Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, also called the Mayan Riviera, is home to extraordinary pre-Columbian ruins and stunning beaches. Spanning three Mexican states and parts of Belize and Guatemala, the Yucatán is also turning into one of the premiere music and nightlife meccas. All prices are in U.S. dollars.— Wilda Escarfuller
1. Climb a pyramid. The Chichén Itzá ruins evoke the splendor of the powerful Maya empire. Explore the Kukulkan pyramid and the largest-known ball court in the Americas. Light shows are available in the evenings. ($108–$124 through YucaTreks)
2. Indulge your sweet tooth. Playa del Carmen isn’t just for beach bums. Visit Ah Cacao Chocolate Café to sample all-natural chocolate, vanilla and coffee direct from the plantation.
3. Party guilt-free. At La Santanera nightclub, a 10-foot, neon image of Jesus casts a glow on revelers. The three-story venue also offers a delicious variety of regional tacos. (Free)
4. Cool off in the shadow of an empire. After working up a sweat exploring Tulum’s impressive ruins, make your way down to sunbathe and swim at the small beach where Mayan trade ships once docked in the shadow of El Castillo.
5. Channel your inner pirate. Isla Mujeres, once a center for Mayan fertility rites, is now the perfect escape from Cancún crowds. Ferries leave from two ports near Cancún every hour and half-hour. ($5 one way)
6. Laugh until you cry. Adding a piquant flavor to Yucatán’s rich cultural mix, Canadian, U.K. and U.S. expats perform live stand-up comedy in English every Sunday and Wednesday at the Lucky Luciano in Playa del Carmen. ($3.38 admission)
7. Play with fire. At the Fusion Beach Hotel Bar and Grill the locally sourced meals are enlivened by fire jugglers. Make sure to greet the bar dog, Liddy; she’s multilingual and loves a good head scratch.
8. Snorkel in a well. Fifteen miles south of Playa del Carmen, Jardín del Edén Cenotes offers spectacular natural wells and caverns. If you’re feeling brave, take the 15-foot plunge from the top of the cavern entrance into the largest well. ($2.70––$3.38)
9. Drink with the locals. Escape Playa del Carmen’s crowds and duck into Dolores Yuca Bar. This second-floor cantina on Calle 12 is a local favorite.
10. Explore Mayan history. The Museo Regional de Antropología, housed in a Mérida mansion, contains the largest collection of Mayan artifacts outside Mexico City. ($3.25 admission)
View a slideshow of photos from the Yucatán Peninsula below.
Slideshow photos courtesy of Wilda Escarfuller and Mari Hayman.