How to Pretend You’re in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, Today

While your travel plans are on hold, you can pretend you’re in a new place for the night. Around the World at Home invites you to channel the spirit of a new place each week with recommendations on how to explore the culture, all from the comfort of your home.

It’s a land of mangroves along the Caribbean Sea, home to some of the earliest astronomers, and a day trip back in time to ancient towns like Chichén Itzá, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Known as the Riviera Maya, the ever popular vacation corridor south of Cancun to Tulum draws legions of revelers to its white sand beaches. Gatherings, of course, aren’t secure these days, but with a little imagination you can savor the culture and cuisine of the region.

Like many travelers who first visited the area when it was quieter and less crowded, I was wowed not only by its natural beauty – the lush jungle, chasms filled with turquoise and green water called cenotes that some Mayans believed to be portals to the underworld – but also with the remaining traces of a society dating back thousands of years. It was the Riviera Maya that instantly caught my eye, the coastal gateway to a great civilization that throughout Mesoamerica built pyramids and followed the movements of the moon, gave the world striking hieroglyphic writing and left a legacy of captivating myths. And it turns out that these enduring aspects of culture are particularly suited to exploring from home.

Nowadays, I virtually visit these ancient ruins and dazzling cenotes. You can also. And while you’re at it, you can dive into epic quests with gods and mythical creatures, dance around your home to traditional Los Folkloristas music, and cook the irresistible flavors of the Yucatán Peninsula. Suddenly, the Riviera Maya is just a book or a recipe away.

One of the region’s most popular dishes is cochinita pibil, roast pork in the stone. The Netflix series “Taco Chronicles” devotes an entire episode to him. Lack of pit? Do not despair. A heavy-lid casserole dish in the oven does the trick in this New York Times cooking recipe by culinary historian and chef Maricel E. Presilla and Diana Kennedy, author of cookbooks like “The Essential Cuisines of Mexico.” , who has spent decades studying culinary styles across the country and who received the Order of the Aztec Eagle from the Mexican government. Even if cooking isn’t your thing, the documentary “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy,” about her life in Mexico, could be – it’s kind of a meditation on finding your life’s work.

Add chef Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s “Mexico: The Cookbook” to your shelf for a journey into the country’s culinary history, and over 650 recipes, including slow-cooked pork and other delicacies from the Yucatán.

Searching for Mayan cuisine beyond cochinita pibil for a New York Times article in 2012, journalist and cookbook author Mark Bittman traveled to the Yucatán Peninsula, where restaurateurs have shown how they made tamales, tortillas, salsa and huevos en torta. Mr. Bittman asked to make polkanes, which he describes as Maya Hush puppies. Who could resist? Discover his recipes for polkanes, torta huevos and tomato and pumpkin seed salsa.

Add to your 40s playlist Lila Downs, the Grammy Award-winning musician who has performed in Spanish, English, and many native people languages ​​like Mayan, Zapotec and Mixtec. Ms Downs, who wrote about her mother being from the Native Mixtec group, has “multiple voices,” as Jon Pareles, the Times’ leading popular music critic, said “from an airborne quasi-falsetto. outspoken. viola and a sensual and emotional contralto. His NPR Music Tiny Desk concert will defeat all your work hopes, even if it will make you dance.

Keep your feet on the ground with Los Folkloristas, a group Mr. Pareles once described as “conservationists”. Their traditional music originates from various parts of Mexico. Fortunately, you can stream their albums wherever you are and see their lively performances on YouTube.

In and around the Riviera Maya are notable ancient ruins such as Cobá, Tulum and Chichén Itzá, which in 2007 were selected as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” (the original seven had been reduced to a: the pyramids). The monuments of Chichén Itzá are “among the undisputed masterpieces of Mesoamerican architecture”, as Unesco describes it. Would you like to see for yourself? You can. Take a virtual tour of the ruins with The Times’ New Seven Wonders in 360 video. And explore older Mayan sites with John Lloyd Stephens’ classic, “Incidents of Travel in the Yucatán,” first published in the 1840s.

The vast Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve near Tulum is a Unesco World Heritage Site, with rainforests that are home to vulnerable and endangered species such as the black-handed spider monkey, the black howler monkey from Yucatán and the Central American tapir. From your laptop, it’s a snap to get there. Discover the waters with West Indian manatees and nesting sea turtles at the Unesco site, and dive into the blue cenotes of Sian Ka’an in an otherworldly video.

“From shark diving near Playa del Carmen to the reefs near Tulum, the whole area is a divers dream,” said Oscar Lopez, press assistant for the New York Times office in Mexico, where he is born. He has since dived all over the world, but the Riviera Maya is still one of his favorite places. “And that’s right at sea – inland you can dive deep underground, sink into cenotes to explore one of the world’s largest underground river systems, swim past stalactites, or float gently in. a cloud of smoky hydrogen sulfide before rising to the surface and walking. back through the jungle.

The early Mayans were accomplished astronomers and mathematicians. And you? Find out everything you know about the sun and the seasons with games and videos on the Smithsonian Institution’s National Indian Museum of America’s Living Maya Time website.

Climb into a hammock or plunge into a comfortable chair, Imagine yourself on the Caribbean coast and listen to specialists in anthropology and archeology delve into the history of “the Mayan civilization”. Who are the people who built the great cities, now in ruins, to which visitors flock year after year? Discover in this episode of BBC Radio 4’s long-running ‘In Our Time’.


How will you channel the spirit of the Riviera Maya into your home? Share your ideas in the comments.

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Stephanie Rosenbloom, author of “Time Alone: ​​Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude” (Viking), has written about travel, business and styles for The Times for almost two decades. Twitter: @Stephronyt. Instagram: @StephanieRosenbloom


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