Cancun may have gorgeous balmy weather, white sand beaches and turquoise Caribbean waters, but this world-class vacation destination is more than just a place to work on your tan, and offers countless tours, attractions and activities for all ages.
Visitors can explore ancient Mayan ruins, like Tulum, Coba or Chichen Itza, travel to dreamy tropical islands, like Isla Mujeres, experience the underwater wonders of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System while snorkeling or scuba diving with Aquaworld Cancun, explore virgin beaches and marine ecosystems at Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, swim with the whale sharks at Carey Dive Center, fly high above the jungle canopy while zip lining or swim in underground rivers at Xplor, party the evening away during a lively boat tour of Mexican culture at Xoximilco, or enjoy Mexican cuisine, culture, music and nature at Xcaret.
Cancun’s many tours, attractions and activities provide memories that will last a lifetime.
10SIAN KA’AN BIOSPHERE RESERVE TULUM
Photo courtesy of lkpro/iStock
If you’re looking for spectacular virgin beaches, look no further than the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located south of Tulum. It includes more than a million acres, numerous habitats and 23 archaeological sites, some of which date back 2300 years. There are very few beaches here with “parking lots.” Access to most beaches is through an opening in the jungle. To see more of the astounding beauty of the area, take a tour or arrange a fishing trip. If you’d like to spend more time here, there are small hotels and homes available for rent.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Visitors experience spectacular untouched nature at Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Kristin’s expert tip: You must bring everything you need for a day at the beach. No convenience stores or vendors here! Book a tour for expert insight on the Biosphere Reserve.
Read more about Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve →
AQUAWORLD CANCUN HOTEL ZONE
Photo courtesy of Aquaworld
Aquaworld Cancun is a PADI Dive Center that teaches scuba classes, but it also happens to be one of the largest and most reputable companies for fishing excursions, dive trips, and other water sports and activities, like jungle tours and parasailing. Day trips to nearby Isla Mujeres are very popular and fun. During the summer months, when whale sharks migrate to the waters north of Cancun, Aquaworld offers tours to swim with these gentle giants in the open sea. The Skyrider, Aquaworld’s version of parasailing, is another enjoyable, once-in-a-lifetime activity that you can try while in Cancun. Traveling with kids? The SubSee Explorer is perfect for little ones or non-swimmers.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Aquaworld is the snorkeling and scuba diving expert in Cancun.
Kristin’s expert tip: Tours fill up fast during peak travel times like spring break. To ensure that you’ll be able to take the tours you want, contact Aquaworld to make all tour reservations before you go on vacation.
Xochimilco is a popular tourist attraction in central Mexico, and Experiencias Xcaret has created its own version right in Cancun, just five minutes from the airport. At Xoximilco (the “ch” changed to an “x”), visitors enjoy the best of Mexican cuisine, music and culture while riding on “trajineras,” colorfully decorated gondola-like boats. All courses and aguas frescas (fresh fruit drinks), beer, tequila and soft drinks are included. The tour culminates with all trajineras gathering together for a lively party. This is a fun, one-of-a kind tour that highlights the best that Mexican culture has to offer.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Xoximilco is Mexican culture, music, cuisine and cocktails on a boat!
Kristin’s expert tip: Use the restroom right before the tour begins, as there isn’t a bathroom on board and there is only one restroom stop.
Photo courtesy of SL_Photography/iStock
Another popular Mayan ruin site, Tulum is located a bit closer to Cancun than Chichen Itza, roughly 2 hours south. This is a smaller site and can be seen in about an hour, but it’s worth the trip simply for the breathtaking views. The Mayans knew good real estate when they saw it and the main pyramid of Tulum sits on a cliff above an amazing beach. Once a major port for the Mayan empire, the ruins site was the original attraction of the rapidly growing beach town. Tulum also boasts a posh cabana hotels and open-air eateries.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Tulum is an ancient Mayan ruin site perched on a spectacular cliff overlooking a dreamy beach and turquoise blue water.
Susan’s expert tip: You can either book a tour to see only the ruins of Tulum or you can combine it with a visit to Xel-Ha eco-park to make the most of your sightseeing excursion.
