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Playa del Carmen is one of the top diving destinations in the world, thanks to vibrant sea life and dazzling underwater caverns. On dry land, Playa is a hipper and more modern version of the fishing village it once was. Spend some quality time on the golf course or wave hello to the playful spider monkeys at The Jungle Place sanctuary. Explore the ancient ruins of the Coba Mayan Village, or get in some quality people-watching as you shop and stroll along 5th Avenue.
As a well-known destination for both spring breakers and A-list travelers in need of a getaway, Cabo San Lucas has definite vacation cred. The beaches here range in temperament, from the serene waters of the Sea of Cortez and Playa del Amor to the kickin’ waves of Zippers, a surfing paradise. If you care to romp with locals, head to the coves and rock formations of the Cannery beaches. Kids will have a blast communing with the local animals by swimming with dolphins or taking a camel ride through the Desert Park Natural Reserve.
Sunny Cancun has much more to offer than its party-town reputation might suggest. Plenty of gorgeous, drama-free family resorts cater to folks who want to experience the tropical Yucatan climate. There are significant Mayan ruins here, such as El Rey and the Yamil Lu’um, a crumbling tower of pale gray stone. Learn more about this ancient civilization at the Museo Maya de Cancun. For a literal taste of Mexico, take a tour of the Museo Sensorial del Tequila.
Strolling, shopping, and sipping tequila along the Malecon boardwalk of Puerto Vallarta is the best way to kick off your vacation. Then hit the cobblestone streets of Old Vallarta to browse the flea market for handmade crafts. The calm, warm waters of the Bay of Banderas make for excellent diving, or you can just watch artists sculpt spectacular creations in the sand. The cluster of fine art galleries in El Centro are perfect spots to hit on a self-guided art tour.
Mayan ruins tower over the sea in Tulum. The formerly walled city was one of the last to be built by the Mayans, and its archaeological sites are incredibly well preserved. Take a break from the beach to visit El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God. Explore an underground river under a canopy of stalactites in the sacred caverns of LabnaHa Eco Park, or dive into Cenote Dos Ojos to snorkel inside of caves in the middle of a forest.
Rising from the ruins of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, Mexico City offers a unique collision of contemporary city life and historic preservation. World-class museums, restaurants and parks rub shoulders with the remains of several cultures. The nightlife, the shopping and the history make it a must-see regardless of your travel style.
While resorts continue to spring up, "Zihua" remains determined to maintain its small-town flavor. The brick-paved "fisherman's walk," a nod to the region's seafaring roots, stretches along the town center. Because the nightlife is mostly informal, Zihua is particularly appealing to couples and those seeking an escape from coastal party towns.
One of the top diving destinations in the world for its bright storybook coral reefs, the island of Cozumel is also home to a variety of natural beaches. Choose a beach with soft white sand for relaxing, or snorkel off a rockier vista. A destination for both adventure and romance, Cozumel has a year-round Caribbean climate, untrammeled jungle and abundant nightlife.
High in the cool hills, this colonial gem of cobblestone streets and picturesque churches inspires artists with its color, character and light. Baroque, neoclassical and neogothic mix in the city's buildings, notably at the pink stone 18th-century church on the Plaza Principal. Founded in 1542, the city is a mix of Hispanic and Mesoamerican influences.
In Nuevo Vallarta, you can lounge on the golden-sand beaches of Banderas Bay… or take an ATV tour through the nearby Sierra Madre jungle. A local water park has great twisting slides and sea lion shows… or you could treat the kids to a memorable swim with dolphins. (It'll make for a great "What I did over summer vacation" report.)