Riviera Maya: Places to Explore

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Puerto Morelos

At the edge of a mangrove-tangled jungle pushing up to the shore, Puerto Morelos is one of the few coastal towns on the Riviera Maya that's maintained a measure of authenticity. Although it's become a favorite of Canadian and American expat artists, painters, and poets, it's still essentially a salty Mexican seaside village. Nothing here has been prettied up for the gringos, and tourist traps are few and far between. With a wide selection of restaurants, a variety of nearby hotels and a good road connecting the town with the highway, it's a great base for exploring the region.

Environmental laws and building restrictions have so far kept growth under tight control. This has prevented Puerto Morelos from becoming the next Cancún or Playa del Carmen—which many locals consider a blessing. Although these are not the turquoise waters of Cancún, they are calm and safe. However, if a spectacular beach is a key part of your vacation plans, consider staying at a resort north or south of town.

Where Puerto Morelos shines is out at sea: the superb coral reef only 1,800 feet offshore is an excellent place to explore with a snorkel or scuba tank. This thriving reef and the surrounding mangrove forests are a protected national park, so you'll need to visit with a licensed guide. Home to 36 species of birds, the park is a draw for bird-watchers. (The mangroves are also a haven for mosquitoes—bring repellent, especially after dusk.) Architecture fans shouldn't miss the bizarre cartoon castle at the corner of Niños Heroes and Morelos, a carved, curvy, leaning tree-house fantasy that has to be seen to be believed.

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