Extraordinary but true, it has taken just 40 years to transform a deserted, narrow strip of waterfront land on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula into the top destination on the Caribbean Sea.
Cancun is now a holiday paradise of perfect beach, balmy ocean, world-class resorts, buzzing nightlife, great shopping and eclectic dining – so much so that many visitors are content to stay put within the 20-kilometre beachfront of the Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone).
They may not realise they are missing some of the greatest natural and archaeological wonders of the world, and all just a day trip away.
Stand in front of El Castillo, the magnificent Temple of the Plumed Serpent, or the 200 carved columns flanking the Temple of the Warriors, and defy emotions that vary between wonder and awe at the amazing achievements of a culture that held sway over the Yucatan for more than 2000 years.
No visit to Cancun should be complete without an excursion to this World Heritage-listed site boasting the extraordinarily well-preserved remains of a Mayan city that reigned supreme between 750 and 1200 AD.
There are numerous guided, one-day tours of the astonishing ruins available from Cancun, but given the round trip alone takes around four to five hours, some visitors elect to arrive the night before and stay in a local hotel before exploring early the following morning. The site is open from 8am to 5pm. Allow at least three hours on site for a wander.
Know more about the Yucatan peninsula. The Yucatan Peninsula
Check out Cancun's beach life. Beaches Of Cancun
The breathtaking, cliff-side setting, perched above a beautiful beach and overlooking the Caribbean Sea, is the highlight of Tulum and more than makes up for the fact there are fewer Mayan ruins to explore compared with Chichen Itza.
This once major trading port is also around an hour closer to Cancun so it all adds up to a very manageable day trip combining an exploration of Mayan history with a swim at one of the region’s most gorgeous beaches and, maybe, a meal or a drink at one of nearby Tulum town’s restaurants and bars.
Visit this island about a 40-minute ferry ride from the resort town of Playa del Carmen, south of Cancun, to find out why the famed underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau raved about the qualities of the fringing reef and the life it supports.
Cozumel is a diving and snorkelling paradise with this portion of the world’s second largest coral reef boasting more than 250 species of tropical fish as well as turtles and more.
Away from the water, Cozumel has a rich Mayan and Spanish colonial history as well as a contemporary place as one of Mexico’s most popular tourism destinations. Allow for a full trip from Cancun with a variety of guided tours available depending on inclusions.
Whale Of A Time
The season runs for just four months, but if your timing is right this could be one for the bucket list.
The Yucatan is one of the very few places in the world where snorkellers and divers can get up close and personal with the mighty but benign (plankton consuming) whale shark. Specialist, often small-group guided tours from Cancun operate between June and September, with guaranteed sightings at the peak in June, July and August.
Jump in for the experience of a lifetime, with the possible bonus of a swim with manta rays, turtles and dolphins.
About 90 minutes south of Cancun, this unique water park and natural, fish-filled aquarium - a combination of water-filled sinkholes (cenotes), salt lagoons, caves and streams - is a fun, all inclusive, day-trip destination for the whole family and the perfect place for the less experienced snorkellers to earn their water wings.
Or maybe a dreamy float downstream on an inner tube is more your pace.
There are also lots of adventure-filled or relaxing alternatives for landlubbers such as cycling, exploring or simply lounging. Full facilities on site include restaurants, bars, and change rooms.