This article originally appeared in Delta Air Lines’ 2012 Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America Travel Guide. It has been extracted from its original format. To read the full travel guide, visit the digital edition.
With year-round beach weather and some of the most picture-perfect beaches in Mexico, Cancun also serves as gateway to the Mayan world. The city itself is a modern hub of posh hotels and family-friendly resorts—most, like ME Cancun, with direct access to the ocean—plus dining and nightlife options that rival its outdoor attractions.
Cancun’s turquoise waters are known for their crystalline quality, making them ideal for swimming and snorkeling. The Cancun Underwater Museum, near Isla Mujeres, now offers added incentive for submarine exploration thanks to hundreds of life-size sculptures gracing the ocean floor. The Nichupte Lagoon and its mangroves are another option, with calmer waters that are excellent for kayaking. Also nearby are Isla Contoy and Isla Holbox, both naturalists’ havens, with a great number of birds, whale sharks and sea turtles making stops throughout the year.
Then there’s shopping, a sport in itself in Cancun, with venues such as Plaza Caracol, La Isla Shopping Village and Luxury Avenue offering a wide range of retail thrills.
Cancun is part of the Mexican Caribbean, which stretches south along Puerto Morelos and the vast underground system of caves and rivers, and into the Riviera Maya. The generous offering of resorts and championship golf courses continue here, along with some of the region’s most renowned Mayan legacies. These include Coba, hidden away in the jungle but easily accessible to visitors, and beachfront Tulum. The Riviera Maya is also home to Playa del Carmen, where restaurants, funky shops and bars abound and where the annual Riviera Maya Jazz Festival takes place. Visitors will also want to spend a day or two exploring the massive outdoor parks of Xel-Ha and Xcaret, each of which provide plenty of fun in the form of SNUBA, swimming with dolphins, jungle trails and more.
- Best time to go:
Year-round; it might get chillier during the winter months, especially in Mexico City and Monterrey, but it’s nothing a jacket won’t fix
- Fun fact:
Mariachi music and traditional Mexican cuisine now form part of UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
- Getting there:
Delta flies from Atlanta to Acapulco, Cancun, Cozumel, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Monterrey, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos; Delta flies from New York (JFK) to Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta; Delta flies from Minneapolis to Cancun, Cozumel, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Los Cabos, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta; Delta flies from Detroit to Cancun, Cozumel, Los Cabos, Monterrey and Puerto Vallarta; Delta flies from Los Angeles to Cancun, Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta; Delta flies from Salt Lake City to Cancun, Guadalajara, Los Cabos, Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta; Delta flies from 12 additional gateways to Cancun
- Entry documents:
- Must-try local food:
A few of the hundreds of varieties of thick moles; on the Pacific side, pescado zarandeado (grilled fish in a tangy tomato sauce); in Monterrey, try the cabrito a las brasas, barbecued kid goat
- Best buys:
Silver, indigenous original artwork, tequila—some of the best brands are not sold in the U.S.
- Information please:
Mexico Tourism Board’s website—visitmexico.com