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Planning Retirement Online

Travel & Holidays in later life


Most holiday charter flights to Mexico give you choice either of Cancun on the Caribbean side, or Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific. 

Coach excursion terminal at CancunIn 1970, Cancun didn't exist except as a twinkle on a computer screen. In that year, the Mexican government decided to move seriously into the holiday-beach business, and asked a computer programme to pick the most perfect location along the Caribbean coast.

There were plentiful contestants for the Beach Beauty prize. Numerous locations could offer sands composed of finely powdered shells, limestone and coral. There was easy access to the world's second longest coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia; total absence of industrial pollution; and proximity to historic archaeological sites. 


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Health: No special problems. Tap water is purified, but not to European standards. Hotel ice cubes are safe. If you're visiting remote areas, doctors recommend typhoid, polio and hepatitis A jabs.

There's no malaria in resorts or cities, but mosquitoes flourish. Pack repellent sprays and keep bedroom windows closed at dusk. Resorts and cities have good pharmacy and medical facilities, and doctors are well trained.

Flying time: 10 hours to Cancun, 12 hours to Pacific coast.

Weather: Idyllic dry and pleasantly warm winter season, November to April; hot and rainy June to September. 

Currency: take US dollar banknotes and dollar travellers cheques. Exchange rates for sterling are poor.  Reckon about 20 Pesos to 1. Regular banks usually offer the best rates, while hotels and exchange bureaux at Cancun airport  are much less generous. Plastic may be loaded with 6%  transaction fee. 

Local transport: In Cancun, bus service is excellent with very obliging drivers, 25p any distance along the 14-mile Boulevard. Taxi rates are standardised and low-cost on a zonal system. Similar modest prices everywhere else.

More information: Mexican Tourist Office, Wakefield House, 41 Trinity Square, London EC3N 4DJ. Tel: 020 7488 9392 . 

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The computer choice was a 14-mile island strip, shaped like a figure '7', which enclosed a beautiful lagoon on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. 

Along that entire length were fabulous white beaches, soft as talcum powder. Water sports could operate in the Caribbean itself, or in the more placid waters of the lagoon. In this location untouched by man, the nearest settlement was the tiny fishing village of Puerto Juarez. 

The island was designated as a Hotel Zone, totally reserved for holiday development, and connected by a bridge each end to the mainland, where the separate downtown area of Cancun was sited.

Today, only around 30 years since opening of the first hotel, Cancun now rates as Mexico's leading holiday destination, far outstripping Acapulco. Every tourist service has been fully developed, with hotels, time-share apartments, restaurants and bars, glitzy shopping malls and sparkling nightlife. 

If you prefer somewhere closer to local living, several smaller resorts have arisen southwards, within 40 minutes of Cancun airport. The leader is Playa del Carmen - originally a fishing village offering access to Cozumel island. Now it's a laid-back resort with a Mediterranean atmosphere, in contrast to the American style of Cancun's Hotel Zone.

Any hotel along this superb Caribbean coast can offer all the standard beach and watersport facilities, with year-round sunshine freshened by sea breezes.

This area of Mexico is part of the coastal fringe of the Yucatan Peninsula. The inland area is mostly covered with a tangled jungle where the few villages and market towns have been linked in recent years by reasonable roads.

From 800 BC onwards the Yucatan Peninsula saw development of an advanced Mayan civilization. Scattered settlements merged into centralised cities that became highly skilled in science, maths and astronomy. The Mayan calendar accurately measured the solar year and could project dates thousands of years in the past or into the future.

Cities and ceremonial centres blossomed especially in the Classic Period, between 250 and 900 AD, with planned urban layouts, broad boulevards, efficient water and sewage systems, great pyramids and palaces. 

Brilliance in the sciences and in social structure was matched by artistic skills. Music and dance were used in religious ceremonies, employing a wide range of musical instruments. Yet curiously the Mayas never made use of the wheel (except in toys) or of domestic animals.

Mayan culture peaked around 900 AD and then fell apart.Up the steep steps of Pyramid of Kukulcan at Chichen-Itza When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, the greatest Mayan cities had long been abandoned. The causes of the decline and fall remain a mystery, though theories abound. 

Today, the awesome sites of Chichen Itza and Uxmal are easily visited on excursions from the coast, together with the Spanish colonial cities of Valladolid and Merida. The Mayan sites are just as impressive as the famous Aztec ruins near the capital, Mexico City.

On the Pacific Coast, Puerto Vallarta - about 600 miles north of Acapulco - was just a sleepy fishing village which developed as a modest resort frequented mainly by families from the nearest large town of Guadalajara, 240 miles away. By 1963 the town had 11,000 inhabitants.

That was the year of the town's big break. The famed Hollywood director John Huston arrived to film Tennessee William's 'Night of the Iguana'. The movie's star, Richard Burton, was joined on location by Elizabeth Taylor, and the couple's torrid love affair made headlines worldwide. Suddenly the drowsing resort became a magnet for jet-set visitors, seeking the magic which had captivated Richard and Liz.

Since that publicity boost, Puerto Vallarta has never looked back. Developers and multinational hotel groups bought land north and south of the village, but left the centre untouched. Shopping malls and high-rise hotels began to line the waterfront. 

Today, Puerto Vallarta is a bustling and cosmopolitan resort. Most of the 250,000 residents are connected with tourism in one way or another, to serve over 1.5 million annual visitors.

Despite Puerto Vallarta's popularity and dynamic growth, the original centre keeps its charm. Cobbled streets are lined with white stucco buildings roofed with red tiles. Wrought iron balconies overflow with bougainvillaea. Visitors enjoy all the warmth and colour of Old Mexico, and are greeted everywhere with smiles.

Closely backed by jungle-clad foothills of the rugged Sierra Madre mountains, the countryside is only a few city blocks away. When nightlife ends, roosters start crowing to welcome the dawn. 

Puerto Vallarta is the seaside resort of the State of Jalisco, which prides itself on being the source of everything that is 'real' Mexico: of mariachi music, cowboys, sombreros, Mexican-style rodeos, superb horsemanship, and hearty eating of hominy stew, beans and chillies. If you want a taster of these pleasures, Puerto Vallarta can provide.Folk dance in Puerto Vallarta

Typically, if you like beans, Mexico is paradise. But take care with Mexican side-dishes of sauces. Even a modest flavouring can work like dynamite for the next 24 hours. Enchilados, guacamole and tacos all taste better in Mexico.

The national spirit is tequila, taken straight by Mexicans, but preferred by tourists in cocktails such as a Margarita made with lemon and crushed ice. Canned beer is very cheap and makes a good thirst-quencher

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

"Frommer's Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan" by Lynne Bairstow - The most up-to-date of the available guidebooks.

"Puerto Vallarta Handbook" by Bruce Whipperman  - For a handbook, it goes into considerable detail about the region, including much information about plants and fish.

Step into the Aztec and Mayan Worlds (The Step into Series) - Buy this book before you go to the Yucatan, and get a better understanding of the Mayan civilization.

Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and Guadalajara (Frommer's Portable Guides)  - Worth buying for its coverage of the superb colonial city of Guadalajara,


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