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Completely updated every year (unlike most of the competition), Frommer's Canc?n, Cozumel & the Yucat?n features gorgeous color photos of the stunning beaches, the colorful underwater world, and the mysterious Maya ruins that await you. This authoritative guide captures all the glitter of Canc?n, as well as the more rustic and authentic charms of Cozumel, which boasts world-class diving and snorkeling in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The authors have lived in and written about Mexico for years, so they're able to provide candid reviews of all the beach resorts, the best local dining, and the latest, hottest nightlife.
Beyond the major resort areas, we'll show you sleepy beachfront towns, sea turtle preserves, and fascinating inland towns where you can bargain in local markets. You'll travel Mexico like a pro with our candid advice and handy Spanish-language glossary. Also included are accurate regional and town maps (including site plans of the major ruins), up-to-date advice on finding the best package deals, a color fold-out map, and an online directory that makes trip-planning a snap!
Another helpful guide for your trip is Frommer's Mexico.
The Yucatan Peninsula welcomes more visitors than any other part of Mexico. Its tremendous variety attracts every kind of traveler with an unequaled mix of sophisticated resorts, rustic inns, ancient Maya culture, exquisite beaches, and exhilarating adventures. Between the two of us, we've logged thousands of miles crisscrossing the peninsula, and these are our personal favorites-the best places to go, the best restaurants, the best hotels, and must-see, one-of-a-kind experiences.
1 The Best Beach Vacations
Cancun: Essentially one long ribbon of white sand bordering aquamarine water, Cancun has one of Mexico's most beautifully situated beaches. If you want tropical drinks brought to you while you lounge in the sand, this is the vacation for you. Though Cancun has a reputation as a bustling, modern megaresort, it's also a great place for exploring Caribbean reefs, tranquil lagoons, and the surrounding jungle. The most tranquil waters and beaches on Cancun Island are those at the northern tip, facing the Bahia de Mujeres. See chapter 3.
Isla Mujeres: If laid-back is what you're after, this idyllic island offers peaceful, small-town beach life at its best. Most accommodations are smaller, inexpensive inns, with a few unique, luxurious places tossed in. Bike-or take a golf cart-around the island to explore rocky coves and sandy beaches, or focus your tanning efforts on the wide beachfront of Playa Norte. Here you'll find calm waters and palapa restaurants, where you can have fresh-caught fish for lunch. You're close to great diving and snorkeling just offshore, as well as Isla Contoy National Park, which features great bird life and its own dramatic, uninhabited beach. If all that tranquility starts to get to you, you're only a ferry ride away from the action in Cancun. See chapter 4.
Cozumel: It may not have big, sandy beaches, but Cozumel has that island feel going for it. The water on the sheltered western shore is so calm it's like swimming in an aquarium. Cozumel is perfect for those who spend more time in the water than on land and like it calm and clear. See chapter 4.
Playa del Carmen: This is one of our absolute favorite Mexican beach vacations. Stylish and hip, Playa del Carmen offers a beautiful beach and an eclectic assortment of inns, B&Bs, and cabanas. Activity centers on the small but excellent selection of restaurants, clubs, sidewalk cafes, and funky shops that run the length of pedestrian-only Avenida 5. You're also close to the coast's major attractions, including Tulum, cenote (sinkholes or natural wells) diving, and Cozumel Island (just 30 min. away by ferry). Enjoy it while it's a manageable size. See chapter 5.
Tulum: Fronting some of the best beaches on the entire coast, Tulum's small palapa hotels offer guests a little slice of paradise far from crowds and megaresorts. The bustling town lies inland; at the coast, things are quiet and will remain so because all these hotels are small and must generate their own electricity. If you can pull yourself away from the beach, nearby are ruins to explore and a vast nature preserve. See chapter 5.
2 The Best Cultural Experiences
Streets and Park Entertainment (Merida): Few cities have so vibrant a street scene as Merida. Throughout the week you can catch music and dance performances in plazas about the city, and on Sunday, Merida really gets going-streets are closed off, food stalls spring up everywhere, and you can enjoy a book fair, a flea market, comedy acts, band concerts, and dance groups. At night, the main plaza is the place to be: People dance to mambos and rumbas in the street in front of the town hall. See chapter 6.
