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Cancún and Cozumel are places that deserveand defythe myriad descriptions given them. The name Cancún evokes images of white-sand beaches, turquoise seas, and raucous nightclubs. Isla Cozumel is no less mythical, at least among divers, with its pristine coral reef and abundant sealife. The secret is definitely out on the Riviera Maya, the long coastline south of Cancún, with resorts of all sizes and favorite getaways like Tulum and Playa del Carmen. But farther south, the Costa Maya remains relatively undeveloped, while the inland archaeological sites, which range from packed to practically empty, never fail to impress.
Some people dismiss Cancún and Cozumel for being overcommercialized and “Americanized.” True, there are places saturated with American stores and chain restaurants (and actual Americans), where you hear as much English as Spanish. But you may be surprised to learn how culturally rich those cities, and the whole region, really are. Just minutes from Cancún’s famous hotel zone is the lively downtown area, where you can sip pinot grigio at a wine bar, listen to live music, or eat tacos in a park without another tourist in sight. Likewise, just a couple of blocks from Cozumel’s touristy main drag is a friendly island community where kids play soccer in the street and old men play dominoes in the afternoon sun. There are large parts of Cozumel that have no roads or power lines, with miles of deserted beach where you hear nothing but the
birds and the surf.
Equally unexpected are the area’s numerous natural and ecological attractions. You can dive and snorkel in the longest underground river system in the world, kayak through mangrove forests and freshwater lagoons, and even go snorkeling with whale sharks, 10-ton behemoths that congregate near Isla Holbox every summer. At Cobá archaeological site, you can climb the second-highest Maya pyramid, and see parrots and toucans, and bike from temple to temple on wide forest paths, all in the same visit.
So what sort of trip will it be? Sunbathing by the pool, diving the coral reefs, snorkeling with whale sharks, or exploring the Maya ruins? With luck, you’ll do a little of each, and more. In the process, you may discover that Cancún, Cozumel, and the Riviera Maya are much more than they seem. They are places to love, laugh at, be surprised by, and above all, to experience and explore.