COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. The Best of Cancún, Cozumel & the Yucatán. The Yucatán Peninsula welcomes more visitors than any other part of Mexico. - PDF

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The Best of Cancún, Cozumel & the Yucatán by David Baird & Lynne Bairstow 1 The Yucatán Peninsula welcomes more visitors than any other part of Mexico. Its tremendous variety attracts every kind of traveler

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The Best of Cancún, Cozumel & the Yucatán by David Baird & Lynne Bairstow 1 The Yucatán Peninsula welcomes more visitors than any other part of Mexico. Its tremendous variety attracts every kind of traveler with an unequaled mix of sophisticated resorts, rustic inns, ancient Maya culture, exquisite beaches, and exhilarating adventures. Between the two of us, we ve logged thousands of miles crisscrossing the peninsula, and these are our personal favorites the best places to go, the best restaurants, the best hotels, and must-see, one-of-a-kind experiences. 1 The Best Beach Vacations Cancún: Essentially one long ribbon of white sand bordering aquamarine water, Cancún has one of Mexico s most beautifully situated beaches. If you want tropical drinks brought to you while you lounge in the sand, this is the vacation for you. Though Cancún has a reputation as a bustling, modern megaresort, it s also a great place for exploring Caribbean reefs, peaceful lagoons, and the surrounding jungle. The most tranquil waters and beaches on Cancún Island are those at the northern tip, facing the Bahía de Mujeres. See chapter 4. Isla Mujeres: If laid-back is what you re after, this idyllic island offers peaceful, small-town beach life at its best. Most accommodations are smaller, inexpensive inns, with a few unique, luxurious places tossed in. Bike or take a golf cart around the island to explore rocky coves and sandy beaches, or focus your tanning efforts on the wide beachfront of Playa Norte. Here you ll find calm waters and palapa restaurants, where you can have fresh-caught fish for lunch. You re close to great diving and snorkeling just offshore, as well as Isla Contoy National Park, which features great bird life and its own dramatic, uninhabited beach. If all that tranquillity starts to get to you, you re only a ferry ride away from the action in Cancún. See chapter 5. Cozumel: It may not have lots of big, sandy beaches, but Cozumel has something the mainland doesn t: the calm, flat waters of the sheltered western shore. It s so easy, it s like swimming in an aquarium. Cozumel also has lots to see under the water. See chapter 5. Playa del Carmen: This is one of our absolute favorite Mexican beach vacations. Stylish and hip, Playa del Carmen has a beautiful beach and an eclectic assortment of small hotels, inns, and cabañas. The social scene focuses on the beach by day and the pedestrian-only Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) by night, with its fun assortment of restaurants, clubs, sidewalk COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 4 CHAPTER 1. THE BEST OF CANCÚN, COZUMEL & THE YUCATÁN Mexico Tijuana Mexicali UNITED STATES Ensenada 2 BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE Puerto Nogales Penasco San Quintin SONORA 10 Ciudad Juárez Ojinaga Hermosillo CHIHUAHUA Guerrero 18 Isla Cedros Negro Chihuahua Cuidad Cuauhtémoc COAHUILA Santa Obregón Rosalia Delicias Mulegé BAJA Hidalgo Monclova CALIFORNIA del Parral SUR Loreto 57 SINALOA 45 Los Torreón 40 Mochis DURANGO Saltillo Culiacán 1 La Paz 15 Sea of Cortés Durango San José 40 Fresnillo 54 Todos Santos del Cabo Mazatlán ZACATECAS Cabo San Lucas Zacatecas San 15 Luis Potosí Tuxpan AGUASCALIENTES San Blas Tepic Aguascalientes Islas Marias NAYARIT León Puerto Vallarta Guadalajara Guanajuato GUANA- JALISCO Lake Chapala JUATO Morelia Barra de Navidad Uruapan Manzanillo Colima Pátzcuaro COLIMA MICHOACAN PACIFIC I C OCEAN Lázaro Cárdenas Zihuatanejo & Ixtapa km 150 mi N THE BEST BEACH VACATIONS 5 UNITED STATES Piedras Negras Nuevo Laredo 85D Monterrey Matamoros 180 NUEVO LEÓN 