Exploring the Inland Yucatan Peninsula: Travelers who venture only to the Yucatan's resorts and cities miss the tidy inland villages, where women wear colorful embroidered dresses and life seems to proceed as though the modern world (except highways) didn't exist. The adventure of seeing newly uncovered ruins, deep in jungle settings, is not to be missed. See chapter 5.
San Cristobal de las Casas: The city of San Cristobal is a living museum, with 16th-century colonial architecture and pre-Hispanic native influences. The highland Maya live in surrounding villages and arrive daily in town wearing colorful handmade clothing. The villages are a window into another world, giving visitors a glimpse of traditional Indian dress, religious customs, churches, and ceremonies. See chapter 7.
Regional Cuisine: A trip to the Yucatan allows for a culinary tour of some of Mexico's finest foods. Don't miss specialties such as pollo or cochinita pibil (chicken or pork in savory achiote sauce), great seafood dishes, the many styles of tamal found throughout Chiapas and the Yucatan, and Caribbean-influenced foods such as fried bananas, black beans, and yucca root. For a glossary of popular regional dishes, see Appendix B.
3 The Best Archaeological Sites
Calakmul: Of the many elegantly built Maya cities of the Rio Bec area in the lower Yucatan, Calakmul is the broadest in scope and design. It's also one of the hardest to get to-about 48km (30 miles) from the Guatemalan border and completely surrounded in jungle (actually, the Calakmul Biological Reserve). Calakmul is a walled city with the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan-a city whose primary inhabitants are the trees that populate the plazas. Go now, while it remains infrequently visited. See "The Rio Bec Ruin Route," in chapter 5.
Tulum: Some dismiss Tulum as less important than other ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula, but this seaside Maya fortress is still inspiring. The sight of its crumbling stone walls against the stark contrast of the clear turquoise ocean just beyond is extraordinary. See "Tulum," in chapter 5.
Uxmal: No matter how many times I see Uxmal, the splendor of its stone carvings inspires awe. A stone rattlesnake undulates across the facade of the Nunnery complex, and 103 masks of Chaac-the rain god-project from the Governor's Palace. See "The Ruins of Uxmal," in chapter 6.
Chichen Itza: Stand beside the giant serpent head at the foot of the El Castillo pyramid and marvel at the architects and astronomers who positioned the building so precisely that shadow and sunlight form a serpent's body slithering from peak to the earth at each equinox (Mar 21 and Sept 21). See "The Ruins of Chichen Itza," in chapter 6.
Palenque: The ancient builders of these now-ruined structures carved histories in stone that scholars are only now able to decipher. Imagine the magnificent ceremony in A.D. 683 when King Pacal was buried below ground in a secret pyramidal tomb-unspoiled until its discovery in 1952. See "Palenque," in chapter 7.
4 The Best Active Vacations
Scuba Diving in Cozumel and along the Yucatan's Caribbean coast: The coral reefs off the island, Mexico's premier diving destination, are among the top five dive spots in the world. The Yucatan's coastal reef, part of the second-largest reef system in the world, affords excellent diving all along the coast. Especially beautiful is the Chinchorro Reef, lying 20 miles offshore from Majahual or Xcalak. Diving from Isla Mujeres is also quite spectacular. See chapters 4 and 5.
Fly-fishing off the Punta Allen Peninsula: Serious anglers will enjoy the challenge of fly-fishing the saltwater flats and lagoons of Ascencion Bay, near Punta Allen. See "Tulum, Punta Allen & Sian Ka'an," in chapter 5.
Cenote Diving on the Yucatan Mainland: Dive into the clear depths of the Yucatan's cenotes for an interesting twist on underwater exploration. The Maya considered the cenotes sacred-and their vivid colors indeed seem otherworldly. Most are located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, and dive shops in these areas regularly run trips for experienced divers. For recommended dive shops, see "Cozumel," in chapter 4, and "Playa del Carmen" and "South of Playa del Carmen to Tulum," in chapter 5.
An Excursion to Bonampak, Yaxchilan, and the Usumacinta River: Bonampak and Yaxchilan-two remote, jungle-surrounded Maya sites along the Usumacinta River-are now accessible by car and motorboat. The experience could well be the highlight of any trip. See "Road Trips from San Cristobal," in chapter 7.
Birding: The Yucatan Peninsula, Tabasco, and Chiapas are an ornithological paradise, with hundreds of species awaiting the birder's gaze and list. One very special place is Isla Contoy, with more than 70 species of birds as well as a host of marine and animal life. See p. 101, chapter 6, and chapter 7.
