30 of the Best Things To Do In Cancun (from Someone Who Lives in Mexico)
Besides beautiful beaches, the Cancun region has impressive Mayan archaeological sites, cenotes, eco-tourist parks, and delicious food. Some say that Cancun is the most important tourist destination in the area as it serves as the convenient entrance to the beautiful Yucatan Peninsula.
In this article you’ll get recommendations on the best things to do to experience the city and this region of Mexico. Take a vacation planning shortcut and learn all about the best things to do in Cancun from someone who lives in Mexico.
30 Things to Do in Cancun
The things to do in Cancun are actually very diverse – diving, snorkeling, jungle walks, sunbathing, and visiting paradisiacal places. So, if you plan a trip to the fabulous Mexican Caribbean, here is a list of the 30 best things to do in Cancun.
1. Xcaret: One of the most iconic things to do in Cancun
Xcaret means “small cove” in Mayan. It was an important commercial city of the Mayan culture. If you want to admire exotic animals like macaws, toucans, or dolphins, this park is perfect because Xcaret has over 40 natural and cultural attractions for the whole family.
One of my favorites is the excellent performance of Xcaret Mexico Espectacular, with more than 250 artists on stage. This “sacred” park has also developed programs for conserving and reproducing flora and fauna typical of the Mexican southeast. Such as sea turtles, manatees, spider monkeys, and deer. They have the first butterfly farm in Mexico and the Coral Reef Aquarium, one of the few places in the world where you can appreciate reef structures in their natural habitat.
2. Explore Chichen Itza
Experience one of the best cultural experiences in Chichen Itza. This beautiful archaeological site is one of the most important in the Yucatan peninsula and since 1988, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mayan culture flourished in Chichen Itza, and its famous pyramid of Kukulkan is one of the new Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
The pyramid was founded by the Itza Maya in the 6th century and dedicated to the god Kukulkan: “The feathered serpent.” On the site, there are several areas that you can visit during your tour, such as the Kukulkan pyramid. Also, the Temple of the Players, the Platform of the Skulls, the Temple of the Barbarian Man, the Temple of Venus, the Sacred Cenote, and an endless number of archaeological sites are ready to be discovered.
3. Visit Bacalar and the seven colors lagoon
One of the most beautiful things to do in Cancun is to visit the majestic seven colors lagoon in Bacalar, considered one of the three magical towns of the State of Quintana Roo. Bacalar is one of the places in Cancun to relax.
This charming destination offers seven different shades of water from the different soils. and varied depths that make this Lagoon something unique and magical. Some of the things I recommend you to do in Bacalar is to visit the Fort of San Felipe, the Cenote Azul, the stromatolites of Bacalar, and of course, snorkeling in its magical waters.
4. Tulum Ruins
The Mayan ruins of Tulum are located on the top of a small cliff, with the turquoise waters of the Caribbean in the background. It is one of the most beautiful places in the Mayan Riviera and a must-do activity in Cancun.
In this beautiful archaeological site are preserved some important structures such as the temple of the Frescos and the one known as “El Castillo.” Touring these ruins takes about two hours. When you’re finished, refresh yourself into the waters of the Caribbean Sea.
5. Spend a day in Playa del Carmen
If you love dancing, drinking, and meeting new people, one of the things to do in Cancun is to visit the famous Quinta Avenida. Here you will find shops, nightclubs, bars, and restaurants for a great vacation day.
Playa del Carmen is the heart of the Mayan Riviera, becoming the gateway for domestic and foreign travelers seduced by its beaches, cenotes, bars, and restaurants. In fact, the days in Playa del Carmen seem to have no end. From 6.30 in the morning, you can enjoy the beautiful sunrise with a cup of coffee by the beach.
6. Take a Tour to Isla Mujeres
Hop on the ferry and go to Isla Mujeres! This gorgeous “isla” is not too far from Cancun. This is also one of the islands where you can enjoy white sandy beaches, turquoise blue waters, and a seabed full of corals and tropical fish.
