Picture-perfect beaches, ancient sites and resorts that have it all – holidays to Mexico’s Caribbean Coast go above and beyond the call of duty.
Something for everyone
Mexico’s Caribbean Coast gives holidaymakers exactly what they want. Along the Yucatan Peninsula, purpose-built resorts edge tropical beaches, jungle tours and diving opportunities are easy to come by, and watersports are out in force.
In terms of places to stay, Cancun is the frontrunner. The decision to turn this former fishing village into a tourist resort back in the Seventies saw the creation of the Hotel Zone – an 18-kilometre-long island with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a lagoon on the other. These days, this lively strip spoils visitors with shopping malls, casinos, golf courses, and the best nightlife for miles around.
The best of the rest
An hour or so down the coast, Playa del Carmen is a compact version of Cancun. Most of the town’s shops, restaurants and bars are strung along Fifth Avenue, which runs parallel to a long ribbon of white sand. If you want to escape the crowds, head south to sophisticated Playacar or the undeveloped shores of the Riviera Maya.
Wherever you stay, reminders of Mexico’s past are never more than a daytrip away. Stand in the shadow of the colossal pyramid at Chichen Itza, navigate the remains of temples at Tulum, or take a swim in an ancient cenote.
Things to See and Do in Mexico - Caribbean Coast
If your idea of beach heaven is white sands, neon-blue seas and swaying palms, Mexico’s Caribbean Coast will be right up your street. From Cancun in the north, right down to Tulum in the south, the sands here are second-to-none.
The big beach
Cancun Beach is by far the most popular stretch of coast in these parts. Its white sands unravel for 20 kilometres, and pack in everything from beach bars to watersports centres. The beach is split into various sections, which make up a ‘7’ shape. Running along the top you’ll find calm, shallow waters, while down the side you tend to get a bit more surf. Bear in mind that while all sections of the beach are technically public, some are difficult to access if you’re not a hotel guest.
The secret beach
If you like your beaches quiet and crowd-free, head down the coast to Tulum Beach. While the main part can get pretty lively, if you make your way up to the northern end, the crowds thin out and you’re left with a gorgeous stretch of white sand all to yourself. The waves can get pretty big here, so be careful if you’ve got little ones with you.
Cancun’s Market 28 is full to the brim with cheap-and-cheerful crafts, trinkets and souvenirs. Just how cheap depends on your haggling skills. It’s really easy to find the place – just look for buses with Mercado 28 on the front. Further south, make for Playacar’s Plaza Playacar or the open-air market by the Tulum ruins for inexpensive local crafts.
If you’re in Cancun, stop by La Isla Shopping Village. Here, clothes stores like Zara and Benetton are set among Venetian-style canals. The mall is also home to an aquarium, a cinema and every type of restaurant imaginable. In Playa del Carmen, 5th Avenue is the place to be – it runs parallel to the beach and is lined with shops and boutiques selling everything from fashion to hand-painted ceramics.
If you’re a label-lover, make for Luxury Avenue, a boutique mall on Boulevard Kukulcan in Cancun. Make sure you bring your credit card – you’ll find brands like Burberry, Cartier and Fendi here. If it’s jewellery you’re after – Mexico is the world’s biggest silver producer – try the Lapis Jewellery factory in Playa del Carmen, or the boutiques in Cancun’s Plaza Caracol.
In Playacar and the Riviera Maya, entertainment tends to come in the form of hotel-based cultural shows and performances from Mariachi bands. In Playa del Carmen, there are loads of restaurants along 5th Avenue, many with al fresco seating or roof terraces. In Cancun, you can bypass the more loud-and-lively entertainment in favour of a sunset cruise or drinks in a sophisticated jazz bar.
For a night on the tiles, it’s hard to beat Cancun. The hotel district is chock-a-block with bars, clubs and discos. Coco Bongo is the big name of the clubbing scene, thanks to its top-class DJs, live bands, flying acrobats and confetti showers. If you’re in Playa del Carmen, you’ll find loads of bars and clubs on 5th Avenue and along the beach.
Mexican tacos aren’t made with the crispy shells we’re used to in the UK, but with soft tortillas, a bit like a fajita. They’re filled with meat, fish or veg, and usually topped with onions, fresh salsa, guacamole and a squeeze of lime. You’ll find them on most restaurant menus, and you can grab them on the go from street stalls, too. Ditch the cutlery if you want to eat them the Mexican way.
Sopa de lima
This zingy chicken soup is usually made with juice from the bittersweet limes grown on the Yucatan Peninsula. Onions, chillies and a whole heap of spices are added, and the mixture is topped with strips of crispy fried tortilla. It’s great if you’re feeling a little under the weather, thanks to the vitamin C-packed limes.
This thick, rich sauce is a Mexican favourite, and is sometimes touted as the country’s national dish. It combines chillies with chocolate to make a spicy-sweet dressing that’s served with meat and enchiladas. It’s often paired with turkey on special occasions, like weddings or birthdays.
Mexico is synonymous with tequila. Locals tend to sip and savour theirs, rather than downing it in one with salt and a wedge of lemon. You’ll also find a hefty dose of tequila in Mexico’s signature cocktail – the Margarita. The Paloma is a more traditional cocktail – it’s made with tequila, grapefruit juice, soda and a dash of lime.
This popular Mexican pudding is more like a crème caramel than a traditional English flan. Like its European counterpart, it’s rich and sweet, with a jelly-like middle and a gooey caramel topping. If you want to be extra indulgent, try the chocolate version.
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Playacar is the jewel of Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. Just south of Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan peninsula, it’s an exclusive gated community of luxurious hotels and trendy condo complexes. The place comes with its very own 18-hole championship golf course. Plus you’ve got cotton-white beaches, top dive spots and a stylish shopping mall right on your doorstep.
You can head for the Riviera Maya, on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, and do nothing but sip cocktails on tropical white-sand beaches. But there's so much more on offer. Mayan ruins, eco parks, world-class diving – they’re all on the cards along this 30-kilometre stretch of coastline, which takes in lively Playa del Carmen and the quieter Punta Allen.
Back in the Seventies, Cancun was just a small fishing town on the northeast coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Today, it’s a huge resort that comes in two parts. There’s the downtown area with its markets and local cantinas, and then you’ve got the Hotel Zone that comes with restaurants, shopping malls and nightclubs – and an extra-long strip of beach.
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