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Mexico‘s gotten a bad rap lately. Most people hear the name and automatically think violence. But the truth is, while certain cities in Mexico are unsafe right now, like Ciudad Juarez, there are many areas, like Cancun, Riviera Maya and Playa Del Carmen, that could be considered some of the safest travel destinations in the Caribbean. Even if that doesn’t ease your mind, consider this: the distance from Ciudad Juarez to the Riviera Maya is more than 2,100 miles. That’s greater than the distance from Dallas, TX, to Detroit, MI. You wouldn’t tell a foreigner not to come to the U.S. because Detroit can be dangerous.

The Riviera Maya, located on the eastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula, is one of the most eco-friendly destinations in all of Mexico, with a strong emphasis on sustainability and preserving the environment. The area, which is home to many historic sites, is full of beautiful beaches with dozens of luxury all-inclusive resorts and many fine dining options. Following are four off-the-beaten-path activities for you to try during your next visit.

8 Warm Weather Winter Vacations

1. Rio Secreto: The longest semi-sunken cave in the Yucatan Peninsula is a stunning, 7.5-mile-long underground river with thousands of ancient stalactites and stalagmites. Before 2007, almost no one had entered Rio Secreto — translated as the “Secret River” — except for the man who first found it. But now, there are guided tours available (starting at $59) that allow you to hike and swim through a 600-meter route, providing you access to some of the most dramatic mineral formations in the world. (See RioSecretoMexico.com.)

rio secreto cave riviera maya



2. Annual Whale Shark Festival: The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world, extends along the coast of the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and continues south alongside the Riviera Maya, making the area a hot spot for scuba divers and snorkelers. But if you’re looking for something truly unique, attend the annual Whale Shark Festival in July. Guests can swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean and an endangered species. The festival kicks off with the whale shark afuera, when hundreds of these gentle giants migrate near the coast of Isla Mujeres. (See WhaleSharkFest.com.)

whale shark



3. Water Journey at Grand Velas Spa: This hour-long relaxation ritual in the Water Lounge of the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Spa is built around the use of eight specially designed water-based facilities (picture a steam room and sauna on steroids). Led by a personal spa valet, the Water Journey is a truly relaxing hydrotherapy experience that alternates between various hot and cold rooms and pools — like the Clay Room, a circular steam room with a fiber-optic “starlight” ceiling, and the Ice Room, with floor-to-ceiling windows. You can also recline and relax in the central infinity pool, which has massaging faucets throughout and carved-stone chaises with jets set just underneath the surface of the water. (See RivieraMaya.GrandVelas.com.)

water journey grand velas spa riviera maya



4. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead): Beginning on October 31 with festivities continuing through November 2, this Mexican holiday, rooted in Aztec culture dating back thousands of years, is marked by lively gatherings, colorful costumes and ancient traditions to honor the souls of the departed. Dia de los Muertos festivities begin with All Saints Day, which honors infants and children, and is commonly referred to as “Dia de los Angelitos,” or “Day of the Little Angels.” Celebrations continue with All Souls Day, which honors adults who have passed on. Though customs vary throughout the country, common traditions include visiting the gravesites of deceased loved ones, building altars in their honor, and offering symbolic tokens such as sugar skulls and marigolds. Visitors to the Riviera Maya can attend the “Life and Death Traditions Festival,” held each year at the eco-archaeological park Xcaret, where festivities include plays, dances, cemetery tours and art exhibitions. (See FestivaldeVidayMuerte.com.)

dia de los muertos life and death traditions festival riviera maya



Find Mexico Travel Deals

– written by Kate Parham

Wyndham Rio Mar Beach ResortEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Book a stay of five or more nights at a participating Wyndham Resort and get your fifth night’s stay for free. Plus, receive a complimentary $100 American Express Reward Card, which can be used wherever American Express is accepted.

This offer is valid at select resorts in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico for travel through the end of the year. You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by booking this deal at one of Wyndham’s all-inclusive properties, where nightly rates range from about $250 to $500 and cover meals, drinks (even alcoholic ones) and activities. We checked rates for a five-night summer stay at the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach in the Bahamas and spotted savings of as much as $524 (the cost of one night’s stay in a deluxe room) in addition to the on-the-house $100 American Express card.

The Catch: Don’t bank on using your American Express card on a glass bottom boat tour or scuba diving lessons while on vacation. Your card will be shipped to your home address six to eight weeks after your completed stay. And keep in mind that when you book, you won’t see immediate savings, as your free night’s stay will be deducted when you check out.

The Competition: We’ve unearthed juicy discounts at several other brand-name hotel chains. Hilton Worldwide Resorts is offering a 30 percent mark-down at select international and domestic properties for stays booked three months in advance. Additionally, Starwood Hotels is running a “Better Tomorrows” promotion that features 40 percent off every second night’s stay at select resorts in North and South America. (Stay two nights and receive 40 percent off one night’s stay, stay four nights and get 40 percent off two nights, etc.)

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Hotel Deals.

–written by Caroline Costello

cancun mexico Every Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: The clock is ticking! This JetBlue spring fare sale includes dirt-cheap tickets to destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico, but seats must be booked by 5 p.m. E.T. today. Flights to popular places like Las Vegas, New York, Nassau, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Montego Bay, Cancun and Washington D.C. start at $29 each way plus taxes and fees.

This sale features a wide spring travel window: fly from March through May. And don’t forget that each JetBlue passenger may check up to one bag for free.

The Catch: This sale’s limited run is its most glaring restriction. If you don’t have any travel planned for the next few months, booking a ticket on a whim today can be a bit of a Hail Mary pass. JetBlue’s deal includes some deliciously low-priced spring flights. But prices aren’t so low that you should snap up tickets before you’ve thought your travel plans through carefully. Put down the paper bag — you’ve still got a few hours left to sort things out (as of this posting).

There’s a second catch, unfortunately. Travel is only valid, at these prices, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Fares for travel on other days of the week won’t be as economical.

The Competition: AirTrain Airways, which scored top travel deal last week, has just announced a systemwide fare sale with tickets starting at $49 each way. Prices don’t beat JetBlue’s cut-rate fares, but AirTran offers a wider range of spring travel dates (fliers aren’t restricted to Tuesdays and Wednesdays), plus a larger selection of destination and departure cities.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

–Written by Caroline Costello