85 TAMAULIPAS Ciudad Victoria Gulf of Mexico Ciudad Mante Tampico Río Lagartos SAN LUIS Isla POTOSÍ Progreso Mujeres Valladolid San Miguel 180 Cancún Tuxpan de Allende Celestún Mérida Cozumel QUERÉTARO Poza Rica YUCATÁN Playa del HIDALGO Papantla Carmen Querétaro Campeche Punta Pachuca 180 QUINTANA Allen Mexico City Xalapa Bay of CAMPECHE ROO Toluca TLAXCALA Campeche Bacalar Tlaxcala 261 Veracruz Majahual Cuernavaca Puebla Escárcega Peninsula MORELOS PUEBLA Orizaba Catemaco Chetumal TABASCO 95 Tehuacán Taxco VERACRUZ Villahermosa D Coatzacoalcos GUERRERO 175 Palenque BELIZE 186 Tuxtla San Cristóbal Caribbean Oaxaca Acapulco Gutiérrez de las Casas Sea 200 OAXACA CHIAPAS Salina Comitan GUATEMALA Puerto Escondido Cruz Huatulco 200 Puerto Gulf of Ángel Tehuantepec HONDURAS Tapachula EL SALVADOR 6 CHAPTER 1. THE BEST OF CANCÚN, COZUMEL & THE YUCATÁN cafes, and shops. You re also close to the coast s major attractions, including nature parks, ruins, and, cenotes (sinkholes or natural wells). Cozumel Island is just a quick ferry trip away. Enjoy it while it s still a manageable size. See chapter 6. Tulum: Fronting some of the best beaches on the entire coast, Tulum s small palapa hotels offer guests a little 2 The Best Cultural Experiences Exploring the Inland Yucatán Peninsula: Travelers who venture only to the Yucatán s resorts and cities miss the rock-walled inland villages, where women wear colorful embroidered dresses and life seems to proceed as though the modern world (with the exception of highways) didn t exist. The adventure of seeing newly uncovered ruins, deep in jungle settings, is not to be missed. See chapters 6 and 7. Street & Park Entertainment (Mérida): Few cities have so vibrant a street scene as Mérida. Throughout the week you can catch music and dance performances in plazas about the city, and on Sunday, Mérida really gets going streets are closed off, food stalls spring up everywhere, and you can enjoy a book fair, a flea market, comedy acts, band concerts, and dance groups. At night, the main plaza is the place to be: People dance to mambos and rumbas in the street in front of the town hall. See chapter 7. 3 The Best Archaeological Sites Calakmul: Of the many elegantly built Maya cities of the Río Bec area in the lower Yucatán, Calakmul is the broadest in scope and design. It s also one of the hardest to get to about 48km (30 miles) from the Guatemalan border and completely surrounded by jungle (actually, the slice of paradise far from crowds and megaresorts. The bustling town lies inland; at the coast, things are quiet and will remain so because all these hotels are small and must generate their own electricity. If you can pull yourself away from the beach, nearby are ruins to explore and a vast nature preserve. See chapter 6. San Cristóbal de las Casas: The city of San Cristóbal is a living museum, with 16th-century colonial architecture and pre-hispanic native influences. The highland Maya live in surrounding villages and arrive daily in town wearing colorful handmade clothing. The villages are a window into another world, giving visitors a glimpse of traditional Indian dress, religious customs, churches, and ceremonies. See chapter 8. Regional Cuisine: A trip to the Yucatán allows for a culinary tour of some of Mexico s finest foods. Don t miss specialties such as pollo or cochinita pibil (chicken or pork in savory achiote sauce), great seafood dishes, the many styles of tamal found throughout Chiapas and the Yucatán, and Caribbean-influenced foods such as fried bananas, black beans, and yuca root. For a glossary of popular regional dishes, see appendix B. Calakmul Biological Reserve). Calakmul is a walled city with the tallest pyramid in the Yucatán a city whose primary inhabitants are the trees that populate the plazas. Go now, while it remains infrequently visited. See The Río Bec Ruin Route in chapter 6. THE BEST ACTIVE VACATIONS 7 Tulum: Some dismiss Tulum as less important than other ruins in the Yucatán Peninsula, but this seaside Maya fortress is still inspiring. The stark contrast of its crumbling stone