Playa Norte is probably one of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches. Also Garrafon Park and the Ix Chel temple. You can also take this tour on a boat and explore Isla Contoy, one of the most important bird sanctuaries in Cancun. I recommend you to snorkel on the beaches of Isla Mujeres and see the statues under the sea in the underwater museum. If you’re looking for a day trip, it’s one of the best things to do in Cancun for an excursion.
7. Play at Xel-Ha Park
Xel-Ha means “birth of the water,” considered a natural wonder of the Riviera Maya, which is very close to the archaeological site of Tulum. In addition, Xel-Ha is a park where the main attraction is its slide that measures about 40 meters and has a viewpoint that offers a great panoramic view.
Another of its attractions is the river, where you can enjoy a walk along it, swim, and do different activities.
8. Go Snorkeling on the Barrier reef in Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos is one of the treasures of the Mexican Caribbean, located in the state of Quintana Roo, 20 minutes from Cancun. It is also a small but charming fishing port that has become a favorite destination for its gorgeous barrier reef.
One of Puerto Morelos’s icons is the famous tilted lighthouse, which, in 1967, got hit by a hurricane named “Hula” on the coasts of the Mexican Caribbean. Therefore, it made this underwater lighthouse move toward the coast, and since that day, it has been an incredible attraction.
You can also visit the park called “Salvática,” which is located inside a jungle and perfect for people who love to be in contact with animals and nature.
9. See the jaw-dropping pink lakes of Las Coloradas and the Flamingos in Rio Lagartos
If you are already in Cancun, why not go to Yucatan’s famous Coloradas? Las Coloradas gets its name for the uniqueness of its pink waters since its high salt concentration promotes the growth of plankton and a red bacterial flora.
Las Coloradas is a 12,750-hectare estuary ecosystem, a national sanctuary of the Mexican flamingo. They are huge lagoons of intense pink color that belong to an ancestral salt factory from the times of the Mayas. The best time to go to Las Coloradas is during the non-rainy months, from November to May.
10. El Rey Archaeological Zone
If you’re curious and want to know more about the Mayan history, don’t hesitate to visit the archaeological zone of El Rey. It is one of the most important in the region, located in Cancun’s hotel zone in front of Dolphin Beach.
In 1909, two foreign travelers named Channing and Frederick Frost found an anthropomorphic sculpture interpreted as a noble character. Hence the name “El Rey” (The King). This beautiful archaeological zone comprises 49 pre-Hispanic structures, which you can observe throughout your tour.
11. Explore The Rio Secreto Nature Reserve
You can’t miss visiting this place; it has incredible natural beauty. In fact, this river is part of one of the world’s natural wonders. You can witness a spectacular view of stalactites and stalagmites, which have formed over the years. In this underwater river, you can travel almost 2000 feet, swimming and walking through its beautiful routes.
12. Cancun Underwater Museum of Art
This is my personal favorite of the long list of things to do in Cancun. This beautiful underwater museum takes advantage of the coast’s geography, surrounded by corals and reefs accompanying beautiful sculptures.
It was built in 2009 in the waters surrounding Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and Punta Nizuc. You will be able to observe around 465 mysterious sculptures (from human figures to a real-size car) mixed with nature and marine fauna.
13. San Miguelito Ruins
These fantastic ruins were one of the most critical pre-Hispanic Mayan settlements on the island 810 years ago. This incredible archaeological zone is one of the best historical places in Cancun. Inside San Miguelito, you will see 14 pre-Hispanic buildings, a clear example that the conquest of the Yucatan Peninsula differed from the rest of Mesoamerica.
This archaeological site is located in Cancun’s Hotel Zone at km 16, next to the Maya Museum of Cancun.
14. El Meco Archaeological Site
If you are a fan of history and archaeology, this is one of the top things to do in Cancun because it had an important role in the navigation routes of the Mayas along the coast. The most important building in this archaeological area is called “El Castillo,” which is a structure that presents the unique quadrangular plan used by Mayan architects.
