Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is perfect for a sun-filled and mystical Mayan holiday01/01/2022
I HOLD my breath, unable to swim away as 100 or so bats dart around my head missing me by centimetres.
We’ve taken the plunge in the Jaguar Cenote — one of 6,000 natural sinkholes in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and someone’s splash has accidentally stirred the cave’s flying residents.
Behind the low-hanging stalactites the colony roosts in cavernous nooks and crannies, only swooping away to snack on insects.
Initially I fear I have unwittingly found myself in a scene from the Batman movies.
But any apprehension quickly fades away as I watch the bats in awe.
We are staying in the stunning Riviera Maya district at the Tui Blue for Two El Dorado Seaside Suites, and local guide Ariel — “like the Disney princess” — is showing us the area’s beauty spots.
“Each cenote is like a fingerprint”, he says. “Every one is different.”
The Mayans revered the mystical caves and believed they were a portal to communicating with the Gods.
“I don’t know why but I feel like I should whisper in here,” my friend tells me as we descend the wooden ladder to the turquoise, naturally-filtered water.
I have to agree with her.
The name cenote translates as “sacred well” and many join up to form an underground network of water tunnels spanning hundreds of miles.
Magnet for A-listers
During our swim we discover the bats and the darting fish below aren’t their only inhabitants.
“Over here”, calls one of our party in a hushed voice as they point out a baby turtle on a slightly submerged rock.
Tui’s adults-only Mexico hotel, with 374 rooms spread over 23.3 acres of beachfront paradise, is just 20 miles away from treasures like this in Tulum.
History buffs can explore the famed Mayan ruins standing proud over the crystal clear sea.
Once a trading port, the ancient buildings are now guarded by sun-worshipping iguanas.
Look out for the holes in the walls where Mayans made melipona honey from a stingless Yucatán bee, but remember to avoid the midday heat if you want to enjoy the sites without the crowds.
COVID: There are no testing requirements to enter Mexico.
Current rules require pre-departure test before returning to the UK and a PCR test on or before day two.
GETTING/STAYING THERE: Tui offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at the 5H TUI Blue El Dorado Suites in Riviera Maya from £1,038pp with flights from Gatwick on January 23 and from £1,116 in May.
Price is based on two adults sharing a junior suite with garden view, balcony and whirlpool bath.
Flights from seven UK airports.
To book, go to tui.co.uk, visit your local TUI holiday store or download the TUI app.
Around 80 miles south of the “spring break” hotspot Cancun, Tulum town offers a more laid-back feel.
Here we drive past low-rise treehouse hotels and boutique beach cabanas.
The area is a magnet for A-listers such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Heidi Klum, and has seen the likes of Drew Barrymore stay at Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s former holiday home, Casa Magna.
More recently British singer Dua Lipa was snapped in the stylish town with pals.
With 2023 set to see the launch of its first airport and a train linking it to Cancun, it will soon be even easier for people to visit Tulum.
“This area is . . . eco-chic. We are not stopping here,” says our crocodile-spotting guide Olga, a Ukrainian woman with a brisk approach to herding us to our destination.
Instead, we head down a rather bumpy road to the Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve where we are to hop on a small boat to explore the mangroves.
The beauty spot became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987, and it is clear why the name translates as “the place where heaven begins”.
The reserve is one of Mexico’s largest protected areas and home to more than 300 species of birds, as well as turtles and dolphins further out at sea. If you are lucky, you can spot a manatee too.
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Before we leave the jetty, Olga spots a large, hungry-looking crocodile less than a metre from us under the walkway.
One slip and we would become lunch, so we carefully step into our boat in pursuit of some friendlier animals, and a coral reef for snorkelling.
Thanks to our local fisherman driving the boat, it isn’t long before we spot the heavy hitters.
For those who prefer to stay within the confines of their hotel during their break, the five-star Tui Blue El Dorado Seaside Suites makes for a fully-rounded holiday.
Here, nature comes to you, with guests able to watch night-time baby turtle releases between July and November.
During our stay, we struggle to try all 10 all-inclusive restaurants and 11 bars, many of which overlook the Caribbean sea.
The beach is the first place I head to each morning to watch the balmy sunrise — and the last place I visit in the evening after a nightcap in the resort’s Guacamayas bar.
I’m not usually a morning person, but when you can see pelicans dive-bombing into the sea for fish I make an exception.
For those moments not spent stretching out on a lounger with a cocktail or cooling down in one of the four pools, there are ocean-facing massages provided by the Naay spa.
In the evening, you can take advantage of a full events schedule – which includes a popular Casino Night — listed on Tui’s Blue App.
It’s perhaps no wonder that Mexico has seen a recent boom in visitors, given it currently doesn’t require a Covid test to enter.
Tui is the UK’s main tour operator for Cancun and is currently the only airline offering regional flights to Mexico from seven airports.
It now operates 11 flights a week to Cancun, rising to 24 a week for the summer season.
No trip to Mexico would be complete without tequila, and on one of our final nights we book into the hotel’s free tasting experience.
Here we sample everything from the more affordable El Jimador, priced at around £18 per bottle, to the £75 Don Julio.
Anticipating slightly sore heads, we hitch a ride on a resort golf buggy to whisk us away in the balmy night to our king-size beds.
Whether you come to Mexico for the turtles or the tacos, the bat-filled cenotes or the beaches, there truly is something for everyone.
Ideally served with a shot of tequila and a lime on the side.
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