Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a sublime south eastern coastal region, renowned for startlingly beautiful sands kissed by the Caribbean, historic ruins from ancient civilisations, and a fabulous climate. Here are seven reasons why you’ll love it.
The Riviera Maya stretches south from Cancun to Tulum, a blissful tract of palm fringed, white sand beaches beside the Caribbean Sea. This glorious spot is the most developed tourist area in the Yucatan, much of the coastline monopolised by exclusive hotels. Water based activities are abundant: parasail, fish, sail and kitesurf, or dive amongst rays and sea turtles in warm calm waters. Back on land, laze on divine powder-fine sands, and explore historic Mayan ruins.
Playa del Carmen is a busy resort town just down the coast from its bustling neighbour Cancun. Its main drag, Quinta (5th Avenue) offers lively nightlife, an abundance of shops and some excellent seafood restaurants. The town boasts several parks, an aquarium and a Frida Kahlo museum if you fancy an alternative to the beach.
A long established party town famed for its staggeringly beautiful beaches, Cancun is the Yucatan’s major visitor hub. Beach bums, take your pick from miles of white sands including the gorgeous public beach, Playa Delfines. Culture lovers, pay a visit to Cancun’s top class Mayan museum, Museo Maya de Cancun, and explore the historical Mayan ruins at El Rey. Don’t miss the fascinating underwater sculpture museum, with galleries at Punta Nizuc and on Isla Mujeres.
The majestic Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, believed to date from 300 AD, are the most visited and carefully restored of the Yucatan’s archaeological sites. Dominating the ancient city’s cluster of temples, pyramids and arcades is the 100 feet high El Castillo, an imposing pyramid shaped temple dedicated to the Mayan god Kukulkan. Visit this UNESCO world heritage site early in the morning to avoid the inevitable crowds.
Fun fact! The Yucatan region contains the world’s highest number of naturally occurring limestone water holes, or cenotes. The Mayans revered these waters and considered them sacred. These days the pools lure visitors keen to dip their toes. Cenote Calavera just outside Tulum is an underground cenote accessed via a rustic ladder, or if that’s too easy, you can plunge into the water via a Tarzan rope swing, or simply leap off the rock face. El Gran cenote, also near Tulum, draws scores of visitors. The extensive underground cave system, complete with stalagmites and stalactites, is a diving hotspot. Dos Ojos (meaning two eyes) comprises two pools linked by a walkway, one deep and one shallow. The water is remarkably clear, making it idea for scuba and snorkel.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere
Sian Ka’an Biosphere (its name means ‘where the sky is born’) is a vast seaside nature reserve and UNESCO heritage site. Spanning over 1.3 million acres of tropical forests, mangroves, lagoons and coral reefs, it comprises the largest stretch of protected coastline in Mexico. The reserve nurtures a vast array of plant and wildlife. Here you will find rare and endangered species including pumas, jaguars, howler monkeys, dolphins and four breeds of turtle, plus over 370 bird species including pink flamingos and toucans. A handful of fishing communities exist in the stunning wilderness.
Ruins of Tulum
Tulum is famed for its ancient Mayan temples and fortresses, a 13th century fortified complex dramatically perched on a clifftop, with far reaching views across the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Bring a hat and water when you visit, as there’s minimal shade and that sun is HOT. Afterwards head to the white sands of nearby Playa Paraiso where you can swim, snorkel or hang out at one of the beach bars.
A tiny tranquil island nine miles off the coast of Cancun, the ‘isle of women’ was purportedly named after the Mayan goddess of childbirth. The best way to explore its beautiful five mile expanse is in a hired golf cart. Follow the main road that hugs the coastline; you’ll pass numerous bars and stopping points en route. Playa Norte is the main beach, a pristine stunner of white sand, and cobalt water, perfect for swimming. It’s also the ideal place to watch the sun set over the ocean in spectacular fashion. Then make your way to Avenida Hildago in the centre of town, and wine and dine in the brightly coloured stretch of shops and restaurants.
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