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Cancun is famous for its all-inclusive hotels and raucous nightlife. However, there are lots of hidden spots, from remote cenotes to the charming colonial town of Valladolid that you can enjoy within easy reach of Mexico‘s Caribbean resort. Here are some of the best.
Instead of going to Isla Mujeres like everyone else, head 48km (30mi) north to the protected Isla Contoy. It’s known as the most important nesting site for sea birds in the Caribbean, and only 200 visitors are allowed onto the island per day.
Located a few hours drive from Cancun, this spectacular limestone sinkhole, one of the jewels of the Maya Riviera, is a favorite among cave divers and snorkelers. There are two pools to explore, and divers can swim between the two via a cavern.
The Secret River is the largest non-submerged cave in the Yucatan peninsula, and you can swim through the underground river on a guided tour. There are thousands of stalactites and stalagmites to see, and the tour is a great introduction to the complex geography of the area.
Cancun’s Hotel Zone is packed with bars and restaurants, but Hacienda El Mortero is worth a visit if you want to get a taste of old Mexico – the restaurant is a reconstruction of the original 17th-century Hacienda El Mortero in the northern state of Durango – without travelling too far. No one will argue that it’s the most authentic Mexican dining experience, but it serves dishes from across Mexico, and it’s hard to resist the in-house mariachi band.
Get down with the locals at this salsa, merengue and bachata club in Cancun. Practice your steps, or just enjoy the live music that starts soon after midnight from Wednesday through to Saturday.
If you have the time, take a charter plane to Isla Holbox, which is far quicker than the four-hour drive. This dazzling island paradise is home to thousands of birds, including flamingos, and it’s largely unspoilt white sands are amazing.
While many people head to the pyramids of Chichen Itza, the ruins at Coba are quieter and more adventurous. Set in lush jungle, a trip here feels more like you’re off the beaten path than following the herd – it’s enough to bring out the inner Indiana Jones as you climb the 120 steep stone steps to the top of Ixmoja, the site’s largest pyramid, to view the lush jungle stretching away towards the horizon.
If you want to get out of the high-rise city of Cancun, take a cab 32km (20mi) down the coast to the quiet fishing village of Puerto Morelos. There are great beaches, snorkeling tours into the Puerto Morelos Reef National Park, cenotes to explore inland, and amazing food as well as a fine craft market just south of the main plaza.
Take a day trip down the coast to see the turtles in the bay of Akumal. You don’t need to go on a tour, simply take a snorkel and mask and dive in to enjoy one of the world’s rarer experiences – swimming with turtles. You will be able to see them most days within easy reach of the shore. Remember to treat them respectfully.
The charming town of Valladolid is only a couple of hours from Cancun, and provides a window into small town life. Check out the colonial center of town, take a dip in the cenote that is just a few blocks from the main square, and have a bite to eat before the drive back to your hotel.