Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula: It's Not All Cancun

It’s no surprise Mexico is one of the most visited countries in the world. 35 UNESCO World Heritage sites, friendly people, sunshine, tacos, and tequila – need I say more? If you want to explore the Yucatán Peninsula away from the resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, these popular places are a good place to start.

After flying into Cancun, head:

South to Tulum

This photogenic little town’s popularity may have skyrocketed recently thanks to Instagram, but it’s for good reason. 1,000-year-old ruins, cenotes, and white, sandy beaches are just some of its major drawcards, and don’t miss La Eufemia – a waterfront taco joint serving some of the best fish tacos that lets you hang out in their beach chairs all day. Tulum’s cenotes (natural sinkholes) are hidden treasures predating the Mayans by thousands of years, and swimming in them will soon become your favorite activity. Gran Cenote and Cenote Dos Ojos are two of the most beautiful.

West to Chichén Itzá

Dating back to 550AD, Chichén Itzá is one of the Seven “New” Wonders of the World, and these ancient Mayan temple ruins are shrouded in mystery. You’ll be surprised to find out there’s more to see than the crowning glory, El Castillo, including the intricate Temple of Warriors, the Great Ballcourt where Mayan athletes used to compete, and the Observatory. Many people travel from the coast to see the ruins within a day, but it’s suggested to stay one or two nights nearby in the town of Valladolid. Doing so will give you a chance to visit some of the cenotes in the area (Cenote Samulá and Ik Kil cenote) and staying close to the ruins means you’ll beat the tour bus crowds by a few hours.

North to Las Coloradas (Río Lagartos)

This tiny Mexican fishing village sits on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. Local guides will often take visitors out on their boats where pink lakes, mud baths, flamingos and crocodiles won’t disappoint you. The region is part of the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve – a protected wetlands area also home to turtles, jaguars, and sea birds. But the main attraction is the cotton candy pink lakes which get their color from the red-colored algae and plankton thriving in the salty environment.

East to Isla Holbox

With the Caribbean Coast cluttered by all-inclusive resorts, Isla Holbox is a breath of fresh air. With no roads or cars, it’s the epitome of ‘slow living.’ The beach is like a shallow pool, extending far beyond the shore, and hammocks are hung from wooden stilts in the water allowing you to watch the sun sink slowly while pink-reflected sea laps over you. If you’re in Holbox between mid-May and mid-September, it’s one of the best places to swim with whale sharks, and on nights when the moon isn’t too bright, you can see bioluminescent phytoplankton.

Before you leave, make sure to visit Alma Beach Bar – a rooftop pool bar overlooking azure Caribbean waters. And getting back to the mainland is easy; ferries leave every 30 minutes, or it’s a two-hour drive back to Cancun.

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