Mexican magic: The beaches are exquisite, but so are the caves and ruins – Sue Lawley explores the wonderful Yucatan Peninsula
- Yucatan Peninsula has plenty to offer, including the caves of Rio Secreto
- Stop in Valladolid, an old city dotted with wonky colonial era churches
- Don’t miss Sian Ka’an – where you can explore the huge nature reserve
Donald Trump may (or may not) want to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the United States, but his fellow citizens holiday over the border in their droves. And for good reason.
For Mexico does not lack variety. Beyond the beach and golf, it has culture, wildlife and adventure. You can zip on a wire across the jungle, swim with dolphins, learn about ancient civilisations, go to a show (Cirque du Soleil is a big hit) or drive for miles down its long, beautiful coastline.
The Yucatan Peninsula juts into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean and most of its hotels open on to beautiful white sandy beaches. I chose two in Playa del Carmen — one an all-inclusive resort, the other a boutique hotel.
Thrilling: Sue explores Rio Secreto, where she swam through caves of stalactites and stalagmites in a wetsuit
The vast resort, Grand Velas Riviera Maya, is three hotels in one: a section for adults only, another for families and a third, called ZEN, set apart from the beach, for those looking for a more intimate experience.
You can eat, drink and swim in any. There’s only one rule — children under 12 aren’t allowed in the adult bit.
Its size is overwhelming at first, but grows on you. People can be sniffy about all-inclusive deals, but there really are no extras here: meals, drinks and activities are all in the price. The kids’ club and teenager hangout are open all day.
There are eight restaurants, including a French, an Italian, two Mexican and Asian. I ate in most (this wasn’t a holiday for dieting) and all were good.
The all-inclusive Grand Velas Riviera Maya is three hotels in one – a section for adults only, another for families and a third, called ZEN, set apart from the beach, for those looking for a more intimate experience
The hotel faces its own big stretch of beach, the rooms are huge, the staff attentive. It’s like a luxury cruise liner that never goes to sea.
If you can drag yourself away, there is plenty to explore beyond its walls.
Here are my top three picks: First, go underground. Yucatan has no surface rivers. All its water lies beneath. It’s reached through cenotes, sink holes, where the land has caved in to create pools.
I explored the wonderful blues and greens of the Rio Secreto, swimming through caves of stalactites and stalagmites in a wetsuit with a lamp on my head. Turn it off and you’re plunged into total blackness — an eerie, but exhilarating experience.
Visit Valladolid, an old city dotted with wonky colonial era churches, smart boutiques, a delightful handicraft museum and restaurants with secluded gardens.
Unseen: Visit Valladolid, an old city dotted with wonky colonial era churches and smart boutiques
And go to a ruin. Yucatan is Mayan country, home to a sophisticated ancient civilisation that disappeared after the Spanish conquest.
The remains of their settlements can be seen all over the peninsula.
Visit Sian Ka’an where, after an archaeological tour, you can explore the huge nature reserve, walk through a rainforest (jaguar and lemur advertised, but never spotted); take a boat across two lagoons and swim down the narrow freshwater channel that links them (crocodiles mentioned but, happily, never turned up).
My second stop was the Hotel Esencia, a hacienda-style mansion with only 29 rooms, set amid a beautiful, shaded garden of trees, birds and iguana. The main house was once the private hideaway of an Italian duchess and is fronted by more than half a mile of beach. It’s enchanting.
The hotel belongs to an American, Kevin Wendle, who bought it two years ago. Thanks to his relentless attention to detail, it enjoys an atmosphere of relaxed charm.
Dive in: Visit Sian Ka’an, where, after an archaeological tour, you can explore the huge nature reserve
It’s sophisticated without being posh. Children splash happily in one of the pools and guests pad about in beachwear. Rooms are spacious and calm; painted white stone, wooden doors and windows with pretty shaded terraces.
If you plan to travel around (which you should), then hire a car. The taxis are clean and safe, but expensive.
Mexico is still learning about tourism. This means that locals go about their business with a sense of purpose and a genuinely friendly attitude.
With U.S. presidential hopeful Trump trumpeting his hostile views, you might think they would be a little touchy. Not a bit. I found them unfailingly kind and proud of their country. And they have a lot to be proud of.
Travel Facts: Plan your own trip to Mexico
Virgin (virgin-atlantic.com, 03448 747747) flies from Gatwick to Cancun from £647 return.
All-inclusive stays at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya (rivieramaya.grandvelas.com, 0052 1877 418 2963) start from £256 per person per night.
Double rooms at Hotel Esencia (hotelesencia.com, 0052 984 873 4835) from £440 B&B per night, plus taxes.