The 25 Best Things To Do in & Around Cancún [Beaches, Mayan Ruins, Nightlife]

Cancun

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Millions of tourists visit Cancún every year to enjoy the incredible beaches, world-class resorts, exciting outdoor activities, and Mayan culture. The Hotel Zone is such a hub of activity that many visitors base themselves here for their full vacation, while others take the opportunity to explore the Mayan ruins, jungles, and exotic islands that surround Cancún.

Take a tour to the archaeological wonder that is Chichen Itza, grab a kayak and paddle at sunset, or simply relax on the golden sands with a cocktail while gentle waves lap at your feet. Whatever you’re looking for from your vacation, Cancún will not disappoint.

Best Things To Do in Cancún for Families

1. Snorkel With Colorful Fish Around Isla Mujeres

Snorkeling Tour to Isla Mujeres
Snorkeling Tour to Isla Mujeres. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Take a snorkeling tour out to the paradise island of Isla Mujeres, located around 8 miles off the coast of Cancún. You’ll be provided with National Geographic snorkeling equipment to explore the marine life of Punta Sam Reef before sitting down to a tasty buffet lunch. Other stops include the beautiful Playa Norte Beach for more snorkeling and relaxation and downtown Isla Mujeres.

2. Float Along a Mangrove River at Xel-Há

Xel-Há Park
Xel-Há Park. Image Credit: Xel-Há Park

Xel-Há Park is an aquatic theme park close to Tulum where most of the attractions are are in the naturally formed lagoons and mangrove rivers. Enjoy a snorkeling adventure in an open aquarium where you can spot angelfish, parrotfish, and rays, or float along the Xel-Há River on an inflatable tube through underground caves and mangroves. A spiral waterslide and cliff-diving are some of the more exhilarating activities on offer, and there are several waterside restaurants to cool down after your adventures.

Book your ticket in advance with 24-hour cancellation.

3. Zip Line Through the Jungle

Cancun Zip Lining
Cancún zip lining. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Ziplining in the jungle is one adventure you won’t want to miss when vacationing in Cancún. Get your adrenaline pumping as you soar through the trees at Selvatica on one of the world’s fastest zip lines, which is just 1 of the 10 zip lines you’ll experience on the circuit. If you want to go out with a splash, you have the option to finish on the AquaZip line before heading to a cenote for a swim.

4. Admire Spectacular Views From the Xcaret Scenic Tower

Xcaret Scenic Tower
Xcaret Tower. Image Credit: Xcaret Park

Enjoy 360-degree views of the Riveria Maya from the Xcaret Scenic Tower, located in Xcaret Park near Playa Del Carmen. The 262-foot rotating tower provides panoramic views of the surrounding attractions of Xcaret, as well as far-reaching views of Cozumel, the Port of Calica, and Playa Del Carmen. Commentary in English and Spanish will make sure you don’t miss a thing.

5. Learn About Sea Turtle Conservation

Tortugranja Isla Mujeres
Tortugranja Wildlife Sanctuary. Image Credit: Tortugranja Wildlife Sanctuary Facebook page

Tortugranja Turtle Farm is situated on Isla Mujeres and is a refuge for sea turtles, ranging from tiny babies to turtles over 2 feet long. With the threat of humans and animal predators creating a 1 in 100 survival rate for hatchlings, the farm provides safe breeding areas for turtles to lay their eggs, and many are kept at the farm for around a year before the hatchlings are released. The sanctuary also has a small aquarium with tropical fish, crabs, sea horses, and more.

Hot Tip: If you’re looking to swim with sea turtles, the best place to do this is in Akumal, around 24 miles south of Playa del Carmen.

Best Things To Do in Cancún for Couples

6. Set Sail on a Romantic Dinner Cruise

Cancun Dinner Cruise
Cancún dinner cruise. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Set sail around the Nichupté Lagoon for a romantic dinner cruise aboard a Spanish Galleon. Sip a cocktail from the open bar and watch the sun dip below the horizon before enjoying a lobster or steak dinner. As if things couldn’t get any more romantic, you’ll also be serenaded by the soulful tunes of a live saxophone.

