By David Baird, Shane Christensen, Christine Delsol, Maribeth Mellin
Powdery white sand and a Caribbean sea the color of blue Curaçao -- believe the brochures about Cancún. No matter how high-rise this city gets with all-inclusive megaresorts and supermalls, it's the beach that puts it on the map -- and no hurricane or swine flu has been able to sweep it away. Get up from your poolside lounge and discover why millions flock to this sun-drenched destination -- turtle-spotting off Isla Mujeres, discovering Chichén Itzá's iconic Maya pyramid, and swaying to reggaetón in the Hotel Zone's tequila-slamming bars.
Things to Do
While it's tempting just to laze on Playa Langosta's bleached sand, life beyond Cancún's beaches beckons with adventure in easy reach of a day trip. Scuba dive or snorkel off the islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, both with quieter waters than Cancún. The enigmatic culture of the Maya comes alive at nearby Tulum's seafront ruins. Or take a day trip to the pyramid temples of Chichén Itzá and jungly Uxmal. Kids in tow? Let them swim with dolphins in Xel-Ha eco-theme park's gigantic natural aquarium.
Cancún's glossy malls, like Plaza Las Americas and Plaza Kukulcán, have an American flavor with their brand-name stores, cinemas, and food courts. La Isla Shopping Village, though, has Venetian-style canals and a spectacular aquarium. For a more Mexican experience, root around downtown El Centro for crafts, fresh produce, and authentic street chow. Pick up unique gifts from handmade sombreros to hammocks or huaraches (sandals) and artisan silver jewelry.
Eating & Drinking
Tuck into sizzling fajitas in party-mad Tex-Mex joints or fresh shrimp and lobster while being serenaded by mariachis in the seafront restaurants in the Zona Hotelera. Food is cheaper and the atmosphere more authentically Mexican in El Centro, where locals eat incendiary tacos, enchiladas with chocolate-chile mole sauce, and succulent tamales (corn dough studded with meat or beans, wrapped in a banana leaf or corn husk). For an inexpensive snack, graze the food stalls in Parque Las Palapas.
Nightlife & Entertainment
Nightlife here is loud, sexy, and relentless. Hop (or crawl) from a pool party to a pumping open-air club. Forget about quiet cantinas -- Cancún is about pulsating discos with theme shows and party favors. Many of the monster clubs, from the The City to CoCo Bongo, lie within the same block, routinely turning the area into a sidewalk party. In El Centro's clubs playing bouncy cumbia music, sip tequila in a refreshing margarita or slam it with lime and salt.
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