walls against the clear turquoise ocean just beyond is an extraordinary sight. See Tulum, Punta Allen & Sian Ka an in chapter 6. Uxmal: No matter how many times I see Uxmal, the splendor of its stone carvings remains awe-inspiring. A stone rattlesnake undulates across the facade of the Nunnery complex, and 103 masks of Chaac the rain god project from the Governor s Palace. See The Ruins of Uxmal in chapter 7. Chichén Itzá: Stand beside the giant serpent head at the foot of the El Castillo pyramid and marvel at the architects and astronomers who positioned the building so precisely that shadow and sunlight form a serpent s 4 The Best Active Vacations Scuba Diving in Cozumel & along the Yucatán s Caribbean Coast: The coral reefs off the island, Mexico s premier diving destination, are among the top five dive spots in the world. The Yucatán s coastal reef, part of the second-largest reef system in the world, affords excellent diving all along the coast. Especially beautiful is the Chinchorro Reef, lying 32km (20 miles) offshore from Majahual or Xcalak. Diving from Isla Mujeres is also quite spectacular. See chapters 5 and 6. Fly-Fishing off the Punta Allen & Majahual Peninsulas: Serious anglers will enjoy the challenge of flyfishing the saltwater flats and lagoons on the protected sides of these peninsulas. See Tulum, Punta Allen & Sian Ka an and Majahual, Xcalak & the Chinchorro Reef in chapter 6. body slithering from peak to the earth at each equinox (Mar 21 and Sept 21). See The Ruins of Chichén Itzá in chapter 7. Ek Balam: In recent years, this is the site where some of Mexico s most astounding archaeological discoveries have been made. Ek Balam s main pyramid is taller than Chichén Itzá s, and it holds a sacred doorway bordered with elaborate stucco figures of priests and kings and rich iconography. See Ek Balam: Dark Jaguar in chapter 7. Palenque: The ancient builders of these now-ruined structures carved histories in stone that scholars have only recently deciphered. Imagine the magnificent ceremony in A.D. 683 when King Pacal was buried below ground in a secret pyramidal tomb unspoiled until its discovery in See Palenque in chapter 8. Cenote Diving on the Yucatán Mainland: Dive into the clear depths of the Yucatán s cenotes for an interesting twist on underwater exploration. The Maya considered the cenotes sacred and their vivid colors so indeed seem otherworldly. Most are between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, and dive shops in these areas regularly run trips for experienced divers. For recommended dive shops, see Cozumel in chapter 5, and Playa del Carmen and South of Playa del Carmen in chapter 6. An Excursion to Bonampak & Yaxchilán: Bonampak and Yaxchilán two remote, jungle-surrounded Maya sites along the Usumacinta River are now accessible by car and motorboat. The experience could well be the highlight of any trip. See Road Trips from San Cristóbal in chapter 8. 8 CHAPTER 1. THE BEST OF CANCÚN, COZUMEL & THE YUCATÁN Birding: The Yucatán Peninsula, Tabasco, and Chiapas are an ornithological paradise, with hundreds of species awaiting the birder s gaze and list. One very special place is Isla Contoy, with more than 70 species of birds as well as a host of marine and animal life. See p. 112, chapter 6, and chapter 8. 5 The Best Places to Get Away from It All Isla Mujeres: If there s one island in encantado.com): The attractive casitas Mexico that guarantees a respite from are the place to unwind at this resort, stress, it s Isla Mujeres. You ll find an where hammocks stretch between ample selection of hotels and restaurants, and they re as laid-back as their placid Lago (Lake) Bacalar, south of trees. The hotel is on the shores of patrons. Here life moves along in pure Cancún near Chetumal, and there s mañana mode. Visitors stretch out and nothing around for miles. But if you doze beneath shady palms or languidly want adventure, you can head out to stroll about. For many, the best part the lake in a kayak, follow a birding about this getaway is that it s comfortably close to Cancún s international the