7. Experience a Traditional Temazcal Ceremony

Temazcal Ceremony
Temazcal Ceremony. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Temazcal ceremonies date back over 1,000 years and are a sacred ritual in Mexican and South American culture. Visit a Mayan community to experience a Temazcal ceremony led by your very own shaman. Learn all about the ceremonial traditions and how they are believed to have healing benefits for both the mind and body before enjoying a steam bath in the Temazcal.

8. Paddle Around Nichupte Lagoon on a Kayak

Cancun Kayaking Tour
Cancún kayaking tour. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Nichupte Lagoon is a nature reserve with 7 shimmering lakes between downtown Cancún and the Hotel Zone. Paddle around the lagoon and mangrove forests on a kayaking tour and learn about the diverse wildlife that inhabits this tropical ecosystem. Take a break from your kayak and relax on peaceful Conchitas Beach with the opportunity to enjoy a refreshing swim.

Hot Tip: As you’ll be kayaking through the mangroves, it’s worth making sure you’ve applied some eco-friendly insect repellent

9. Enjoy a Festive Evening at Xoximilco

Xoximilco
Image Credit: Xoximilco

Enjoy an evening of singing, dancing, games, and of course, tequila at Xoximilco. This festive experience combines authentic Mexican culture with good food and great times while cruising through the Mayan jungle on a Mexican gondola. Your gondola host will keep you entertained while you enjoy a tasting menu of around 20 traditional dishes and drinks from the open bar.

10. Experience Cancún’s Legendary Nightlife

Coco Bongo
Cancún nightlife. Image Credit: Coco Bongo

Cancún’s nightlife is legendary and extends much further than just being a spring break destination for college students. Hundreds of bars and clubs offer a night out to suit any visitor, from golden oldie nights playing ’70s and ’80s music to themed parties hosted by top DJs. Much of the action is around the Punta Cancún area in the Hotel Zone, but there are also plenty of bars in downtown Cancún if you’re looking for something a little more low-key.

Hot Tip: Protect your valuables on a night out by wearing a money belt or crossbody bag

Best Things To Do in Cancún on a Budget

11. Explore the Action Along the Hotel Zone

Cancun Hotel Zone
Cancún Hotel Zone. Image Credit: Gerson Repreza via Unsplash

The Hotel Zone is a stretch of Cancún that has the Caribbean sea to the east and Nichupte Lagoon to the west. Home to around 65 hotels, you may choose to stay on the barrier island or visit from more affordable accommodation in downtown Cancún.

14 miles long and shaped like the number 7, the Hotel Zone is packed full of attractions and activities, including shopping malls, watersport centers, restaurants with a sea view, and of course, white sandy beaches. If you’re looking to party until the early hours, head to the Punta Cancún area with clubs such as Señor Frogs and Coco Bongo.

12. Relax on a Beautiful Beach

Isla Contoy
Isla Contoy. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Whether you’re in the mood for lively and atmospheric or remote and peaceful, Cancún and the Riveria Maya have miles of pristine beaches waiting to be explored. Playa Gaviota Azul is one of the liveliest beaches in Cancún, located in the Punta Cancún area of the Hotel Zone, where you can take advantage of the amazing aquamarine waters and enjoy a cocktail and music playing from one of the beach bars. If you’re looking for a remote paradise, take a tour out to Isla Contoy, which restricts the number of daily tourists to protect the national park and its wildlife.

Hot Tip: If you’re heading to a remote beach, make sure you’ve got a beach bag full of water, snacks, and sunscreen. 

13. View Historic Mayan Artifacts at the Museo Maya de Cancún

Museo Maya de Cancun
Image Credit: Museo Maya de Cancún

Take a break from the sandy beaches to learn about Mayan culture at the Museo Maya de Cancún. The museum showcases Mexico’s most significant collection of Mayan artifacts found in archaeological sites such as Chichen Itza, Palenque, and Comalcalco. As well as visiting several exhibits, admission also provides access to the historic ruins of San Miguelito located next to the museum.

14. Stroll Around Downtown Cancún

Downtown Cancun
Downtown Cancún, Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Head to downtown Cancún if you’re after a more authentic Mexican experience away from the Hotel Zone. The area is becoming increasingly popular for its urban street art, and you can join a street art and food tour to admire some spectacular murals and try mouth-watering street food that only the locals would know about. While you’re there, you can also haggle for gifts and souvenirs at Market 28 or explore the waterfront views from Malecon Tajamar.

