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Welcome to Cancún

Woman sits on a bead on a beach in Cancun

Matthew Wakem/Alamy

Cancún is one place where brochures don't lie. Reflections of fluffy white clouds scudding over a luminous aquamarine sea are real, and the sand, composed of coral and shell, is a creamy white powder that never gets too hot for burrowing toes. If it's easy to dismiss Cancún as not the "real" Mexico because it was purpose-built for tourism in 1974, or to complain that the Riviera Maya has become overdeveloped and expensive, it's not so easy to resist the lure of that surreally perfect Caribbean tableau.

Boasting the greatest growth in tourism of any destination in the Americas in 2017 — up 16 percent to 6.8 million international visitors — Cancún is hardly a traditional Mexican city. You need never speak a word of Spanish or spend a peso. Yet the curious traveler doesn’t have to look far for authentic Mexican culture and Maya heritage — both in town and south along the gorgeous Riviera Maya, where the towns of Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Akumal and Tulum line the 86-mile coast like sentries guarding nature’s trove.

Cancún offers something for grownups with all sorts of varied tastes and interests, including luxurious spas and hotels (many for adults only), shopping, museums and restaurants from world-renowned chefs. So despite its Vegas-by-the-sea vibe (yes, there’s even limited gambling), it’s easy to have a vacation that’s more about blissful relaxing than all-night raving.  

But whatever the current trend, you can always plunge into the fascinating, mysterious world of the Maya — from otherworldly archaeological ruins to land- and water-based eco-sites that shaped their view of the cosmos. And if ancient stone temples and mystical underwater caverns don’t satisfy, there are always those oh-so-dreamy beaches.

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