©istock/Moussa81
©istock/Moussa81

Riviera Maya: cultural heritage and ecotourism

3 minutes to read

Why do we travel? There are many reasons of course; to relax, to get away from our daily routine, to experience something new. When most of us travel, we choose a destination that sparks a cultural interest or that connects us with the great outdoors. Mexico is a country that offers both choices simultaneously as culture and nature are inextricably woven together. For travelers looking to honor the national and regional heritage and/or to consciously and sustainably explore Mexico’s natural wonders, there are a number of options for eco-friendly and culturally conscious tourism. While many tourists visit the Riviera Maya to drink margaritas on the beach at an all-inclusive luxury resort during the day and to party at famous night clubs in Cancun or Playa del Carmen’s highly trafficked hotel zones by night, there are plenty of alternative destinations, eco-friendly tours, and volunteer work opportunities for travelers in search of cultural authenticity and nature conservation. This article will give you a few recommendations on ecological and cultural tourism projects in the Mayan Riviera.

©istock/mofles
©istock/mofles

Cultural conservation tours and projects

The Yucatan peninsula is home to one of the largest populations of indigenous peoples in Mexico, the Mayans. In the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, there are countless Mayan communities and villages whose inhabitants still practice ancient cultural rituals and lifestyles that many of them are willing to share with culturally curious tourists. Within the past few years, cultural heritage and ecologically sustainable tourism project known as 'Maya Ka’an' has been created in collaboration with local Mayan communities, offering dozens of guided tours to seldomly visited communities, cenotes, lagoons, and beaches as well as unique cultural experiences that include purification ceremonies, Mayan spa, fishing, and traditional cooking courses. 

Their website is incredibly thorough and informative, conveying information about traditions, cultural etiquette, and geography of the region that extends from Cancun to the southern-most town of Felipe Carillo Puerto within which Mayan communities and their respective eco-tours and cultural immersion tours are located. I highly recommend exploring their website and investing in the project which is both environmentally friendly, and in support of cultural conservation and economical stability of the Mayan communities.

Felipe Carillo Puerto, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Felipe Carillo Puerto, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Q.R., México
Muyil, Felipe Carrillo Puerto
Muyil, Felipe Carrillo Puerto
Reforma Agraria-Puerto Juárez km 25, Chunyaxche, 77710 Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Q.R., Mexico
Coba, Yucatán
Coba, Yucatán
Carretera Federal Tulum 307, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Sian Ka'an, Quintana Roo
Sian Ka'an, Quintana Roo
Sian Ka'an, Q.R., Mexico
©istock/mofles
©istock/mofles

A second option for eco-friendly and culturally conscious tours is with my personal favorite tour company, Carey Tours. For a perfect mixture of culture and nature, I recommend their tours of Muyil and Coba. These tours are private, and very convenient for travelers of all types as Carey Tour’s highly experienced guide, Fernando will personally pick you up and drop you off at your hotel or Airbnb. Also, private transportation ensures a day packed with different activities. Muyil and Coba tours offer exploration of archeological sites, a refreshing and entertaining cenote swim or river float, and a delicious meal of traditional Mayan food prepared by local Mayan community members. While Muyil and Coba are great cultural/ecological fusion tours, any tour with Fernando is amazing! 

Carey Tours Riviera Maya
Carey Tours Riviera Maya
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
©istock/Media Raw Stock
©istock/Media Raw Stock

Conservation ecotourism

©istock/James Kelley
©istock/James Kelley

For travelers wishing to enjoy paradise by contributing to its upkeep, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities as well as internships for environmental conservation. A popular volunteer opportunity is with the Akumal turtle sanctuary. During the period between May and September, marine turtles nest and lay eggs that hatch thousands of baby turtles along the Caribbean coast. The Centro Ecologico Akumal (CEA) is an organization that helps monitor and protect marine turtle species in four areas around the beaches of Akumal. They welcome volunteers for a variety of different events, including nightly beach strolls to record and protect locations of turtle nests, snorkeling, and scuba diving volunteers to capture monitored turtles to record their weight, trajectory, and health before re-releasing them, and volunteer divers for coral reef maintenance. You can explore volunteer opportunities on their website: Centro Ecológico Akumal.

©istock/Tunatura
©istock/Tunatura

If you are looking for more than just partying and laying out at the beach, consider alternative forms of tourism that will enrich your cultural knowledge and gratify your conscience by conserving the natural beauty so often damaged by large scale commercial tourism development. Tour Mayan communities with local guides, try indigenous cuisine and health practices, volunteer for state and national conservation projects, and delight in an eye-opening and gratifying experience of sustainable, culturally conscious travel.


The author

Julia Holland

Julia Holland

Hello, I am Julia and I live in Mexico. I came to Mexico as an anthropologist working in Chiapas and I fell in love with this country: the pure and savage beauty of nature, the humility and warmth of the local people, the rich and varied culture. I decided to stay and Mexico is what I call home.

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