Mexico’s East Coast offers beautiful beach resort towns, lush mountain villages, Colonial cities with exquisite architecture, modern infrastructure and one of the world’s top-rated cuisines.
The area also provides exciting pre- and post-activity options and some of the warmest, most gracious people found anywhere—as well as unbeatable values.
Mix those with a hefty serving of authentic, unforgettable cultural, musical and artistic events and it’s easy to understand why Mexico’s eastern coast is a great place for meetings and events. There are lots of options throughout the region to party like locals, so Smart Meetings has a provided a road map to make planning a little easier and more fun.
Cancun has been Mexico’s most visited tourism destination since the 1970s, when it was carved out of the Yucacan jungle. One of Mexico’s top leaders in international meetings, Cancun offers swinging nightclubs, upscale shopping and dining, and miles of magnificent white-sand beaches with clear, turquoise waters.
It is fronted by a 14-mile-long hotel zone that extends out between the Nichupte Lagoon and the glittering Caribbean. Many resorts are fabulous palaces and pyramids that boast highly regarded restaurants and gorgeous swimming pools and spas.
Cancun International Airport (CUN) is just 15 minutes from the heart of the destination, with direct flights to many American cities.
This gateway to the Mayan world has enjoyed recent enhancements to the infrastructure of many local Mayan ruins dotting the hotel strip and surrounding areas. Visitors enjoy discovering the vast nature, culture and gastronomy of nearby Puerto Morelos and four unique islands (Holbox, Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy and Cozumel), all within reach for day trips.
Que Siga la Fiesta
International Public Art Festival: Feb. 21–28
Cancun/Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival: April 28–May 1
Cancun Jazz Festival: Sept. 1–4 (Hard Rock Hotel)
Playa del Carmen
Located in the state of Quintana Roo, Playa, as the locals call it, fronts the azure Caribbean. This is where those who want to see and be seen go, although there are plenty of getaways that are perfect for incentive travel and executive retreats. The city’s famous pedestrian-only, 10-block-long Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is thronged 24 hours.
Many Europeans, especially Italians, visit, and some stay. Playa is very close to the Cancun airport, and is near Cozumel and the Mayan ruins of Tulum and Coba. The Riviera Maya offers a wide variety of excursions and tours such as scuba diving and snorkeling beside coral reefs, or in majestic subterranean rivers that wind through limestone caves (called cenotes).
“Playa de Carmen is a perfect destination for meetings and incentives, with more than 42,600 guest rooms and more than 600,000 sq. ft. of event space,” says Salvador Torres, public relations executive for Cozumel and Riviera Maya Tourism Board. “Another activity that shouldn’t be missed is visiting ancient Mayan culture at Tulum archeological site. It’s the only Mayan city that was built by the ocean.”
There are many daily cruise ship visits, during which times the area can get crowded.
Que Siga la Fiesta
Riviera Maya International Film Festival: April 23–29
Riviera Maya Jazz Festival: Regarded as one of the 10 best jazz festivals in the world. Nov. 24–26
Mexico’s biggest and most visited island, Cozumel is 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. It annually attracts 3.5 million people who fly into Cozumel International Airport (CZM) or come by boat from nearby Cancun or Playa del Carmen. This tranquil oasis, revered by the Mayans, features some of the world’s best scuba diving, and snorkeling, kite boarding, windsurfing, ultra-light airplane rides, fishing and parasailing.
Cozumel’s hotels range from rustic dive inns to the utmost in luxury, and there is also a wide variety of spas, shopping, dining, bars, clubs and more. A highlight of the island is Chankanaab National Park, located within Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park and offering dolphin encounters, a reproduction of a Mayan village and the Mesoamerican coral reef (the largest reef system in the Americas).
Chankanaab is a diving and snorkeling paradise. There are as many as 250 different species of turtle, eel, ray and tropical fish, including queen angelfish and illusive toadfish. Cozumel still maintains much of its Mayan culture and Yucatec Maya is spoken by many residents.