intriguing Maya ruins on the trail, or take an excursion to Belize and airport, as well as to shopping and dining, should you choose to reconnect. Hotel Eco Paraíso Xixim (Celestún; nearby Río Bec ruin route. See p See Isla Mujeres in chapter 5. & 988/ ; The Yucatán s Riviera Maya: Away htm): In these crowded times, space is from the busy resort of Cancún, a a luxury that s getting harder to come string of quiet getaways, including by. Space is precisely what makes this Capitán Lafitte, Paamul, Punta Bete, place so great: Fifteen bungalows and and a portion of Xpu-ha, offer tranquillity on beautiful beaches at low coconut plantation. Throw in a good 5km (3 miles) of beach bordering a prices. See North of Playa del Carmen and South of Playa del hammocks, and you have that rare restaurant, a pool, and a couple of Carmen in chapter 6. combination of comfort and isolation. Tulum: Near the Tulum ruins, about See p two-dozen beachside palapa inns Hacienda San José Cholul: Though offer some of the most peaceful getaways in the country. This stretch just of Mérida, this hacienda feels like only an hour outside the bustling city might offer the best sandy beaches on another world. The quiet, unhurried the entire coast. Life here among the manner of both guests and staff and birds and coconut palms is decidedly the beautiful tropical surroundings unhurried. See Tulum, Punta Allen make it the perfect place to recoup & Sian Ka an in chapter 6. some of the silence and slow time lost Rancho Encantado Cottage Resort to the modern world. See Hacienda (Lago Bacalar; & 800/505-MAYA Hotels on p in the U.S., or 983/ ; www. 6 The Best Museums Museo de la Cultura Maya (Chetumal): This modern museum, one of the best in the country, explores Maya archaeology, architecture, history, and mythology. It has interactive exhibits and a glass floor that THE BEST SHOPPING 9 allows visitors to walk above replicas of Maya sites. See p Museo Regional de Antropología (Mérida): Housed in the Palacio Cantón, one of the most beautiful 19th-century mansions in the city, this museum showcases area archaeology and anthropological studies in handsome exhibits. See p Museo Regional de Antropología Carlos Pellicer Cámara (Villahermosa): This anthropology museum addresses Mexican history in the form of objects found at archaeological 7 The Best Shopping Some tips on bargaining: Although haggling over prices in markets is expected and part of the fun, don t try to browbeat the vendor or bad-mouth the goods. Vendors won t bargain with people they consider disrespectful unless they are desperate to make a sale. Be insistent but friendly. Resort Wear in Cancún: Resort clothing especially if you can find a sale can be a bargain here. And the selection may be wider than what s available at home. Almost every mall on the island contains trendy boutiques that specialize in locally designed and imported clothing. See Shopping in chapter 4. Duty Free in Cancún: If you re looking for European perfume, fine watches, or other imported goods, you ll find the prices in Cancún s duty-free shops (at the major malls on the island and in downtown Cancún) hard to beat. See Shopping in chapter 4. Precious Gemstones in Isla Mujeres: Isla Mujeres, also a duty-free zone, offers an impressive selection of both precious stones and superb craftsmen who can make jewelry designs to order. See Isla Mujeres in chapter 5. Quinta Avenida, Playa del Carmen: This pedestrian-only street offers sites, with particular emphasis on the pre-hispanic peoples of the Gulf Coast region. See p Parque-Museo La Venta (Villahermosa): The Olmec, considered Mexico s mother culture, are the subject of this park/museum, which features the magnificent stone remains that were removed from the La Venta site not far away. Stroll through a jungle setting where tropical birds alight, and examine the giant carved stone heads of the mysterious Olmec. See p leisurely shopping at its best. No cars, no hassle, simply stroll down the street and let your eye pick out objects of interest. Expect a good bit of merchandise popular with counterculture