If you hear the word “Cancun”, the first thing that might come to your mind is white beaches (more than 22 kilometers of pristine sand in total), clear water and nights soaked in tasty margaritas, but Cancun is much more. Located in the northeast corner of a peninsula with such an evocative name as Yucatan, the city is part of the ancient Mayan civilization territory and therefore the gateway to their magical culture, which is intertwined with an infrastructure created specifically for the area to become a vacation paradise for tourists from around the world. Cancun receives more than 3.3 million visitors annually. A destination that offers two different worlds where you can find both adventurous trips and relaxing plans. This is easy in an area with an (almost) perfect climate that has evolved from a small village of just 12 fishermen and their families to become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Since we just opened a Goldcar office in this paradise on earth, we want to recommend you five plans that you just have to do if you visit this colorful part of the globe, where exotic flowers like the pretty flamboyanes grow everywhere.
The basics: Playa del Carmen
South of Cancun you will find Playa del Carmen, the heart of Riviera Maya, with its characteristic turquoise beaches where countless luxury resorts offer their services to thousands of tourists every year. The small town is crossed by the Quinta Avenida, a street over 4 kilometers long, full of shops, restaurants, souvenirs and food, to the delight of foreign tourists. In ancient times, Playa del Carmen was called Xaman Ha, and it was a starting point for the Maya in their pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Ixchel in Cozumel, which is currently just 45 minutes away by ferry. A paradise island with natural parks, beautiful beaches, archaeological sites and the world’s second largest coral reef – a must-see for divers!
Water sports: Isla Mujeres
About six kilometers away from the northeast coast of Cancun, you will find an idyllic destination, whose clear and warm waters, abundant in marine life, reefs and caves, attracted to the very Jacques Cousteau, who spent some time here diving and fishing while enjoying the famous hospitality of its inhabitants. El Garrafon Marine Park is the most popular place, because here you can snorkel, hike, swim with dolphins, do some kayak tours, and of course, scuba diving. At the southern end of the island you will find a modern lighthouse overlooking a small Mayan temple dedicated to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility who used to guide the way of Mayan sailors to settlements as distant for them as Cozumel.
Magical Mayan legends
The fascinating legends of the northern region of the Yucatan Peninsula is formed by the history of the Maya and Spanish people. Cancun is known as the gateway to the Mayan World, a large geographical region comprising five Mexican states (Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas) and five countries (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador). The most impressive archeological site in the area is Chichen Itza, which dates from the Mayan post-classic era. Here you can admire the Temple of the Thousand Columns, the Snail Astronomical Observatory and the Ballgame Courts. About 60 kilometers away from Riviera Maya, you can visit the Tulum Archaeological Zone, a spectacular area with a stunning beach cliff where a fortified fortress stands. One of the highlights is El Castillo, a watchtower that served as a lighthouse and used to send signals from the coast to cargo ships in the area. Some 40 kilometers from this wonderful construction, the pyramid of Coba, less visited than Chinchen Itza, is preserved. Climb its steps to enjoy an unforgettable landscape, with the impressive jungle vegetation at your feet. Remember to be fit in order to climb the 42-meter high construction aided only by 110 steps and large ropes attached to the ancient stones that lead to the summit of the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Cenotes: Enjoy nature at its best
The cenotes are natural wonders made out of streams and underground rivers that cover the Peninsula of Yucatan. They are one of the major tourist attraction in the area; with wild and lush spaces where visitors can dive or swim. There is a route that covers the most representative ones, but the most known and most visited one is Gran Cenote, nearly 4 kilometers from Tulum. It has a characteristic crescent shape and is suitable for all ages, as it has shallow waters perfect for snorkeling. However, you can also dive in other areas with depths up to ten meters. The cenotes’ clear waters are simply delightful.
The unknown: Mahahual
Blue Peace, the heart of the Mayan Coast. This is the popular name of Mahahual, a village undiscovered by tourists that looks like Playa del Carmen a few decades ago: a picturesque fishing village that just opened its doors to tourism offering an ideal place for adventure and relax. Its sandy streets are still unpaved and you will find quaint family restaurants that serve lobster, clams and fresh fish. Thanks to its tropical location, diving enthusiasts will enjoy an explosion of coral formations, sponges and wildlife such as sea turtles, manatees and seahorses. One of the main attractions in the area, the Banco Chinchorro, is an atoll declared a nature reserve and recognized as the second largest barrier reef in the world. This reef is located in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Quintana Roo and Belize. It’s very easy to access this quiet town, which was recently discovered by domestic tourism, and where some of the cruise ships that visit the area make an unforgettable stop.