CAREY DIVE CENTER ISLA MUJERES
Photo courtesy of Carey Dive Center
Carey Dive Center is located on Isla Mujeres (Island of Women). They offer scuba diving, PADI diving courses, snorkeling, fishing, whale shark tours and cenote visits. This is one of the most well-established and experienced dive shops on the island, which is located just off the coast of Cancun. Gilberto Pat Hoil is the owner of Carey Dive Center and also the PADI scuba dive instructor. He has been awarded by PADI for 20 years of outstanding service and is one of the most experienced scuba dive instructors on Isla Mujeres.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Carey Dive Center will take you to swim with whale sharks (mid-May through mid-September).
Kristin’s expert tip: Bring or wear a wetsuit so that you won’t have to wear a life jacket, which can be confining.
This eco-park is part of the Grupo Xcaret family (Xcaret, Xplor, Xenotes, Xoximilco, Xenses and Xavage). Xel-Ha boasts the “largest, most beautiful natural aquarium in the world.” You can swim in grottos & cenotes (natural sinkholes) and see local marine life, explore Mayan ruins, jump off the Cliff of Courage, cross the floating bridge, ride bikes or fly kites. There are plenty of other activities and exhibits to keep you occupied for the entire day or you can simply spend your time relaxing in the sun or napping in a seaside hammock. Xel-Ha also features a delicious buffet restaurant and a children’s area.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Xel-Ha is perfect for an adventurous and/or relaxing vacation day.
Susan’s expert tip: Xel-Ha is all inclusive, so there’s no need to bring drinks or snacks.
CHICHEN ITZA VICINITY
Chichen Itza is by far the largest and most impressive Mayan archaeological ruins site in the region. It was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. If you only have time to take one sightseeing excursion while on vacation, visit Chichen Itza. You’ll not only learn a bit about Mayan civilization and Mexican history, but you’ll see a cenote where human sacrifices were performed and stare in awe when you see the massive structures that were built with only manpower and crude tools. Bring water, sunscreen, lightweight clothing and a hat. It’s hot out there in the jungle!
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Chichen Itza is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is simply a must when visiting the area.
Susan’s expert tip: The ruins are nearly a 3-hour drive from Cancun. To maximize your comfort, as well as the amount of time you spend in the park, book a tour.
XPLOR PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Xplor is a natural eco-adventure park located in the Riviera Maya, just south of Playa del Carmen, and is part of the Xcaret family. Activites include over two miles of zip lines, amphibious vehicles and underground rivers that feature amazing stalactites and stalagmites created over millions of years. Recover from all the action in the buffet restaurant which features international favorites or the snacks bar which serve yummy juices, smoothies and cookies. Xplor is the place to find safe adventure in Cancun, Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya and is not for couch potatoes!
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: At Xplor, visitors can experience what’s above and below the surface of the Mayan jungle.
Susan’s expert tip: Wear water shoes and surfing-type clothes; you are going to get wet!
XCARET PLAYA DEL CARMEN
Pronounced “Sh-car-ret,” this eco-archaeological park is filled with Mexican and Mayan flavor, color, music, nature and culture. Inside the park there is a butterfly pavilion, an aviary and an aquarium, as well as places where you can view flamingos, manatees, spider monkeys, jaguars and more. If that’s not enough, you can also swim with dolphins, float down a lazy river, swim in underground rivers, climb a small Mayan ruin, visit the traditional cemetery, snorkel in the inlet and relax on the beach. For kids, visit Children’s World aka Mundo de Niños. There are performances throughout the day, but Xcaret’s night show, a celebration of Mexican and Mayan history, sport, dance and music, is an unforgettable experience and is not to be missed. The park holds amazing annual events like a Day of the Dead festival and the recreation of an ancient Mayan ocean crossing to the island of Cozumel.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Xcaret provides a taste of Mexican and Mayan culture in a beautiful natural jungle location.
Susan’s expert tip: Stay for the fantastic evening show, Xcaret Mexico Espectacular.
ISLA MUJERES ISLA MUJERES
Photo courtesy of Kristin Busse
It only takes a 15-minute boat ride to travel to one of the most popular day trip destinations near Cancun: Isla Mujeres. The island’s popularity is largely due to its dreamy beaches and laid-back island feeling. You can book a tour with one of several guides who provide lunch and drinks. Those willing to go it on their own can catch a water taxi or ferry to this tropical island paradise. The downtown area is a charming mix of shops and restaurants. Rent a golf cart, circle the island and visit Punta Sur, the easternmost point of the country of Mexico.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Isla Mujeres is a small, beautiful and charming tropical paradise.
Susan’s expert tip: Stop by the Turtle Conservation Farm to see baby sea turtles. It’s a very small attraction, but worth a visit.