Colour, culture and cuisine… welcome to Mexico

There’s so much more to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula than sandy beaches and luxury resorts, as Kerry Gallagher discovered on a journey along the coast.

I arrived in Mexico via the land border with Belize, and I was immediately struck by the sounds of animated Spanish conversations and lively music. Market stalls selling fresh fruit with traders eager to make a sale, and mariachi bands playing their distinctive style of song welcomed tourists with a feast for the senses.

This set the tone for a journey along the coastline of the Caribbean Sea, where small fishing villages rubbed shoulders comfortably with larger tourist towns, and hidden gems and secret cenotes were just waiting be discovered.

Mayan ruins and breath-taking views

A popular stop along the way, but a must in my opinion, is the town of Tulum. It offers a perfect blend of beautiful beaches, ancient history and stunning scenery. In fact, all three can be enjoyed at the same time with a visit to the Tulum Mayan Ruins. Perched on a cliff above the sparkling blue waters of the Caribbean Sea stand the ruins of an ancient walled city dating back as early A.D. 564. At its height during the 13th and 15th centuries it acted as an important trading centre for the Mayan world with goods passing from Central and South America by land and sea.

Tulum has beaches and ancient history

Today the remains and old stone structures, including the Temple of the Frescoes and House of the Columns, are surrounded by palm trees, cactus flowers and breath-taking views across the sea. While meandering in and around the ruins, El Castillo, or main castle, is a focal point soaring 25 feet tall on the forefront of the bluff. From here you can wander down to the tiny sandy cove where smaller trading boats would slip ashore. There’s also a larger beach at the foot of the ruins where you can rest, swim and snorkel in the warm waters.

Swim stop at a cenote

Speaking of swimming and snorkelling, this leads me to a real highlight of my trip. Hidden away in the mangroves and limestone caves of the Caribbean coast lie several crystal-clear cenotes – natural deep-water sinkholes said to hold healing properties by some. I spent a wonderful afternoon at Cenote Azul (Blue Cenote), located around halfway between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen.

Mexico is full of mysterious cenotes

The colours are mesmerising. Contrasting shades of blue, turquoise and emerald green glisten under the sun and invite you into the waters. A word of advice, be prepared, cenotes aren’t like the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, they are much cooler and I certainly needed to brace myself before taking the plunge! But once submerged there’s a whole underwater world to see. Don a snorkel or even just goggles to get a great view of the intricate rock formations and variety of fish who called the cenote home. If you stand very still the fish may even take a gentle nibble of your feet.

A feast of flavours

I travelled on to Playa Del Carmen for the next leg of my journey and was pleasantly surprised by what awaited. Yes, there’s no denying it’s a busy beach town which attracts scores of tourists to its shores, but there was also a laid-back, almost bohemian vibe. Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, is the resort’s main strip – a five-mile pedestrian street lined with shops, restaurants, bars and galleries. However, the streets off the strip are much quieter and are where I found the best Mexican food I have ever eaten in my life. From taco trucks and street food to fine dining there’s a real foody scene here.

Foodies are well catered for

But my top spot was a small unassuming family run restaurant serving a delicious medley of shrimp empanadas, chicken pambasos and authentic pozole. In fact, I don’t think I ate a bad meal in Playa Del Carmen. The sweet treats were also too tempting to turn down from street side churros (coasted in sugar and chocolate of course), to tres leches cake – don’t bother counting the calories here!

Ancient wonders

My final stop in Mexico was the larger-than-life resort of Cancun, home to upscale, all-inclusive hotels and the epitome of sun, sea and sand. But away from the obvious draw of Cancun, there’s a handful of smaller Mayan ruins to explore such as El Rey which is an interesting collection of structures thought to have been a royal retreat and playground.

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

No visit to Cancun would be complete without taking the short trip out to Chichen Itza, hailed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It’s simply fascinating to walk amongst the five square kilometre site and imagine ancient civilisations’ buildings occupying the well-preserved complex. Noticeable structures include El Castillo standing at 98 feet tall, the Temple of the Warriors and the Sacred Cenote. It’s truly awe-inspiring and the perfect spot to bring to an end a cultural exploration of Mexico.

Next steps:

For more information or to start planning your holiday to Mexico speak to our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678.

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