5 The Best Places to Get Away from It All
Isla Mujeres: If there's one island in Mexico that guarantees a respite from stress, it's Isla Mujeres. You'll find an ample selection of hotels and restaurants, and they're as laid-back as their patrons. Here life moves along in pure manana mode. Visitors stretch out and doze beneath shady palms or languidly stroll about. For many, the best part about this getaway is that it's comfortably close to Cancun's international airport, as well as shopping and dining, should you choose to reconnect. See "Isla Mujeres," in chapter 4.
The Yucatan's Riviera Maya: Away from the busy resort of Cancun, a string of quiet getaways, including Capitan Lafitte, KaiLuum, Paamul, Punta Bete, and a portion of Xpu-ha, offer tranquility on beautiful beaches at low prices. See "North of Playa del Carmen to the Puerto Morelos Area" and "South of Playa del Carmen to Tulum," in chapter 5.
Tulum: Near the Tulum ruins, about two dozen beachside palapa inns offer some of the most peaceful getaways in the country. This stretch just might offer the best sandy beaches on the entire coast. Life here among the birds and coconut palms is decidedly unhurried. See "Tulum," in chapter 5.
Rancho Encantado Cottage Resort (Lago Bacalar; 800/505-MAYA in the U.S. or 983/831-0037; encantado.com): The attractive casitas are the place to unwind at this resort, where hammocks stretch between trees. The hotel is on the shores of placid Lago (Lake) Bacalar, south of Cancun near Chetumal, and there's nothing around for miles. But if you want adventure, you can head out to the lake in a kayak, follow a birding trail, or take an excursion to Belize and the intriguing nearby Maya ruins on the Rio Bec ruin route. See p. 161.
Eco Paraiso Xixim (Celestun; 988/916-2100; mex online.com/eco-paraiso.htm): In these crowded times, space is a luxury that's getting harder to come by. Space is precisely what makes this place so great: Fifteen bungalows dot 5km (3 miles) of beach bordering a coconut plantation. Throw in a good restaurant, a pool, and a couple of hammocks, and you have that rare combination of comfort and isolation. See p. 195.
6 The Best Museums
Museo de la Isla de Cozumel (Cozumel): More than something to do on a rainy day, this well-done museum is worth a visit any time. It unveils the island's past in an informative way not found anywhere else. There's a good bookstore on the first floor and a rooftop restaurant overlooking the malecon (boardwalk) and the Caribbean. See p. 116.
Museo de la Cultura Maya (Chetumal): This modern museum, one of the best in the country, explores Maya archaeology, architecture, history, and mythology. It has interactive exhibits and a glass floor that allows visitors to walk above replicas of Maya sites. See p. 163.
Museo Regional de Antropologia (Merida): Housed in the Palacio Canton, one of the most beautiful 19th-century mansions in the city, this museum showcases area archaeology and anthropological studies in handsome exhibits. See p. 184.
Museo Regional de Antropologia Carlos Pellicer Camara (Villa-hermosa): This anthropology museum addresses Mexican history in the form of objects found at archaeological sites, with particular emphasis on the pre-Hispanic peoples of the Gulf Coast region. See p. 232.
Parque-Museo la Venta (Villa-hermosa): The Olmec, considered Mexico's mother culture, are the subject of this park/museum, which features the magnificent stone remains that were removed from the La Venta site not far away. Stroll through a jungle setting where tropical birds alight, and savor the giant carved stone heads of the mysterious Olmec. See p. 233.
7 The Best Shopping
Some tips on bargaining: Although haggling over prices in markets is expected and part of the fun, don't try to browbeat the vendor or bad-mouth the goods. Vendors won't bargain with people they consider disrespectful unless they are desperate to make a sale. Be insistent but friendly.
Excerpted from Frommer's Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan with Map by David Baird Copyright © 2002 by David Baird. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What's New in Canc?n, Cozumel & the Yucat?n.
1. The Best of Canc?n, Cozumel & the Yucat?n.
2. Planning Your Trip to the Yucat?n.
4. Isla Mujeres, Cozumel & the Riviera Maya.
5. M?rida, Chich?n-Itz? & the Maya Interior.
6. Tabasco & Chiapas.
Appendix A: The Yucat?n in Depth.
Appendix B: Useful Terms & Phrases.