Off Track Adventures in the Riviera Maya

Alltournative’s tours are geared for the entire family. Our writer’s day-long adventure with her son featured kayaking, swimming in cenotes, a traditional Mayan meal and four-wheel fun.

In a region where lifting a frozen margarita to one’s lips is considered a strenuous activity, there is adventure to be had. The company is cleverly named Alltournative Off Track Adventures—and they not only live up to their name, they exceed it.

My son and I signed up for their Jungle Crossing, an entire day of thrilling activities including sea kayaking, snorkeling, 4X4 riding, swimming in two breathtaking underground caverns or cenotes and an authentic Mayan lunch served at jungle ranch. At 8 a.m., Alltournative’s fit and friendly guide, Diego, picked us up at our hotel and drove us to an idyllic beach along Punta Soliman Bay, which had with lockers, rest rooms, showers and several thatched huts. Our group of children and adults ranged from 6 years old to those in their 60s. After some clear instruction, we were in our sea kayaks heading out to the reef. My 13-year-old had never kayaked before, but kept up the pace despite the constant breezes and gently rolling waves.

Once at our desired spot, Diego tied the kayaks together and off we went to snorkel and explore. Huge schools of fish lollygagged below amid enormous waving fan coral. A cobalt blue fish with red polka dots was everyone’s favorite. While adjusting our masks, a few of us dropped our snorkels and in a flash, Diego dove to the bottom and surfaced, lost snorkel triumphantly in hand.

With the wind at our backs, the return to the beach was easy. Juice, yogurt, fresh fruits and a superb homemade granola awaited us. “Another healthy thing I can eat!” my son exclaimed, as he headed back for yet another crunchy scoop. (He’d always rejected granola, yet here he couldn’t stop filling his bowl.)

Over Rocks and Underground We Go

Next we boarded the tenacious Mercedez Benz Unimog—an all-terrain vehicle that climbs small boulders. Briefly hitting the main road, we turned on to the wildly bumpy path to Rancho San Felipe, where a Mayan family lives and farms without electricity. The kids screamed with joy at every rock and roll.

This desolate landscape is home to the Nohoch Nah Chich Cenote System, part of one of the longest explored underground river systems in the world. After our rollicking ride, we parked and prepared to descend into our first cenote, Puerta al Cielo or Heaven’s Gate. All that was visible from land was a  hole in the rock and a rustic wooden ladder. As the first few made their way down, the comments echoed back. “Awesome!” “Amazing!!” “This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life!!!” With press like that, the reluctant ones mobilized quickly to see what they were missing. (I was among those taking my time when told that the water was cold!)

The ladder led to a wooden platform in the middle of a big, glowing blue pond—entirely underground except for the few shafts of sunlight coming from the entrance. It was resplendent. Illuminated by a few bulbs, the pool had an otherworldly glow from the high white stone ceiling and graceful stalactites hanging from above. We swam and snorkeled around this little piece of paradise for as long as we could in the clear, refreshing (not cold) water until we had to climb back up since our Mayan lunch was waiting.

The table was simply set inside a screened area and several local women were finishing up the spread. Pretty Mexican pottery serving dishes were filled with tender chicken pieces, rice with green peas and the highlight: homemade bean and chicken empanadas. My favorite was the black bean version with a little sour cream and a lot of salsa. “Best meal yet,” was Erik’s assessment, and he was absolutely right.

Navigating Stalactites

After Heaven’s Gate, we thought we’d seen the best, but the best was yet to come in the name of Nohoch Nah Chich or Giant Bird Cage. This cenote had an exposed channel, making it easier to enter. While the other one was serene, this one was spooky. The other had a soaring ceiling, this one was low. Swallows nervously swooped above our heads as we entered, swimming deeper and deeper into the darkness until it narrowed to a slim river just wide enough for two. Diego carried a bright searchlight, illuminating the way. Told to watch our heads to avoid hitting low-hanging stalactites, we carefully snaked our way through. Here and there, we saw little sleeping bats and every turn revealed a fascinating new vista, both above the water and below where stalagmites formed huge underwater mountains.

When we were way inside the cavern, my son had an idea. “Hey Diego,” he called. “Why don’t you turn out the light?” He did—and for a few seconds, deep underground, we floated in absolute otherworldly darkness.

Alltournative’s Off Track Adventures,, tel. 800-507-1092. This eco-conscious company offers adventure travel through unique tours combining off-track locations with nature and Mayan culture. The Jungle Crossing lasts from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; $115 for adults, $105 for children ages 6-12. Other tours are available that include zip lines, scuba diving and more.

Destinations: Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Riviera Maya

Themes: Ecotourism, Family Travel, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Kayaking, Snorkeling, Swimming

User Comments

I had a similar wonderful experience about 6 yrs ago with my then 12-yr old son. Altournative is great. (coming from a travel professional specializing in adventure travel)

Off Track adventures Very informative to the point, sounds like Mother & son had a great time.

Off-Track Adventures in the Riviera Maya Great article...Makes this tour sound so special and mysterious. Charmingly written!