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Tulum and Beyond: How to Experience the Best of the Mexican Caribbean

Sponsored by Quintana Roo Tourism Board

12.11.19

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Quintana Roo Tourism Board

Mayan archaeological sites, endless watersports, and authentic cuisine make this Mexican destination a must.

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The aroma of sugar and vanilla fills the air of Isla Holbox’s tiny town square, where local vendors gather to serve regional delights. You order a “marquesita,” a rolled-up street snack made on a griddle that’s similar to a crepe (only crunchier) and filled with sweet or savory fillings such as cajeta caramel, queso de bola Edam cheese, and Nutella. It’s delicious.

This is just one of the authentic Mexican experiences you can have in Quintana Roo—the Mexican state situated on the eastern part of the Yucatán Peninsula that’s fringed by the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Encompassing familiar hubs like Playa del Carmen and Tulum, along with under-the-radar gems like Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres, the Mexican Caribbean is one of the most diverse destinations in Mexico. You’ll find an enticing mix of outdoor adventure, delicious local cuisine, and ancient history.

Whether you’re seeking a glamorous resort or a hidden-away hotel with just a handful of rooms, you’ll find everything you need in the Mexican Caribbean for a dreamy beach escape. Here are three key spots to go.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Quintana Roo Tourism Board

Tulum

About an hour south of Playa del Carmen (and two hours from the airport in Cancun), Tulum is a hotspot for relaxed beach culture, yoga retreats, and leisurely brunch spots. It’s also a gateway to the Mundo Maya, where explore the cliff-side ruins of the Castillo and the site of the archaic Muyil, located 20 minutes away from Tulum.

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Along with ancient history, Tulum boasts some of the prettiest beaches along the Riviera Maya. Kick back under a shady palm tree on the appropriately named Paradise Beach and watch the iguanas play—or seek out the beautiful beaches of Maya Ka´an, the newest destination of the Mexican Caribbean. the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is located there, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers access to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest barrier reef in the world.

For a taste of Tulum’s eco-chic hotel scene, stay at Casa de las Olas, tucked away on a private beach, or Papaya Playa Project, which is focused on stylish sustainability. Grab authentic tacos at the buzzy, no-frills Antojitos La Chiapaneca or enjoy home-cooked specialties at El Tacoqueto.

Isla Mujeres

Hop on the 20-minute ferry from Puerto Juárez (a convenient port situated about a mile north of Cancun) to Isla Mujeres, one of the small island gems of the Mexican Caribbean. Once there, you can putter around in a rented golf cart or scooter—or simply stroll. A short walk from the charming town center, North Beach (or Playa Norte) is one of the most photogenic beaches on the globe, with bright turquoise water and powdery white sand.

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On the serene south side of the island, stay at Casa de los Sueños and enjoy its boutique rooms and cute on-site restaurant, Kin Ha. Catch the sunrise at Punta Sur, the easternmost point of Mexico, and enjoy the undiscovered vibe of the rugged south coast. If you’re scuba-certified, visit MUSA, a submerged modern art gallery just offshore, showcasing nearly 500 sculptures that range from pensive figures to VW Beetles. (You can also take a glass-bottom boat or snorkel tour.)

To sample authentic regional cuisine, head to Playa Lancheros, a casual daytime spot specializing in seafood, including tikin-xic, a grilled fish dish seasoned with axiote and served with a side of rice and a pepper-and-red-onion salad.

Photo Credit: Quintana Roo Tourism Board

Isla Holbox

Get off the grid on Isla Holbox, a tiny island off the north coast of the Mexican Caribbean, drawing Instagrammers for its cool street art and gorgeous beaches.

To get there, take the half-hour ferry from Chiquilá, a small port about a two-hour drive from the airport in Cancun. On the island, rent beach cruiser bikes to get around or hail an adorable golf cart taxi—painted bright yellow, of course. And stay in hip, eco-minded hotels like the fashionable Casa Las Tortugas, with its relaxing Agua Spa, or the luxuriously rustic Ser Casasandra concept hotel.

Nestled between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, this 26-mile-long island is part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve and perfect for anyone looking to disconnect from their inbox for a few days. Walk through narrow streets lined with brightly painted homes and vibrant murals, or beeline to the beach for stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, and lazy cocktails.

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Along with delicious street and beach vendors, Isla Holbox has a few must-try restaurants, including La Chingada for ceviche and fish tacos and Roots Pizza for surprisingly good pizzas. They make the perfect addition to your glorious trip through the Mexican Caribbean.

Plan your next trip and more at mexicancaribbean.travel.

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