We went with a group of friends for a weekend winter getaway a couple of years ago, and we were looking for something cheap, fun and beachy. We quickly settled on Cancun, since it's super easy to get there and really, really affordable.
It's also full of tourists and all-inclusive resorts.
Truth be told, I'm not really much of a "beach person." I get bored easily, and the sand gets in everything, and, well, just hanging around on a beach all day is not exactly my bag. Fortunately, when you're in Cancun, you've got some really fun activities nearby, including the possibility of a terrific day trip to Chichen Itza--one of the largest, best preserved and most visited cities of the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization.
There are plenty of other restored ruins in and around the Riviera Maya, but seeing Chichen Itza, even though it's a bit further inland, was something that had been on my list for quite some time. We got picked up at our hotel in the morning--no need to rent a car--and traveled by van, stopping along the way for a quick lunch, and some souvenir shopping. We also visited a cenote en route (an underground limestone cave--really a sinkhole--filled with groundwater, formed by a collapse in the bedrock). The cenote had a janky little "museo," of Mayan stuff that they'd dug up around there, as well as a couple of parrots and a somewhat terrifying peacock.
But the highlight of the trip was Chichen Itza, itself. Even though it's one of the largest Mayan cities, and so much of it has been excavated and restored, it's easy to see as a day trip from Cancun, and so worth it.
Apparently, they used to allow you to climb the pyramid, but that's off-limits now. (For what it's worth, you can still climb the pyramids at Teotihuacan, near Mexico City--but that's a different post.) Frankly, I'm terrified of heights, so climbing a steep pyramid with no railing is not exactly my idea of a fun vacation, anyway). There's a lot more to see than just the pyramids (there are more than one), though.
You can wander around the Great Ball Court, with these little stone rings jutting out from the walls of the court. I think that's where they played a kind of sideways Mayan basketball. Or check out the Temple of the Warriors or maybe the Group of a Thousand Columns. It's magnificent in its scale, and fascinating in its detail--the carvings in the stone haven't all eroded.
Since you're with an organized group, you'll have a guide who can point out the significance of how the structures are laid out, but it's also really easy to wander and explore on your own, with a guidebook or map and brochure. You won't feel rushed, but you'll feel like you managed to see all of it in just one day.
And then by the end of the day, you'll be back at your resort, where you can get back to chilling on the beach!