types, such as batik clothing and fabric, Guatemalan textiles, and inventive jewelry and artwork. But you ll also find quality Mexican handicrafts, premium tequilas, and Cuban cigars. See Playa del Carmen in chapter 6. Mérida: This is the marketplace for the Yucatán the best place to buy hammocks, guayaberas, Panama hats, and Yucatecan huipiles. See Exploring Mérida in chapter 7. San Cristóbal de las Casas: Deep in the heart of the Maya highlands, San Cristóbal has shops, open plazas, and markets that feature the distinctive waist-loomed wool and cotton textiles of the region, as well as leather shoes, handsome pottery, and Guatemalan textiles. Highland Maya Indians sell direct to tourists from their armloads of textiles, dolls, and attractive miniature likenesses of Subcomandante Marcos complete with ski masks. See San Cristóbal de las Casas in chapter 8. 10 CHAPTER 1. THE BEST OF CANCÚN, COZUMEL & THE YUCATÁN 8 The Hottest Nightlife Although, as expected, Cancún is the center of much of the Yucatán s nightlife, that resort city isn t the only place to have a good time after dark. Along the Caribbean coast, beachside dance floors with live bands and extended happy hours in seaside bars dominate the nightlife. Here are some favorite hot spots, from live music in hotel lobby bars to hip techno dance clubs. Coco Bongo, Carlos n Charlie s, La Boom & Dady O: These Cancún bars all offer good drinks, hot music, and great dance floors. Mango Tango is a top spot for live Cuban and Caribbean rhythms in Cancún. See p. 97. Forum by the Sea: Here s one place that has it all: The newest of the seaside entertainment centers in Cancún has a dazzling array of dance clubs, sports bars, fast food, and fine dining, with shops open late as well. You ll find plenty of familiar names here, including the Hard Rock Cafe and Rainforest Cafe. It s also the home of Cancún s hottest club, Coco Bongo, which can pack in up to 3,000 revelers and does so regularly. See p. 97. The City: Currently Cancún s newest and hottest offering, The City (www. thecitycancun.com) is a day-and-night 9 The Most Luxurious Hotels Aqua (Cancún; & 800/ in the U.S.): This brand-new resort, part of the Fiesta Americana chain, was designed with a water theme in mind. The spa is a 1,500 sq.-m (over 15,000-sq.-ft.) facility that blends Eastern, pre-hispanic, and Western treatment philosophies. Tai Chi, yoga, and Pilates classes are offered, and you can indulge in a full array of massages and treatments. After you ve rejuvenated, you can partake of the club, offering a Beach Club with a wave machine for simulated surfing, a water slide and beach cabañas, a Terrace bar serving food and drinks, and the sizzling Club, at which the world s top DJs have spun through the night until the sun once again rises over the turquoise waters. This is truly a City that never sleeps. See p. 97. The Lobby Lounge: Located in Cancún s luxurious Ritz-Carlton Hotel, this is the most elegant evening spot on the island. Romantic live music, a selection of fine cigars, and more than 120 premium tequilas (plus tastings) allow you to savor the spirit of Mexico. See p. 98. San Cristóbal de las Casas: This city, small though it may be, has a live-music scene that can t be beat for fun and atmosphere. The bars and clubs are all within walking distance, and they re a real bargain. See San Cristóbal de las Casas in chapter 8. Quinta Avenida, Playa del Carmen: Stroll along lively, pedestrian-only Fifth Avenue to find the bar that s right for you. With live music venues, tequila bars, sports bars, and cafes, you re sure to find something to fit your mood. See p exceptional cuisine offered at the resorts three restaurants under the direction of celebrity chefs, or chill in the Lounge to cool tunes and tempting drinks. See p. 75. Le Méridien Cancún Resort & Spa (Cancún; & 800/ in the U.S., or 998/ ; www. meridiencancun.com.mx): This is the most intimate of the luxury hotels in Cancún, with an understated sense of highly personalized service. Most THE BEST BUDGET INNS 11 no
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