This incredible archaeological site is located north of Quintana Roo. You will find buildings, ruins, and ceremonial centers in El Meco. Best of all, it has a spectacular view of Bahia Mujeres.
15. Amazing Romantic Dinner on a Galleon around the Lagoon in Cancun with sax music
This tour is one of the best things to do in Cancun for couples. So, if you want to surprise your partner, this beautiful Spanish galleon will do the trick. This romantic activity is called “Columbus.” You must go to Cancun’s hotel zone to get on board since this is where the ship departs.
The activity lasts about 2 hours and a half. It has two schedules: in the morning to appreciate a beautiful sunrise and at night to observe the romantic sunset. You can enjoy delicious drinks in this Spanish galleon, which has an open bar. There is also a small restaurant downstairs where you can delight your palate with grilled steaks and seafood accompanied by live sax music.
16. Cancun Scenic Tower
This incredible tower is a magical place to take pictures, film videos, and even make some TikToks. For that reason, it’s one of the things to do in Cancun that your tween and teens might not complain about it. Also, this tower can rise to 87 meters and has a 360° perspective, which allows you to see the stunning turquoise blue colors of the Caribbean Sea.
17. Kayak at Nichupte Lagoon
If you love to be in connection with nature, it’s one of the best things to do in Cancun, where you can go fishing, kayaking, water skiing, and diving. This beautiful lagoon comprises several lakes, such as the Laguna de Amor, Laguna Bojorquez, Laguna San Jose, and others.
National organizations protect the Nichupte Lagoon, so they are constantly carrying out reforestation and reconstruction of mangroves.
18. Swim in the Cenotes
Swimming is one of the most popular things to do in Cancun since there are several cenotes to choose from. Come and explore the natural jewels of the Mayan Peninsula. Among the cenotes that you can visit on this tour are:
- Fuego K’áak
- Water Ha
- Land Lu’um
- Air lik
- Ik – Kil
19. The Interactive Aquarium Cancun
This incredible aquarium is located inside “La Isla” shopping mall, come and learn a little more about marine life. The entrance fee to the aquarium is around 8 USD. Inside this aquarium, you will find several specimens of marine fauna. Some fish in the museum are sharks, starfish, rockfish, catfish, and clownfish. It also has a dolphinarium.
20. Tortugas Beach
This is probably one of my favorite beaches in Cancun because you can swim, snorkel or just enjoy the local atmosphere within Cancun’s hotel zone. It has crystal clear turquoise waters, and you can also practice water sports.
You can rest in one of its lounge chairs and enjoy the typical delicious food in one of the restaurants near the beach. Getting there is very easy, simply take one of the local buses or drive in your car to the ferry terminal that crosses to Isla Mujeres, and there you will have the entrance. You can enter it from Kukulcan Boulevard Avenue and through Gaviotas Street.
21. Enjoy a day at Dolphin Beach
If you’re unsure what to do in Cancun and don’t want to go too far, this beach is perfect for you. Playa Delfines is one of the most popular and famous in Cancun’s hotel zone. This beach is free, and the best is that it has almost no sargassum (which has been a problem in Cancun for the past few years). On the beach, you can enjoy turquoise blue waters, practice activities such as boating, kite surfing, and paddle surfing, watch the sunset, and have some cold drinks by the beach.
How to get to Playa Delfines? Head south of the hotel zone towards the airport before Punta Nizuc. If you don’t have a vehicle, the route 2 bus will take you there.
22. Cozumel Island Excursion
If you want to explore one of the most popular things to do in Cancun, Isla Cozumel should be at the top of your list. These beautiful sets of beaches offer different tours and excursions ranging from 700 to 3000 pesos (35-150 USD) depending on the tour you want.
