The Very Best of the Yucatan Peninsula

Dock and crystal clear waters in Cancun, Mexico Norihiro Haruta
The Yucatán Peninsula welcomes more visitors than any other part of Mexico. Its tremendous variety attracts every kind of traveler with an unrivaled mix of sophisticated resorts, rustic inns, ancient Maya culture, exquisite beaches, and exhilarating adventures. Here are some great places to visit and one-of-a-kind experiences.

Photo Caption: Dock and crystal clear waters in Cancun, Mexico.
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The beach in Cancun. Frommers.com Community
Whether or not you believe Cancún is an unrelenting spring break party in which Americans compete with Mexicans for the city's real identity -- and I'd say the truth lies in the timing of your visit -- you're likely to agree this man-made resort has some of the most spectacular beaches in the country. The powdery white sand is complemented by warm Caribbean waters the color of a Technicolor dream; it's so clear that you can see through to the coral reefs below.

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Photo Caption: Beach scene in Cancun. Photo by Mr. Fred/Frommers.com Community
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Beach on Cozumel Jijo76/Dreamstime.com
It may not offer lots of big, sandy beaches, but Cozumel promises something the mainland doesn't. the calm, flat waters of the sheltered western shore.

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Photo Caption: Deserted white-sand beach in Cozumel
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Isla Mujeres Frommers.com Community
If uninterrupted relaxation is what you're after, Isla Mujeres offers a quintessential laid-back vacation. Here you'll find calm waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling as well as beachfront palapa restaurants beckoning you for a fresh fish lunch.

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Photo Caption: Beach umbrellas along the shore of Isla Mujeres. Photo by mfeng/Frommers.com Community
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Beautiful shoreline at the beach in Tulum along the Mexican Gulf, Yucatan Peninsula Afagundes/Dreamstime.com
Fronting some of the best beaches on the entire coast, Tulum's small palapa hotels offer guests a little slice of paradise far from the crowds and megaresorts.

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Photo Caption: Beautiful shoreline at the beach in Tulum along the Mexican Gulf, Yucatan Peninsula
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Tides Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Photo courtesy Viceroy Hotel Group Courtesy Viceroy Hotel Group
Stylish and hip, Playa del Carmen has a beautiful beach and an eclectic assortment of small hotels, inns, and cabañas. The social scene focuses on the beach by day and the pedestrian-only Avenida Quinta (Fifth Avenue) by night, with its assortment of restaurants, clubs, sidewalk cafes, and shops offering all the entertainment you could want.

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Photo Caption: Tides Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Photo courtesy Viceroy Hotel Group
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Dancers performing in Merida John Lander
Few cities have so vibrant a street scene as Mérida. Every night throughout the week you can catch music and dance performances in plazas about town. Then, on Sunday, Mérida really gets going -- streets are closed off, food stalls spring up everywhere, and you can enjoy a book fair, a flea market, comedy acts, band concerts, and dance groups.

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Photo Caption: Dancers performing in Merida
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Sideview-El Castillo at Chichen-Itza, Mexico James Harper
Stand beside the giant serpent head at the foot of El Castillo and marvel at the architects and astronomers who positioned the building so precisely that shadow and sunlight form a serpent's body slithering from peak to the earth at each equinox.

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Photo Caption: The El Castillo ruins at Chichen-Itza
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Mexican wrestling masks for sale in Playa del Carmen, Mexico Frommers.com Community
Avenida Quinta offers leisurely shopping at its best -- no cars, no hassle; even the touts are laid-back. Simply stroll the street and let your eye pick out objects of interest. New Age types will be in their glory, with the abundance of batik clothing and fabric, Guatemalan textiles, and inventive jewelry and artwork.

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Photo Caption: Mexican wrestling masks for sale in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Photo by Zora O'Neill/Frommers.com Community
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Tulum, Mexico William Villalobos
Tulum isn't the most important ancient Maya city, either historically or architecturally, but its seaside setting is uniquely beautiful. The stark contrast of its crumbling stone walls against the clear turquoise ocean just beyond is an extraordinary sight.

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Photo Caption: Maya ruins and the shoreline in Tulum, Mexico
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Cenote in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico Frommers.com Community
Dive into the clear depths of the Yucatán's cenotes for a whole new world of underwater exploration. The Maya considered the cenotes sacred -- and their vivid colors do indeed seem otherworldly. Most are between Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

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Photo Caption: Snorkeling in a cenote in the Maya Riviera. Photo by ncavalli/Frommers.com Community
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Parque-Museo la Venta in Villahermosa. Sachavir
The Olmec, considered Mexico's mother culture, are the subject of this park/museum, which features the magnificent stone remains that were removed from the La Venta site not far away. Stroll through a jungle setting where tropical birds alight, and examine the giant carved stone heads of the mysterious Olmec.

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Photo Caption: Parque-Museo la Venta in Villahermosa. Photo by Sachavir/Flickr.com
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The intersection of Avenida Quinta and 12th Street in Playa del Carmen. Sean and Lauren
Stroll along lively, pedestrian-only Fifth Avenue to find the bar that's right for you. With live-music venues, tequila bars, sports bars, and cafes, you're sure to find something to fit your mood. The intersection with Calle 12 is becoming the de facto club central.

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Photo Caption: The intersection of Avenida Quinta and 12th Street in Playa del Carmen. Photo by Sean and Lauren/Flickr.com
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