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ITINERARIES

Isla Cancún
Let's face it, Isla Cancún is one big beach and there's no use pretending that there's anything else to do here. It's a lazy, beautiful stretch of white sand. The only thing you need to know is that the beaches on the western side face Laguna de Nichupté and are straitjacket-calm and those on the eastern shore face the Caribbean and are prone to fierce undertows. Isla Cancún is 23km (14mi) long, not very wide and known as the Zona Hotelera. The island is connected to Ciudad Cancún by two bridges.

Isla Mujeres
A 25-minute boat ride from Cancún, Isla Mujeres has a reputation as a 'backpackers' Cancún, a place to escape the mega resorts for the laid-back life of a tropical isle. This is only partly true, as more and more tourists come looking for tranquility. Nonetheless, many visitors have a hard time tearing themselves away from Isla Mujeres' relaxed setting, surrounded as they are by tourist-brochure turquoise waters that are bathtub warm.

There's spectacular diving to be done here. The Isla is blessedly close to four fine reefs: Los Manchones, La Bandera, Cuevones and Chital. A regular stop for divers includes the Sleeping Shark Caves, about 5km (3mi) north of the island, where the usually dangerous creatures are said to be lethargically nonlethal because of the low oxygen content of the caves' waters. The good snorkelling and better swimming beaches are on the southern part of the island along the western shore (the Bahía de Mujeres), though Playa Norte, the town's principal beach, lies calmly facing northwest. If you desperately need a break from sun and sand, there's some ruined remains of a Mayan temple dedicated to Ixchel at the southern tip of the island.

Museo de Antropología y Historia
This museum has a collection of items - including jewellry, masks and intentionally deformed skulls - from the Postclassic period (AD1200-1500). Other exhibits include a Classic-period hieroglyphic staircase inscribed with dates from the 6th century, and the stucco head that gave the local archeological zone its name of El Rey. Most of the informative signs are in Spanish only, though an English information sheet is available at the ticket counter. Archeology buffs should be warned, however, that they may be left wanting. The Mayan ruins really worth seeing lie far outside of the city.

Off the Beaten Track

Isla Contoy
From Isla Mujeres it's possible to take an excursion by boat to tiny, uninhabited Isla Contoy, a national park and bird sanctuary 30km (19mi) north. The island's dense foliage is home to more than 100 bird species, including brown pelicans, olive cormorants, turkey birds, brown boobies and red-pouched frigates. In addition, red flamingoes, snowy egrets and white herons make frequent visits. Bring mosquito repellent, and beware of the boa constrictors and small crocodiles that live in the island's brackish ponds.

Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm
Six species of sea turtle lay eggs in the sand along the island's calm western shore. Although they are endangered, sea turtles are still killed throughout Latin America for their eggs and meat, which are considered a delicacy. In the 1980s, efforts by a local fisherman led to the founding of the Centro de Investigaciones and the Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm, which protects the turtles' breeding grounds and places wire cages around their eggs to protect against predators. Hatchlings live in three large pools for up to a year, at which time they are tagged for monitoring and released. Because most turtles in the wild die within their first few months, the practice of guarding them until they are a year old greatly increases their chances of survival. The Turtle Farm is a scientific facility, not an amusement centre. But if you'd like to see several hundred sea turtles, ranging in weight from 150g (5oz) to more than 300kg (661lb), this is the place for you.



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