• Marty Doyle

Cancún: Beyond the Hotel Zone

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

If you've been to or planned an event in Cancún you know just how spoiled you are for choice when it comes to things to do. Snorkeling, pleasure cruises, ATVs, culinary workshops, zip-lining, exploring cenotes, and roaming Isla Mujeres in your private golf cart are amongst the most popular. For those willing to drive, be driven, or jump on a quick flight there are some very worthwhile opportunities to further discover the Yucatán. Whether it's a day trip away from the Hotel Zone or overnight or two pre/post-extension from a company-sponsored incentive trip, we’re excited to highlight four options to cause the travel bug in you to itch.


Witness Bacalar’s unsurpassable beauty with a startling variety of blues in a serenely stunning natural environment. Board a chartered Cessna 208 Grand Caravan (12 seats + pilot) for a beautiful flightseeing experience of the Mayan Riviera’s coastline en route to Kohunlich air-strip. You’ll be greeted and escorted to the nearby pre-Columbian Mayan ruins of Kohunlich, for a brief visit of the famous Temple of Masks.

Hop on a chartered sailboat or shaded pontoon boat and spend the next four hours exploring the spectacular Bacalar Lagoon, and its’ mesmerizing seven shades of blue. Experience tranquility and beauty as you enjoy the refreshing clear waters of the lake, the cenotes, and islands. Ice-cold Margaritas with fresh limes will precede a gourmet lunch, and it’s hard to pass up on a REAL “mud fight.” The under-an-hour flight home to Cancún is just as spectacular as the one there.


Isla Holbox pronounced “izla hol-bosh,” is ideal for those looking to get away from the crowds, experience beach-life, and enjoy simple. At just two hours from Cancún, jump on a 30-minute ferry ride from Chiquilá and you’ve arrived.

Life on-island is non-pretentious, and there are plenty of decent restaurants and bars for nightlife, helped by the fact a majority of visitors are European. The roads aren’t paved nor are cars permitted, so the best way to get around is to rent a bicycle or travel á la golf cart. There are plenty of places to stay offering various levels of comfort and most are clustered together within a 4-5 block area. Punta Coco Beach is a favorite spot with powdery white sand and azure-blue water, and accessible within a 15-minute bike ride from the town center. The island-life grows on you quickly and you soon start to feel at home. Anticipate spending 2-4 nights so you don’t leave too soon, but also want to come back.

In addition to sun-bathing and exploring chilled mezcal-based cocktails, you can enjoy kite-surfing, a nighttime bioluminescent experience, and the popular three-island tour. If you plan your visit June-September, you be able to participate in the whale shark encounter and swim with these enormous creatures as they migrate down the coastline.


Located at the mid-way point between the cities of Cancún and Merida, Valladolid allows visitors to witness Mexico’s colonial past with its 16th-century Baroque architecture. Recently designated as one of Mexico’s “Pueblo Magicos,” Valladolid has a small city vibe NOT centered around tourism, and is ideally located to use as a base to visit several interesting sites within a two-hour drive:

  • Chichen Itza: a major Mayan archeological site (one hour)

  • Ek Balam: a spectacular Mayan archeological site (30 minutes)

  • Las Coloradas in Río Lagartos: pink lake (one and a half hours)

  • Cenotes: Xkeken, Samulá, Hibiku, Zaci, Ik Kil (15-30 minutes)

There is nothing flashy about Valladolid, but it does make a nice change from the coastal cities of Cancún and Playa del Carmen. You can enjoy the picturesque and colorful Calzada de Los Frailes street, Iglesia de San Servicio, and San Bernandino Convent. There are some great dining options available, and a stroll around the town square in search of dessert is a must-do after dinner.

If your interest lies in Chichen Itza, then make the most of the proximity and get there before the tourists from Cancún and Playa del Carmen arrive. We suggest scheduling about three hours to cover the entire site. If you are fortunate or smart enough to plan your stay over a Sunday, then we highly recommend the sound & light show that takes place at dark.


Known familiarly as Ciudad Blanca because of its’ white structures, Mérida is comprised of a beautiful contrast of both white and pastel-colored dwellings. The city is a fabulous place to visit and spend a few days and was recently named “World’s Best Small City 2019” by Condé Nast Traveler.

Mérida is the largest city in the Yucatán peninsula and has a culture bursting at the seams, and is probably why it has been the only city to have been selected twice as “American Capital of Culture” (2000 and 2017). Whether it’s admiring ancient Mayan artwork at a museum or simply soaking in the local culture that’s abundant within the swinging doors of Mérida’s cantinas, there are a plethora of cultural experiences offered daily. Much of its population are Mayan descent and are wonderfully gifted with a sense of hospitality.

No visit to Mérida is complete without strolling the grand Paseo de Montejo, Mérida’s tribute to Paris’s Champs-Elysées. Historic mansions line the grand avenue, as do many quaint cafes. Include a rest break for a coffee at Pistacheor Sukra. Or go to Posheria, where they'll add a shot of “poche” (Mayan liquor) to your iced latte.

  • Gran Museo del Mundo Maya (a must for those with an interest in anything Mayan)

  • Lucas de Galvez Market Merida (daily 6a-5p, plan to eat while there)

  • Teatro Jose Peon Contreras (symphonies on Fridays at 9p and Sundays at 12p)

  • Pok Ta Pok; Demonstration of the Mayan sport (Saturdays at 8:30p)

Adding to the appeal is the distinctive unique Yucatán cuisine. Fortunately for visitors, there's a ton of competition and chefs battle it out for egos. While there are daily additions to Mérida's culinary scene recommendations include Picheta, Hacienda Teya, Kuuk, and MUGY (Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca).

The city's proximity to the coast also makes it a great opportunity to visit Uxmal:an impressive UNESCO World Heritage Mayan archeological site, and Celestun Biosphere Reserve: an impressive seasonal habitat of the pink flamingo.

Our DMC partner specialize in providing high-touch services to a discerning international clientele hosting group events and sophisticated individual travelers visiting Cancún, Riviera Maya, and Costa Mujeres. As a founding member of Destination Excellence, their reputation is their reference. Visit www.Dest-XL.com and email Info@Dest-XL.com to initiate an informative discussion regarding destination management services on our turf.

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