Seas that sparkle in every shade of emerald and turquoise draw visitors from all over the world to Cancun, Mexico. But beyond the gorgeous beaches, there are so many other things to see and do while visiting one of the most popular destinations in the world. Here are a few of our favorites.
Go Under the Sea
What to do when you are surrounded by crystal blue waters? Go exploring, of course! There are so many ways to enjoy the sea in Cancun — water sports, parasailing, fishing, and even swimming with dolphins. But the best way to explore the wonderful world underneath the water is by diving and snorkeling. Go swimming with the white whale sharks that migrate to the warm waters nearby. Or, if swimming’s not your thing, take a ride in a seriously cool semi-submersible vessel.
Take a Trip Back in Time
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is an unbelievably cool way to spend an afternoon. It’s a bit south of the Mayan ruins of Tulum and has more than 20 important archaeological sites, dating back more than 2,000 years. It’s very likely you will find yourself alone on a long stretch of completely unspoiled white sand, too. There are no snack shacks or other facilities here, so be sure to bring whatever you need for the day with you, and don’t forget the sunscreen.
Tulum is the only Mayan ruin located right along the seaside, and from the cliff-side site, the views are lovely. It takes about two hours from Cancun to reach the site, which now has its own little downtown area with restaurants and hotels. Tulum was one of the last cities built by the ancient culture in the 13th century. The word Tulum means “fence” or “wall” in the Mayan language, and the walls that still stand were meant to keep invaders out of the important trading hub. Today, the beach here is a protected place for nesting sea turtles.
Take the Plunge
A cenote is a natural sinkhole, and one of the best places to swim in one is at Xel-Ha. This incredibly beautiful place boasts the largest natural aquarium in the world. Get an all-inclusive day pass, and you will be provided with snorkeling equipment to enjoy 20 different outdoor activities. There is also hiking in the surrounding jungle filled with Mayan ruins, and you’ll likely spot dolphins and manatees swimming nearby. Those with nerves of steel can also jump off the Stone of Courage—a 16-foot dive off the side of a cliff.
Get a Picture with a Pyramid
Chichen Itza has become an iconic Mayan symbol around the world. It’s far more impressive in person. Built by the Maya around 600 A.D., it was the largest and most important Mayan city until 1260. Today you can explore its giant pyramid which has been named one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World,” and delve deep into Mexican history. It’s about a three-hour journey from the center of Cancun but well worth the trip. Don’t miss the cenote where human sacrifices were once performed.
Enjoy a Movable Feast
Xochimilco (pronounced Cho-chim-ilco) is a popular attraction for Mexicans as well as tourists and is a short ride from the airport. Visitors ride in colorfully decorated “trajineras,” which are akin to gondolas, to explore the gorgeous coastline while being served “aguas frescas” (yummy fruit drinks) and dinner. Eventually all the boats on the tour dock together at the beach to have a huge fiesta.
Savor the Nightlife
When the sun goes down, the dancing shoes go on in Cancun. There are dozens of great places to enjoy the thriving nightlife scene in Cancun. One of the most popular places to kick up your heels is The City, a truly giant club that can hold up to 5,000 people! It even claims to be the largest nightclub in Latin America. World renowned DJs like DJ Pauly D and Lil Jon are just some of the famous names that regularly spin there.
A vacation is supposed to be all about relaxation, right? There is no better place to do that than getting a massage under the warm Mexican sun. There are plenty of places to get some massage therapy, a top spot is the Ixchel Jungle Spa. Surrounded by a jungle garden and singing tropical birds, local Mayan women practice ancient healing methods combined with modern techniques. Try the chocolate body wrap, which takes its essence directly from the cacao plant.
Spanish for “Island of the Women,” Isla Mujeres is worth the 15-minute boat ride from Cancun. While Cancun bustles with activity, this is a more relaxed place with quiet beaches and a laid-back vibe. One of the best side trips is to rent a golf cart and drive yourself to Punta Sur. Aside from being the easternmost location in the entire country of Mexico, you can visit the Turtle Conservation Farm and see recently hatched baby sea turtles. What could be better than that? Also, check out the Cancun Underwater Museum. There’s also plenty of great restaurants and fun shops to explore.
Indulge in Retail Therapy
Cancun is famous for its malls and hundreds of stores to shop ‘til you drop. One of our favorites for souvenirs is the Coral Negro Flea Market (Kukulkan Blvd Km 9, Cancun, Mexico). It has absolutely every gift you need to bring home at amazing prices. For something truly unique though, visit Mimosas Atelier (5th Avenue [La Quinta Avenida] between 6th and 7th Streets, Playa del Carmen, 77710), where you can shop for handmade garments created by Mexican indigenous groups including Otomi, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Huichol, and Totonac artists. Gorgeous embroidery of brightly colored flowers and vines are clearly wearable works of art.
There’s so much more to Cancun than beautiful beaches and bright sunshine. To start planning your Cancun vacation, contact your travel agent.