While the Riviera Maya is known principally for its beaches, water sports, Mayan ruins, and rowdy spring-break party scene, there is a growing community of artists and a growing demand for quality performances in many artistic arenas. Furthermore, artistic appreciation from locals and tourists alike has begotten local and state government funding for musical, circus, and dance performances and festivals free to the public. The Riviera has a variety of permanent as well as seasonal circus, music, and dance shows that range from pricey dinner cabarets to free music festivals. There is entertainment for all tastes and pocketbooks. Here are a few suggestions for quality artistic entertainment in the Riviera Maya.
The most well-known entertainment club in the Riviera is the Coco Bongo, a multi-storied, multi-themed night club with multiple full bars, musical acts, burlesque, aerial circus acts, and different dance floors with different genres of music. There is a Coco Bongo in the Cancun hotel zone as well as Playa del Carmen town center. The club opens at 10 pm and offers all-night entertainment. It is very flashy, very commercial, and very entertaining. Tickets range in price from 60$ to 200$USD.
Most all-inclusive resorts between Cancun and Tulum offer nightly shows for guests that include circus, music, dance, and fire shows. Some hotels offer day passes or tickets to the public. One of these hotels is Catalonia Royal Tulum located about 30 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. Catalonia Royal Tulum offers a nightly dinner cabaret show called Rauxa, which is the Catalan word for craziness. This show is strictly for adults as it has mature content and risqué costumes; it is, after all, a cabaret. This is one of the best contemporary circus shows, with excellent live music, an interesting plotline and a musical narrator with an incredible voice. The dancing is wonderful, and you will see circus acts that include aerial straps, trapeze, hand to hand, and floor acrobatics. The show lasts around 2 hours and patrons are served a three-course meal with champagne and mixed drinks
The contemporary circus company Cirque du Soleil has built an enormous circus complex for their permanent Caribbean show Joya. Joya is the priciest of the entertainment options, but well worth it. There are also different price options. Joya, like Rauxa, is a dinner show, but dinner is optional and thus ticket prices range from 77$ to 250$ USD. Cirque du Soleil offers world-class circus performances by artists from all around the world. Likewise, the dinner, drinks and pre-show festivities are equally as whimsical and creative. The Joya complex itself is beautiful and sits atop a lake. As guests begin to arrive, they are first greeted with a fire-eating and breathing performance accompanied by indigenous flute music by two performers floating in a long wooden canoe around the complex. The circus tent and production of the show itself is phenomenal and well worth the price of the ticket.
A unique and popular circus/street performance in the Riviera is fire shows. Fire shows range from free-style solo performances on the beach, to large-scale themed productions presented on outdoor stages and amphitheaters. Most large scale shows are contracted by all-inclusive resorts, however, there are a few venues in Playa del Carmen and Tulum that offer nightly fire performances including Fusion Beach Bar in Playa del Carmen, and calle Centauro street performances in Tulum.
Live music is abundant in the Riviera and ranges from traditional Mexican mariachi or cumbia to surf rock, to rap and r&b. Playa del Carmen and Tulum have musical performances at restaurants and bars that are more accessible to the general public than in the Cancun hotel zone where most musical performances are for hotel guests only.
A few favorite Playa del Carmen music venues are Fusion Beach bar, La Bodeguita de en Medio, and Inti Restaurant and Bar. Fusion Beach bar has live music every night, and every night a different band performs; many bands are cover bands that play an array of different genres. The bar itself is right on the beach with a very easy-going, surfer casual vibe, and serves mixed drinks, beer and an assortment of appetizers and main courses. La Bodeguita del Medio is a Cuban salsa bar with live music and great dancing. No need to have a partner or even know how to formally dance salsa, there are plenty of friendly dancers more than willing to lead and teach newcomers. Inti Beach Bar, like Fusion, is right on the beach, yet has a somewhat more refined atmosphere, food and drink menu. There is live music most nights along with different events that include fashion shows, artisan markets, and circus performances.
Tulum has the best live music scene in the Riviera, as it is prided on being the most alternative, “hipster” village of the three resort towns. While there are many music venues in the center of town and the hotel zone alike, my personal favorite places to hear live music in Tulum is Batey Mojito and Guarapo Bar, Pasito Tun Tun bar, and Pancho Villa beach bar. Located in the center of town, Batey has not only the best and most eclectic music performances but also the most delicious mojitos and guarapos (a drink made from sugarcane liquor) I have tasted; try the passion fruit guarapo, heaven in a glass! Directly across the street from Batey is Pasito Tun Tun, a small bar with live music on the back patio. Pancho Villa is a campsite, restaurant and bar right on the beach that offers live music during the day and night on certain weekends.
Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum all host free entertainment festivals and events in their respective municipal plazas. In Playa del Carmen and Cancun there are daily displays of traditional regional flute music and a unique indigenous aerial act known as the “voladores de Papantla” or Papantla fliers, a group of 5 men who descend from a three-story high metal pole in a head-first, spinning spiral, hanging on ropes connected to their feet. There are also pre-hispanic music presentations in the afternoon and early evening at the Cozumel ferry dock in Playa del Carmen. There is also an annual free Jazz Festival in both Playa and Cancun in mid to late November. In Playa, the Festival occurs on a stage erected in playa Shangri La club with concerts from world-famous musicians such as Bobby McFerrin and Nora Jones.
Entertainment and culture abound in the Riviera Maya and can be enjoyed on any travel budget. A relaxing day at the beach can refresh and energize you for a nice dinner cabaret followed by late-night drinks and dancing. Who said nature and culture are mutually exclusive? Here in the Caribbean, you can have equal doses of the two.
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