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Sian Ka’an
A 1.3 million acre conservation area on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, close to the town of Tulum, Sian Ka’an was established in 1986 as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve and happily, more land keeps being added under this protection all the time. The Mayan name translates to “where the sky was born”, and the place lives up to its lofty title thanks to seemingly endless lagoons, mangroves, jungle and cenotes (underground rivers unique to the Yucatan Peninsula). The reserve is renowned for its biodiversity and many of the plants, animals and birds cannot be found anywhere else. The site also contains well-preserved 2,000-year-old Mayan archaeological ruins, and several tour companies, like the Mayan-run Community Tours Sian Ka’an, offer day trips into the reserve for swimming, kayaking, bird watching and hiking.

Puerto Escondido
This low-key fishing village and port in the state of Oaxaca, on Mexico’s mid-Pacific coast, has remained fairly under-the-radar with travellers apart from one crucial demographic: surfers. That is largely because of a little beach break called Zicatela – also known as the Mexican Pipeline, after the legendary Hawaiian break – which put Mexican surfing on the map. In season, from May to July, waves can reach 30ft or more. The experience here is all about the beach, whether you are surfing yourself or just watching the pros. Do not let the legendary waves intimidate you though: several Puerto Escondido beaches, like Playa Carrizalillo, offer ideal conditions for beginners.

This small bohemian seaside village north of Puerto Vallarta in the Pacific state of Nayarit used to be the province of a small group of in-the-know surf buffs who gathered for the dependably good north swell from December through April. But that is beginning to change as travellers from all the over the world discover the town’s charms. Visit while Sayulita is still low-key, all unspoiled beaches, charmingly rustic seafood restaurants on the sand and quirky cafes and boutiques.

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© 2012 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘On the trail of Mexico’s best-kept secrets’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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