Quintana Roo is in the eastern half of the Yucatan peninsula on Mexico’s southern border, and it is home to Mexico’s most famous beach resort, Cancun. Most of Quintana Roo is devoted to tourism, with a strong emphasis on beach hotels and resorts. Yet, it’s not all beach, beach, beach: Mayan civilisation was strong here, and the string of beach resort towns are often called the Mayan Riviera. The large number of archaeological sites in the state allows visitors to mix up their beach holiday with a good dose of culture, and the sites are full of ways to spark the imagination about how this golden sanded paradise might have been in times past.
Cancun — The extraordinary beaches of Cancun have to be seen to be believed. The resorts and hotels are built on what is effectively a sandbar with the Nichupte lagoon on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. Inland are Mayan ruins and underwater caverns with coral reefs and endless white sand along the shoreline.
Chetumal — The state capital of Quintana Roo is at the mouth of the Rio Hondo on the border with Belize. The city receives comparatively few tourists but there are plenty of interesting archaeological sites to tempt people with an interest in Mayan civilisation, as well as duty free goods at the border.
Cozumel — The largest island off the coast of Quintana Roo in the Caribbean Sea has its own international airport and plenty to recommend it. Cozumel is most famous for its scuba diving facilities and superb dive sites which range from coral reefs to wrecks. You’ll also find beaches and a national park with as many iguanas as tourists.
Playa del Carmen — The European atmosphere of Playa is a contrast to the relentless playfulness of Cancun, and visitors will certainly find quieter, more relaxed surroundings here. With the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve nearby, packed with mangroves, and several eco theme parks as well, this resort at the heart of the Mayan Riviera is definitely worth considering.
If you want to see one of the best collections of Mayan art in the world, head to the Museo Maya de Cancun. The museum draws together stories from across Yucatan and allows access to a neighbouring archaeological site. Yamil Lu’um and San Miguelito also show a great deal of Mayan civilisation within the Cancun area. The Isla Contoy national park is ideal for people who enjoy birds in their natural habitat – the unspoiled bird sanctuary hosts hundreds of bird species. Crococun zoo and the Punta Mosquito also make great spots for nature lovers. Naturally, there are dozens of great beaches to find. Playa Chac-Mool and Playa Las Perlas are among the quieter ones. For full-on raucousness, go to Playa Langosta, Playa Las Americas and Playa Marlin.
Diving doesn’t get much more unique than at the Museo Subacuatico de Arte – an underwater museum with more than 500 sculptures on the seabed at fairly shallow depths. If you can’t scuba, you can even do a submarine tour. Of course, the beaches have everything you could imagine that a well-equipped resort should have: snorkelling, sport fishing, jet skis, motor boats, glass-bottomed boat tours, parasailing, windsurfing, surfing and sea kayaking. It’s easy to find superb seafood restaurants as well, and all the major resorts have nightclubs, discos and bars to suit all tastes and wallets. But, if all you want to do is soak up the rays on alabaster sand and take the occasional dip in the ocean, Quintana Roo does that too.