GMT -6 hours
Discover Mayan sites and laze on powdery beaches
The sun-drenched Yucatán Peninsula conjures up images of platinum sands, azure waters and gently swaying palms but Mexico is a diverse nation that offers so much more than stunning beaches. With incredible adventure activities, activity-packed eco-parks, world-class diving and spectacular archaeological sites, Mexico offers a host of captivating combinations.
Combine cultural and historic exploration with an indulgent beach stay to make the most of this Central American gem. Discover remarkably preserved Mayan and pre-Aztec ruins, from the jungle-clad ruins of Palenque to the breathtaking temples at Chichen Itza – one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – before unwinding on heavenly beaches.
Best time to visit
High season at beach resorts is between December and April.
This former fishing village of Cancun is now a lively resort that lures hedonists in search of picture-perfect beaches, luxurious resorts that cater for your every whim, designer malls and incredible nightlife. The Hotel Zone or Zona Hotelera is a bustling strip of bars, dance clubs and live music venues. From mid-March to early April American teens on spring break flock to Cancun, keen to enjoy the sunshine and beach life whilst partying into the early hours. During this time the resort can get very busy.
The waters between Cancun and Isla Mujeres off the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula offer an underwater paradise of magnificent reefs, pristine coral gardens, freshwater caverns and wrecks as well as the world’s largest underwater sculpture museum. Whale sharks, dolphins and turtles are just some of the incredible marine life that can be spotted here.
Chichen Itza, one of Mexico’s most famous archaeological sites and an extraordinary feat of architecture. Once one of the most powerful Mayan cities on the Yucatán Peninsula, Chichen Itza served as a ceremonial centre between 550 and 800 AD and was mysteriously abandoned for 100 years before being resettled in 900 AD. The remarkably preserved ruins include the iconic El Castillo, the Temple of the Jaguars and the Mayan Observatory.
Stretching south of Cancun along the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula to Playa del Carmen, Tulum and beyond, the Mayan Riviera is renowned for its miles of white sand beaches, all inclusive, the dramatic cliff-top ruins of Tulum and fantastic ecological parks. Quieter than Cancun, the Mayan Riviera is ideal for those in search of peace and relaxation whilst soaking up the natural beauty, history and culture of the region.
Playa del Carmen is a great base for exploration of the nearby ruins of Tulum and Coba. Enjoy watersports from the beach and sample the local catch-of-the-day at one of the casual beachfront restaurants. Stroll around the cobblestone streets and shop for traditional handicrafts, jewellery and folk art on bustling Fifth Avenue and then dance until the sun comes up and one of the lively bars and open-air clubs. The sleepy island of Cozumel is just half an hour away by boat and offers a peaceful setting for world-class snorkelling and scuba diving.
The Mayan ruins of the walled city of Tulum date back to 1200-1500 AD and are perched dramatically on a limestone cliff against a spectacular backdrop of endless blue skies, talcum powder sands and aquamarine waters. Highlights include El Castillo which is believed to have served as a temple and a beacon for boats approaching the shore, and the Temple of the Frescoes which features murals and sculptures depicting Mayan gods.
Mexico boasts some of Latin America’s richest colonial architecture and the capital Mexico City is home to the magnificent Zócalo – the heart of the city and one of the world’s largest squares. A giant Mexican flag is ceremoniously raised and lowered daily, numerous community events take place here and Aztec dancers perform daily. The square is overlooked to the north by the Metropolitan Cathedral and to the east by the Palacio Nacional which is adorned with colourful murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera which depict the country’s history from the Aztecs to pre-revolution Mexico.
Head north-east of the Zócalo to discover the ruins of the Templo Mayor which have an incongruous setting in the city centre. Destroyed by the Spanish in the 16th Century, this temple in the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlanare remained undiscovered until 1978 when workmen discovered a huge stone carving depicting Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess. During the site’s excavation thousands of artefacts were discovered - including a wall of skulls and life size statues of Aztec warriors – which can be seen at the on-site museum.
Just an hour outside of the city lies the spectacular archaeological zone of Teotihuacán, also known as the City of the Gods. This capital of the pre-Hispanic empire and formerly the largest city in the Western Hemisphere was built between the 1st and 7th centuries and is now a vast and impressive complex of ruins that is well worth taking the time to explore. A challenging climb up the steep steps of the magnificent Pyramids of the Sun and Moon is rewarded with incredible panoramic views over the whole site. The Avenue of the Dead is lined with sacred monuments, palaces and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl which features beautiful carvings of the feathered serpent deity.
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The Yucatán Peninsula is an ideal destination for a truly amazing holiday. Whether you enjoy lying on a beach, viewing ancient ruins or studying Mexico’s fascinating history, it has everything.
The breathtaking pyramids at Chichen Itza are deserving of their title as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and they are in close proximity to the beautiful beaches of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. The beach at Tulum has the whitest sand I have ever seen - and that includes the Maldives!"