Ah, the Yucatan Peninsula. Once the cradle of the Mayan pre-Columbians and home to some of the most advanced ancient cities in all of Mesoamerica, today one of the leading destinations in Mexico for beach lovers and luxury seekers looking to discover some of the country’s most legendary stretches of Caribbean coast. For most visitors the first port of call is sprawling, heady and hedonistic Cancun, where beer bars and bamboo clubs pump beats until the early hours and spring breakers ease their hangovers on the beaches during the day. With gleaming white sands, an endless stream of entertainment and some of the best developed luxury resorts in the region, it’s easy to see why.
But there’s plenty more to see on this headland of the Caribbean, and those thinking of breaking out from the Cancun rigmarole of rave and recovery should definitely consider one of these seriously cool day trips from the city!
Located at the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula, just over 100 miles from Cancun, the UNESCO-attested site at Chichen Itza draws more than a million visitors annually, making it one of the most visited archaeological sites in all of Mesoamerica. But its popularity is well deserved, and the complex of gargantuan stepped pyramids, ancient, lichen-dotted monoliths and magnificent colonnaded temples is perhaps unrivalled in its historical illumination of pre-Columbian society, not to mention one of the best places to witness the intriguing wonders of Mayan astronomical architecture. Put simply, it’s not to be missed!
Chichen Itza is the number 3 reason to visit Cancun according to our top 10 reasons to visit Cancun
Perfect Cozumel; a place of year-round summer temperatures, glimmering coastal waters, long, curved beaches of brilliant white sand backed by leaning palms and a smattering of lively little post-colonial balnearios, all rising from the swells of the warm Caribbean just under 60 miles south of Cancun. This is where the city-dwellers of the Yucatan come to unwind, sip rum cocktails and wallow in a lazy world of turquoise seas, wondrous jungle and shady palm groves, with bars and buccaneers to boot.
Don't miss the Hopper travel spotlight on Cozumel for info and tips on visiting Cozumel and where to stay
While Chichen Itza is the undisputed bucket list king of the Yucatan Peninsula, its smaller brother to the south still packs a serious punch. Tulum may not have the soaring terraced pyramids of Kukulcan and de los Guerreros, but it does sit perched proudly on the rocky cliffs of the Mexican coast, washed over by the turquoise waves of the Caribbean Sea. It’s unquestionably one of the most picturesque archaeological sites in the region and a real must for any traveler interested in the long history of Mesoamerica.
Don't miss Hopper's travel article on Mexico's top five hidden travel gems to get more ideas on where to vacation in Mexico
Just a short drive from the archaeological complex of Tulum and a little over three hours from Cancun itself, another of the Yucatan Peninsula’s great UNESCO sites lies sprawled on a stretch of the Mexican coast. Encompassing nearly 800,000 acres, the Sian Ka'an patchwork of salt water lagoons, thick mangrove forests and tropical woodland makes for one of the region’s most diverse natural habitats, where visitors have been known to spot creatures as elusive as the South American puma and the wild Caribbean ocelot!
Not sure if you should visit Mexico or Jamaica? Check out Hopper's destination battle between Mexico and Jamaica
Between the fashionistas that strut their way down the cobbled Quinta Avenida and the sparkling sand beaches of the Yucatan, visitors to this sleek and chic getaway less than hour south of Cancun enjoy one of the most happening towns in the region. Today, the Italo-cafés and European coffee joints sprinkled around the central district buzz with jet set faces and Versace-touting champagne drinkers, while nearby, colorful coastal coral reefs burst with tropical marine life and crystal waters shimmer in the Mexican sun.
Playa Del Carmen also made it onto Hopper's list of the best places in the Caribbean for a family friendly spring break vacation