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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Mexico

Mexico conjures images of ancient ruins, colonial towns, endless beaches, and cities pulsing with life. The country's two long coastlines lure travelers with countless opportunities for fun in the sun. On the west coast, the Pacific Pipeline—legendary among surfers—runs from Baja all the way past Puerto Escondido, while the Caribbean side is better known for spectacular coral reefs and warmer, gentler seas. On either coast, you'll find boating, parasailing, diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, and more. Whether you prefer the flashy resorts of Los Cabos and Cancun, upscale Playa del Carmen, or the more traditional glamour of Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, Mexico has a beach town for you. Blessed with natural beauty and a rich heritage, Mexico also boasts the largest number of UNESCO-listed sites in North America, including the Maya ruins of Palenque, Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba. From grand colonial cities like Puebla and Oaxaca, to the many "pueblos magicos" (magical towns), such as Taxco and Valladolid, Mexico's colorful streets and regional cuisines never fail to enchant. The country's abundant tropical rainforests are home to a variety of wildlife, and eco-adventure parks like Xel-ha on the Riviera Maya pack in family-style fun with ziplining, hiking, and guided safaris. Many visitors arrive via Mexico City, and while the sprawling capital can be overwhelming at first, don't be deterred. Cultural riches await you, including a world-class art scene, historical museums, cosmopolitan dining, nonstop nightlife, and easy access to the Teotihuacan pyramids. Just don't try to drive.
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Mr. Sancho's Beach Club Cozumel
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Find everything you need for a relaxing and fun day at the beach with an all-inclusive day pass to Mr. Sanchos Beach Club Cozumel. Situated on a private, 1,500-foot-long stretch of white-sand beach, Mr. Sanchos has all the usual beach amenities like umbrellas and lounge chairs, as well as an infinity pool and an Aqua Park with inflatable climbing structures and water trampolines. Day passes include all you can eat and drink from the restaurant and bar, and there are abundant activities available for an additional fee, including parasiling, ATV tours, massages and horseback riding.

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Tulum
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One of the best preserved Mayan sites, Tulum is a must-see attraction on the coast of the Yucatan. Tulum, the Walled City, is mounted high on the edge of a cliff, towering above the Caribbean Sea and a beautiful white sandy beach. It was only inhabited by the nobles, high priests and esteemed citizens, whereas the lower classes lived in simple wood and thatch huts beyond. The ruins here are truly spectacular, especially Tulum's main temple, dedicated to the Diving God.
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Arch of Cabo San Lucas (El Arco)
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Nature has carved some amazing formations at Los Cabos, and El Arco is perhaps the most famous.

A signature icon of Los Cabos, the limestone arch carved by time, tide and wind runs down to the water’s edge and into the sea. From a distance the formation looks for all the world like a dragon, and up close the arch frames sky, sea and sand for picture-perfect photos.

Take a cruise by day or sunset for views of El Arco from the water, and look out for sea lions basking on the shore.

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Bay of Cabo San Lucas
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The Bahia de Cabo San Lucas is the cape’s hub for water sports and beach activities. Rent jet skis and kayaks at Medano Beach, or hang out at the resorts lining the long stretch of sand overlooking the bay.

Take an underwater snorkel tour of the bay and nearby Sea of Cortez, or go diving off the Chileno reef or Cabo Pulmo Marine Park. There are charter boats for sports fishing in the world’s marlin capital, or more gentle cruising in a glass-bottom boat on the bay at sunset. For youngsters, what could be better than a cruise aboard a pirate buccaneer’s cruise, me hearties.

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El Malecon
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Puerto Vallarta locals and visitors alike strut their stuff on El Malecon, the city ’s iconic boardwalk overlooking the Bay of Banderas. It’s the place for sunsets strolls, rollerblading, ice creams and admiring the many public street sculptures that adorn the boardwalk.

You’ll see sculptures of dolphins, loving couples, a seahorse, angel and various abstract works. The malecon also takes in the color and vibrancy of the local fish market and the graceful arches known as Los Arcos that make up the city’s public amphitheater for outdoor entertainment.

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Cabo San Lucas
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Love it, hate it—or can’t remember it—there’s no denying that Cabo San Lucas is a town that’s fueled by fun. Partygoers flock to the oceanfront beach bars and resorts all lining the strip, and carry the party deep into the night at the thumping downtown discotecs. Anglers spend the day slathering on sunscreen and listening for zinging reels, as they troll the waters for trophy fish that leap from the cobalt sea. On the outskirts of town, surfers race across peeling waves from Zippers to Todos Santos, and snorkelers explore the rocky reefs of Playa Santa Maria. At Land’s End—where the 1,100 long Baja Peninsula finally submits to the sea—stand on the sands of “Lover’s Beach,” where jagged rocks embrace a cove that’s completely hidden from view. Watch as sea lions splash on the rocks and tour boats cruise the “tip,” and head back towards town for an afternoon meal of seafood served on the sand.

