All right, they’re more temples than tombs, but let’s not sweat the details. Chichén Itzá, an ancient Mayan city voted into the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’, is a popular day trip from Cancun and won’t disappoint. Dotted with temples and pyramids dating back to 600 AD, it’s the perfect place to live out your Indiana Jones-slash-Lara Croft fantasies.
Not to be outdone in the adventure stakes, Puerto Vallarta is set against an action-filled backdrop of the jungle-covered Sierra Madre mountains. Adventure-lovers can make like Tarzan and swing (well, zip line) through the trees, or hike tangled forest trails.
Picture: Chichén Itzá
Experiences don’t get much more thrilling than swimming with whale sharks. These quite literally bus-sized creatures, known for being ‘gentle giants’, are the biggest fish in the world. The Quintana Roo coast just south of Cancun is known for huge gatherings of them, and swimming alongside these guys counts as a big fat tick on the bucket list. Swimmers should of course keep a respectful distance, not touch the animals, and refrain from flash photography.
If you’re more about looking good on the beach than diving into the deep, a day trip to Sayulita, on the upmarket Riviera Nayarit (a short drive from Puerto Vallarta), is for you. It’s an oh-so-fashionably shabby-chic enclave of beachside boutiques and sizzling street food stands, with a generous sprinkling of gorgeous surf guys and girls to boot. Get on board with a surf lesson at the little town’s gloriously unspoiled beach. Or simply soak up the sun after a hard day’s souvenir shopping.
There’s a reason Cancun is the go-to spot for US college students’ legendary Spring Break. The Hotel Zone is a blaring strip of busy bars and clubs - think of it as Mexico’s answer to Benidorm, with extra tequila. For a spectacularly bonkers night out, Coco Bongo is renowned for its circus-meets-student-union vibe. Plus, er, sausage balloons. Lots of them.
Prefer sunset cocktails and meals for two on the beach? Puerto Vallarta’s prime position on Banderas Bay is so damn dreamy, there’s even a dedicated Romantic Zone. Find it just south of Downtown, where torch-lit seafront restaurants all point towards sunset. End dinner with a signature ‘Sexy Coffee’, involving a daring tableside fire show. Downtown’s main boardwalk, the Malecón, is also a top spot for clinking drinks as the sun sinks. There’s lots of local life here for people watching, too.
Cancun is all about taking time off from being a grown-up. So when you’re not out waving your sausage balloon, you can be running around the Xplore activity park. A day tour here includes driving your own 4x4 over rocky jungle paths, rafting underground rivers in rugged caverns, and flying over the tree-tops in a zip-line hammock. Yes, they really have thought of everything.
If you want to get to know Mexico, Puerto Vallarta offers a more traditional slice of life. You can see petroglyphs carved into rocks by ancient civilisations, visit local cheese-and tortilla-makers, and even try a tasting at a tequila distillery on the Hidden Mexico tour. Catch locals of all ages dancing to folk music in the main town square, Plaza Principal, on Sundays. For more recent history, Las Caletas cove, a quick boat ride away, is a private beach hideout once owned by Hollywood film director John Huston. He famously hosted Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor here in the Sixties, putting Puerto Vallarta on the map as a glamorous spot for celebs. The jungle-backed beach gives Las Caletas a wild, deserted island feel, so it’s a great place to be castaway for a day – particularly as there’s also a handy restaurant right on the sand.
Take your pick of our Mexico holidays.
Author: Laura Chubb
Treat yourself to a stay at Beach Palace Cancun, where every room comes with a Jacuzzi® and there are two rooftop pools offering sea views.
Adults-only Secrets Vallarta Bay Puerto Vallarta is a stunning seafront property that’s walking distance from Downtown, with gourmet dining, huge rooms and all-inclusive top-shelf spirits.
The huge, luxurious Riu Palace Peninsula hotel from our Platinum collection is just 15 minutes from Puerto Juarez where you can swim with whale sharks.
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