Parks & beaches
Playa Las Perlas
The beach closest to downtown Cancún, Playa Las Perlas lies at the northwest end of the Hotel Zone. Like its neighbouring beaches, it is sheltered from the wind but its waters are not as clear as those of Playa Tortugas or Playa Langosta, farther east.
This beach is located in front of the Villas Juveniles youth hostel, hence its name. Naturally, the crowd here is fairly young, with a taste for water sports and late-night partying. Playa Juventud has the advantage of being located just 2km from downtown Cancún.
Located at Km 4, between Playa Juventud and Playa Langosta, this beach lies at the limits of the Hotel Zone and Ciudad Cancún. The pier at Playa Linda harbours many cruise ships as well as the ferries that run to Isla Mujeres.
One of the prettiest beaches in Cancún, Playa Langosta (Km 5) has a small, rocky area that quickly turns into a lovely strip of white sand. Located near the Casa Maya hotel, it is literally overrun with palapas (traditional circular Mayan homes with thatched roofs).
Many boats anchor in the Playa Tortugas marina. Some regularly shuttle back and forth between the beach and Isla Mujeres. Playa Tortugas remains fairly peaceful, despite the region's unbridled development. It offers one of the loveliest views of the Bahía de Mujeres.
This beach forms the bend of the Hotel Zone. Located near the area's most luxurious hotels and the convention centre, peaceful Playa Caracol, the beach of choice among Cancún's older crowd, skirts gently around the Camino Real hotel and Punta Cancún before linking up with Playa Chacmool.
This lovely beach, located between Km 18 and Km 20, is one of the largest in the Hotel Zone. Most of the people who come here are guests of the nearby big hotels. On the other side of the road are some remains of the Mayan city of Ruinas del Rey.
Located near the southern end of the Hotel Zone, Punta Nizuc is popular for its coral reefs. Furthermore, its mangroves give the area a jungle feel.
Parque Natural Garrafón
about 6km south of the ferry landing, www.garrafon.com
Highly popular Parque Natural Garrafón was completely restored in 1998. Scuba diving, snorkelling and "snuba" diving (diving while breathing through a long tube linked to a surface scuba tank) can all be practised off the large reef that surrounds the island.
Isla Contoy, located 25km north of Isla Mujeres, attracts a large number of birding enthusiasts with its bird sanctuary. Among the numerous winged species that make their home in the mangrove swamps and lagoons on this tiny island, which is less than 7km long and 800m wide, are herons, pelicans and frigates.
Playa Norte stretches along the northern part of the city and is much prized by visitors for its magnificent white sandy beach and calm turquoise sea. Playa Lancheros is located near Hacienda Mundaca, and its tranquil waters are perfect for swimming. Playa Indios, south of Playa Lancheros, offers basically the same services and appeal as its neighbour but has the undeniable advantage of being less crowded.