About 36 km. south of Cancun is a small coastal town, Puerto Morelos. During pre-Hispanic times, Maya women departed from this town to canoe across to Cozumel Island to worship the goddess of fertility. There isn't much to this quiet town but
the coral reef, about 550 m from the shore, attracts snorkelers and divers. The reef is about 20 to 30 meters wide and the easy access from the beach brings visitors here. The pace is slow and relaxing and the limited number of accommodations are inexpensive. Just south of
the town is a 150 acre area with 3 km. of trails. Hikers will find a wide range of habitats with a variety of orchids, tillandsias and bromeliads. In addition, there are small ruins to explore and an example of a contemporary Maya hut. All exhibits are marked in English,
Spanish and Latin.
Playa Del Carmen
Taking the ferry across from Cozumel Island will take travelers to Playa del Carmen. Playa del Carmen is no longer the quiet, small town and is the fastest growing area in Quintana
Roo. There are a number of restaurants, shops, banks,
supermarkets and other services. As part of the beautification effort, a new water and sewage system was completed in 1994. The white beach and many small reefs off shore offers a great environment for swimming, snorkeling and turtle watching. Today, Playa Del Carmen is a popular
beach destination and boasts one of the finest beaches in Quintana Roo.
Cancun is about a 45 minute bus ride from Playa Del Carmen. Cancun is much busier with lots of nightlife and more shopping. It's easy to take a day trip or stay overnight.
X-Caret Natural Park
Only 6 km. south of Playa Del Carmen is the Mexican version of Disneyland, X-Caret. X-Caret is a 250 acre ecological theme park with a number of attractions. Archaeologists are still excavating the area and several ruins have been
restored. One of the main attractions is the educational Dolphinaruim with workshops and dolphins with whom visitors can swim with for a fee ($60). Another main attraction is the underground river ride that floats visitors past coralline deposits and unusual fish in the river and
lasts for about 25 minutes. Other park attractions include a botanical garden, a museum, a turtle farm, a butterfly garden, horseback riding, a lagoon great for young snorkelers and a beautiful beach. The park also has dive shops on site, a restaurant and a gift shop. Park
fee is $30. Public transportation is available from Playa Del Carmen but many tour operators offer day excursions to the park.
Xel-Há National Park
Xel National Park is a natural aquarium with interconnected lagoons, home to rare and countless species of tropical
fish also offer swimming with the dolphins. In the bays and
coves, vast numbers of parrotfish group together and on the far side of the lagoon, stingrays and nurse sharks are seen through the glass-bottom on boat tours. Snorkel gear can be rented to swim out and to explore the underwater caves. There are lockers and dressing rooms for
swimmers as well as a souvenir shop, food stands, a restaurant, and, a museum.
Sain Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
Sain Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is a World Heritage Site of UNESCO, located 25 km. south of Tulum. It covers 100 km of coast and 10% of Quintana Roo, including a number of natural habitats. Over 300 species of birds, and a great diversity of
flora and fauna are found here. For visitors wishing to stay overnight, there is camping on the beach and a small number of simple accommodations available as well as fishing lodges catering to sport fishermen. For visitors only interested in a day trip, day tours are available
by some tour operators.
Tulum is the most visited Maya ruin and is the biggest attraction on the coast. It was the only Maya city built on the coast, possibly having housed 2000 people and once
functioned as a trade center. Tulum was used by the city of Coba to connect to the sea and to control the commerce of Central America. This port city was never conquered by the Spaniards and was one of the last Maya outposts left standing during their revolt against Mexican rule
in the War of the Castes during the 1840's. There is no question why Tulum holds great significance to the Mayans. An impressive sight at Tulum is an imposing castle standing on the edge of a 12 meter cliff at the top of the ruins. Visitors may wish to bring a swim suit to cool
off in a cove at the bottom of the site but there are no facilities.
The city of Coba was once a stately city which controlled the economy of the entire Maya region. It prospered between AD 400 to 1100, with a population of about 40,000 people. Large temple pyramids still stand above the jungle, one of which is
138 feet tall, the highest in Northern Yucatan. Because Coba is isolated and off the coast, it is not visited as frequently as it should be. It is a 35 minute drive from Tulum and for those who want to fully explore the abandoned city, accommodations are available for
Chichén Itzá is the most impressive Maya ruin in the Yucatan. It was the most important city in the peninsula from 10th to 12th century. Since its first settlement at about AD 432, the city had been inhabited and abandoned by different groups
of people, each bringing with them a distinct architecture and culture. The structures are enormous and awesome. The largest ballcourt in
mesoamerica, stone sculptures of gods associated with human sacrifice, steam baths for ritual purification and the famous 98 foot tall
El Castillo pyramid all reside here. El Castillo is the most impressive monument in Chichén
Itzá. A masterpiece of Toltec-Maya architectural design and genius. Chichén Itzá is a three hour drive from Cancun. For visitors staying on Cozumel Island, air tours are
available from some tour operators. Tours include a 40 minute flight to Chichén Itzá and a tour with an English speaking guide.