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Pelican Rock
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Even though this spot is named for the pelicans that clumsily land on the rocks, it’s the animals and action beneath the water that warrant all the attention. Here, at this protected swimming spot by “Lover’s Beach” and the famous rocks of “El Arco,” snorkelers, swimmers, scuba divers, and cliff jumpers all play together in the tropical sun outside of Cabo San Lucas. The rock is popular with Los Cabos snorkeling tours, and snorkelers have the chance to see frogfish, goatfish, lobsters, nudibranchs and even some white tipped sharks. Strap on a tank and head 60 feet down to find schools of silvery jacks, or climb up 15 feet up the side of the rock before splashing in the waters below. A small, protected section of shoreline is exclusively reserved for swimming, and colonies of sea lions bark and lounge on the craggy rocks offshore.

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Selvatica
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Close your eyes and think of Cancun; now what exactly do you see? More than likely it’s white sand beaches in front of large resorts, where cobalt waters lap the shore and palm trees sway in the breeze. For as enticing as beaches and water might be, there’s an entirely different side of Cancun that offers just as much excitement; a place where you swim in turquoise waters set miles inside of the jungle, and literally race through the jungle canopy to feel the breeze in your hair.

At the famous Selvatica Eco-Park, an hour south of Cancun, visitors can infuse their beach vacation with a shot of jungle adrenaline. Clip into a harness and race through the trees on the 12-line zipline adventure, or test your nerves on a bungee swing while staring out over the forest. If you’d prefer that a motor generate the speed—rather than regular old gravity—crank the throttle of an ATV while splashing through dirt and mud.

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Lover's Beach (Playa del Amor)
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Playa del Amor - or Lover's Beach - is a true hidden gem, nestled amongst the craggy rocks of Land’s End. Reached only by boat, this perfect crescent of sand is surrounded by rocky outcrops, including views of El Arco.

The secluded location is a romantic destination for a day by the sea, the lovely stretch of sand extending across the Land’s End peninsula from the Sea of Cortes to the Pacific Ocean. The water here is dangerous, so take care if you go for a swim or snorkel, and only enter the water on the Sea of Cortes side of the beach.

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Rio Secreto Nature Reserve
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Kept hidden from the public until 2007 and strictly adhering to its sustainable tourism model, the evocatively named Rio Secreto, or “Secret River,” is deserved of its reputation as the best kept secret of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. A dramatic series of caves carved out by the flow of an ancient underground river, the Rio Secreto is most famous for its large half-sunken cavern, one of few in the world that is accessible to non-professional divers.

Venturing underground, visitors can explore the eerie passageways that once formed part of the mysterious, yet much talked about Mayan underworld; swim in the fabled underground river; and admire the unique natural caves, dripping with stalactites, stalagmites and strikingly colored mineral formations.

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More Things to Do in Mexico

Banderas Bay (Bahia de Banderas)

Banderas Bay (Bahia de Banderas)

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Beautiful Banderas Bay - or Bahia de Banderas - is just one of the reasons why Puerto Vallarta is such a highly sought-after beach resort destination.

The Pacific Ocean bay is Mexico’s largest, lapping the two Mexican states of Jalisco and Nayarit. Its long beautiful coastline runs for 42 miles (68 km), 25 (40) of them in Puerto Vallarta.

Banderas Bay is the number-one location for sports and eco adventures on the water, from parasailing and surfing to yachting from the port’s ritzy marina.

Whale-watching in these waters is also popular, especially December to April when the whales come here to calve.

Get out on the water of Banderas Bay in a sea-kayak, or cruise to one of the many islands dotting the bay.

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Cirque du Soleil Joya

Cirque du Soleil Joya

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Medano Beach (Playa Médano)

Medano Beach (Playa Médano)

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The water may be wild elsewhere, but at Medano Beach - or Playa el Medano - there’s miles of safe, calm swimming and beach fun for all the family. Los Cabo’s most popular beach is a long, long stretch of beach towels, sun umbrellas, beach volleyball, pleasure boats and beach bars. Resorts and high-rise apartment buildings line the sands, offering beachfront restaurants and bars. Beach vendors stroll the sands selling everything from sombreros to jewelry, and when the sun goes down the beach turns into Los Cabo’s nightlife hub.

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Los Arcos National Marine Park

Los Arcos National Marine Park

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One of the most popular snorkeling destinations in the Bay of Banderas is Los Arcos. The protected marine park has all manner of treats in store for avid snorkelers and divers.

There are islands to visit, reefs to dive, tunnels to swim through and caves to explore, providing plenty of the arches and grottoes that give the park its name.

The marine life is stupendously varied, from clownfish to rays, octopus and lobsters and angelfish.

Organize a day cruise for relaxing at sea and peerless diving and snorkeling in the caves of Los Arcos.