Hot Tip: Downtown Cancún has some fabulous restaurants that are much cheaper than you’ll find in the Hotel Zone.

15. Pose for a Photo With the Cancún Sign

Cancun Sign
Cancún Sign. Image Credit: Cancún Sign Facebook page

There’s no better way to tell your Instagram followers where you’re vacationing than with a photo in front of the famous Cancún sign. With a beautiful backdrop of a white sandy beach and turquoise water, you’ll often find queues of visitors waiting to pose for the perfect picture. The sign is located on Playa Delfines beach near the southern end of the Hotel Zone, where you can often see dolphins swimming out at sea.

Best Adventure Activities in Cancún

16. Speed Across the Water on a Jet Ski

Cancun Jet Ski Rental
Cancún jet ski rental. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Get out on the open water by renting your very own jet ski. Your experienced guide will brief you on all the safety measures before guiding you out to the designated area where you can ride at full speed. 30-minute or 1-hour sessions are available and include free bottled water to cool down. 

17. Drive an Amphibious Vehicle Through the Jungle

Xplor Park
Xplor Park. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Xplor by Xcaret is an all-inclusive adventure playground located in the jungles of Playa del Carmen. Admission grants access to all 6 adventure activities, including zip-lining through the treetops and rafting along underground rivers. After driving an amphibious vehicle through the jungle and flooded caverns, visitors can enjoy a buffet lunch to refuel.

Book your entry in advance with 24-hour cancellation.

Hot Tip: Bring an action camera with a range of mounts so that you can capture all the action at Xplor.

18. Snorkel Above Beautiful Sculptures at the Underwater Museum

Cancun Underwater Museum
Cancún Underwater Museum. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Cancún’s unique underwater museum is located in Isla Mujeres Bay and can be experienced in several ways. Take a snorkeling tour above more than 470 sculptures submerged 8 to 10 meters below the surface, or get a closer look diving through the eerily beautiful museum. For those that prefer not to get wet, there is also the option of viewing the museum from a glass-bottom boat. Created by underwater naturalist and artist Jason De Caires Taylor, these underwater installations were created to divert divers away from other reefs that were being damaged and to create a landscape for marine life to flourish.

19. Swim With Whale Sharks

Swim with Whale Sharks
Swim with whale sharks. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

From May to September, whale sharks migrate to the waters around Cancún, and visitors can swim near these gentle giants with a tour led by naturalists or marine biologists. You’ll be in a group of no more than 10 to enjoy an intimate experience, and without too much intrusion on any whale sharks you may encounter. Reaching up to 12 meters in length, whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean and are completely harmless to humans, consuming only plankton, small fish, and shrimp. You may also spot dolphins, manta rays, and sea turtles on your tour.

Best Day Trips From Cancún

20. Visit the Ancient Mayan City of Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza. Image Credit: Christina Abken via Unsplash

Discover the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza that is classed as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Located in the northern half of the Yucatán Peninsula, Chichen Itza can be reached with a day tour from Cancún, where visitors can explore the impressive archaeological site spanning more than 1.9 square miles.

Admire El Castillo, the most famous pyramid of Chichen Itza, and learn all about the Maya people that built and lived in this ancient city over 1,500 years ago. There are several cenotes in the area, with the tour taking visitors to Ik-Kil for a chance to swim in the majestic sinkhole surrounded by greenery and hanging vines.

Hot Tip: If you’re planning to visit independently, the best time is first thing in the morning or after 3 p.m. to avoid the crowds.

21. Marvel at the Pink Salt Ponds of Las Coloradas

Las Coloradas
Las Coloradas. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

At the end of the Yucatán Peninsula is Las Colorados — a small fishing community within the Río Lagartos Reserve. Within the reserve are many salt-producing ponds that are pink due to microorganisms that naturally dye the water. These organisms are also why flamingos are pink, and flocks can often be seen milling around the salt ponds. Take a tour to Los Colorados to see these beautiful salt ponds and spot the varied birdlife that inhabits the reserve.

