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Cancun - Attractions

Insanely clear blue water at the beach behind the Forum shopping center in Cancun's Zona Hotelera

Isla Cancún

Let's face it, Isla Cancún is one big beach and there's no use pretending that there's anything else to do here. It's a lazy, beautiful stretch of white sand. The only thing you need to know is that the beaches on the western side face Laguna de Nichupté and are straitjacket-calm and those on the eastern shore face the Caribbean and are prone to fierce undertows. Isla Cancún is 23km (14mi) long, not very wide and known as the Zona Hotelera. The island is connected to Ciudad Cancún by two bridges.

Isla Mujeres

A 25-minute boat ride from Cancún, Isla Mujeres has a reputation as a 'backpackers' Cancún, a place to escape the mega resorts for the laid-back life of a tropical isle. This is only partly true, as more and more tourists come looking for tranquility. Nonetheless, many visitors have a hard time tearing themselves away from Isla Mujeres' relaxed setting, surrounded as they are by tourist-brochure turquoise waters that are bathtub warm.

There's spectacular diving to be done here. The Isla is blessedly close to four fine reefs: Los Manchones, La Bandera, Cuevones and Chital. A regular stop for divers includes the Sleeping Shark Caves, about 5km (3mi) north of the island, where the usually dangerous creatures are said to be lethargically nonlethal because of the low oxygen content of the caves' waters. The good snorkelling and better swimming beaches are on the southern part of the island along the western shore (the Bahía de Mujeres), though Playa Norte, the town's principal beach, lies calmly facing northwest. If you desperately need a break from sun and sand, there's some ruined remains of a Mayan temple dedicated to Ixchel at the southern tip of the island.

Museo de Antropología y Historia

This museum has a collection of items - including jewellry, masks and intentionally deformed skulls - from the Postclassic period (AD1200-1500). Other exhibits include a Classic-period hieroglyphic staircase inscribed with dates from the 6th century, and the stucco head that gave the local archeological zone its name of El Rey. Most of the informative signs are in Spanish only, though an English information sheet is available at the ticket counter. Archeology buffs should be warned, however, that they may be left wanting. The Mayan ruins really worth seeing lie far outside of the city.

Zona Arqueológica El Rey

South along Boulevard Kukulcán from Punta Cancún, the Zona Arqueológica El Rey is home to the most extensive Mayan ruins in Cancún. Unfortunately the site is pitifully weak - a small temple and a few ceremonial platforms and you can call it a day, though if time permits, it is something to do that doesn't involve water. Visitors are occasionally required to be accompanied by a guide. Much smaller, and also not very impressive, is the temple Yamil Lu'um, atop a beachside knoll on the parklike grounds separating the Sheraton Cancún and Piramides Cancún towers.

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