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The 7 Magical Towns closest to Cancun

The 7 Magical Towns closest to Cancun

The Magical Towns (known as Pueblos Mágicos in Spanish) are full of color, beauty, tradition and culture, and help us to raise the value to the roots of this country. Join us to know the Magical Towns you can visit if you are on vacation in Cancun.

WHAT IS A MAGICAL TOWN?

Convent of San Bernardino de Siena in Valladolid

By now, you have probably heard a lot about Pueblos Mágicos:

The Ministry of Tourism of Mexico defines Magical Towns as a locality with symbolic attributes such as legends, history, transcendent facts and magic coming from each of its socio-cultural manifestations. Simply put as a destination whose culture and traditions are of immense value to Mexico.

How did the idea of the Magical Towns start?

Magical Town in Mexico

The concept was created in 2001 to recognize the culture of these very special destinations in Mexico and to promote them so that foreign tourists could learn a little more about this side of the country. The chosen sites must, in some way, highlight one or more of these characteristics:

  • Cultural heritage
  • Historical heritage
  • Architecture
  • Gastronomy
  • Symbolisms
  • Legends
  • Traditions

In addition, they must comply with other attributes such as having a working committee, having the approval of some government agencies, and having public health services for tourists, among others.


The 7 magical towns close to Cancun

And since we are in the Caribbean, we don't want to miss the opportunity to list, for all our traveler friends, the 7 Magical Towns that you can visit by car from Cancun. We will tell you what makes them special and some curious facts so you can add them to your list of places to visit in Cancun.

⭐Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres Magical Town

Isla Mujeres, or Women Island, is located in the southeast of the Mexican Republic, across from Cancun, and joined the Magical Towns program in 2015. In its beginnings, the island was consecrated to the Mayan goddess of the moon and fertility, Ixchél, and the ancient Mayan believers placed statues of women all over the island. When the Spaniards colonizers landed on Isla Mujeres, they baptized it with that name when they came across the figures of the goddess.

Today, it has become a tropical paradise visited by more than 150 thousand travelers a month. These numbers are not surprising because every day there are more tours and activities to do in Isla Mujeres, such as touring the island in a golf cart or sailing from Cancun to Isla Mujeres through the beautiful blue sea.

Type of tourism: Aquatic, nautical, historical and cultural.

What is special about Isla Mujeres?

  • Punta Norte: This area is famous for hosting several hotels and being home to Playa Norte, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
  • Punta Sur: The place in Mexico to receive the first rays of the sun. It has a tourist stop where you will find a sculpture park, the archaeological remains of the temple of the Goddess Ixchél, the lighthouse and the viewpoint.
  • Garrafón Park: A natural park with an impressive coral reef where you can practice scuba diving and snorkeling, as well as other land activities.
  • MUSA: The Underwater Museum of Art is a sustainable art exhibit that offers visitors an alternative underwater entertainment. It also provides a growing surface for the coral reef.

🚗Transfer time from Cancun to Isla Mujeres: 20 minutes by ferry from Puerto Juarez and 35 minutes from the hotel zone.


⭐Tulum

It is not surprising that Tulum has been named Magical Town when it is home to one of the most representative postcard photos of the Caribbean.

Tulum Magical Town in Mexico

This famous photograph portrays the 45th structure of the archaeological site of Tulum, better known as the Temple of the Wind. The entire archaeological zone of Tulum dates from the post-classic Mayan period and is considered of great cultural value as the only Mayan city found in front of the sea. It is also one of the few archaeological sites that preserves some of the original colors in its frescoes.

But Tulum is not only Mayan ruins, it has recently gained popularity for being the most important wellness and alternative tourism destination in the area. As we told you in our blog of the 4 incredible places you have to visit in the Caribbean, Tulum offers a bohemian and unique atmosphere to its visitors.

Type of tourism: Aquatic, historical, adventure, cultural and wellness.

What is special about Tulum?

  • Tulum Archaeological Zone: The only Mayan city on the seashore. It has more than 60 structures dating from the Late Classic Maya period (600 - 900 A.D.) and frescoes that still preserve some of their original colors.
  • Playa Paraíso (Paradise Beach): A free access beach that lives up to its name. You can visit it on your own or enjoy the service of a beach club in the area.
  • Cenotes: In addition to the beaches, there are a variety of cenotes near Tulum that you can visit. Most of them require an access fee, which is usually quite affordable. Depending on the cenote, you can swim, eat, rest and even buy souvenirs. Some recommendations are: Cenote Calavera, Cenote Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote.
  • Boutique hotels: Recently, Tulum has adapted as an eco-chic destination full of nice boutique hotels and alternative vibe bungalows. One of them is Ahau Tulum Hotel, famous for its impressive sculpture Ven a la Luz (Come to the Light).

