Beach Time in Cancun

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Beach Time in Cancun
Cancun delivers miles of beaches, each sloping gently into the clear blue sea. But if there's not enough sand for you to lay down your towel, head to a nearby island for even more tantalizing shores.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Gardel Bertrand/age fotostock
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    Dolphin Beach
    Playa Delfines translates to Dolphin Beach, and the place offers the real thing. The best view of the finned mammals (or locals riding finned surfboards) is from the beach's mirador (lookout platform). The white-sand beach is dotted with thatched palapas and umbrellas to rent and also features lifeguards and restrooms. Playa Delfines is easily reached by taxi, which is recommended over driving since there's limited parking.
    Photo by Gardel Bertrand/age fotostock
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    Slow Down in Puerto Morelos
    More laid-back than the beaches of Cancun's Hotel Zone, Puerto Morelos is the place you might envision when you read about "sleepy little fishing villages" in guidebooks. The area's reef system (reported to be the second largest in the world) and mangroves are protected by the government, and the other natural attractions are generally well cared for. In addition to lazing on the beach, photography aficionados enjoy the picturesque views of fishing pangas (boats) lined up along the shore, where they dry out under the brilliant blue sky.
    Photo by Graham Mulroo/age fotostock
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    Escape to Isla Mujeres
    Just eight miles across the Caribbean Sea from Cancun, Isla Mujeres was once relatively unknown to tourists. For thousands of years, the island was actually a sanctuary dedicated to Ixchel, the Maya goddess of fertility. More recently, it has become a haven for people seeking remote beaches and off-the-beaten-path experiences. While more people are aware of Isla Mujeres now, the place retains a slow pace. Playa Sol and North Beach are popular, the former for watching the sun set, the latter for its white sand and shallow waters. Relax on the beach, or, if you're feeling more active, rent a kayak to explore the island by boat.
    Photo by Tuul/age fotostock
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    Beach Lounging and Bird Watching on Isla Holbox
    If Isla Mujeres is too mainstream for you, try Isla Holbox. Cars are prohibited on the island, so everyone moves at the speed of their feet or, at most, the speed of a bicycle. Beach lounging is the activity of choice here, though bird watching and whale shark viewing are other popular pursuits. Thanks to the shallow lagoon that separates the island from Cancun, Holbox has a large population of resident flamingos as well as several endangered bird species. To get to Isla Holbox, take the ferry from Cancun; it leaves several times a day depending on the weather.
    Photo by Juan Carlos Muñoz/age fotostock
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    Isla Contoy Nature Preserve
    The most remote of Cancun's islands is Isla Contoy, a nature preserve where the number of visitors is strictly capped at 200 per day. Typically, though, fewer than 100 people make the excursion to this haven for sea birds, turtles, and other animals, some of which are endangered. More than 150 different types of birds have been spotted here, and about 100 plant species grow on the small island. Once on Isla Contoy, you can spend the afternoon at the beach or take a guided tour with a biologist to learn more about the island's flora and fauna. Nature walks include lunch.
    Photo by Sandra Salvadó/age fotostock
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    Waterfront Drinks
    Forget about the craft cocktail craze, and get back to basics: technicolor drinks served in frosty Hurricane glasses, topped with paper umbrellas and maraschino cherries or wedges of pineapple. These fruity quenchers can still be sipped poolside or on the beach all over Cancun. Cocktails usually include such bar shelf staples as rum and vodka, but homegrown spirits like tequila and mezcal are also encouraged. If you're looking to try something hyperlocal, ask a bartender for a taste of xtabentún, a liqueur made only in the Yucatán Peninsula from fermented honey and anise seed. Be careful—this spirit packs a punch.
    Photo by Sandra Salvadó/age fotostock
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    Water Sports from Surfing to Flyboarding
    If sitting on the beach makes you antsy, consider trying a new water sport with a local outfitter or resort. There are the usual suspects: surfing, kiteboarding, and parasailing along with kayaking and wake boarding. But if you're looking for something more unusual, ask about the jetpack experience, also known as "flyboarding." Strapped onto a small board that's propelled by a jet ski–powered hose, you soar above the water and shoot up and down like a rocket. Your less adventurous travel companions will enjoy the experience just as much from the shore.
    Photo by Angelo Cavalli/age fotostock
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    Cancun Beach Eats
    Cancun satiates the empty stomach with a variety of cuisines served at restaurants that range from beachfront casual to white-tablecloth formal. French, Spanish, and Asian eateries can be found throughout the region, and you can't go wrong with local Yucatecan ingredients, especially the spiny lobster. Waterfront and lagoon-side restaurants abound. One scenic favorite is Lorenzillo's, a restaurant that juts out into the lagoon near the Hotel Zone. It's famous for fresh lobsters that come straight from the on-site farm. Choose between the nautical-themed dining room, the open-air terrace, or one of the private rooms.
    Photo by Dieter Gerhard/age fotostock
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    Four Great Beaches in Cancun
    Cancun has two distinct beach zones: one on the northern side and the other on the eastern side (in the Hotel Zone). Beaches in the north tend to offer calmer, shallower waters, better for families traveling with kids. Playa Juventud is popular for snorkeling, and Playa Tortugas is a favorite among local families. Beaches on the eastern side have bright aquamarine water, but the currents tend to be unpredictable, so swim with care. Playa San Miguelito may be small, but it boasts a special feature: a glimpse of a nearby Maya site. Playa Delfines typically lives up to its name: Dolphins are often spotted here.
    Photo by Carlos S. Pereyra/age fotostock
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    Cancun's Beach Bashes
    If you like to party on or near the beach, Cancun does not disappoint. A number of beachfront clubs offer music (live or from a DJ) that inspires dancing all the way out to the water as the night goes on. Some venues, such as Mandala Beach Club, offer tables and bottle service on the sand, and many resorts, including the Royal Cancun All Suites Resort and Me by Melia Cancun, host beach parties. Often, these parties have a particular theme: burlesque or full moon, for example. Hotel concierges and restaurant waitstaff can point you toward the area's best beach parties.
    Photo by Tibor Bognár/age fotostock
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