The Yucatan coast from Cancún to Tulum is dotted with beautiful white beaches, small Mexican towns and ancient Mayan ruins. The following highlights are well worth exploring during your visit. Keep in mind that comfortable bus tours are available from Cancún and Cozumel to many of these sites.
In low jungle near the lagoon in Cancún's Hotel Zone is a pyramid called El Rey (km 17) which was probably once a royal burial ground. At Yamil Lu'um (km 12) -- the highest point of the island -- are two ruins thought to originally have been lighthouses.
On the coast south of Cancún is Xcaret, an incredible eco-archaeological park. Once one of the most important Mayan ceremonial centers and seaports, Xcaret now offers visitors a chance to swim through caverns down a fascinating underground river of crystal clear waters. Xcaret also offers swimming among dolphins, wonderful snorkeling, horseback riding along the waterfront and much more. For information call 83-06-54 or 83-07-43 or fax 83-37-09. The park is open: October thru March from 8:30-5:00, and April thru September from 8:30-6:00. Children under 5 years are admitted free.
South of Xcaret is Xel-Ha, a national park and breeding ground for tropical fish. It's also the site of an underwater temple altar and Mayan ruins which were only recently opened to the public. Xel-Ha is thought to have once been a busy port closely linked to Tulum.
Just past Xel-Ha, and only 78 miles south of Cancún, is the ancient walled city of Tulum. It's unique in its spectacular coastal setting, perched high above sparkling white beaches and dramatic cliffs. For a view of dense jungle to the west and the azure Caribbean to the east, climb to the prominent El Castillo's summit.
To the northwest (26 miles inland from Tulum) is the archaeological site of Coba -- one of the most important, and least explored, in Mexico. It's still mostly hidden by lush, tangled jungle. Climb up the 75-foot-high pyramid called the Iglesia for a beautiful view of lakes and the surrounding jungle covering mounds of unknown ruins.
Further away (about 31/2 hours by bus) -- but well worth the trip -- is one of the most famous and best restored of the Yucatan's Mayan sites, Chichen Itza. A climb to the top of El Castillo (The Castle) offers an amazing view of the site. The pyramid itself is a Mayan calendar sculpted in stone, where each of the many terraces, levels and stairways counts out the days, months and years of the Mayan calendar. Mayaland Tours offers bus rides from Cancún plus overnight reservations in their gracious Mayaland Hotel located in the heart of Chichen Itza. For reservations and information call 87-24-50.
In Cozumel, stop at the Museo de la Isla de Cozumel on Av. Rafael Melgar in San Miguel to see the charming reproduction of a Mayan house and exhibits of the local ecosystem, culture and history. South of town is Chankanab Nature Park, a wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden.