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Cancún has firmly established its reputation as a thriving beach holiday destination, with white-sand beaches, aquamarine water ideal for swimming and a healthy nightlife. In fact, the first hotels were not built here until the 1970s. Before long, what was once a tiny fishing settlement had undergone a complete transformation: thousands of tourists from the Americas and Europe began to visit, attracted by Cancún’s sun-kissed climate, beautiful beaches and lively Latin vibe. As a consequence, it is now impossible to visit Cancún’s hotel zone without feeling the presence and influence of international shopping brands and restaurant chains. That said, the city’s downtown area, which is set back from the sea, maintains a typical Mexican feel. Here, residents go about their everyday lives, eat at regional restaurants and dance at salsa bars. It is not difficult to avoid Cancún’s lively strip of bars and nightclubs, which are located in a small part of the hotel zone, and most of the beach area promises a relaxed stay in a beautiful setting.

South of Cancún, the coastal region known as the Riviera Maya begins, continuing until the laid-back town of Tulúm, reached in around two hours by car. Although beach resorts are found along the length of the coast, the main built-up area is the city of Playa del Carmen, mid-way between Cancún and Tulúm. Playa is a trendy spot with a compact centre and a wide choice of restaurants, bars, cafes, shops and nightclubs. Most hotels here are smaller and more intimate than in Cancún and the city gains more of a non-touristic feel if you leave the main ‘Quinta’ avenue.

Relaxed Tulúm is growing, but still much more low-key than Cancún or Playa del Carmen. Most hotels are small, either rustic or boutique, and on the stunning beachfront, where windswept palms grow amidst fine, warm sand, providing shelter from the bright sun. This is the ideal environment for balmy beach days. Tulúm pueblo, the main town, is around 10km from the hotel zone along the beach, but restaurants and ATM machines can be found close to the hotels. Just north of the town, the Tulúm National Park contains the only Maya archaeological complex overlooking the sea. The site is quite compact and not that important archaeologically but has a beautiful setting on a cliff facing the Caribbean Sea, with the added benefit of being able to enter the refreshing water after exploring the ruins in the punishing heat of the day.

One of the principal draws of spending time on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast is the opportunity to unwind on the glorious beaches. However, for the more active, there is a wealth of nearby attractions including the archaeological site of Coba; cenotes for swimming; the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve with over 300 species of birds; water sports and fishing; and a number of tourist adventure activity centres. These include Jungle Maya (rappelling, 4x4 truck rides, zip-lines and snorkelling), Kantun-Chi eco-park (an underground river and 5 cenotes), Río Secreto (an underground river and caves), Xel-Há (water-based activities in a natural islet), Xplor (zip-lines, amphibious vehicles, underground rivers and caves) and Xcaret (reconstruction of a Maya village and ceremonies, cultural shows, water-based activities and wildlife).