If you haven't made a trip to Mexico's Caribbean coast, you're missing out. And now is a great time to go. The economic downturn hit Mexico's tourism industry hard, and there are bargains to be had. Best of all, this region has something for everyone.
In 1970, when Banco de México chose to develop Cancun as a tourist destination, only three people lived here. Today, there are about 150 hotels in Cancun and more than 280 restaurants. Cancun's hi-rise hotels and fast food outlets aren't everyone's idea of fun, but this region's original resort town is still its biggest and most popular. Easy access by plane and beautiful beaches keep everyone from the spring break crowd, to families, to honeymooners, coming back for more. Sun, surf, and a wide range of nightlife options are what Cancun is all about.
Just off the coast-a seven-mile ferry ride from Cancun-Isla Mujeres is much smaller, quieter, and still quite a bit quirkier than it's resort neighbor, despite it's growing popularity as a tourist destination. Walk the island or explore by golf cart or bicycle. Stunning beaches, a Turtle Preservation Center, and fantastic snorkeling and diving provide plenty to do. At night, enjoy an icy margarita and some fresh grilled fish in one of the town's many charming restaurants.
About 40 miles south, you'll find the coastal town of Playa del Carmen. Twenty years ago, Playa del Carmen was populated by a lot of laid-back, Bohemian types who sold just enough homemade jewelry (or what-not) to Cozumel-bound tourists to keep themselves in tacos and cerveja. Needless to say, "office hours" were sporadic and the living was easy. Today, Playa del Carmen's hippy hide-away has been very discovered, but the once-sleepy fishing town still has charm-and a lot more nightlife.
Cozumel is about 12 miles offshore of Playa del Carmen, and it couldn't be more different. Cozumel has an easy, sexy glamour that suits its international reputation as a great place to dive. Cozumel's reef system draws divers from all over the world, but if that's not your thing, you'll still enjoy this beautiful island. There are luxury resorts, golf, shopping, gourmet dining, and fantastic snorkeling sites-including the famous Chankannab Park, which offers an experience that's much like swimming through a fully stocked tropical fish aquarium. Amazing!
Another hour south of Playa del Carmen is Tulum, home of the famous pre-Colombian walled city and Mayan ruins. The third most-visited Mayan site in Mexico, it is one of the best-preserved coastal ruins and a great one to visit if you're after culture and some surf time. The local beaches are spectacular, and when you tire of them, you can visit the famous cenotes, natural pools that have formed in the limestone as part of a vast underwater cave system. Tulum's become a fashionable destination and there are a wide variety of lodging choices between the thatched palapa hotels on the beach and the many smaller posadas in the puebla of Tulum proper. Tulum's a great place to decompress, and the truly adventurous can go further south and explore the Punta Allen Peninsula, for great fishing and snorkeling, the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, and a chance to really get away from it all.