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Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a sublime southeastern coastal region renowned for its surprisingly beautiful sands lapped by the Caribbean, historic ruins of ancient civilizations, and fabulous climate. Here are seven reasons you’ll love it.
The Riviera Maya stretches south from Cancun to Tulum, a stunning stretch of white sand beaches fringed with palm trees by the Caribbean Sea. This glorious place is the most developed tourist area in Yucatan, much of the coastline monopolized by exclusive hotels. Water activities are plentiful: parasailing, fishing, sailing and kitesurfing, or diving among stingrays and sea turtles in warm, calm waters. Back on earth, relax on fine, divine sands and explore historic Mayan ruins.
Playa del Carmen is a bustling resort town just down the coast from its bustling neighbor Cancun. Its main thoroughfare, Quinta (5e Avenue) offers a vibrant nightlife, an abundance of shops and excellent seafood restaurants. The town has several parks, an aquarium, and a Frida Kahlo museum if you fancy a beach alternative.
A long-established party town famous for its breathtakingly beautiful beaches, Cancun is the main hub for visitors to the Yucatan. Beach lovers, take your pick from miles of white sand, including the beautiful public beach Playa Delfines. Culture buffs, visit Cancun’s premier Mayan Museum, Museo Maya de Cancun, and explore the historic Mayan ruins of El Rey. Don’t miss the fascinating Museum of Underwater Sculpture, with galleries in Punta Nizuc and on Isla Mujeres.
The majestic Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, believed to date back to AD 300, are the most visited and most carefully restored of the Yucatan archaeological sites. El Castillo, 100 feet tall, is an imposing pyramid-shaped temple dedicated to the Mayan god Kukulkan towering above the group of temples, pyramids and arcades of the ancient city. Visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site early in the morning to avoid the inevitable crowds.
Fun fact! The Yucatan region contains the world’s largest number of natural limestone water holes, or cenotes. The Mayans worshiped these waters and considered them sacred. These days, swimming pools attract visitors eager to soak their feet. Cenote Calavera just outside Tulum is an underground cenote accessed via a rustic ladder, or if that’s too easy you can dive into the water via a Tarzan rope swing, or just jump off the rock face. El Gran cenote, also near Tulum, attracts dozens of visitors. The vast underground cave system, with its stalagmites and stalactites, is a hotspot for diving. Dos Ojos (which means two eyes) includes two swimming pools connected by a walkway, one deep and one shallow. The water is remarkably clear, making it ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere (its name means “where the sky is born”) is a vast seaside nature reserve and a UNESCO heritage site. Covering over 1.3 million acres of rainforests, mangroves, lagoons and coral reefs, it includes Mexico’s largest stretch of protected coastline. The reserve is home to a wide range of plants and wildlife. Here you will find rare and endangered species, including pumas, jaguars, howler monkeys, dolphins and four breeds of turtles, as well as more than 370 species of birds, including flamingos and toucans. A handful of fishing communities exist in the beautiful wilderness.
Tulum is famous for its ancient Mayan temples and fortresses, a 13e Century-walled complex spectacularly perched on top of a cliff, with breathtaking views of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Bring a hat and water when you visit, as there is little shade and the sun is HOT. Then, head to the white sands of nearby Playa Paraiso, where you can swim, snorkel, or relax in one of the beach bars.
A small, quiet island nine miles off the coast of Cancun, “Island of Women” is said to have been named after the Mayan goddess of childbirth. The best way to explore its magnificent five-mile stretch is to hire a golf cart. Follow the main road which runs along the coast; you will pass many bars and stopping points along the way. Playa Norte is the main beach, a pristine wonder of white sand and cobalt water, perfect for swimming. It’s also the perfect place to watch the sun set over the ocean dramatically. Then head to Avenida Hildago, in the city center, and taste wine and dine in the brightly colored shops and restaurants.
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