When you take a holiday to Mexico, you can expect much more than spicy food, upbeat music and vast sunny beaches. With ancient ruins of forgotten civilisations just a stone’s throw away, and the shimmering Gulf of Mexico hinting at the Caribbean just beyond it, your holiday to Mexico is bound to be unforgettable.
Cancun is the heart of any Mexican holiday
While countless holiday destinations worldwide tell a tale of a sleepy fishing village turned tourist hub, none can do with as much style and pride as Cancun. The Yucatan Peninsula is your playground during your stay here, and its popularity has never made it lose its heart.
24 kilometres of beaches ensure you’ve got hot sun and warm seawater any time you travel. Fashion boutiques and nightclubs match every kind of visitor’s interests, and if you’ve been following along you’ll know we’ve got a lot of love for big lively venues like Senor Frog’s.
However, even with Cancun packed with more than plenty to do, there are some highlights in the surrounding area we think are well worth your attention, from cultural hotspots to fantastic adventures.
The Mayan Ruins of Tulum
Although there are ruins peppered throughout Mexico, each lovingly preserved by the country’s historical experts, our recommendation for a day trip definitely goes to Tulum. Whether you’re whisking the kids away for a step into the past, or curious to see how Mayan influences are felt in Mexico even today, Tulum tops the bill as one of the most accessible and enthralling archaeological sites you’ll ever find.
The views out over the Caribbean Sea make the ruins of Tulum worth the trip alone, but delve into its ancient grey stone walls and even further mysteries unravel before you. The boxy buildings and well kept gardens surrounding the site speak to a time in the 13th and 14th centuries, when Tulum was a trading city that was the pride of the Mayan world. It’s thought that Tulum stood the test of time as far back as 550 AD or beyond, and has seen countless rulers come and go over the ages. And perhaps most uniquely, Tulum is one of the few Mayan outposts to be walled, meaning it was as much a trading outpost as a fortress.
Either way, it’s a photogenic place where history can be felt in every footstep. You’ll find Tulum around 80 miles south of Cancun, and a gorgeous coastal drive will see you make the journey in around one hour and 45 minutes.
Shopping in Playa del Carmen
Around 50 minutes’ drive from Tulum, and an hour’s drive from Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a sumptuous beach resort town well worth your time and attention. The appeal of this place is obvious, due to its handsome natural beach where you can waterski and jetski, while brave explorers plunge into the deep to meet the Great Mayan Reef. However, it’s also worth noting that Playa del Carmen offers some of the best retail therapy anywhere in Mexico, and holidaymakers from every resort in the region flock here for bargains and treats.
For more handmade touches, the arts and crafts of Fifth Avenue are sure to appeal. This town has nurtured some superb creativity in its people, who’ve turned their hand to everything from bespoke clothing to basket weaving, pottery and art. You’re bound to find something unique here, before entering the vast complex that is the Paseo del Carmen outdoor mall. Styled like a classic little Spanish town, the pale buildings here host big names from Harley Davidson to Zara to Krispy Kreme and beyond, as well as an Apple store to appease the gadget gatherers in your holiday group. Good food is a given here too, from the sweet treats of the Haagen-Dazs shop to the Japanese sushi on the corner.
Check out Cozumel Island via a stunning riviera
Mainland Mexico may have it all, but to see the real wild side of this place, a trip out into the country comes well recommended. In that regard, Cozumel Island is the place to be, tucked out of the way a little distance off the shoreline.
Boat trips to the island are easily had at plenty of Mexico’s coastal towns, but for today’s adventure we recommend heading there from Riviera Maya.
While this stunning locale boasts all the beaches, deep sea diving and spiced cuisine of any of its Mexican neighbours, it’s the ease of getting to Cozumel Island that makes this town, an hour and 10 minutes’ drive south from Cancun, so worthwhile.
What makes Cozumel Island so appealing is that it’s like a miniature Mexico all its own. More densely crowded beaches in the north of the island are balanced out by quieter family shores in the south, and getting around the reasonably large island is fun in itself thanks to options like hired horse and carriage rides, or the always popular 4×4 trips.
There’s a superb variety in how to spend your time here. For nature lovers, look no further than Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, with 2,500 acres of lush landscapes and blue skies. Here you can meet crocodiles, sea turtles and countless colourful exotic birds, as well as tour the local lighthouse or take the highly recommended catamaran cruise around Laguna Colombia.
If the kids are in tow, head to Mexico Park south of the town of San Miguel. It’s a path dotted with miniature replicas of the top Mexican attractions, from Tulum to the cathedral of Mexico City and the ancient pyramids of the Aztecs. It’s a cheeky way to say you’ve seen it all on your holiday, and if it sounds like it’s just for kids, the tequila tasting tour will convince you otherwise.
Mexico’s packed with places to see, and even our highlights barely scratches the surface. If you have any favourite places in Mexico you think no holidaymaker should miss, let us know in the comments.