Attractions in and Around Cancun

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Vacationers to Cancun are lucky because there is so much to see and do in this area. Whether you stay in town or go on a day trip there is something for everyone to enjoy. Below are some of the more popular attractions. Once you have decided on where to go you can head out on your own or ask one of the local travel agencies to make arrangements for you. Many of the hotels offer special package deals to the more popular attractions. 

  THE ISLANDS  

Cancun is surrounded by a variety of islands each with their own personality and all within easy reach. Exploring these places will show you why this area attracts so many visitors. 

Isla Mujeres 

This tiny island (five miles lone and half a mile wide) is known as the Island of Women. Isla Mujeres is a 25-minute ferry ride from downtown Cancun and despite its popularity with day-trippers from the mainland has retained its laid-back atmosphere. The preferred activity here is lounging on the beach with drink in hand and the perfect place to do this is at Playa Norte where the sea is a calm as a lake and waist deep for the first 35 meters (100 yards). It’s also the perfect place to watch the sunset. Playa Paraíso and Playa Lancheros on the western shore are also pleasant spots for swimming and sunning. At the southern most point of the island is Garrafón Marine Park where you can snorkel along some of the famous coral reefs. The eastern side of the island has spectacular wind-swept beaches. 

Dining on Isla is a treat with menus that offer a variety of fresh fish, lobster, shrimp, and conch along with great pizza, steaks, sandwiches and hamburgers. Shopping is equally as fun – you can wander through the cobbled streets of downtown looking at the shops selling everything from t-shirts to Mexican crafts. Isla is well known for its finely crafted jewelry created by local artisans. Ferries run from downtown Cancun and Puerto Juarez For more information check out our www.visitislamujeres.com

Cozumel Island 

Cozumel has the distinction of being the largest island in Mexico as well as the largest cruise ship port. It’s an exciting combination of casual sophistication that offers the perfect recipe for a great vacation. Located 19 kilometers off the coast and two hours south of Cancun, Cozumel is a flat island with an interior covered by dense jungle, and marshy lagoons. On the western side are white sandy beaches with calm waters where you can snorkel, sail, windsurf or scuba dive. Eastern side beaches are deserted stretches of sand with dramatic rock formations and powerful surfs – a favorite place to surf or boogie board. Since so much of Cozumel is undeveloped there is lots of wildlife on land and in the ocean. It’s most famous attraction is the magnificent coral reef that surrounds the island drawing hundreds of divers from around the world. But that’s not all it has to offer. Cozumel's restaurants have an international cuisine that rivals Cancun, especially the seafood (lobster, king crab, grouper and red snapper) with a Mediterranean accent. Shopping is an even bigger industry than diving for Cozumel due to the cruise ships. Prices are higher here than inland but the variety is excellent including folk art, gold and silver jewelry, pottery, painted balsa-wood animals, blown glass and handcrafted textiles. It’s hard to explore the whole island in one day, but fortunately there are a number of excellent luxury resorts and hotels should you decide to spend the night. For more information visit our www.visitcozumel.com page. 

Isla Holbox

There is no better place to get away from it all than on Isla Holbox. This small island (25 km/16 mi long) rests at the tip of Quintana Roo, just north of Cancun and offers a kind of romance and tranquility that is rare these days. The small village has no paved roads and the gregarious residents get around on electric golf carts. On the gulf side of the island are long stretches of sand, where the birds gather to bask in the sun. It’s a beachcomber’s paradise – the sands are strewn with hundreds of seashells. Afternoon breezes from the Gulf of Mexico ensure that the island remains cool. Hotels are charming but few fall into the luxury category as compared to Cancun. But with that breeze, glorious sunrises and sunsets, serenity and calm, fresh seafood and cold beer, swinging in a hammock under a palapa roof may be all that you need. To get there from Cancun, take Highway 180 (almost to Chemax), after the checkpoint station, turn north to Kantunilkin road. Follow this road north to the village of Chicquilá where the road ends. Here you can catch a ferry or a water taxi to Isla Holbox. Times vary but there are usually five crossings per day. Ferries cost $1.50, water taxis $15. Total travel time from Cancun, including ferry crossing is approximately 4 hours. 

