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Cancun

Cancun has been booming in popularity for more discerning British travellers in the last six years as first BA then Virgin began direct scheduled flights.
Set on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, its miles of white sand beaches face the Caribbean sea so it’s a good choice if you want to ring the changes from the likes of Antigua and Barbados - particularly if you like the sound of major family and cultural attractions. Winter and Spring are generally the best times to visit (June to November is hurricane season).


US-influenced Cancun has Vegas-sized hotels on a 22.5 km beach Strip and a party atmosphere in the nearby Downtown area, making it a favourite spot for American youngsters during Spring Break (best avoided if you’re seeking relaxation). If you like a buzz you’ll find reliable hotel brands here and plenty of facilities. For more relaxed upmarket accommodation however don’t take ‘Cancun’ too literally as a destination but treat it as the gateway.


The Riviera Maya, stretching south of the Strip is where you’ll find a series of resorts set in their own landscaped grounds reclaimed from the mangroves. This is the place to be if you like your labels - it’s all about big name hotels providing big scale luxury.


You can find hotels offering butler service but five-star all-inclusives predominate. This is partly due to the location. Unlike Cancun itself you won’t be able to walk or get a shuttle bus to a series of shops and restaurants; on the Riviera Maya hotels are self-contained. If you don’t thrive on isolation but you want to be outside Cancun consider Playa Del Carmen, a town akin to a Mediterranean scale resort with plenty of souvenir shops, restaurants and bars.


South of the Riviera Maya’s main drag, those in the know seek out Tulum’s relaxed boutique hotels, swanky beachfront bars and yoga retreats. Though it is home to the famous Mayan ruins - photogenically set on a cliff top overlooking the turquoise sea - it retains a low-key vibe. Tulum is also close to the natural attractions of UNESCO-listed Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve, comprising tropical rainforest, mangrove, marshes and barrier reef. You can take a boat ride through the mangrove canals here to spot more Mayan ruins.


Most people hire a car to explore along the Riviera Maya and if have children you’ll want to hit the theme parks of Xcaret and Xel-Ha, which between them mix eco and archaeological attractions with light shows, acrobatics, dolphin swims, ziplining adventure playgrounds, mini zoos and the like.


If you’re more culturally minded, you’ll find Cancun and the Riviera Maya a great base for wider exploration to some of Mexico’s top sites. The wider Yucatan peninsula embraces the colonial cities of Merida and Campeche and probably Mexico’s most famous tourist attraction, Chichen Itza - its seventh and tenth century Mayan constructions an easy day trip away. Those instantly recognisable stepped pyramids that act as elaborate sun calendars are not the only things that will have you awed at the site. You’ll also find an ancient observatory and even a court with stone hoop goals for a sport that, as the carved murals alongside clearly show, involved ritual beheadings!


If you are a sporty type yourself you might enjoy the less risky prospect of teeing off on the coast’s Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus designed golf courses. If you dive or snorkel, a must-see is the underwater ‘museum’ - a sculpture park of over 50 life-size statues that have been sunk to produce an artificial reef in the waters off Cancun; the bodies now covered in weed and coral and visited by fish. Isla Mujures, six kilometres off the Cancun coast is a popular base for divers and snorkelers on day trips and overnight stays.


Another watery attraction in the area are the natural phenomenon cenotes - open or cave-covered sinkholes filled with turquoise ground water and often surrounded by tropical trees and vines. The Mayans used them as places of worship but nowadays you can simply take a cooling dip in the mineral rich waters.