🚗Transfer time from Cancun to Tulum: Between 1.5 and 2 hours by car.


⭐Bacalar

Bacalar Magical Town in Mexico

Have you heard of the Lagoon of the 7 colors? This monumental gift of nature makes Bacalar one of the most beautiful magical towns in Quintana Roo. Its name comes from the 7 shades of blue in the water of the lagoon.

This body of water is 55 km long and 2.5 km at its widest point and has several cenotes, mangroves and wetlands integrated to the lagoon. On land, Bacalar town is home to the San Felipe fort and the Caste War museum.

Type of tourism: Aquatic, relaxation and historical-cultural.

What is special about Bacalar?

  • Laguna de los 7 colores: In the lagoon, you can do many activities such as visiting spas, visiting the pirates' fort, boat rides, snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking, power boating and much more.
  • Cenotes: In the lagoon area you will find huge cenotes such as Cenote Negro (or Cenote de la Bruja) and Cenote Azul. Both cenotes are ideal for scuba diving, thanks to their more than 90 meters deep.
  • Fort of San Felipe: The fort of San Felipe served as a defensive fort against the English colonizers. Inside you will find the museum of the Pirates.

🚗Transfer time from Cancun to Bacalar: 4.5 hours by car.


The following magical towns are located in the neighboring state of Yucatán.

⭐Valladolid

Valladolid Magical Town in Mexico

The colonial city of Valladolid was incorporated into the Pueblos Mágicos program for its great historical and cultural value and its strategic location for tourism. It is known among locals and tourists for its colonial air, great stories, and delicious gastronomy.

Valladolid is located 45 minutes away from the Chichén Itzá Archaeological Zone, which makes it a very popular destination for history and culture lovers. It is also surrounded by jungle and cenotes, making it ideal for outdoor activities.

Type of tourism: Historical-cultural, gastronomic and adventure.

What is special about valladolid?

  • Parque Central: A beautiful colonial park surrounded by typical food restaurants. Some food suggestions are coconut snow, cochinita tacos, turkey salbutes and panuchos, black stuffing, and queso relleno (Edam cheese stuffed with meat).
  • Churches and convents: The church of San Servacio played an important role during the Caste War, in a predominant historical event called La Chispa de la Revolución (The beginning of the Revolution). You can also visit the Ex-Convent of San Bernardino de Siena, the second oldest in Latin America, where you can see light projections. Other churches are the Church of Candelaria, Santa Ana, and Santa Lucía.
  • Cenotes: Within Valladolid, you will find the beautiful cenote Zací next to the restaurant of the same name. On the outskirts, you can visit the Oxmán cenote, Xkeken, Saamal, Suytun, among many others.
  • Chichén Itzá: This archaeological site has been awarded as one of the New 7 Wonders of the Modern World. The impressive Temple of Kukulcán is famous for the projection of the serpent that descends the pyramid during the spring equinox.

🚗Transfer time from Cancun to Valladolid: 2 hours by car.


⭐Izamal

Izamal Magical Town in Mexico

Also known as the City of the Three Cultures for its combination of pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern-day features, Izamal is a destination worth highlighting.

This beautiful yellow town, which is also known as the city of hills (because long ago, the Maya pyramids were covered by nature and looked like mountains), is the perfect setting for history and culture lovers. It has haciendas, cenotes, handicraft museums, churches, convents and, of course, Mayan archaeological sites of great historical importance.

One of the events that boosted Izamal's popularity was the visit of Pope John Paul II. He performed a holy mass for the indigenous people and crowned the image of the miraculous Virgin of Izamal, representation of the Immaculate Conception.

Tipo de turismo: Historical-cultural, religious and gastronomic.

What is special about izamal?

