Mexico has everything for the perfect holiday – beautiful Caribbean beaches, lively cities, well-preserved colonial towns and amazing Mayan ruins.
Beach Holidays in Mexico
Mexico has fantastic beaches along its east coast. From the party resort of Cancun to the seclusion of Isla Holbox there are lots of options for luxury beach holidays in Mexico.
Cancun is a city on Mexico’s Caribbean coast at the end of the Yucatan Peninsula. The area is home to over 20km of beautiful beaches and is a very popular beach resorts with a large range of all-inclusive resorts.
There are two main areas – the hotel strip along the beach and the town of Cancun itself. Among the hotels, you will find lively bars and restaurants catering to tourists, whilst the town still has some more traditional restaurants and salsa bars.
The area is good for diving and there are lots of dive shops. It also a good place to explore the rest of Yucatan from, including Mayan architectural sites, lagoons home to crocodiles, and flamingo sanctuaries.
The Mayan Riviera is south of Cancun and stretches down the coastline for around 75 miles. The main resorts on the Riviera are Playa del Carmen and Tulum, with quieter areas and villages in between. The stretch of coast is great for a beach holiday if you want somewhere less developed than Cancun, with lots of luxury hotels available.
Playa del Carmen is towards the northern end of the Mayan Riviera. It is the second biggest beach resort in Mexico after Cancun and has lots of bars, restaurants and clubs.
Tulum is towards the southern end of the Riviera. The town is famous for its Mayan ruins as well as its beaches and offers more culture than you get in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The area is also less developed than those two resorts – the beach is much quieter but the accommodation is not as luxurious, although it has more rustic charm.
Outside of the two main resorts there are still many all-inclusive resorts lined along the beach, interspersed with some towns and villages. There are some quieter areas on the Riviera that have fewer hotels if you are looking for a more secluded holiday.
Isla Holbox is an island a couple of hours drive north of Cancun. Compared to Cancun and The Mayan Riviera the island receives very few visitors and is a much quieter and more secluded place for a beach holiday. There are no high rise hotels, instead, the island has more traditional colourful buildings, and the most popular mode of transport is golf buggies.
The island is home to lots of wildlife including flamingos, turtles, crocodiles and whale sharks. Kayak trips are a popular way to explore the islands, its lagoon and see the wildlife.
Places to Go in Mexico
Mexico isn’t just about beaches. The country has a long and fascinating history from the Mayan civilisation to Spanish colonial rule. Mexican food is world famous and the towns and cities have great restaurants, as well as lively bars.
Mexico City is the capital of Mexico and the largest city in North America, with a population of 26 million people. Its size can make it appear quite daunting to visitors so it is best to think of it in terms of districts. The city is surrounded on three sides by mountains and volcanoes and is 2200m above sea level.
Centro Historico, more commonly known as just Centro, is the oldest part of the city and the district with the most tourist attractions. At the centre of the district is the Plaza de la Constitucion – one of the largest squares in the world. The 14th Century Aztec Templo Mayor is one of the major sites. The Alameda Cathedral is a large, impressive cathedral at the edge of the district. Elsewhere there are lots of old colonial buildings that you will come across as you wander around.
Zona Rosa, also known as Reforma, is known for the Paseo de la Reforma – a long and grand avenue and park – and the nearby Angel de la Independencia, a monument that celebrates Mexico achieving independence in 1810.
Condesa and Roma are districts that have recently been rejuvenated and are now home to some of the best bars, restaurants and shops in the city.
The city has lots of nightlife spread across many different areas. There are modern bars and clubs in Santa Fe and Reforma, whilst many of the clubs in Centro and Roma are in old dance halls.
The colonial city of Merida is almost 500 years old and was built on the site of Mayan ruins. Today, the city is the capital of Yucatan State. The town centre is an attractive place with well-preserved colonial streets and buildings, including a cathedral, and tree-lined square. The city has a relaxed feel, with frequent free concerts and shows.
The city is a great place to explore the surrounding Yucatan sites including Chichen Itza and several flamingo sanctuaries.
Chichen Itza is an archaeological site that is the best place in Mexico to see Mayan ruins and has recently become one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The site is less than 100miles from Cancun so can be done as a day trip if you are just on a beach holiday, or is less than two hours from Merida.
The structures at Chichen Itza are well preserved considering many of them are over a thousand years old. The most famous landmark is The Pyramid of Kukulcan, which was a temple dedicated to the Feathered Serpent God. The pyramid is designed so that the spring equinox causes it to cast a shadow resembling a serpent. There are many other temples and palaces in the area that are impressive and it is worth spending more than just a few hours here.
San Cristobal de Las Casas
San Cristobal de Las Casas is a beautiful colonial town in Chiapas. The city was founded in the 1520s but owes its name to a Dominican Friar who, in the 1540s, fought for the rights of the indigenous population, which was being exploited by the Spanish.
Today the city centre is great to wander around and explore the old architecture, or sit in the cafes and bars and soak up the atmosphere.
Palenque is the largest of the Mayan archaeologic sites. The site was once an ancient city that covered a huge amount of land. There are many stunning and notable structures in Palenque, especially the Temple of the Inscriptions. However, its size and location are the most appealing aspects. The ruins are covered by jungle and are spread out over so much land that many of the structures and sites remain unexplored and unexcavated.
Oaxaca is a 500-year-old city founded by the Spanish. It is in the south of Mexico, surrounded by traditional villages and Zapotec ruins. The centre is well-preserved with cobbled streets leading past colonial churches, a cathedral and several museums.
It makes a great place to explore the surrounding Zapotec ruins the highlight of which is Monte Alan – located on top of a hill providing great views of the surrounding area.
Most visitors to Mexico want to spend time on the beach and see some of the culture. This can range from day trips to Chichen Itza and Merida from a beach resort, to spending a few weeks travelling around. Below are some suggested itineraries but, as always, we can tailor any of these to suit your needs.
Yucatan Beach and Culture
Yucatan State has the most popular beach resorts and a lot of key cultural sites. Start off in the colonial city of Merida and spend a few days wandering around the old town before heading to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. From Chichen Itza, you can carry on to the beach resorts – choose between Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Isla Holbox.
The Best of Mexico
To see the main sites in Mexico start off with a couple of days in Mexico City before heading to the colonial city of Oaxaca and exploring the surrounding Zapotec ruins. From Oaxaca, you can head east to San Cristobal de las Casas and onto the amazing jungle-covered ruins at Palenque. After Palenque head to the Yucatan Peninsula where you can explore Merida and Chichen Itza through overnight stays or as days trips from one of the beach resorts.
Best Time to Visit Mexico
The best time to visit Mexico is in the dry season from December to April. However, during the rainy season from May to November the showers often come in the late afternoon and are short-lived, so beach or travelling holidays are still possible. There is an increased risk of hurricanes on the Caribbean coast from June to November.
Where to Stay
Mexico has lots of accommodation to suit all budgets from boutique hotels in Mexico City to laid-back beach accommodation on Isla Holbox.
A mixture of flights for longer distances and hired drivers to see local sites and ruins is the best way to explore Mexico.
Getting to Mexico
There are direct flights from London to Cancun and Mexico City, or from Manchester to Cancun. Otherwise, you will need to change somewhere.