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Barefoot luxury on the Riviera Maya

By Stirling Kelso
Travel + Leisure
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(Travel + Leisureexternal link) -- Although it's known as a boomtown for luxurious beachfront resorts, this stretch of Mexico's Caribbean coastline has held onto its authentic charm, thanks to the thriving village of Playa del Carmen and the region's ancient Mayan ruins. Here, you can check into a haute hotel -- and still slip outside for a little local flavor. (Riviera Maya destination guideexternal link)

Where to stay

Hit hard by 2005's Hurricane Wilma, Maroma Resort & Spa (52-998/872-8200; www.maromahotel.comexternal link; doubles from $480), has bounced back with nine new Sian Nah (Mayan for "house of heaven") Suites, each with its own massage space, plunge pool and terrace. Toast the revitalization with a mango-and-cilantro margarita while lounging on a waterfront bed at the new alfresco bar.

Where to eat

Playa del Carmen, once a quaint fishing village and now the Riviera's cultural hub, has the largest variety of restaurants in the area. Start the day with freshly roasted granola or cactus empanadas and queso fresco at La Cueva del Chango (Calle 38 near La Quinta; 52-984/873-2137; breakfast for two $15), just off the main thoroughfare.

Night is as exciting as day in Playa del Carmen. Restaurante Carnes (Calle 1 between 20th and 25th Aves.; no phone; dinner for two $14) serves tender carne domestica from the nearby ranches around Monterrey. Later, head to Mambocafé (Calle 6 between 10th and La Quinta; 52-984/803-2656), which attracts a serious salsa crowd, and the beachfront Blue Parrot (12th St. on the beach, off La Quinta; 52-984/206-3350), one of the oldest local hangouts.

What to do

While Tulum is the most well-known of the Mayan ruins, Cobá has fewer tourists and lies hidden in a thick expanse of jungle. Bring binoculars to Playacar's bird sanctuary, which has 60 different species.

Planning a Caribbean getaway? Don't miss Travel + Leisure's new Ultimate Caribbean Hotel Guide.

Copyright 2006 American Express Publishing Corporation . All rights reserved.

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A beachgoer looks out at the sea in Playa del Carmen.



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