  • Convent of San Antonio de Padua: An impressive convent founded on the ruins of the Pop-Hol-Chac pyramid between 1549 and 1561. Inside is the figure of the Virgin of Izamal and the second largest enclosed courtyard in the world (St. Peter's Square in the Vatican is the largest).
  • Yellow streets: Because its streets are painted white and yellow, Izamal is a beautiful place, full of hidden Instagram-worthy places. Walk around the corners and try the antojitos Yucatecos (snacks) restaurants such as Kinich Restaurant or Los Arcos Restaurant.
  • Kinich Kakmó: This archaeological site, located north of the city of Izamal, was dedicated to Kinich Kakmó, one of the gods of the Maya pantheon. This structure has a volume of 700,000 m³, making it one of the most important Mayan zones. It dates from the 6th century A.D. in the Mexican classic period, and surpasses the pyramid of Kulkulcán in Chichén Itzá in height.
  • Kimbilá: This town, located 10 kilometers from Izamal, is famous for its textile industry. Here you can buy embroidery and clothing typical of the region, such as guayaberas, Filipinas, huipiles, ternos, rebozos, and fustanes.

🚗Transfer time from Cancun to Izamal: 3 hours and 30 minutes by car.


⭐Maní

Maní Magical Town in MexicoManí Magical Town. Photo by México Desconocido.

Maní means place where everything happened in the Maya language. This beautiful colonial town in Yucatán, named Pueblo Mágico on December 1st, 2020, is located 100 km from the state capital, Mérida.

In Maní you will live a completely immersive experience, as it is truly isolated from the big cities. It is famous for being the epicenter of the route of the convents, an area of Yucatan where you can admire the beauty and history of temples, churches, and convents dating from the sixteenth century.

Type of tourism: Historical-cultural and gastronomic.

What is special about Maní?

  • Route of the convents: A short distance from Maní, you will find different churches and convents from the viceroyalty era. Some places to add to your list are: The former Convent of San Juan Bautista in Tekax, the Church of San Francisco de Asis in Oxkutzcab, the former Convent of San Antonio de Padua in Ticul, the former Convent of San Pedro and San Pablo in Teabo and the Parroquia de Mama, to mention a few.
  • Cenote Xcabachen: In this cenote, which tells of an ancient Maya legend, swimming is unfortunately not allowed, but you can tour the cavern and listen to the fascinating stories that surround it.
  • City and food: Tour the town and visit places of interest such as the meliponario, where you will learn about the process of extracting honey from the melipona bee and you can buy this delicious nectar. Also, in Maní you will enjoy the most exquisite flavors of Yucatecan cuisine. Don't miss dishes like chayitas, sikil-pak, and the almighty cochinita pibil.

🚗Transfer time from Cancun to Maní: 4 hours and 30 minutes by car.


⭐Sisal

 

Sisal is a port located in the northwestern part of Yucatan. This beautiful destination combines the natural attraction of the area with great stories from ancient times that are even mentioned in an ancient Maya manuscript known as the Codex of Calkiní.

Historically, it was the main port of Yucatan, where products such as cotton, tobacco and henequen were exported. Since in 1844, the commercial operations were moved to Progreso port, Sisal became a small town located 40 minutes from downtown Merida, which focuses its tourist offerings on ecological activities such as camping, bike rides and visits to the beach.

Type of tourism: Ecotourism, aquatic and relaxation.

What is special about Sisal

  • Sisal Beach: The beaches of Sisal are located in front of the Gulf of Mexico, but that doesn't mean they are any less beautiful than those of the Caribbean. Relax on these beautiful shallow beaches, ideal for those just looking to sunbathe or spend some quiet time in front of the sea. Remember to visit the pier at sunset, when the lights come on and contrast with the blue-green color of the sea and the beautiful viewpoints where you can see migratory birds.
  • Fort Santiago and the lighthouse: The planning and construction of Fort Santiago dates back to the 16th century. This structure served as protection against pirates in colonial times. The lighthouse was later built in 1845.
  • El Palmar Reserve: Sisal is the gateway to the El Palmar Reserve where you can take boat tours through beautiful natural landscapes, guided tours through the jungle, flora and fauna observation, sport fishing and environmental education activities.

🚗Transfer time from Cancun to Sisal: 4 hours and 20 minutes by car.


Pueblear en México

Map of the Peninsula de YucatánOne of the most popular activities among Mexicans is to rent a car and travel from town to town or "pueblear". Generally, travelers trace routes away from the big cities and take less traveled roads to reach destinations rich in culture, history, nature, and gastronomy. One or another Magical Town is likely on the list of places to visit (Photo: Route through the Yucatan Peninsula by TravelTomTom)

 

Some examples of these routes are:

Would you like to visit a Magical Town (or several of them) in Mexico? If you already know any of these magical towns or want to know more about them, leave a comment below and tell us about your experience!

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