  THE COLONIAL CITIES 

 

A trip to one of the nearby colonial cities is an adventure into the past. Many of the cities in this area are an exotic blend of the Spanish and Maya cultures giving them an distinct character and charm. 

Valladolid

Valladolid is a city founded in 1543 by the Spanish Conqueror Francisco de Montejo. It is a picturesque village with many 19th century buildings and churches. Its main sights are the large cathedral found off the main square and the marvelous ex-Franciscan convent and church of Saint Bernardino of Siena (founded in 1552). Both were ransacked during the War of the Castes when the Maya, tired of abuse and discrimination, rose up against the Spanish residents, killing most of them and reclaiming the city. A history of this uprising is displayed in a series of paintings in the town hall. In the middle of town is the ancient cenote Zaci where the original Maya city of Sisal was first built. Other architectural highlights include a variety of majestic mansions, the cathedral of Saint Servacio, and the museum of Saint Roque. Outside of town is the famous Dzitnup cenote, an underground water hole feature in National Geographic. Valladolid is famous for its delicious sausages and its local liqueur, Xtabentún, flavored with honey and anise. There are also excellent markets where you can buy sandals, baskets, handmade textiles and leather goods. Located on Highway 180, two hours west of Cancun. 

Izamal

Izamal, also known as Cuidad Amarillo (the yellow city), is a perfect example of a typical Spanish colonial town. All the buildings, by order of a town law, have been painted an earthy yellow. In the center of town is the enormous 16th century Monastery of St. Anthony de Padua, built from the stones of a giant Maya pyramid devoted to Itzamná, father of the Maya gods. Inside are 75 yellow arches in a gigantic atrium that houses frescoes of saints and a statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. Many miracles have been attributed to this statue and every year there is a pilgrimage in her honor. A few blocks away stands the remains of a royal city and an ancient Maya pyramid. Kinich Kakmó is currently being excavated and restored. Just off the main square are horse drawn carriages offering rides through the town while a number of lovely cafés serve food and drinks. To reach Izamal from Cancun, take Highway 180, west for 3.5 hours approximately 273 km (169 mi). Watch for the sign that reads, Izamal, and turn north.

Mérida

Mérida is the beautiful capital of the Yucatán state and is the cultural and intellectual center of this region. Known in its heyday as the Paris of the Yucátan, where the barons of the henequen trade built their mansions, Mérida is a city that has a blend of French, Moorish and Spanish architecture. A visit here will teach you about the history and culture of the Yucatán. Since it’s a much larger city than Cancun it has more to offer in the way of museums, restaurants, shops, theaters, universities, schools and historical buildings. However, it also has more traffic and noise, which can be a shock after the quiet beaches along the coast. The Centro Histórico (Historic Center) is where you will find many of the older, stately buildings and mansions including the stately Casa de Montejo, built in 1542 and the Renaissance style Cathedral, home to the second largest crucifix in the world. Paseo Montejo, dubbed the Yucatán’s Champs-Elysées, is a 10-block street lined with the many opulent mansions built in the 18th century. There are also a number of lovely parks and fine museums located throughout the city. The hotels and restaurants are world class, offering the very best of Mexican and Yucatecán hospitality and cuisine while the open-air market offers the excellent shopping at the best prices anywhere on the peninsula. 

   MUSEUMS 

 

National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)

Cancun’s museum is located on the ground floor of the city's convention center. It traces the Maya culture with an impressive collection of 1,000 to 1,500-year-old artifacts. There are a number of impressive carvings and frescoes, along with ancient artifacts that have been unearthed at nearby sites throughout Quintana Roo. A visit to the National Institute of Anthropology and History can add another dimension to your exploration of the Maya ruins and is a fascinating introduction to the ancient culture. It’s also a great way to pass a rainy day in Cancun. Guided tours in English, French, German, and Spanish are available. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 9 AM – 7 PM. Admission: $3, children under 11 free. Sundays free. Located at the Cancun Convention Center, Blvd Kukulcán Km 9. Tel: (998) 883-0305. 

