When we hear Cancun, we think beaches and swimming. And with its beautiful cenotes, it’s hardly surprising. But there are so many things to do in Cancun, Mexico, that swimming is only one of them. Find out here the best Cancun excursions and activities to learn about the Maya history and culture and enjoy what nature has to offer in one of the most favorite destinations in many private tours to Central America.
Cancun is one of the most famous coastal city in the Caribbean. In a few decades, the former fisherman island surrounded by natural forest has changed a lot to become a major tourist destination. Despite appearances, holidays in Cancun are not only about all-inclusive hotels, bars and the beach. There are many things to do in Cancun and its surrounding region – and most of them are more cultural and natural than you’d expect.
Top 15 Things to Do in Cancun For a Perfect Trip
1. Visit Playa Delfines beach
You may have seen a photo of Playa Delfines without knowing it. It’s the beautiful white sand beach behind the Cancun sign. After all, staying on the beach is one of the most popular things to do in Cancun, and this one makes a perfect photo spot.
You won’t be disappointed if you time your visit to be there for the sunset. This beach is definitely one of the reasons travelers include Cancun in their Mexico tour.
2. Explore the Underwater Museum
The Underwater Museum (MUSA) is another Cancun attraction that you cannot often experience in the world. More than 500 statues were sunk to create an artificial reef and relieve the pressure of growing tourism on the natural Cancun reefs. And it’s working: marine life is slowly colonising the structures, and it makes a fantastic tourist attraction in Cancun!
A great place for scuba-diving in Cancun, there are several galleries at different depths, ideal to please both snorkellers, scuba divers and those who want to stay dry on the boat.
3. Try New Watersports
Is swimming too boring for you? There are many other ways to have fun in the water in Cancun, and it’s a great destination to try something new.
As part of your Cancun activities, you can hire a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) to be active and test your balance.
If you are after more sensations, you will be interested in the 360-degree turns and the speed on a jet boat. Or you could even take some heights with a jetpack or a flyboard experience.
More relaxing nonetheless impressive, an introduction to scuba diving will open doors to a new world to explore. If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of breathing through a machine, you can hop on a submarine instead. And if you prefer to catch fish rather than looking at them, you may be keen to board a deep-sea fishing boat.
One of the favourite Cancun excursions involves snorkelling. For some peace of mind and to have a guide, it’s better to book a tour.
4. Go on a Catamaran Cruise
There is a cruise style to please everyone in Cancun. Some boats are family friendly, some others are purely party boats, or you can even opt for a pirate adventure or a romantic sunset experience.
If your boat leaves from Chac Chi Marina, you may want to allow some time to chill at the beach club. It’s a relaxed place, and they often have a live local band playing.
5. Explore Nichupte Lagoons
There are many ways to explore the winding mangrove canals and beautiful waters of Nichupte Lagoons: by speedboat, jetskis or kayaks for example. The latter will be your best option if you want to quietly observe the many birds and reptiles that inhabit the mangroves, like iguanas, turtles and even crocodiles.
6. Swim with Whale Sharks
Whale sharks visit the northern coast of Cancun from June through September. It is one of the largest aggregations of the world for this endangered species. So if you’re travelling during this season, you’re in luck as you get a chance to swim with the largest fish in the sea!
Don’t let the name and the size scare you: whale sharks are inoffensive, and they feed on planktons – which are small micro-organisms. They come to the surface to feed and are slow moving, so you are likely to get a fantastic interaction that you will never forget.
With whale shark tourism booming in Mexico, it is important to follow the WWF guidelines to ensure your visit does no harm.
If you have the budget, booking a private tour will give you more time in the water than joining a tour with a larger group.
7. Explore the World’s Second-Longest Coral Reef
Everybody has heard of the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s longest coral reef. It’s on many travellers’ bucket lists and some travel all the way to Australia to visit it. But how about the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, also named the Great Mayan Reef, the world’s second-longest coral reef?
It stretches over 1,000 km on the eastern coast of Mexico, all the way to Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. You can organise a trip to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef during your stay in Cancun. Cozumel, an island accessible from Playa del Carmen, is one of the best sport for scuba diving and snorkelling.
8. Visit the Local Archaeological Sites
You don’t need to travel far to visit archaeological sites in Cancun. Two of them are located in the Cancun hotel zone: El Rey and San Miguelito. And you will find a third one, El Meco, just north of Cancun.
They are not the best ruins in the region, and the sites are rather small compared to the most famous ruins. But if you cannot make it to larger sites, you will be impressed by this complex of great importance for the Maya trading network between 1250 to 1550. This is still one of the best places to visit in Cancun.
9. Visit the Maya History Museum
The Maya History Museum (Museo Maya de Cancun) is adjacent to the San Miguelito Archaeological Site and can be visited as a combo. The modern museum features one of the most important collections of Maya artefacts. It’s a fantastic introduction to learn more about the Maya culture and one of the top Cancun attractions.
10. Take a Day Trip to Chichen Itza
It’s not often that you’ll be staying less than 200 km away from a World Wonder. During your stay in Cancun, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Chichen Itza. It was one of the largest Maya cities and is now a fascinating archaeological site. The ruins have been well-preserved or renovated, and they look impressive. Visitors often name the Temple of Kukulkan and the observatory as their highlights.
