Ancient history: Tulum's Mayan ruins / Alamy

Head south from Cancun to the beautiful town of Tulum

Q. We are flying to Cancun in Mexico later this month for a fortnight. Can you recommend a high-intensity itinerary? Paul Bray, London

A. When you touch down in Cancun, ignore the resort itself – the "Las Vegas on Sea" will still be there when you return at the end of your trip. Head south to the beautiful beachside town of Tulum. It is a dreamy resort, with cheap and basic bungalows at Luv Tulum (00 52 1 984 114 6604; luvtulum.com). From here, wander up to roam around the impressive clifftop ruins of the Mayan coastal city.

Get a bus going south to Belize. Spend a bit of time on the Cays – Caribbean islands – then wander through gone-to-seed Belize City and travel via the nearby Mayan complex of Altun Ha. Cross the Guatemalan border to Tikal – another Mayan city with a magical setting close to the lakeside town of Flores.

Next, take the long bus ride to Guatemala City and continue to the colonial town of Antigua. It's not far from here to Atitlán, the gorgeous lake that feels like the world's last resort. Make a small diversion north to the colourful village of Chichicastenango, then go west back into Mexico.

San Cristóbal de las Casas makes a good claim to being the most alluring city in the nation, with fascinating options for exploring the countryside.

Another bus takes you north to Villahermosa airport for the 90-minute hop to Merida, a gorgeous colonial city. On the way back to Cancun, stay overnight near the great Mayan site of Chichen Itza and explore the pyramids first thing in the morning. When the daytrippers arrive, climb aboard a bus back to Cancun – giving you time for a last splash in the Caribbean before your flight home.

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