Sacred Subterranean Sinkholes and Other Must-See Attractions in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula
With approximately 3.3 million annual visitors, Cancun ranks among the most popular travel destinations in the world. But while this paragon of sun/sand/surf tourism may appeal to the mainstream masses, savvy adventurers know that Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula also offers more than its fair share of amazing outdoor attractions. And the best part is that most of these gems are located within a two-hour drive of Cancun’s bustling Hotel Zone.
Akumal Beach Resort (Photo: Jennifer Feuchter/Flick)
Located 60 miles south of Cancun between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, this tiny resort community’s name means “place of the turtles” in the Mayan language. To understand how the area earned its moniker, hit the secluded white-sand beach at Half Moon Bay, which offers exceptional swimming with sea turtles and rays in crystal-clear waters right offshore. For a nominal fee, you can visit the privately owned Yal-ku Lagoon, where fresh water and salt water combine to create a nutrient-rich habitat for a colorful array of marine life. Protected from the ocean by limestone rocks, it’s a tranquil paradise for snorkelers.
Cancun Underwater Museum (Photo: 2il org/Flickr)
Part art exhibit, part marine conservation initiative, this innovative attraction was conceived by artist Jason deCaires Taylor as a way to allay damage caused by the 150,000 people who swim Mexico’s Mesoamerican Reef (the second-largest reef system in the world) every year. Taylor makes lifelike statues of local people from marine-grade materials, sinks them at depths of 15 to 30 feet, and then grafts coral nubbins on them to create gorgeous artificial reef art. There are nearly 500 statues in two sections now (one near Cancun, the other in Isla Mujeres), with plans to install thousands more in years to come.
Cenote in the Yucatan Penninsula (Photo: Rodolfo Araiza G./Flickr)