Insider Travel Tips for Mexico: Beyond Cancun 

The last time I was in Mexico, so was everyone else - or so it seemed. But it is possible to travel to Mexico and enjoy a white sandy beach and some peace and quiet at the same time. All you need to know is where (and, in some cases, when) to go.

When to Go 

November to April is widely regarded as the best time to visit. The summer months can get pretty hot. September and October is the peak of hurricane season, which actually stretches from November to June. 

Keep in mind that the month of March tends to be very busy on the Mexico beaches with high school and college students on Spring Break. If it's a quiet vacation you want, you will also want to avoid the time around Christmas and Easter, as well as July and August.

Where to Go

It's true: there's a lot more to Mexico – and the Yucatan peninsula - than the city of Cancun. 

Here are five favorite destinations that offer memorable Mexico vacations. Each of these spots can be reached by flying into Cancun. So if you'd like to get a taste of the big city resort and then set out on the less-traveled path, you'll have the best of both worlds. 

1. Isla Mujeres. Just 8 miles across the bay from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a peaceful fishing village with restaurants, shops, and small, charming hotels. In fact, the whole island is cozy: The island itself is less than one mile wide and about five miles long. Downtown Isla Mujeres stretches only about six blocks. The island's signature turquoise waters and white sandy beaches make for great snorkeling and scuba diving. You can rent kayaks, snorkeling equipment and other gear right on the beach. Other activities to enjoy during your stay at Isla Mujeres include fishing, sailing, and swimming with the dolphins. 
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2. Riviera Maya stretches down the peninsula from Cancun to Tulum. Here, you will find white sandy beaches and water sports of all kinds, including scuba diving along the Great Maya coral reef, the second largest barrier reef system on the globe. Divers, and snorkelers may be rewarded with the sight of water life ranging from sea anemones, sponges and sea cucumbers to starfish and sea urchins, as well as underwater caverns. Sport fishing is a big business in Riviera Maya, as well. Other activities include golfing, spa going, and eco-touring at the various ecological reserves in the region. Two highlights: the Xcaret EcoPark and the Sian Ka'an bioshphere. 

3. Playa del Carmen. About 40 minutes by car down the coast from Cancun, Playa del Carmen is growing into a bustling resort along Riviera Maya. If you like to shop, you'll love Playa del Carmen. Boutiques in the town offer everything from cutting-edge European fashions to crafts from local artisans. 
During your stay, don't miss Quinto Avenida (Fifth Avenue). It's the heart of Playa. There are no cars, you can stroll the Avenue and be entertained by street performers, including artists and musicians. Playa del Carmen also features premiere dining, as the majority of the Riviera Maya's restaurants are here, and quite a few of them are on Fifth Avenue itself. The bars and nightclubs are hopping on into the evening, so bring your dancing shoes. 

4. Xel-Ha. Xel-Ha is an archeological site and eco-park, located between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. This destination offers adventures for all ages and mesmerizing ecological sights, as well as water sports, such as diving and snorkeling. You can swim with the dolphins here, as well. Xel-Ha is particularly friendly for families and is bound to be an education in both Mayan history and ecology for the entire family. 

5. Tulum. Drive a bit further south down the Mayan coast and you'll find the small town of Tulum. Tulum is perhaps best known for its Mayan ruins, high on the limestone cliffs. These cliffs offer scenery you'll not soon forget of the Caribbean alongside a picture-perfect coastline. Tulum is the starting place for eco-tourism and adventure travel, so make sure to look into nearby day trips and local attractions. 

For an ideal and well-rounded vacation, try a few days exploring the grandeur of Riviera Maya, then take some time to shop and play in the bustling Playa Del Carmen and another day or two visiting the Mayan ruins – and taking in the sites – of Tulum. 

The word is out about these magnificent resorts, so you won't be able to avoid the crowds completely, but by striking out and having fun off the beaten path, you'll find a good balance, and learn a lot about ecology and ancient Mayan culture.