When a friend asks you where you went on your last vacation, it’s easy to reply with something general like “Mexico”, “the Dominican Republic”, or “Costa Rica”. But when you really think about it, each one is an entire country with thousands of unique features. It would be like saying you went on vacation in the United States… imagine the diversity!
With this in mind we’ve decided to dive into one of the most popular areas within Mexico that BookIt.com guests love to visit: the state of Quintana Roo.
Many people have heard of the popular destinations within Quintana Roo, places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen (you might have heard of “Riviera Maya” or “Mayan Riviera” which is a popular name for the area), but there is so much more to explore! We partnered with an expert travel blogger and created this guide to explore the rich diversity within the Mexican Caribbean.
Let’s get going!
When you’re planning a vacation, it can be hard to squeeze in all the elements that make up the ideal getaway. You want time to relax, but you always want to be able to do things – along with eating and drinking well, and perhaps hitting the links or the spa. Whether you’re traveling as a family or as a couple, the Mexican Caribbean has everything you need. While there is no doubt that the beaches are picture perfect, there’s much more to do than just work on your tan. Where else can you explore Mayan ruins in the jungle by bicycle, spot whale sharks or descend deep underground to explore freshwater caves? Whether you want to combine beach days with fine dining and partying, or just escape to an island where everyone gets around by golf cart, the Mexican Caribbean has something to suit every vacation style.
Come to Cancun if you want a great beach vacation combined with sophisticated nightlife, shopping and dining. The 14-mile-long beach is a playground for water sports, but when the sun goes down, it’s time to experience the legendary nightlife.
Things to do and see:
The Interactive Aquarium: Families will love this hands-on aquarium, where visitors can swim with dolphins, as well as touch urchins and sting rays in the touch tank. Don’t miss the unique “Sea Trek,” where you put on a special helmet and walk along the bottom of a huge tank among fish.
Ventura Park Cancun: No matter what age you are, you’ll have a blast enjoying the slides, zip lines and seaside go-kart track here. For an unforgettable experience, try swimming with dolphins.
Wine and Dine: Cancun is a fine dining destination and sampling the fresh seafood is a must – along with a tropical drink or two. Head to Lorenzillo’s which has its own lobster farm, or the magical Thai Lounge, where you can enjoy a mango martini and fried jasmine rice in your own private thatched hut overlooking a lagoon.
Coco Bongo: There’s no place else in the world like Coco Bongo. This world-renowned nightclub is famous for its high-energy, live music, acrobats, conga lines and legendary parties. Enjoy the tropical breeze from a rooftop bar or just dance the night away.
Where to stay: The Hyatt Ziva Cancun is chic and stylish, with two beaches and multiple infinity edge pools. Families will appreciate the kids club, but there’s also an adult-only tower.
Things to do and see:
The Mesomerican Barrier Reef: Puerto Morelos is home to the world’s second largest coral reef. Located just a few thousand feet off shore, the reef is perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Crococun Zoo: This petite zoo is ideal for a quick trip. It’s home to crocodiles, monkeys and iguanas, many of which have been rescued. Visitors can hold and even feed some of the animals.
Yaax Che Botanical Garden: At 150 acres, this is the largest botanical park in Mexico and worth a visit to see the orchids, monkeys and authentic Mayan house here.
Cenotes: Head out on the Ruta de Los Cenotes (Cenote Route) and find your perfect cenote to explore.
Salciccium food truck village: Take your pick among the Thai, French and vegan trucks here and don’t miss the lionfish tacos at Dk, which is crafted from an old shipping container.
Where to stay: The Now Jade Riviera Cancun All-Suites Resort is ideal for both families and couples. This sleek hotel has a spa, adults-only restaurants and a kids club.
The Riviera Maya is home to everything that makes this area special, including beautiful beaches, Mayan ruins and cenotes – along with fine dining and clubs.
Things to do and see:
Tulum: This boho chic town is the place to see Mayan ruins dramatically situated on a cliff by the sea. After exploring them, head into town to check out the boutiques, juice bars and legendary restaurants like Hartwood, where everything is cooked on an open fire.
Coba: The best way to explore the Mayan ruins at Coba is by bike. Cycling through the jungle is half the fun, and make sure to climb to the top of the pyramid here; it’s tough but well worth it for the views.
Xcaret: You can easily spend an entire day here exploring the natural and cultural attractions at Xcaret, which include an aquarium, a rainforest trail, underground rivers and shows.
Rio Secreto: Hike or swim through this otherworldly cave that has crystal clear turquoise water. Another way to appreciate the cave’s stalagmites and stalactites is with a sound and light show.
Sian Ka’an: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to manatees, turtles and giant land crabs. The best way to explore it is by a guided tour.
