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  The eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatn Peninsula fronts the Caribbean, and it is the beaches above all that define this area known as the Riviera Maya or Mayan Riviera -- soft, blinding white strands of sand embracing clear turquoise waters, shorelines that curve into calm lagoons, waves that crash against cliffs, mangrove swamps with minuscule islands where only the birds hold sway alongside freshwater cenotes (sinkholes).

Offshore, a magnificent coral reef teems with marine life swimming lazily among the shipwrecks and relics left by pirates, while inland, savannah gives way to wetland to scrubby limestone terrain to jungle, the flora and fauna varying with each setting. All this makes the Caribbean coast, which borders Mexico's state of Quintana Roo (keen-tah-nah roh-oh), a marvelous place for lovers of the outdoors.

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Riviera Maya: The Kingdom of Nature and Archaeology
The places to stay and the possibilities for things to do here are various. While Puerto Morelos still has the relaxed atmosphere of a Mexican fishing village, the once laid-back town of Playa del Carmen is now filled with resorts as glitzy as those in Cancn and Cozumel.

The beaches, from Punta Tanchact to Tulum, are beloved by scuba divers, snorkelers, birders, and beachcombers, and they have accommodations to suit every budget -- from campsites to bungalows to luxury hotels.

Rustic but comfortable fishing and scuba-diving lodges on the secluded Boca Paila and Xcalak peninsulas have a well-deserved reputation for excellent bonefishing and superb diving on virgin reefs. At the same time, because this coast is one of the most threatened by development, there are ecotourism programs, such as the ones at Xcacel that allow visitors to help save the threatened sea-turtle population.

An Ancient Civilization and the Modern World:
The area is also defined by Maya culture, by the modern Maya who live in the coastal cities and villages, and by the ruins, such as those at Tulum, dramatically situated on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean, that speak of their history.

Cob, a short distance inland, has towering jungle-shrouded pyramids, testaments to its importance as a leading center of commerce in the ancient Maya world. Farther south, recent digs at Kohunlich have unearthed temples, palaces, and pyramids in the distinct Ro Bec architectural style.

These have been beautifully restored, but they are still largely unvisited. At the Belizean border is the capital
of Quintana Roo, Chetumal, whose bright wooden houses and sultry sea air make it feel more Central American than Mexican. During your trek along the coast, you'll meet expats from around the world running lodges and restaurants where you'd least expect to find them. Chat with them for a bit and they'll surely tell you how they succumbed to the spell of the Caribbean coast, unable to resist the urge to stay.

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