Que Siga la Fiesta
The Sacred Mayan Journey: re-creation of a part of Mayan history and culture, through rituals, dances and ceremonies. The sacred ritual performed since ancient times, during the Maya used to cross the sea on their canoes to Cozumel Island to worship the goddess Ixchel. May 22–23
7th Annual Cozumel Island Golf Tournament: May 2
Merida is one of Mexico’s lesser-known charmers. The capital of the state of Yucatan has rich Spanish and French heritage, and maintains a strong native Mayan flavor. The downtown Historic Center, filled with ornately carved golden-tinged buildings from the city’s French and Spanish Colonial past, is Mexico’s second largest, and you’ll regularly see Mayans in their wildly decorated, embroidered traditional clothing. Azure Caribbean beaches and fascinating archeological sites are within easy reach.
Two years ago, Merida hosted 20 tourism ministers during the Regional Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council. “Our cultural and natural attractions and the history and warmth of our people are a pleasant surprise to our visitors with every step,” says Ismene Castro Baduy, public relations coordinator for the Tourism Promotion Department of Yucatan. “The Land of the Mayab offers a perfect blend of past and present in an endless mosaic of color, scent, sound, taste and textures.”
The Grand Museum of the Mayan World opened in 2012 and is considered one of the finest museums in Mexico. It is a tribute to the Mayan civilization, the strongest root of Yucatecan identity. Located near Centro de Convenciones Yucatan Siglo XXI, the museum is divided into six sections, including ancient and modern history. It offers a free light and sound show nightly at 9 p.m., with images about the history of the Yucatan Peninsula projected on an outside wall.
Que Siga la Fiesta
Festival of Trova: Features Yucatan’s trova (typical Yucatecan and Cuban music). March 22–31
Yucatecan Folkloric Dance Festival: Aug. 10–14
International Gastronomic Fair: Oct. 30–Nov.11
Daily cultural events: Dances and concerts held in Merida’s historic town center year-round.
Boasting a rich past in the petroleum industry, as well as in fishing and seafood, Tampico is in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, 310 miles from the Texas border. The port city’s exquisite downtown area, with an impressive 19th-century architectural style, has many beautifully maintained and restored buildings featuring balconies, columns and cast-iron embellishments. Many visitors notice the architectural similarities between Tampico and New Orleans due to the French influences in both cities. Tampico was the setting for the beginning of the John Huston film, Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Must-sees include Palacio Municipal, a neoclassic building in the Plaza de Armas, and English Customs House in the port area. The historical downtown areas of Plaza de Armas and Plaza de Libertad have been restored and improved in recent years.
Nearby, there is a diversity of ecosystems, from dry, cactus-adorned inland areas and beautiful beaches to dramatic mountains and valleys of the Sierra Madre Oriental. Playa Miramar, with about 6 miles of golden sand and bright blue water with gentle surf, is considered one of the best beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. Popular sports such as kayaking, scuba diving, windsurfing and kitesurfing are practiced here, as well.
El Cielo UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, established in 1985, is a must-visit attraction. This rare ecological wonder is a 356,442-acre reserve spanning four distinct ecological systems, with elevations ranging from a few hundred feet above sea level to well over 7,500 feet at the peak of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains.
El Cielo’s biodiversity is considered among the top in the world. The reserve offers activities such as camping, mountain biking, hiking, birding tours and other excursions. The tropical forest around the town of Gomez Farias, near El Cielo, is a bird watching paradise. Also, if groups are quiet and lucky, a jaguar might be sighted in the dense foliage.
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Tamaulipas International Festival: Features cultural and artistic events that include exhibits, plays, concerts and cinema. Oct. 14–16
On the Gulf Coast, southeast of Mexico City, lies the lively port city of Veracruz. In the 1500s, Veracruz became the first Spanish settlement and base from which the Spaniards explored and eventually conquered Mexico. It is the oldest post-Columbian city in North America.