Where to stay: The new Hotel Xcaret is a beautiful, upscale eco-lodge where guests can spend their days by the pool or exploring a network of rivers. Guests get free access and transport to nearby parks including Xcaret, Xenses (sense-themed activities and optical illusions,) Xplor (a zip line park,) and Xel-Há (a water park with coves and cenotes.)
Grand Costa Maya
If your vacation style is off the beaten track and you’re looking for a quiet escape, then head to Mexico’s southern Caribbean coast, or the Grand Costa Maya. It’s perfect for beach time combined with active exploration.
Things to do and see:
Chacchoben: Excavated in 2005, this ancient city is still partially buried under the jungle. Explore the temples and ceremonial grounds here, and keep your eyes peeled for spider monkeys and deer.
Kohunlich: A lesser-visited site is the ancient city at Kohunlich, which has a ball court, spiritual areas and palaces. Expect to spend most of a day here.
Laguna Bacalar: A must-see is this extraordinary freshwater lake known as the “lagoon of seven colors” for its dramatic stripes of blue – the unusual colors are because of the lake’s limestone bottom. You can experience it by diving in, taking a boat tour or trying SUP (stand up paddle boarding.)
Xcalak: Head to the southernmost point in Quintana Roo for world-class fishing and scuba diving among the shipwrecks and magnificent coral at Chinchorro Banks.
Where to stay: For a low-key escape, book a room at the boutique Almaplena Eco Resort & Beach Club which has a prime beachfront location. The décor is rustic chic, and uses locally sourced materials such as tiles from Chiapas and wood from the Yucatan.
Head to Cozumel for an island adventure that offers a little bit of everything in a compact space – including superb diving in some of the best reefs in the world and luxurious hotels.
Things to do and see:
Maracaibo: Experienced divers will love this spot. At 150 feet it’s one of the deepest dives in Cozumel and divers may spot reef sharks and eagle rays.
Punta Sur Reef: Located within Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, this reef is home to a dramatic cathedral as well as a cave dubbed the Devil’s Throat. If you’re on a dive boat, any lion fish that are caught will probably be turned into ceviche.
National Park of Chankanaab: Spend a whole day here exploring the beach, saltwater lagoon and an archaeological park. Swimming with dolphins is also available here at Dolphin Discover.
Playa Mia Grand Beach Park: Connect with your inner child at this water park where the whole gang can enjoy water slides, a water park and water trampolines. Grab a snorkel and explore the underwater Mayan city here.
Where to stay: The all-suites, all-adults Secrets Aura Cozumel is located right on the beach near Chankanaab. Divide your time between the beach or the four swimming pools.
If you want to get away from it all, Holbox is your place. At just 1¼ miles wide and 26 miles long, the preferred ways to get around the sandy streets here are by golf cart and bicycle. A vacation to Isla Holbox is all about relaxing and unwinding, and eating with your toes firmly in the sand.
Things to do and see:
Spot Whale Sharks: Plan your trip between May and September for the best opportunity to spot whale sharks. You can even swim near these gentle giants if you take a tour.
Cenote Yalahau: Located 30 minutes away via a boat ride, this cenote was thought to be a refuge for the 16th century pirate Molas. Spend a day here swimming in the clear, fresh waters.
Bioluminescent Tour: The southern beaches of the island are the best place to view the extraordinary bioluminescent waters. The best times to see it are July through January.
Isla Pajaros: Bring your camera and take a day trip to this remote island to see the extraordinary sight of 40,000 flamingos. The birds come here between April and October to feed. The island is also home to a wide variety of endangered birds.
Where to stay: The Villas HM Paraiso del Mar is an eco-friendly hotel with rustic décor and a laid back vibe. This is the place to stay if you just want simple pleasures and beachfront access.
If Cancun sounds like too much and Isla Holbox seems too quiet, Isla Mujeres may be just right. Just a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, this island attracts beach lovers looking for a low-key, laidback getaway with a handful of things to do to break up beach time.
Tortugranja: This turtle sanctuary is home to loggerhead, hawksbill and green turtles. There’s also a tiny aquarium here.
Garrafon: You could easily spend all day at this park, which has zip lines, kayaks, snorkels and plenty of cocktails.
Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA): Located halfway between here and Cancun, this underwater museum has more than 400 life-size sculptures. They range from people clustered in a circle to an old VW Beetle.
Punta Sur: Head to the southern tip of the island for turquoise waters, rocky cliffs and the remains of the temple dedicated to the goddess Ixchel.
Where to stay: The Zoetry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres is a boutique-size all-inclusive hotel on its own private beach. There are three pools to choose from and the most upscale restaurant here serves Mexican-French fare.
Are you ready to Book It to one of the seven states of Quintana Roo? Whether you choose to go to Cancun, Cozumel, Puerto Morelos or somewhere in between, you’ll fall in love with the charm and beauty of the Mexican Caribbean.
Don’t forget to keep checking our Travel Blog for more updates like this one!