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Xoximilco Cancun

Xoximilco Cancun

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Cancun’s best, most festive and most authentic fiesta tradition, Xoximilco, is an eponymous throwback and homage to the floating gardens and canals of Mexico City’s famous neighbor-hood Xochimilco. Xochimilco means “field of flowers,”and this Cancun attraction brings all the beauty and splendor of the floating gardens of Mexico City to the tropical paradise of Cancun. Today, a visit to Xoximilco entices guests with Central American traditions like floating flower-strung boats, live music serenades and some of the best food in Cancun.

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Xenotes Oasis Maya

Xenotes Oasis Maya

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Santa Maria Beach (Playa Santa María)

Santa Maria Beach (Playa Santa María)

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Secluded, sandy, sunny, and serene, Santa Maria Beach is one of the nicest beaches in all of Los Cabos. If beachfront bars with thumping music are the Cabo scene you’re hoping for, then it’s best to stay back in Cabo San Lucas within walking distance of the resorts. If, on the other hand, an isolated beach without any resorts is what you had in mind—where snorkeling with schools of colorful fish is just a short swim from the sand—then load up the car, pack some sunscreen, and make the short drive to Santa Maria Beach for a dose of Baja tranquility.

This horseshoe shaped bay is a darling of snorkel cruises that ply the Los Cabos coast, but it’s also accessible as a short drive via a well-marked stop off the road. The middle of the week has fewer crowds, and mornings offer better conditions and calmer waters for snorkeling. For what it boasts in beauty, however, it definitely lacks in shade, so consider packing a beach umbrella to provide an escape from the sun.

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Casa Cenote

Casa Cenote

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Beautiful, underwater sinkholes flooded with light, the cenotes of Riviera Maya, Mexico are a natural wonder and a sight to behold. Though there are many throughout the region, Casa Cenote is uniquely located in a mangrove forest close to the sea. It can be thought of as almost an underwater jungle with its algae-covered mangrove forest and soft sands.

As it is mostly open to the sky, it is less enclosed than neighboring cenotes and often has more aquatic life to see. The cenote connects one of the world’s largest underwater river systems to the ocean. Because of this, it is possible to see both fresh and saltwater fish. The unique combination of clear freshwater conditions and underwater caverns and formations make this an interesting spot for scuba divers and snorkelers. Streams of light penetrating the water from the surface add to the beauty and intrigue visible from both above and below.

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Zona Romantica

Zona Romantica

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Palancar Reef

Palancar Reef

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The star attraction of the Cozumel Reefs National Park - or Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel - not to mention Jacques Cousteau's television show, which quite literally put Cozumel on the map - is Palancar Reef. Actually composed of 4 separate coral reefs, it is home to sea turtles, rays, nurse sharks, barracudas, moray eels, lobsters, crabs, and a keleidescope of colorful fish.

Boats leaving from Playa Palancar take snorkelers out to the shallowest parts of the reef, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from shore. Scuba divers, however, have several world-famous spots to explore. The Palancar Caves are probably the most famous attraction, with huge brain corals and swim-through tunnels. Palancar Horseshoe is another massive formation of huge corals, some partially damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma. Less experienced divers can visit Palancar Gardens, a shallower spot with mellow currents.

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Jolly Roger Pirate Ship

Jolly Roger Pirate Ship

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Offering family entertainment that both adults and children can enjoy, the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship sets sail from the Riviera Maya and sails the Caribbean seas while dazzling passengers with swashbuckling pirate shows and hearty food. The ship is a modern replica of the Santa Maria, which Columbus is said to have journeyed on when he discovered the Americas.

The Jolly Roger features four decks and can accommodate up to 240 passengers, with plenty of space for entertainment and dining. Filet mignon, lobster, a vegetarian option, plus a special pirate kids menu are on offer, not to mention the open bar with free domestic drinks. The pirate show is a blend of comedy and adventure, interspersed by dinner, fireworks, and dancing. Expect dramatic sword fighting, exploding cannons, and amazing acrobatics, all designed to entertain, delight, and draw you in to this unique pirate adventure.

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Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe)

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe)

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Puerto Vallarta’s Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe was built over the course of several decades in the first half of the 20th century.

Built in rustic pink stone, to a neo-baroque design, one of the prettiest details is the crown that tops the church bell tower.

The liveliest time to visit the church is December 1 to 12, when crowds celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with street processions, festive food and mariachi music.

The festival coincides with the anniversary of the founding of Puerto Vallarta, so locals have even more reason to celebrate.

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Paradise Reef (Paraíso Reef)

Paradise Reef (Paraíso Reef)

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One of the most popular dives in all of Cozumel, Paradise Reef proudly lives up to its name by offering numerous coral heads, teeming schools of colorful fish, and some of the best visibility anywhere in the world. Divers that look closely will spot numerous species of larger sea life such as eels, rays and nurse shark in addition to smaller creatures such as seahorses, boxfish and the delicate pipefish. A great dive for those who are just entering into the world of scuba as well as advanced divers who want to add a little color to their dives, Paradise Reef is one of the best dive spots in Cozumel.

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