 

Museum of Anthropology and History 
(Museo de Anthropologiá e Historia)

This museum is located in the grand capital of Mérida. Originally a residence for the governor, this mansion was transformed into a museum in 1977. The Museo de Anthropologiá e Historia showcases the Maya culture and history with exhibits of artifacts found from ruins on the peninsula. Here you can see ancient conch shells, stones, feathers, jade objects and jewelry used in Mayan rituals. Another display case explains the various customs of tattooing and head binding along with the myths associated with them. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 8 AM – 8 PM, Sundays, 8 AM – 2 PM. Admission: $1.60. Free on Sundays. Located on Calle 43 and Paseo Montejo, Mérida. Tel: (999) 23-05-57. 

Museum of the Maya Culture (Museo de la Cultura Maya)

Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo, is home to the impressive Museum of Maya Culture. This is a sophisticated, interactive museum that explains the complex world of the Maya. Various exhibits outline the social classes, politics and customs along with the medicinal and domestic uses of plants. The most exciting display is the three-story Sacred Ceiba tree that represents the Maya cosmology. You can journey to the bottom floor into the underworld, to the middle floor that is earth or the top floor where the heavens and Maya gods reside. There are also hands-on exhibits demonstrating the long and short Maya calendar and their mathematical system. Models of the various sites show the differences in architecture. This museum is extremely popular with young and old alike and it’s well worth a visit for those who wish to learn more about the Maya. Open Tues-Thurs, 9 AM- 7 AM, Sat 9 AM-8 PM, Sun 9 AM – 2 PM. Admission: $3. Located on Héroes and Calle Mahatma Gandhi, Chetumal. Tel: (983) 326-838.

  DANCE 

 

Ballet Folklorico de Cancun 

Cancun’s famous dance troupe performs nightly at the Convention Center. This is popular revue showcasing regional dance and music from across Mexico. The dancers, wearing traditional costumes, perform authentic dances accompanied by live musicians. It’s a colorful show, very lively and entertaining. The range of costumes, music and dance is really astonishing. You can also enjoy a typical Mexican buffet dinner before the show. Cocktails start at 6:30, dinner at 7:00 pm and the show at 8 PM. Contact their office for ticket reservations and prices. Located at Cancun Convention Center, Blvd Kukulcán, Km 9. Tel: (998) 883-0199. 

Teatro Cancun

Enjoy the chants and dances of México along with the dances and drum beats of the Caribbean at Teatro Cancun. This is an high-energy show full of movement and music performed by some of Cancun’s most talented dancers and musicians. No reservations are required. Located at Blvd Kukulcán, Km 4. Tel: (998) 849- 4848. 

Casa de Cultura (House of Culture)

Cancun’s community center for culture is located downtown and offers a variety of weekly cultural events such as music concerts, dance rituals, plays and poetry readings. An on-site museum displays works of local artists and the exhibits change each month. Admission fees are nominal. Located at Prolongación Av. Yaxchilán, Sm 21. Tel: (998) 884-8364. 

   BULLFIGHTS

   

The first bullfight in Mexico was held in 1526 in honor of Hernán Cortés and shortly afterwards bullfighting arenas were built throughout the country. While Cancun’s bullring is certainly much younger than those found in other cities, it maintains all the traditions of this ancient duel. You can witness the battle between man and beast every Wednesday at 3:30. One hour before the bullfight, matador, charros (cowboys), a mariachi band, and flamenco dancers entertain you with song and dance until the bulls are ready. Tickets begin at $40. Located on Av. Bonampak (past the Pemex Station, near Plaza las Americas) Tel: (998) 884-8372 or (998) 884-8248. 

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