CANCUN -- There's a lot more to this resort destination than
high-rise hotels, although you may have to venture out a bit to
Most visitors are, or should be, aware of the magnificent nearby
Mayan ruins of Uxmal and Chichen Itza.
But few visitors realize that within a couple hours' travel on a
good network of roads are some of the best nature preserves in the
entire Mexican/Caribbean region.
Miguel Borge Martin, head of the Cancun Convention and Visitors
Bureau, said, "Modern Cancun, with all the quality and variety that
it offers, is also the gateway to a thousand years of Mexico's
archaeological history -- and to a natural history that is even
In recent months, three new nature parks have opened -- Xpu-Ha,
Tres Rios and Actun Chen, each within an hour's drive of
A little more than 50 miles south of Cancun, Xpu-Ha offers close
contact with nature. Of its 91-plus acres, approximately 3% has
been developed, including roads, bathrooms and a seaside restaurant
called La Palapa. There also are sunbathing areas and a scuba
Xpu-Ha is a sanctuary for rare birds, some of them endangered,
and for protected species such as crocodiles, sea turtles, deer and
Walks along nature trails are led by expert guides.
Tres Rios, stretching inland from a milelong beach about 25
miles from Cancun, encompasses subtropical jungle and mangroves in
a 370-acre area with a number of cenotes, the pools where the
area's underground rivers break through the surface.
Tres Rios is the only place in Mexico where the cenotes are at
ground level, found in the shallow rivers which run to the sea.
Visitors can walk or bike through the jungle, ride horseback
along the beach and snorkel and swim in the river.
The newest of the trio is Actun Chen, about an hour's drive from
Cancun on the road to Tulum. The park's name means "cave with an
underground river inside."
The main cave, more than 600 yards long, has been illuminated
and supplied with paths for easy walking.
There are thousands of stalactites, stalagmites and natural
sculptures as well as a 40-foot-deep cenote. Tours are led by
The surrounding jungle offers trails that reveal some of the
local wildlife: white-tailed deer, badgers, howler monkeys, iguanas
and wild turkeys.
Aside from a restaurant and rest rooms, the 988-acre site
For Cancun information, call (800) CANCUN8 or visit the Cancun
Web site at www.gocancun.com.