• Going Downtown: You might forget this is Mexico while you’re in Cancún’s Hotel Zone, but Ciudad Cancún, though just over 40 years old, is a real Mexican city where people live, work, speak Spanish, and pay in pesos. Hotels are small, inexpensive, and locally owned; restaurants serve traditional food unaltered for tourists’ tastes; and buyers and sellers still bargain in the mercados.
  • Swimming in the Caribbean: When you slip into the brilliant turquoise sea from a white sandy beach, it’s entirely possible you’ll feel you’ve entered paradise. Tropical fish may join you even in the shallowest coves, more interested in reefs and rocks than humans. There’s no sensation quite like floating in the warm, welcoming waters of the Caribbean, watching puffy white clouds drift in the blue sky on a sunny day.
  • Catching Island Fever: Isla Mujeres are two idyllic Caribbean islands far removed from the glitz and revelry of Cancún and the crowds in the Riviera Maya. Although only a mere 15 minutes from Cancún by ferry, sleepy Isla Mujeres feels worlds removed.
  • Dining Like a Local: Municipal markets are perfect places to shop and dine like a local. On Isla Mujeres, join dozens of workers and schoolchildren at the Mercado Municipal for the comida corrida, a multi-course, low-cost lunch. The crowd is more varied at Cozumel’s Mercado Benito Juárez, where cruise-ship workers gather at food stands selling favorite dishes from the Philippines and Indonesia while islanders grab Yucatecan treats.
  • Beyond Chichén Itzá: The wonder of Mexico’s marquee archaeological site can be lost in the hordes of tourists that crowd in. To genuinely grasp the grandeur of ancient Maya civilization, head to recently excavated and lightly visited Ek Balam, the jungle paths of Cobá, or the mysterious Río Bec archaeological sites.
  • Kicking Back in the Jungle: Skip that $200 treatment at the resort spa and put yourself in the hands of the Maya women at the Jungle Spa outside of Puerto Morelos, about a 40-minute drive from Cancún. Their massages and wraps, administered in simple palapa buildings, are based on healing methods passed down from their elders.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.