SIGHTSEEING in

Cancún is only the beginning of a memorable vacation.

Cancún, Mexico -- Sun-worshipers stretched out on long white beaches. Partyers dancing the night away in exciting discos. This is how most people picture Cancún. But it would be just as accurate to think of the strange and powerful god Kukulcan, whose snake headed visage graces the pyramid that bears its name at the legendary Chichen Itza. Or the massive walled city of Tulum which had, one theory goes, the world's first lighthouses, designed to guide home residents who regularly set to sea in canoes. For this is Cancún as well.

The region's easy accessibility from major US cities and it's well-developed infrastructure combine with a key geographic location (just a few hours travel to the world's great Mayan centers) to make Cancún truly the "gateway to the Mayan world." archaeological remains. It includes the Mexican state of Quintana Roo - which contains Cancún, Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas, -- but also spills over into Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. At hundreds of points around the region stand majestic ruins which speak eloquently of the grandeur of this imposing culture.

The most frequently visited sites (with the exception of Tikal in Guatemala) are all in Mexico, and can be reached by air from Cancún. Some, including Tulum and Chichen Itza, (two of largest Mayan sites ever uncovered), are also connected to Cancún by road and highway.

Isla Mujeres
An easy, laid back island just a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, Isla Mujeres seems a world away from modern Cancun. The sand streets in Isla have been covered with bricks, and some of the original Caribbean-style clapboard houses still remain in their bright, island colors. Spend a few hours or a whole day on this lovely little island.

Several Cancun marinas offer tours to Isla Mujeres, some for the whole day, while others allow for return several times in the afternoon. The similarities in the trips include a boat ride to the island, continental breakfast, buffet, lunch, snorkeling and time on the island for shopping or exploration.

The snorkeling is excellent here; some of the best the area. Garrafon National Park or the Manchones Reef are both good spots for donning your mask and snorkel. Manchones is just off shore and can be reached by boat; it is the size of a bronze cross installed in 1994. Another good location is the Bahia Mujeres, near the lighthouse at the southern tip of the island.

Diving is also excellent at Isla Mujeres. Both Buzos de Mexico (011-52-98) 77-0500, and Bahia Dive Shop, (011-52-98) 77-0340, ca hook you up with dives on your excursion to Isla.

The island’s Turtle Sanctuary is one of the most interesting sites, enjoyed by adults and children alike. This reserve, dedicated to protecting species of sea turtles, which can be observed by visitors paddling around a series of indoor and outdoor pools.

Shopping is Isla Mujeres is low-key but can be quite bountiful. Folk art, masks and Guatmalan clothing are abundant in the shops, and prices may be lower than in Cancun.

Cozumel
The largest island in Mexico - measuring in at 28 miles long, 11 miles wide (but only three percent inhabited!) - Cozumel is also just a ferry ride away from the home base of Cancun, departing from Playa del Carmen, a 40-mile drive from Cancun.  A visit to Cozumel is yet another way for vacationers to round out their Cancun experience.

Cozumel is Mexico’s top diving destination; as a result, many of the Cancun dive shops offer guided trips to dive here. The Palancar Reef, Santa Rosa Reef, Chankanaab Reef and the Yucab Reef are all excellent choices for diving, and for viewing an enormous variety of sea life.  Snorkeling is also first-rate in Cozumel; Chankanaab State Park is the best place to go to be face-to-face with the fish.

Local tour operators can set you up for a tour of Cozumel, with an optional stop for snorkeling. The tour may include stops at Cozumel’s Mayan runs at San Gervasiom the Parque Arqueologico and the local history museum.

Gateway to the Past
Just around the corner from the glittering resorts of modern day Cancun, stand the silent temples of one of the world's oldest and most mysterious cultures-the ancient Maya. There are several sites right within the Hotel Zone. The most famous site, and a popular day trip from the beach, is Chichen Itza, a complete city founded in 445 BC and inhabited until 1204 AD when it was mysteriously abandoned. Tulum, to the south of Cancun is the only major Mexican ruins to overlook the Caribbean.