Although you can walk around the ruins by yourself, a guided tour will enhance your visit. Guides can show interesting images and tell fascinating stories about the Maya people that will help you understand what you are looking at.
Many day tours are organised from Cancun, like this one. A few of them, like this one, also include a stop at cenotes on the way, like the famous Sacred Cenote.
11. Explore Cenotes
If you are still wondering what to do in Cancun, you cannot visit the region, the Yucatan Peninsula, without visiting cenotes. There are nearly 7,000 of these kinds of pools or caverns not too far from the coast. These sinkholes were very important in the Maya culture. They now make an excellent day out for visiting, swimming, snorkelling or even scuba diving. The water clarity is unbelievable and like nowhere else.
You will have to go outside the city of Cancun to find cenotes. La Ruta de Los Cenotes between Puerto Morelos and Leona Vicario, approximately 35 km south of Cancun, is a popular day trip from Cancun to visit a few cenotes in one day.
Otherwise, you can also combine a cenote visit with another attraction in one of the nearby towns. For those into scuba diving or snorkelling, there are many more cenotes between Tulum and Playa del Carmen, including the most famous one Cenote Dos Ojos. You’ll also see beautiful cenotes near the ruins of Chichen Itza and Coba.
12. Visit Mercado 28
The best place for mixing shopping with a cultural experience in Cancun is at Mercado 28. There are more than 600 shops in this market of downtown Cancun. They offer a mix of souvenirs, handicrafts and textiles. Vendors are sometimes pushy, and you should try to haggle to get a good deal. It’s part of the game in this market. Downtown is also the best place to try cheap, authentic local food.
Tipping is expected in Cancun (about 10% at restaurants). Most restaurants won’t include it on the menu costs and total bill; it will come as an extra. Still, always check the total if you want to avoid tipping twice.
13. Have Fun at Xoximilco
If you want to try the most traditional thing for tourists in Cancun, check out Xoximilco. It’s a Mexican fiesta on a local gondola. A great mix of a scenic trip with local cuisine, music and traditions.
14. Visit Tulum
There are a few reasons why you should plan a day trip to Tulum during your Cancun holidays. And if you can, make it an overnight trip as you won’t regret staying longer in Tulum.
Although Tulum ruins are not a World Wonder, they could make it to the top of the list of the World’s most picturesque ruins. Tulum ruins are perched at the top of a cliff over the stunning turquoise sea. The scenic beach nearby hosts sea turtles during the nesting season. As you walk around the beautiful ruins, keep an eye open to spot a few of the many iguanas that live in the National Park.
When you’re done visiting the ruins, you can relax on the stunning beach and enjoy Tulum’s slow-paced rhythm.
You can join a tour from Cancun to visit Tulum. If you don’t feel like joining one of the Cancun tours, it’s also easy to organise your visit yourself by renting a car or catching a bus for the two-hour drive between Cancun and Tulum.
There is a good reason why Cancun is reputed for Spring Break and being the party capital of Mexico’s East Coast. You’ll find things to do in Cancun all night long! The Coco Bongo is reputed for its shows. The City is one of the biggest nightclubs in town and can host more than 5,000 party animals. Mandala is one of the most famous beach clubs.
And if that’s not enough for you, the list goes on and on!
It’s not that common to have drug slipped in your drink in Cancun, but still make sure you keep an eye on your glass at any time when you party, or order a fresh one otherwise.
Is Cancun Safe?
You may have seen Cancun in the news for other reasons than its exciting activities. The U.S State Department issued a travel advisory to the country and advise to “exercise increased caution” in the Cancun region. Despite the recent violent events, the popular tourist zones are still relatively safe for tourists. Just be careful about your valuables as there can be pickpockets and thieves. Als,o avoid walking by yourself at night and consume alcohol in moderation.
If tourists aren’t the target of violent crimes, they are still the target for tourist traps. There aren’t free tours or free meals in Cancun. It will likely end up being a long presentation about buying a condo that you’ll find hard to escape from. Also, it’s highly recommended to withdraw money only from ATMs that are inside a bank to avoid theft identity. Talking about money, it’s often possible to pay in USD, but you’re likely to get better deals when you pay in the local currency.
Transport in Cancun
If you hire a car in Cancun, the insurance is mandatory and not always quoted in the price. Make sure it’s included, as the police frequently stop tourists and you’ll be fined if you cannot show the right paperwork.
If you don’t want to hire a car, you can arrange transport with your hotel rather than hailing a cab in the street for extra safety. It’s also better to ask the reception about the price for your trip so you don’t pay more than necessary. We knew the tariffs and had no issue with taxi drivers during our stay in Cancun.
Alternatively, you can book your transfer from and to the airport using Cancun Airport Transportation portal or eTransfer for airport transportation as well as to go to other destinations such as Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
When travelling on a budget, it is easy and safe to catch the ADO buses or the collectivos like the locals.
Author Bio: Eloise is the travel blogger behind My Favourite Escapes. She travels every time she has a break from her 9-to-5 day job.
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