There’s plenty to do in Cancun to spend a day – or more – but don’t forget that some of Cancun’s best attractions are located outside the city, yet near-enough to Cancun that you can fit them in a day trip. Here are some things to do in and near Cancun:
Once the main hub of Mayan civilization, Chichen Itza is one of the most recognized Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. It’s a 2.5 hour trip from Cancun, open 8am–5pm year round, with many companies offering day tours from Cancun. It’s also easy enough to drive, so don’t be afraid to get out there on your own and stop off in Vallodid for lunch. In season, they also do night light shows against the backdrop of the pyramid.
Isla Mujeres or Isla Contoy
Jump on a ferry from Punta Sam, Puerto Juarez or Gran Puerto and in half an hour be whisked away to see Cancun’s relaxed side. Considered one of Cancun’s most pristine beaches, Playa Norte (North Beach) is a calm pool of transparent water and white sand. There’s not a lot of do other than relax, but you could choose to see Hacienda Mundaca, a ruined mansion of a slave trader who mysteriously died in the 19th century, or ‘torugranja’ (turtle farm), or relax in Fenix beach club, best on a Sunday afternoon, with live music, tapas and ceviche. You can hire a golf cart buggy – the only transport on the island – and drive around the whole island in a couple of hours. You can also take a longer tour to Island Contoy, to see its pool-side beaches and curious bird populations.
Dos Ojos Cenote
This connection underwater grotto is a unique feature in the world – and since a discovery in 2018, now the largest underwater cavern. Divers will flip out at the 1km swim between stalamites and stagmites, and even the inexperienced snorkeler will get a kick out of a similar experience at either end of entrances of the caves. You can take a tour or rock up at the entrance.
This attraction park in Cancun boasts the ‘largest, most beautiful natural aquarium in the world’. You can swim in cenotes (natural sinkholes) and grottos alongside local marine life, or explore Mayan ruins, cross the float bridge, nap in a hammock, cycle or fly kites. There’s a buffet lunch and children’s area.
This town is close-enough for even a half-day, although you’ll probably want to stay longer once you see the less-crowded beaches than cancun, and postcard white sand and aqua beaches. It’s a fun place to grab a taco from a hole-in-the wall place, see local life at a standstill, or grab a drink sitting on plastic chairs and million-dollar views of the sunset. You can also snorkel just off the shore, within a secluded bar and a small reef.
During the right season, you can walk out about 10 metres, put on your snorkel, get into floating position, and wait for the turtles to swim underneath you. There’s place to grab a bite or a beer right on the beachfront, and small supermarkets and stores to buy or rent snorkels, sunscreen and souvenirs – mostly related to turtles, of course. But these kinds of natural habitats need nurturing, so be mindful not to touch or harm the animals.
In short, party drinking boats. The much longer story starts in Mexico City, where ‘trajineras’, a kind-of gondola boat, guard the last-existing canals in the south of the city, and carry all sorts of party goers, from families celebrating baptisms, to young teens and blaring music. In short, the kind of chaotic “anything goes” fun that makes Mexican culture so special. This is, of course, a touristic intrepration of it, but still a fun experience if you don’t have the pleasure of doing the real thing in Mexico city.
Mirroring the tourist attraction in Mexico City’s canals, Experiencias Xcaret has brought the concept to Cancun. Five minutes from the airport you can jump aboad colourful Mexican gondola-type boats (trajineras) to enjoy mariachi music, drinks (included) and a lively party at the end.
Delphinus Dreams Cancun
Visitors can swim with dolphins at the Dreams Cancun Hotel with a number of programs, such as becoming a ‘trainer for a day’ or spending one-on-one time with a dolphin for an hour. The facility also hosts dolphin swims at nearby Xel-ha and Scaret in Playa del Carmen.
Party in Cancun
There are many bars to let down your hair, but some firm favorites include Coco Bongo and Senor Frogs. You can also find places to salsa dance or listen to live music, such as Grand Mambo Café in downtown Cancun or around Yaxchilan Avenue. Try a local Mexican bar, known as ‘cantinas‘, which are usually rowdy places blasting out local mariachi music.
For something local to do in Cancun, explore the maze of colourful markets covering an entire block, where you can haggle for souvenirs and jewelry, with several small Mexican restaurants in the centre for a quick bite.