Cancun is still the number one destination for Americans taking an international vacation this year, surpassing popular tourist hotspots like South America and Mediterranean Europe.
Famous for its world-class resort strips, which straddle the turquoise ocean, and unparalleled luxury scene, the city has seen a record surge in bookings for the June-August period.
If you’re one of those people who couldn’t resist spending another year in the Riviera Maya, but you’re now craving for something more than just lounging by the pool all day sipping mimosas, and you’ve made it your goal to have a more authentic Mexican experience this time, we’ve got you covered.
Here are 4 incredible small towns near Cancun where development is more limited and that still feels like the Mexico ‘of old’:
Distance driving from Cancun: 2h09
Valladolid is a great option for a weekend getaway if you’re hoping to witness firsthand a colonial-era settlement where centuries-old customs are maintained.
Originally settled by the Mayans, Valladolid was captured by the Spanish in the mid-16th-century, who named it after an already-existing city in Spain, and it would be under the control of the colonizers that it would flourish as an important trading and cultural hub in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Tourists often pinpoint the beautiful Cathedral of San Servacio, towering high over the town square, and Valladolid’s well-organized grid-like structure, a remnant of the Spanish period, as some of the main landmarks to be seen.
Within short driving distance of the town, there are a handful of world-class attractions, including one of the seven New Wonders of the World, the Mayan archaeological complex of Chichen Itza, and the pristine Cenote Zaci, which unlike other swimming pits closer to Cancun, such as Cenote Azul and Cenote Dos Ojos, receives very few tourists.
Felipe Carrillo Puerto
Distance driving from Cancun: 2h45
Less than three hours driving South of Cancun along the coast, Felipe Carrillo Puerto may take its name after a Spaniard, but it remains a quintessentially Mayan enclave in essence.
Sitting on the edge of the famous Sian Ka’an Reserve, yet relatively unknown to most day-trippers, it is one of a handful of towns in the overtouristed Riviera not yet ruined by over-development, and a ‘family first,’ traditional community where Mayan dialects continue to be spoken by some locals, besides Spanish.
The linguistic heritage is, in fact, a huge part of Felipe Carrillo Puerto’s tourist offer, with a visit to the Na’atik Language and Culture Institute ranking as the number one to-do activity on TripAdvisor.
It is credited with helping keep Mayan culture alive and bridging gaps between foreigners and locals.
The town is also home to the Holy Cross Catholic Church, an important part of post-colonial Mayan History, and the folk Museo Maya Santa Cruz Xbaalam Naj, a free museum chronicling the History of the natives during the Caste War when the Mayan populace revolted against Hispanic settlers.
Distance driving from Cancun: 3h53
Yet another treasure of the state of Yucatan, easily reachable from Cancun, in the neighboring Quintana Roo, Izamal is a postcard-ready ‘yellow city’ that’s been stealing the hearts of visitors for years now.
It is the furthest one out, at just under 4 hours of driving, but it can be toured as a day trip if you time wisely, though it is best visited as an overnight destination.
After all, Izamal’s cultural wealth is well and truly boundless.
Stroll its cobbled streets, flanked by vibrant-colored buildings dating back centuries, and you’ll be transported back to the 16th century when the Spanish first made landfall and chased the native Mayans out of the land.
Though at least five pre-Columbian structures are visible in Izamal to this day, including a Mayan pyramid, the main attraction on site is the Franciscan Monastery, with an open atrium second in size only to the Vatican’s.
Distance driving from Cancun: 2h36
The smallest settlement on this list, El Cuyo, is a quaint spot on the shores of the Caribbean that has successfully eluded city planners and international brands.
Located in the state of Yucatan but only two and a half hours away from Cancun, it was recently named by The Cancun Sun, the largest independent website on Riviera Maya news, a ‘traveler’s paradise’, and we’re inclined to agree.
Described as having sandy streets and a ‘fishing village ambiance’, it offers resort guests basing themselves in Cancun a much-needed escape from the agitated atmosphere of the chaotic metropolis and its tourist-filled sands.
El Cuyo may lack the Riviera Maya’s more advanced infrastructure, but it’s made great strides towards improving its attractiveness to guests in recent years, from the investment in better internet connectivity to the opening of ten boutique hotels and preservation of the town’s beaches.
Soon enough, El Cuyo could be inscribed on Mexico’s list of Magical Towns, recognized for their historical significance and/or inestimable value to the tourism industry.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com