How to Pretend You’re in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, Today

While your travel plans may be on hold, you can pretend you’re somewhere new for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

It’s a land of mangroves along the Caribbean Sea, home to some of the earliest astronomers, and an inviting day trip back in time to ancient cities like Chichén Itzá, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Known as the Riviera Maya, the perennially popular vacation corridor south of Cancún to Tulum draws legions of revelers to its white sand beaches. Gatherings, of course, are unsafe these days, but with a bit of imagination you can relish the region’s culture and cuisine from home.

In and around the Riviera Maya are remarkable ancient ruins like those at Cobá, Tulum and Chichén Itzá, which in 2007 was selected as one of the “new Seven Wonders of the World” (the original seven had dwindled to one: the pyramids). Chichén Itzá’s monuments are “among the undisputed masterpieces of Mesoamerican architecture,” as Unesco describes it. Wish you could see for yourself? You can. Virtually tour the ruins with The Times’s “New Seven Wonders in 360” video. And explore more ancient Maya sites with John Lloyd Stephens’s classic, “Incidents of Travel in the Yucatán,” first published in the 1840s.

The sprawling Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve near Tulum is a Unesco World Heritage site, with tropical forests that are home to vulnerable and endangered species like the black-handed spider monkey, Yucatán black howler monkey and Central American tapir. From your laptop, it’s a breeze to travel there. Discover waters with West Indian manatee and nesting marine turtles on Unesco’s site, and dive into the blue cenotes of Sian Ka’an in an otherworldly video.

“From the diving with sharks near Playa del Carmen to the reefs near Tulum, the whole region is a divers’ dream,” said Oscar Lopez, a news assistant for The New York Times bureau in Mexico City, where he was born. He has since gone diving all over world, but the Riviera Maya is still one of his favorite places. “And that’s just at sea — inland, you can dive deep underground, sinking into cenotes to explore one of the largest underground river systems in the world, swimming past stalactites or floating gently in a smoky hydrogen sulfide cloud before rising to the surface and walking back through the jungle.”

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