Today, it is thought of as very Caribbean in ambience, with its laid-back, friendly locals known as jarochos. Veracruz is famous for its African- and Caribbean-influenced music, folkloric dancing (this is where the song and dance “La Bamba” originated) and an annual pre-Lenten Carnival rivaling those in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro.
Veracruz is a very diverse destination, known for its culture and the warm hospitality of its 7.3 million inhabitants. Its traditional festivals, celebrated throughout the year, draw Mexicans and foreigners.
The state also has very rich biodiversity that includes tropical forests, offshore coral reefs and 635 species of birds. The “River of Raptors” takes place in the fall, when raptors migrate north to south, passing along the Veracruz coast and often form what looks like a river in the sky as they converge.
Veracruz has a strong and distinctive Colonial feel, with palm trees lining the streets and a main plaza filled each evening with marimba (Afro-Caribbean) music and benches and cafes full of people meeting to talk, dine, dance and drink. Veracruz is beloved for its distinctive seafood and strong coffee.
Near Veracruz is one of Mexico’s finest archaeology parks, El Tajin. There are also many adventure sports around Veracruz, such as mountain climbing, hiking, white-water rafting, snorkeling and fishing.
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Carnival in Veracruz: Most popular and largest carnival in Mexico, and second only to Rio de Janeiro in Latin America. This traditional celebration, full of elaborate masks and costumes, dates back to Colonial times. Feb. 2–10
Cumbre Tajin: Celebrates and preserves the Totonac heritage around the spring equinox with ancient rituals, music, dance, healing and other traditions. March 18–21.
Exotic Day Trips
-Isla Contoy: This protected island is 31 miles north of Cancun and is only reachable via an hour-long boat ride. It is a tropical oasis with dense vegetation and 150 bird species, as well as outstanding snorkeling. Only 200 people are allowed on the island each day.
-Xcaret Park: The eco-archeological park, located in Playa del Carmen, is one of the top Riviera Maya attractions. It offers a 1,590-foot-long float down an underground river, native wild animals, a butterfly pavilion, bat caves, a rodeo, an aviary and evening events including Mayan ball games and the mystical pre-Hispanic re-enactment procession through caves.
-Cenotes: Merida is popular for its fascinating and beautiful cenotes—freshwater limestone grottos—many of which are open for swimming and/or exploration. The “Route of the Cenotes” begins near Merida, and ends near Puerto Morelos, just south of Cancun.
-Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve: Featuring more than 1.3 million acres in Playa del Carmen, the reserve features beaches, coral reefs, tropical forests, wetlands, savannas, dunes, cenotes and freshwater and brackish lagoons. More than 300 bird species and myriad other plants and animals inhabit the reserve.
-Magic Town: Tlacotalpan is a Magic Town about an hour from Veracruz, with well-preserved Colonial architecture, two pretty churches and a beautiful plaza with white marble sidewalks. The town is known for its traditional festival in early February.
-Mexico Tourism Board
-Playa del Carmen/Riviera Maya
Major Meeting Venues
Cancun International Convention Center
Major meeting venue offers 78,067 sq. ft. for exhibitions; 75,092 sq. ft. available for meetings; press conference rooms; located in heart of the hotel zone; connected to Aloft Cancun.
Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun
AAA Four Diamond rated; elegant, seaside all-inclusive hotel has 502 guest rooms; more than 18,500 sq. ft. of meeting space; 10 restaurants; world-class spa; swimming pools overlook the Caribbean.
Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun
AAA Five Diamond luxury resort; 602 suites with ocean views; 85,000 sq. ft. of meeting space can accommodate up to 1,800; 15,000-square-foot ballroom; 40,000-square-foot world-class spa.
Hard Rock Hotel Cancun
All-inclusive property; 598 guest rooms; 16,408 sq. ft. of meeting space; nine restaurants; free Wi-Fi; nightly entertainment; outdoor pools with swim-up bars; fitness center; Rock Spa; 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.