One of the places I recommend you visit on your tour is the Palancar reef since it is recognized as the second largest reef in the world. Another place you can visit is El Cielo, where you can snorkel and encounter starfish and turtles. I assure you that you will be impressed.
Besides, the reefs of Cozumel are one of the 68 national parks in Mexico. There is a submarine tour to appreciate the coral reef of Cozumel Island; take a look at this submarine tour. These reefs are protected by Mexican law as they have a significant scientific value and are home to many marine species.
23. Visit the Cancun Maya Museum
Become educated in Mayan culture! This museum was inaugurated in 1982, and today it has a nice modern style. This unique museum is a work of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History.
It houses the most significant archaeological cultures of the Mayas representing Palenque, Chichen Itza, and Comalcalco. The Maya Museum is located next to the archaeological zone of San Miguelito. The entrance fee is about 3 USD.
24. Cancun Planetarium “Ka Yok”
This fantastic planetarium is called Ka Yok, which means “knowledge of the universe.” The planetarium is a scientific, technological and cultural complex that brings you closer to science, technology, and environmental preservation, as well as the main contributions of the Mayan civilization to humanity.
Here you can find an astronomical observatory, a water museum, an eco-technology park, and a botanical garden. The entrance fee is around 4 USD.
25. Take a Mexican Cooking Class
One of the characteristics of Cancun is its incredible food. On this tour, you’ll learn to prepare different typical dishes of Mexico with an exciting cooking class and have fun preparing guacamole, enchiladas, tortillas, mole, and more.
26. Enjoy the shows at Coco Bongo
Coco Bongo is an iconic nightclub you must visit in Cancun. In fact, this is the most famous nightclub in the Mayan Riviera. At Coco Bongo, you can witness one of the best musical and artistic shows in the company of an incredible atmosphere with the best DJs and the best drinks.
The entrance to this spectacular nightclub costs approximately 70 and 110 USD. This price includes an open bar, but believe me; it’s worth it. You can find Coco Bongo in the hotel zone of Cancun, as well as in other destinations like Playa del Carmen, Punta Cana, and Los Cabos.
27. Shopping at Mercado 2
This beautiful market is the most visited by tourists in Cancun because you can find many souvenirs and Mexican handicrafts at affordable prices. It also has restaurants with a great atmosphere that you can enjoy with your family and friends. If you are in the market, I recommend you also take a walk to the “Palapas” park to enjoy a pleasant afternoon in Cancun.
28. Plaza las Americas
Another famous shopping center is Plaza las Americas Cancun, a mall located on Tulum Avenue. You can find clothing, sports, jewelry, shoes and department stores, a pet store, a nail salon, cafes and restaurants, and even a supermarket. The food court is huge and has several fast-food options.
29. Explore Holbox Island
If you want to take a break from Cancun’s hustle and bustle to a quieter place, you should visit the impressive Holbox Island. The meaning of Holbox, according to the Mayans, is “Black Hole,” but don’t worry, it is not black at all! Its waters are turquoise blue, and it is also one of the very few bioluminescent beaches in Mexico.
How far is Cancun to Holbox?
It is about 38 miles, you can go by bus from Cancun to the small town of Chiquilá, and from there, you can cross by ferry for 10 USD. Here you can tour the island on horseback in a two-hour ride, go fishing, take a boat ride to see the nearby islands or swim with the whale sharks. I recommend the complete excursion that also takes you to Chiquilá, Isla Pasión, and Punta Mosquito.
30. Take a trip to Valladolid, Yucatan
There are many interesting things to do and see in Valladolid! There’s a good reason why this beautiful city has been a Magical Town since 2012. Besides being in the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula, it is a great base for touring the area.
Valladolid has no beach, but it does have beautiful colonial-style houses and churches, and it is surrounded by cenotes. With about 55,000 inhabitants, Valladolid is one of the most populated municipalities in the state, only a couple of hours (by road) from Cancun.
Which one of these things to do in Cancun will you do first?
This article was produced by Planner at Heart.