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Cancun is marginally closer to Miami than it is to Mexico City, and if you come on an all-inclusive package tour the place has a lot to offer: striking modern hotels on white-sand beaches; high-class entertainment including parachuting, jet-skiing, scuba-diving and golf; a hectic nightlife; and from here much of the rest of the Yucatan is easily accessible. For the independent traveller, though, it is expensive, and can be frustrating and unwelcoming. You may well be forced to spend the night here, but without pots of money the true pleasures of the place will elude you.


There's little to see in downtown Cancun . Most visitors head straight for the zona hotelera and the beaches . Though you're free to go anywhere, and signposted public walkways lead down to the sea at regular intervals, some of the hotels do their best to make you feel like a trespasser, and staff will certainly move you off the beach furniture if you're not a guest. To avoid being eyed suspiciously by hotel heavies, head for one of the dozen or so public beaches : all are free but you may have to pay a small charge for showers. Entertainment and expensive water sports are laid on all around the big hotels; if you venture further, where more sites await construction, you can find surprisingly empty sand and often small groups of nude sunbathers.

To catch a bit of culture while you're out here, the Sheraton boasts a small Maya ruin in its grounds, above the pool, while the Museo de Antropologia , located behind the convention centre (Mon-Sat 9am-8pm, Sun 10am-7pm; US$2, free on Sun), has a small but absorbing outline of Mesoamerican and Maya culture and history, with information in English and Spanish. Cancun's largest Maya remains, the Ruinas del Rey (daily 8am-5pm; US$1.70, free on Sun), are at Km 17, overlooking the Nichupte Lagoon. They're not especially impressive - and, if you decide not to take one of the guides at the entrance, there's no information available to explain them - but the area is peaceful and very good for bird- and iguana-watching.

The best snorkelling in Cancun is at Punta Nizuc, next to Club Med territory. You aren't allowed to cross the grounds unless you're staying there, so you have to get off the bus at the Westin Regina Resort , cross their grounds to the beach, then turn right and walk for about twenty minutes until you reach the rocky point. Walk across the rocks and snorkel to your heart's content. A one-tank dive costs about US$50 and a full PADI open-water certification course around US$400. To view the colourful underwater life in a more leisurely fashion, take a trip on the Sub See Explorer , a glass-bottomed boat that leaves from the Aqua World centre at Blvd Kukulkan Km 15.2 every hour from 9am until 3pm (US$35).

Both jet-skiing (US$50 for 30min) and parasailing (US$40 for 10min) are very popular in Cancun and operators are dotted at frequent intervals in front of the big hotels on the beach.

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