Eco-Tourism
Many public and private nature parks and government reserves showcase nature.
Private parks include the Xpu--Ha Ecopark with jungle, wetlands, coral reef and cenotes (natural sinkholes) and a beautiful virgin beach.
Xcaret (pronounced ish-karett) is a mix of Mayan history, archaeology and a dash of elaborate spectacle.
Xel-Ha.
"Where the water is born". The 10-acre park of lagoons was a sacred Maya city and important commercial center.
Nature reserves include a 1.3 million acre reserve 80 miles south of Cancún. It is composed of tropical forests, wetland and marine environments.
There are 27 fascinating ruins and 345 species of birds.
Isla Contey
A small, uninhabited island, 25 miles north of Cancún and 19 miles from Isla Mujeres, a refuge for birds, marine and animal life

Tulum
Just over 80 miles south of Cancún is Tulum, believed by archeologists to be one of the most important ceremonial centers of the Mayan people. Dating back more than 17 centuries, the remains show what was once a massive walled city by the sea, with roads, homes and businesses. Its geographical location right on the Caribbean Sea enabled Tulum to become a major Mayan trade center. Thousands of canoes traveled there from other points around the region. One of the highlights of Tulum is El Castillo (The Castle), an impressive pyramid perched on a 40-foot cliff and thought be one of a series of lighthouses that guided seafarers in the area. Here too is the Temple of the Dios Descendente, built as a way station for descending gods, and the Temple of the Frescos, which still bears traces of color from ancient palettes.
Also at the site is the Pueblo de Tulum (Tulum Village) with a restaurant and a colorful market.

Chichen Itza
This is perhaps the most famous Mayan cultural site in the world, and one of the richest and largest archaeological remnants of that civilization. Founded in 445 B.C., and inhabited until 1204 A.D. when it was mysteriously abandoned, Chichen Itza lies about 120 miles west of Cancún. The site's most impressive structure is the 75-foot pyramid, the Temple of Kukulcan, whose stairs lead to two large serpent heads. In an impressive display of ancient Mayan science, the temple accurately predicts the Spring and Fall equinoxes in a spectacle of light and shadow. Thousands gather at this time to see the snakelike shadow of Kukulcán, the greatest of the Mayan gods, descend the main pyramid. When Kukulcán has completed his descent, the Mayan people knew, it was time to plant corn.

This is perhaps the most famous Mayan cultural site in the world, and one of the richest and largest archaeological remnants of that civilization. Founded in 445 B.C., and inhabited until 1204 A.D. when it was mysteriously abandoned, Chichen Itza lies about 120 miles west of Cancún. The site's most impressive structure is the 75-foot pyramid, the Temple of Kukulcan, whose stairs lead to two large serpent heads. In an impressive display of ancient Mayan science, the temple accurately predicts the Spring and Fall equinoxes in a spectacle of light and shadow. Thousands gather at this time to see the snakelike shadow of Kukulcán, the greatest of the Mayan gods, descend the main pyramid. When Kukulcán has completed his descent, the Mayan people knew, it was time to plant corn.

Another outstanding feature of the place is the Ball Court, the largest in Central America, where ancient Mayans played a mysterious and complicated game that is still the subject of debate. The Ball Court's history is no less intriguing than its acoustics: you can hear someone talking from the far side of the field, even though it is over a football field long.

Cobá
Three hours south of Cancún is Cobá, an early Mayan site yet to be fully reclaimed from the jungle. Begun in 600 A.D., Cobá is a combination of the leading attractions of Uxmal and Chichen Itza, but its geographical location, 100 km from Cancún, provides an added sense of adventure, as it was built in the heart of the jungle. The outstanding feature is the Pyramid of Nohoch Mul, the highest of its kind on the Yucatán Peninsula.

Kohunlich
Discovered less than three decades ago, Kohunlich is one of the finest sites in the south of Quintana Roo, especially for the enormous gargoyles on the main pyramid which are supposed to represent the Gods of the Underworld, rather like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It is 80 km from Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo, and can be reached from Cancún by air - the flight takes 50 minutes - or by road, a distance of 360 km.

There are other smaller, but no less interesting sites, such as Sayil, Labna, Chunyaxe, Oxtankah Kinichn and Dzibanché, all in the state of Quintana Roo. El Rey, San Miguelito and El Meco are three other places, easy to reach from Cancún, and with a rich history.

[Prices and times were accurate at time of printing.
Please re-confirm upon arrival in Mexico]

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