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Almost 500 years on, the impact of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés' arrival on Mexico's shores can be seen in the tall, ornate churches that crown the hillsides and plazas of Mexico's cities and the whitewashed walls of haciendas. But traces of earlier inhabitants remain in the remarkable temples and pyramids at Palenque and Teotihuacán, and in the traditions of dozens of indigenous cultures. Accompanying it all are the subtle spices of Mexico's famous tortillas, tamales and enchiladas, washeddown with bold red wines and potent tequila and mescal.
The frenetic heart of the country, Mexico City sweeps out from the gigantic flag over the central Zócalo square. It's a city of speeding VW taxis, pollution and bustling marketplaces, countered by colourful Aztec dancers and panaderías with their freshly baked pastries, all mirrored in the fractured structure of the city - a legacy of recent earthquakes. In nearby Xochimilco, vividly decorated trajineras (large, flat gondolas) drift lazily past delicate floating terraces of flowers to the sound of mariachi music.
On the west coast of Mexico the small fishing towns like Puerto Angel
and resorts like Acapulco overlook the Pacific Ocean, while to the east,
the white beaches of Cozumel and Cancún are known the world over
for their enticing beauty. Mexico is truly a blend of cultures and customs,
a place where history comes alive and beauty is second nature.
Cancún, Cozumel, and Isla Mujeres were once little more than sleepy villages, but now these Caribbean Coast resorts are world renowned for their vacation facilities. The Isla de Cancún, made up of some of Mexico's most expensive beachfronts occupies the northeast tip of the Yucatán. The Punta, or point of the island is nestled between the Bahía de Mujeres (Bay of Women) and the Caribbean Sea and boasts some of the best areas for sunbathing on the Peninsula. At the tip of the point is Playa Chac Mool, a public beach area offering comfortable dining and shopping. Although the beaches of Cancún are known for their powder white sand and exquisite beauty, the waters along the east edge of the island are subject to strong undertow and should be treated with caution. Lifeguards are posted on the beaches fronting most of the major hotels and swimming is encouraged in these areas only. On the west side of the island are the shimmering waters of Laguna Nichupté (Nichupté Lagoon) and Laguna Río Inglés (English River Lagoon), which are home to 200 species of birds and host a number of watersports. The Ciudad de Cancun borders the west side of the lagoons, and is a good place for shopping. South of the point lies the Zona Archeológica El Rey, with a small collection of Mayan ruins. The Isla Mujeres, once known for its remote jungle and mysterious ambiance, attracts visitors who prefer to explore the less developed areas of the Peninsula. Accessible by a 25-minute boat ride from Cancún, the island is home to six different species of endangered turtles, and a marine farm that oversees their protection. The reefs of Los Manchones, Cuevones, Chital and La Bandera are prized diving spots, known for their extraordinary marine life and unusual cave structures. South of Cancún is the equally prized beach resort of Cozumel, with its extraordinary coral reefs, gentle currents and exceptional diving.