Sunday and holidays. It's open daily from 8am to 5pm.
On Isla Mujeres, you have the opportunity to swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery (tel. 998/849-4757; fax 998/849-4758; www.dolphindiscovery.com). There are several options for dolphin interaction, but my choice is the Royal Swim, which includes an educational introduction followed by 30 minutes of swim time. The price is $125 (MasterCard and Visa are accepted), with transportation to Isla Mujeres an additional $5 for program participants. Advance reservations are required. Assigned swimming times are 10am, noon, 2, or 3:30pm, and you must arrive 1 1/2 hour before your scheduled swim time. In Cancún, the Parque Nizuc (tel. 998/881-3030) marine park offers guests a chance to swim with dolphins and view them in their dolphin aquarium, Atlántida. The price of the dolphin swim ($135) includes admission to the park. It's a fun place for a family to spend the day, with its numerous pools, waterslides, and rides. Visitors can also snorkel with manta rays, tropical fish, and tame sharks. It's at the southern end of Cancún, between the airport and the Hotel Zone. Admission is $27 for adults, $23 for children 3 to 11 (American Express, MasterCard, and Visa are accepted). Open daily from 10am to 5:30pm.
La Isla Shopping Center, Bulevar Kukulkán Km 12.5, has an impressive Interactive Aquarium (tel. 998/883-0411, 998/883-0436, or 998/883-0413; www.aquariumcancun.com.mx), with dolphin swims and the chance to feed a shark while immersed in the water in an acrylic cage. Guides inside the main tank use underwater microphones to point out the sea life, and even answer your questions. Open exhibition tanks enable visitors to touch a variety of marine life, including sea stars and manta rays. The educational dolphin program is $55, while the dolphin swim is $115. The entrance fee to the aquarium is $6 for adults, $4 for children, and it's open from 9am to 7pm, daily.