Hyatt Zilara Cancun
Adults-only all-inclusive; 307 suites with ocean, pool and resort views; 6,888 sq. ft. of meeting space; outdoor terraces popular for receptions; executive boardroom for 25; beach butlers.
Iberostar Cancun Hotel
Forbes Five Star property; boasts only hotel golf course in Cancun; 426 guest rooms; nearly 47,318 sq. ft. of meeting space; convention center can host up to 2,500; more than 106,000 sq. ft. of space for outdoor events.
JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa
Luxury resort; 448 guest rooms with beach and ocean views; 46,253 sq. ft. of meeting space; more than 35,000 sq. ft. of additional space next door at CasaMagna Marriott; full-service spa.
Le Blanc Spa Resort
All-inclusive AAA Five Diamond resort; signature holistic spa with 19 treatment rooms; four globally inspired options; 260 guest rooms; 8,418 sq. ft. of conference space; three outdoor pools.
Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort
Caribbean village on the water, with 2,457 guest rooms and 15 restaurants; Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course; spa; seven pools; Moon Palace Arena can accommodate up to 10,000.
Nizuc Resort & Spa
Tucked away in a secluded enclave with two beaches; 274 suites and villas; 8,500 sq. ft. for meetings, including a ballroom and two conference rooms; six restaurants; world-class spa.
Paradisus Cancun Resort
AAA Four Diamond all-inclusive; 668 guest rooms; convention center has 21 breakout rooms and can host up to 1,200; nine restaurants and seven bars.
Secrets The Vine Cancun
AAA Four Diamond adults-only resort; 495 guest rooms; more than 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; theater seating for 800 and banquet seating for 550; impressive wine collection; spa.
The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun
AAA Five Diamond Resort with two AAA Five Diamond restaurants; 363 guest rooms; more than 27,000 sq. ft. of space in convention center; group cooking classes at Viking Culinary Center; spa.
The Westin Resort & Spa, Cancun
Private beach; four outdoor pools; 379 guest rooms; 16 meeting spaces for a total of 17,685 sq. ft.; 9,688-square-foot ballroom; Heavenly Spa; golf and myriad recreational activities close by.
Fiesta Americana Cozumel All Inclusive
Surrounded by lush tropical forests; close to island’s best dive sites, Mayan ruins and Chakanaab national park; Na’Ha spa; 102 guest rooms; 1,528 sq. ft. of meeting space; seven restaurants.
Forbes Five Star property; 294 guest rooms; meeting space for up to 100 people; movie theater can be rented for events; spa; five dining options.
InterContinental Presidente Cozumel Resort Spa
Situated on a stretch of white-sand beach; near second largest coral reef in the world; 220 guest rooms; 4,433 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Barcelo Maya Beach Resort
All-inclusive complex includes five hotels, with 1,500 rooms: Barcelo Maya Colonial, Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe, Barcelo Maya Beach, Barcelo Maya Caribe, Barcelo Maya Tropical; Barcelo Maya Convention Center can host up to 1,300.
Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa
All-inclusive beachfront resort; 486 guest rooms; 7,196-square-foot ballroom with a 1,045-square-foot stage; six gourmet restaurants; free Wi-Fi.
Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya
AAA Five Diamond resort; 401 guest rooms; 26,495 sq. ft. of event space; 8,000-square-foot event lawn; 18-hole golf course.
Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort
Oceanfront property close to La Quinta Avenida; 314 guest rooms; Cenote Spa; fitness center; more than 15,000 sq. ft. of function space, including 18 meeting rooms; infinity and lap pools.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya
AAA Five Diamond seaside resort; 539 luxury suites 91,547 sq. ft. of meeting space hosts up to 3,000; five minutes from Playa del Carmen.
AAA Five Diamond hotel; 130 exclusive suites; three fine-dining establishments; 17,000-square-foot signature spa; 18-hole golf course at El Camaleon; close to more than 150 boutique shops; 2,615 sq. ft. of event space.