If you’ve never been to Mexico, the Riviera Maya is a good place to start. After all, the region offers plenty of attractions for visitors, including water parks, Mayan ruins, great food, and outdoor activities, without being overly crowded or feeling more like a mall than a relaxing vacation spot.

Many, but not all, of the hotels and resorts in this part of the Yucatan peninsula – which stretches about 100 miles along the Caribbean Sea, starting just south of Cancun and continuing down to Punta Allen – are all-inclusive. 

But you’d be hard-pressed to resist the call of restaurants, villages and activities beyond your resort and explore further.

Many attractions take full advantage of the jungle and Caribbean setting, where you can zipline through the trees, swim with dolphins – or sharks – or just laze away on the beach.

Mexico lays claim to the highest number of Spanish speakers in the world, and while Latin influence is omnipresent in Riviera Maya, from haciendas to tamales, Mayan culture is also everywhere you look, most commonly in the form of ancient ruins and its native Mayan population.

However, the Mayan culture has been slowly disappearing from view; once tourism took off, many Mayans abandoned their villages to work at resorts and tourist attractions. 

One program helping Mayans reverse the trend is The Mayan Express in Coba, where villagers expose visitors to traditional Mayan arts, from pottery-making to traditional Mayan dance, music, and sports performances.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or return traveler to Mexico, the Riviera Maya will provide you with plenty of opportunities to delve deeper into its Latin culture, as well as its ancient Mayan heritage.

Lisa Rogak is a freelance writer and New York Times Bestselling author. Her latest book is "And Nothing But The Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert."

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