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Tour Guide: Riviera Maya

The stunning Riviera Maya region of Mexico makes for a beautiful, laid-back race destination.

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The stunning Riviera Maya region of Mexico not only made for a perfect location for Triathlete’s annual swimsuit photo shoot, it also makes for a beautiful, laid-back race destination. 

While walking around the Sandos Caracol Eco Resort and Spa in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, you’ll often be reminded why it has “eco” in the name. The villas are snuggled up against jungles and natural lagoons, peacocks and iguanas roam the resort by day, you can see a cenote (natural sinkhole) filled with native fish from the lobby, and natural mangrove forests thrive just steps from the restaurants. And of course, the resort has a beautiful stretch of white sand beach along the turquoise Caribbean Sea.

This secluded all-inclusive resort is situated just 10 minutes from Playa del Carmen on the east coast of Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo.

The resort was built on Mayan land, so the hotel tries to educate guests about the rich local culture and history as well as the resort’s ecological impact. They offer daily eco tours to teach guests about the native wildlife and plants, plus the measures the resort is taking to reduce its carbon footprint (such as recycling, repurposing water and composting).

Sandos suits almost any type of traveler: Adults looking for a kid-free vacation can stay in the Select Club section, which has an adults-only pool, restaurant, and its own beach area. If you want to bring the whole family, there’s an aquapark with slides and a swim-up snack bar that serves kid-friendly food and drinks, plus a kids’ club to give you a few hours of free time. And don’t worry about crazy spring breakers—the resort doesn’t accept university groups.

With everything Sandos has to offer—golf, fitness classes, a spa, snorkeling, canoe rides, daily shows, outdoor pools, beach volleyball—you could easily be content never leaving the resort. But if you’re looking for your next race destination, you can throw in a local short-course triathlon while you’re there.

Each November, a local eco park called Xel-Ha (pronounced “SHELL-ha”) hosts Olympic-distance, sprint-distance and relay triathlons. Xel-Ha is considered the largest aquarium in the world, and you could compare it to an all-natural Sea World (it’s so natural, in fact, that you’re not allowed to bring in your own sunscreen and bug spray, so you don’t risk contaminating the natural environment—at the entrance, you receive all-natural samples to use while you’re in the park). The swim is considered by many to be the highlight of the race—it takes place in the clear waters of a natural inlet within the park, where you’ll see an array of colorful marine life. When asked for their favorite triathlon, multiple readers of Inside Triathlon magazine volunteered Xel-Ha as their favorite race because it is well-organized, has great volunteers and starts with a beautiful swim in Caribbean waters.

Beyond triathlon, the Riviera Maya region offers plenty to see and do. You can take a dip in the waters by Tulum, an archaeological site that features more than 60 well-preserved Mayan structures located right by the sea. You can learn more about Mexican culture at the Xcaret eco theme park—stick around for the night show, a huge production that includes hundreds of performers who trace Mexico’s ancient history then showcase local folk dances from each of the geographical regions of Mexico. End your day with a stroll down La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) in Playa del Carmen for a wide variety of bars, restaurants and shops.

Whether you visit the Riviera Maya for a laid-back vacation, a scenic race destination or both, you’ll be sure to leave with a better appreciation for the natural beauty and rich culture of Mexico.

PHOTOS: The Triathlete Swimsuit Shoot From Mexico

If You Go:

» Fly in to Cancun International Airport, just a 45-minute drive from the Sandos Caracol Eco Resort and Spa.

» Pricing at the Sandos Resort ( is per person and includes room nights and all-inclusive amenities (food and drinks). Rates start at $94 per person, based on double occupancy.

» If you’re up for a little more of a challenge, Ironman 70.3 Cozumel in September and Ironman Cozumel in November are just a 35-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen.

» Don’t forget the sunscreen and bug spray.

» Brush up on your Spanish. A few Spanish words go a long way in getting a little extra hospitality.

» For more information on where to stay and what to do while you’re there, visit

RELATED VIDEO: On Location With Triathlete’s Swimsuit Models