Holidays to Cancun are so much more than one big party – although if party's what you're looking for, it's a pretty safe bet. Famous for Spring Break, swimming with dolphins and ancient Mayan civilisations, Cancun offers a slice of the Caribbean in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Particularly popular with families, as well as couples and friends looking for the best of both worlds in a holiday – that's lazy pool days and action-packed excursions. Here's a few highlights you could try when holidaying in Cancun.
If you're looking for a good beach, Cancun can offer some pretty spectacular ones. With over 20 kilometres of glorious white sand, you're never far from the ocean. Generally the North Side beaches are considered to be more tranquil, with calm waters perfect for swimming or kids' paddling. The East Side, in contrast, offers excitement in the form of the perfect waves for surfing. Each beach has something different to offer, so you could spend your holiday beach hopping.
Playa Delfines – literally 'dolphin beach' – has some of the clearest water in the whole of Cancun. One of the city's largest beaches, it's popular among thrill-seekers who come to surf the waves. Playa Tortugas offers excellent snorkelling opportunities, sailboard rentals and a bungee tower over the water. If you're looking for solitude, however, Pearl Beach has calm, warm water perfect for children or a relaxing swim. You won't regret taking the ferry across to Isla Mujeres, either. This idyllic island across the water from Cancun is home to the picturesque North Beach – one of the most highly-rated beaches in all of Mexico.
Cancun is no stranger to a party. Particularly renowned for the ultimate Spring Break – when American students descend in numbers for their equivalent of the British Easter holiday – Cancun is a party-hard destination all year round. The city offers dance clubs, late-night bars, festivals and live music – but it's the bright disco lights that dominate the scene. Some of the best nightclubs are attached to the big hotels so check out the hotel zone for everything from techno to salsa.
Coco Bongo is one of the most famous clubs, and for good reason. You get a real performance if you are patient enough to wait in line outside, as live bands make surprise appearances or acrobats take to the ceiling to move their bodies to the beat. The City – with a capacity of over 5,000, Mandala and Dady'O should also be on your shortlist. If all this sounds too much like hard work, you can settle in at The Black Pub for a pint instead.
It's hard to miss Mayan culture, even if you've only travelled to Cancun for a party. The Mayans were an ancient culture indigenous to Mexico and southwards to Central America. They reached the peak of their power around the 6th century AD but dramatically declined after this, for reasons unknown to historians.
The Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, however, still has plenty of evidence of their existence, and spectacular remains to explore. Cancun is the ideal base to access these awe-inspiring ancient sites. Some – like El Rey, an archaeological site at the Sheraton Cancun Resort and Towers – are situated in Cancun itself. Named after a skeleton found at the site, at El Rey you can see the remains of ancient buildings separated by plazas, as well as two temples used in later history.
Two hours' drive away, Chichen Itza sits in the middle of the Yucatan Peninsula and is home to an iconic Mayan pyramid. You simply can't go to Cancun without seeing this iconic ancient city.
Cancun offers thrills on and off the water, with surfing, scuba diving and caving all popular pastimes. Cancun boasts 24 dive sites, and both newbies and dive-masters flock to this accessible and beautiful patch of Caribbean water. Coral reefs are the big attraction, and diving in the Yucatan Peninsula sinkholes the most unique. Other watersports include windsurfing, sailing, surfing and fishing, plus jet skis are two-a-penny. If you dream of swimming with dolphins, then Cancun can make that happen too.
As well as the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, there are plenty of other reasons to break free of Cancun's delights and explore further afield. The waterfront eco-archeological theme park, Xcaret, is very popular with holidaymakers to the Yucatan Peninsula. Situated close to Playa del Carmen, this huge park includes a zoo, waterpark, shows, demonstrations and play areas. You can enjoy cultural demonstrations such as pre-Hispanic dances or float along underground rivers through the jungle. It's a winner with families.
Tulum is a walled town around a two-hour drive away, just south of Cancun and worth visiting for its beach and the pre-Columbian Maya walled city which once served as a major port for Coba. If you're left wanting more after a visit to Chichen Itza, this is the place for you. You'll find plenty of tour operators in Cancun running trips to Tulum and other destinations.