Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico: beach vacation travel guide for Canadians
Home to iconic Mayan ruins and sea life ablaze with colour, the Yucatan Peninsula is made up of the Mexican states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco and parts of Belize and Guatamala.
Travelzoo Tip: We need to take a moment to gush about the cenotes in this region. What is a cenote (seh-noh-tay)? A cenote is an underground cave filled with fresh water; it's a natural swimming hole below the limestone bedrock. There are over 20,0000 cenotes across the Yucatan Peninsula, so make a point of checking one out when you visit the region.
Some of the most popular cenotes are just outside of Tulum: Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote and Cenote Calavera are all famous cenotes with crystal clear waters. In Yucatan, Cenote Zaci is a semi-covered cenote in Valladolid, and Cenote Ik Kil has completely vertical walls which form a circle around the swimming hole.
Quintana Roo is probably the best known region in the peninsula, home to Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. As Lonely Planet puts it, there are really two Cancuns: the hotel zone (Zona Hotelera) and the actual metropolis. The area boasts over 25,000 hotel rooms, but world-class all-inclusive resorts aren't the only draw. The area is teeming with wildlife: over a hundred different mammals, 475 bird species and 2500 marine species can be found in the Cancun area.
Cancun is one of the most famous beach destinations in Mexico, with the Zona Hotelera packed with of some of the best hotels and resorts in the area. We’ve featured some great all-inclusive deals for Cancun, including all-inclusive Cancun beach holidays for under $1000.
Travelzoo tip: For some of the best beaches in Cancun, visit Playa Delfines, if you are lucky, you might be able to sight dolphins swimming across the horizon. It has a slightly quieter atmosphere compared to the main hotel zone of Cancun, and is also ideal for our surfers!
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Cancun can be a little bit of a party destination, so if you’re looking for peace and calm rather than revelry, Riviera Maya, or the islands of Holbox and Mujeres may be more up your alley. Travel down south from Cancun to Riviera Maya, which offers up great beachfront getaways and last-minute holidays for travellers. The Riviera Maya extends down along the coast from Cancun to Tulum, and is full of great places to visit. We’ve featured a few amazing all-inclusive packages in the Riviera Maya, as well as amazing deals for some incredible 5-star resorts. (We once compared the Fairmont Mayakoba to a Resort Unicorn: and for good reason).
Playa del Carmen is home to numerous all-inclusive resorts, but you can also save money by renting a private home. The pedestrian-friendly layout of Parque Fundadores and La Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) are must-visit destinations, lined with shops, beach bars and restaurants. Be sure to see Cenote Azul, one of the most famous cenotes in the Riviera Maya and about a 20-minute drive from Playa del Carmen.
If you’re an avid snorkeler, visit Cozumel, one of the world’s top diving destinations. Located next to the second-largest coral reef system (after Australia's Great Barrier Reef), the city is lovely year-round, but September or October have some of the most ideal weather conditions for diving.
Travelzoo tip: Akumal Beach is located just 30 minutes south of Playa del Carmen and is home to three different kinds of sea turtles. The Mexican government has established turtle tours with strict regulations to ensure the animals are protected. We also love Yal Ku Lagoon, a beautiful site with pristine turquoise waters.
Visit Puerto Morelos if you’re looking to combine stunning beaches with smaller-town vibes and the comforts of an all-inclusive. It's also home to Jardin Botanico, one of the largest botanical gardens in the country. Cenote hunters: check out Siete Bocas. Peaceful hideaway Playa Maroma has amazing beaches, but what we also love is that it was home to the first overwater bungalows in Mexico. Consider Playa Maroma for an idyllic beach vacation in Mexico.
If you’re interested in exploring Mayan Ruins, Tulum has some of the best sites in the Yucatan Peninsula, and some are located right on the beach. Playa Paraiso is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area, and its calm waters make it an ideal spot for families. The Sian Ka’an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is also near Tulum, and a place to add to your Mexico bucket list.
Travelzoo tip: Playa Ruinas is a quiet beach gateway with a stunning archaeological backdrop. The strip of sand is located under craggy cliffs topped with Mayan ruins.
Some of the more famous Caribbean islands in Quintana Roo are Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox. Isla Holbox — where you can watch bioluminescent plankton light up the shores at night — is also home to two beautiful beaches: Punta Cocos (with hammocks stretched out over the water), and Punta Mosquito, home to flamingos. Be sure to check the tide schedule so you can walk comfortably across the sandbar. Isla Mujeres boasts the gorgeous beach Playa Norte, just at the tip of the island.
Travelzoo tip: Both islands are great to visit if you’re looking to swim with whale sharks: time your stay between June and September.
Laguna Bacalar is also known as “Lake of Seven Colors”, and we love how crystal-clear and stunning the waters are. Spend a lazy afternoon swimming or kayaking — while taking an Instagram video or three — as the freshwater lake provides a picture-perfect getaway. Cenote Azul, is located next to the lake.
Mahahual has some amazing spots to go snorkelling. It’s been called “Tulum minus the Tulum price tag," but it can get crowded when the cruise ships dock; time your trip for different days.
The Mexican state of Yucatan (not to be confused with the entire peninsula) is full of stunning archaeological sites. Chichen Itza — with a jaw-dropping pyramid and ruined complexes surrounded by lush green forests — is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that draws 1.4 million visitors a year. Yucatan is also home to the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve (about a three-hour drive from Cancun) with the Las Coloradas Pink Lakes. While we're thinking pink, Celestun Biosphere Reserve is a World Heritage Centre known for bright pink Celestun flamingos. Merida, the capital of Yucatan State, has world-class museums, while Progreso is the local cruise port, with a renovated boardwalk the state’s best-known beach.
Travelzoo tip: The best time to spot Celestun flamingos is between December and February.