Holidays to Mexico’s Caribbean Coast are about more than sombreros and slammers. Prepare for white-sand beaches, bright blue seas and those mysterious cities of gold.
The beaches on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast are seriously impressive, especially the ones along the Yucatan Peninsula. This whole sweep is quilted in soft white sands and lapped by turquoise waters. Factor in coral reefs and watersports, and you’ve got a beach scene and a half.
Beyond the coast
Inland, the Yucatan Peninsula lines up Spanish colonial towns, rainbow-painted haciendas and steamy jungles. Delve a bit deeper and you’ll unearth cities that long ago surrendered to Mother Nature – vines twist over forgotten pyramids and tree roots curl around great blocks of stone.
Mexico’s age-old cities are the handiwork of the Maya – the country’s ancient people. Along with the Aztecs, they left behind a permanent mark on the country. At last count, archaeologists had unearthed a staggering 14,000-plus historical sites. And this part of Mexico lays claims to some of the biggies, like Chichen Itzá and Tulum.
The main hubs
Leading the way in terms of places to stay is Cancun. It’s packed with hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and nightclubs, all inches from amazing white sands. Then there’s hip Playa del Carmen, which turns things down just a notch. If you’re on the lookout for complete peace and quiet, though, make a beeline for the palm-fringed shores of Playacar and the Riviera Maya.
Things to See and Do in Mexico - Caribbean Coast
Down Mexico way
When it comes to beaches, Mexico’s a bit of a show-off. Dazzling white-sand stretches unravel right the way along the coast, from buzzing Cancun in the north, to laid-back Tulum in the south. And to top it off, they’re all tickled by the clear, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. The only downside is deciding which one to lay your towel on.
The big beach
If you like your beaches big, Cancun is your place. The one here stretches for a massive 20 kilometres, and has white sands that are so bright they make sunglasses a must. There are endless bars and restaurants along the beach, so lunch is taken care of, and if you fancy trying your hand at watersports there are things like jet-skiing, banana boating and scuba diving up for grabs. The water’s usually fine for swimming, although there can be big waves and occasionally rips, so keep an eye out for the warning flags.
The secret beach
The tiny beach at the Tulum ruins is usually packed, but walk 15 minutes down the road and you’ll come to the top end of Tulum Beach. Granted, you’ll find hordes of sun-seekers near the beach bars and massage huts, but up at the northern end the crowds have thinned out and you’re usually left with just the odd crab for company. There’s a decent sea breeze here, which makes for some impressive waves. Just bear in mind they might be a bit rough for little ‘uns.
Market 28 in downtown Cancun is real bargain-hunting territory. You can get some great deals on everything from clothes to cosmetics. To get there, just look out for buses with Mercado 28 on the front. If you’re staying further south, pay a visit to Playacar’s Plaza Playacar, which does a great line in traditional crafts.
Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue follows the lead of its New York counterpart. Clothes stores and jewellery shops crowd this busy strip. In Cancun, La Isla leads the pack. At this outdoor mall, high-street shops fan out around landscaped grounds streaked with canals.
If you’re feeling flush, make tracks for Plaza Kukulcan, on Cancun’s Hotel Zone. This shopping Mecca has more than 250 stores to its name, including Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Cartier. If jewellery is more your thing, try the Lapis Jewellery outlets. There’s one in Cancun and another in Playa del Carmen.
Hotels all over the Caribbean Coast lay on entertainment like mariachi bands and Mayan cultural shows. Or if a night out is on the cards, you can keep things low-key at a restaurant along Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue. For something a bit different, sign up for a Cancun bay cruise. There are plenty to choose from, including a pirate-themed night on a replica Spanish galleon, which sets sail from Playa Linda.
Nowhere does nightlife like Cancun – just ask the thousands of American students who rock up here every year for Spring Break. Coco Bongo sets the standard. This is no ordinary club – you can dance, sure, but you’ll also see live bands and Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics. If you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, 5th Avenue is chock-a-block with bars and clubs.
Order a taco in Mexico and you might get a surprise. Traditional Mexican tacos are served in soft corn tortillas, rather than the crunchy shells you’re probably used to at home. The tortillas are usually stuffed with chicken, pork or beef, topped with spicy salsa, then rolled up and eaten sans knife and fork.
This one-of-a-kind sauce is made from the unlikely combination of chocolate and chillies. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s sweet, though. Mole Poblano is strictly a savoury affair, and is normally drizzled over chicken, turkey or enchiladas.
These incredibly moreish pastry snacks are served in restaurants and at roadside stalls. They’re topped with a generous helping of beef, chicken or vegetables, folded into parcels, and deep-fried. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, treat yourself to one of the fruit-filled versions instead.
No, we’re not talking about Italy’s famous tricolour pizza – we’re on about the cocktail. Whether you take it on the rocks or blended with ice, you’re guaranteed a hefty tequila kick. Most of the time, the drink is served in a cocktail glass that’s had its rim dunked in salt.
Corona is big in the bars here and goes down a treat with tacos and burritos. It’s usually served ice-cold and paired with a chunk of fresh lime, making it the ultimate thirst-quencher.
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Cancun is a huge personality on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, taking four million visitors comfortably in its stride. The place is packed out with bars, restaurants and mega-clubs, but it’s not just a magnet for the 24-hour party crowd. Wrapped all the way around the Hotel Zone, you’ve got a whopping 22-kilometre stretch of sand.
If you’re not on the list, you’re not coming in. That’s the bottom line in Playacar, which is set up as an exclusive area for a select group of hotel guests. The gated community means you can make the most of private beaches, where crowds are about as uncommon as cloudy days. The whole resort’s set further down the coast from lively Cancun, and plies its trade as a specialist for explorers and easygoing types.
The best place to start in Riviera Maya is the beaches. Huge brushstrokes of sand add a belt of dove white to the green and blue coastline, and sunbathers pepper the shore from Cancun right the way down to Tulum. The hotels are all from a high-end mould, and feel more like little villages than just somewhere to catch 40 winks. Take the luxury El Dorado Royale, with its palm-lined pools and open-air bars which hug the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
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