Hot Tip: Los Colorados has become an Instagram sensation. Capture your photo of the pink lakes with the best travel camera

22. Enjoy a Relaxing Swim in a Cenote

Cancun Cenotes
Cancún cenotes. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Cenotes are natural sinkholes that have opened up to the surface through crumbling bedrock. These caverns contain water collected from the rain that is often crystal clear and ideal for swimming. Many ancient Mayan cities were built near cenotes, not only as an important source of fresh water but also for their sacred role in ceremonies and rituals.

There are around 6,000 cenotes across the Yucatán Peninsula that vary from wide-open pools with sheer rock walls to underground caverns with stalactites. Take a tour to a couple of contrasting cenotes to admire these natural limestone wonders.

Hot Tip: Pack a small travel towel in your day bag so that you can dry off after a swim.

23. Tour the Ancient Ruins of Tulum

Tulum
Tulum. Image Credit: Pixource via Pixabay

Along the eastern coast of Quintana Roo lies the ruins of Tulum — one of the last ancient Mayan cities to be built. Its location on the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea makes it one of the most picturesque ruins in all of Mexico. Historically, its position provided a trading post for neighboring cities such as Chichen Itza. Tour this archaeological site before enjoying some time on Tulum Beach and swimming at a nearby cenote.

24. Go Diving in Cozumel

Cozamul Diving
Cozumel diving. Image Credit: Get Your Guide

Cozumel is an island located 11-miles off the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. It’s surrounded by coral reefs, including Cozumel’s National Reef Marine Park that is part of the second-largest reef system in the world. It’s considered one of the best locations in the world for SCUBA diving, home to over 260 species of fish and 105 varieties of coral. Join a dive from Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park and you’ll see incredible marine life, underwater cliffs, caves, and sunken sculptures.

Hot Tip: You’ll need a waterproof bag to keep your personal items safe and dry onboard your dive boat.

25. Climb a Mayan Pyramid at Coba

Coba
Coba. Image Credit: Robin Canfield via Unsplash

Whereas you can’t climb any of the Mayan ruins we’ve featured above, this isn’t the case in the ancient city of Coba. Visitors can climb the 120 steps to the top of the Nohoch Mul pyramid — the tallest pyramid in the Yucatán Peninsula at 137-feet tall. Wander around the white roads (or “sacbes” as they’re known in Mayan) to explore the ruins of Coba that were inhabited from 100 A.D.

Book a tour to Coba from the Riveria Maya with 24-hour cancellation.

Final Thoughts

There are not many destinations that attract such an eclectic mix of visitors. Students flock to Cancún’s beaches and bars on spring break, honeymooners walk hand-in-hand at sunset, and families build sandcastles and splash around in the sea. Backpackers tend to avoid the all-inclusive resorts and stay in the trendy downtown hostels, and many visitors venture out for day trips to explore all the Yucatán Peninsula has to offer.


Frequently asked questions

Which can you do in Cancún on a budget?

If you’re visiting Cancún on a budget, many of the public beaches are free to use, such as Playa Delfines and Playa Gaviota Azul. Tortugranja Turtle Farm and Museo Maya de Cancún both have cheap admission.

What are the best activities in Cancún for families?

Cancún has many different water sports that are great for families, including snorkeling, paddling boarding, and kayaking. Adventure parks such as Xplor and Xel-Há are also great days out for kids and adults.

Which is better, Cancún or Playa del Carmen?

Both Cancún and Playa del Carmen are major tourist destinations, but Playa del Carmen has a slightly more relaxed vibe than Cancún, attracting more independent travelers and couples. Cancún’s beaches are great for families and the Hotel Zone also has a real party vibe.

How far is Chichen Itza from Cancún?

Chichen Itza is around 120 miles from Cancún and takes approximately 2.5 hours to drive to.

When is the best time to visit Cancún?

Cancún has a year-round warm climate with the driest season running from December to April. Crowds are attracted to Cancún during this time so try to visit during November or May’s shoulder season for cheaper hotel prices.

Amar Hussain

About Amar Hussain

Amar was born and raised in England, UK, embarked on an 11 country round the world gap year after graduation and then became well and truly hooked. The first gap year inspired a second which ended up being a 23 country down-the-world trip from Canada to Antarctica. Since then Amar has endeavored to turn his gap year into a ‘gap life’ and has spent the last 10 years traveling the 7 continents.

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