Costa Maya, Mexico
Costa Maya wasn't on the tourist map until 2001, when private developers opened the faux village for cruise passengers. Even though it's not exactly authentic, the complex on Mexico's Caribbean coast is a fun place to hang out, especially at the several swimming pools. And there's more legitimately local stuff right down the road.
What We Love
Mahahual: It's only a 3-mile, $5 cab ride to this real seaside fishing village, where you'll find a nice long malecón (waterfront promenade), beach clubs, water sports, and seafood cafes at which you can sample authentic Mexican cuisine.
Dolphin Encounters: Right in Costa Maya, you can arrange to dip in the water for a swim with a dolphin. Be prepared to get a little kiss from your new friend as well.
Best Known For
Underwater Attractions: The largest barrier reef system in the Northern Hemisphere is nearby, with opportunities to dive, snorkel, or take a glass-bottom boat tour to spot schools of reef fish, turtles, stingrays, barracuda, and other sea creatures.
Jungle Ruins: Get a dose of Mexican history at the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben, where some structures date back to 360 A.D. It's deep in the jungle, about an hour from Costa Maya.
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Who It's Best For
Families: The pools at Costa Maya and the calm, shallow water in Mahahual are both fun spots to get wet. The kids will also enjoy shopping for souvenirs, including piñatas.
Party Types: At Costa Maya, there are several bars and restaurants where you can order tequila shots, including at the large saltwater pool with a swim-up bar.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It's a Little Tacky: Costa Maya has an abundance of vendors peddling cheap souvenirs, some quite aggressive in their sales techniques.
Don't Expect Sand: You'll have to take a cab from Costa Maya or book a shore excursion to get to a decent beach.
Fran Golden is a Cleveland-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for USA Today.