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Best things to do in Cancun

There are no words to describe this paradise, but here's our best try to list some of the wonders that you can discover in this Mexican slice of heaven

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

Jun 22, 2021 • 9 min read

Best things to do in Cancun

Aerial view of Cancun | ©Gerson Repreza

To think of Cancun is to imagine a little corner of paradise in the Caribbean. A place full of dreamy beaches to get lost in, unique sunsets to share with someone special, warm waters to freely swim in among tropical fish, and magical wonders to discover in this beautiful Mexican land:

1. Walk around the city with a guided tour

Archaeological site of El Meco | ©Kirt Edblom
Archaeological site of El Meco | ©Kirt Edblom

Cancun is a paradisiacal destination known for its white-sand beaches, with almost 22 kilometers of coastline bathed by the crystalline and turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

It is a very special place full of contrasts where travelers from all over the world head in search of a well-deserved vacation with the sea, the sun, and nature as the main attraction. Some of the most popular beaches in Cancun are Tortugas Beach, Delfines Beach, Punta Cancun Beach, or Langosta Beach.

However, this city is much more. It is history and tradition. Here we can contemplate the vestiges of the Mayan civilization and get to know this pre-Hispanic culture in depth at the El Meco archaeological site, the only one in Cancun. Its well-preserved ruins bear witness to the commercial importance it had in the region and its strategic location in front of Isla Mujeres may have made it the port of connection with the island.

The best way to explore Cancun is on one of its tours and excursions in Cancun, accompanied by a local guide who will reveal all its secrets and history.

Taste its gastronomy

This Mexican city is also a reference for gastronomic tourism. In places like Palapas Park, you can enjoy authentic local Mexican food, while in the hotel zone you will find the best international restaurants and also multiple nightclubs and bars. Because of its lively nightlife, Cancun is a city that never sleeps, making it a favorite destination for party-goers.

Get to know its handicraft markets

Another plan to do in Cancun is to go shopping in the local artisan markets such as Mercado 28 to see firsthand the typical products of the region like ceramics, glass, or textiles. However, in Cancun, there are also shopping centers such as Luxury Avenue or La Isla Shopping Village, where you can buy the best Mexican and international brands.

2. Marvel at the magic of Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá | ©Leosprspctive
Chichén Itzá | ©Leosprspctive

To the north of the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the largest pre-Hispanic cities of the enigmatic Maya civilization: Chichen Itza. It is an archaeological site of almost 7 km2 that is considered one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. It is not surprising, therefore, that it is one of the most visited places in the Riviera Maya and Mexico.

Its story

Around 600 AD, in its time of greatest splendor, Chichén Itzá was the main hub of Yucatan and stood out as a political and economic center, which is reflected in the grandeur of its architecture. Walking through the precinct is like taking a trip back in time because of the good state of preservation of important structures such as the ball game range, the Temple of the Warriors, the Castle, and the famous stepped pyramid of Kukulkan, among other monuments.

After centuries of dominance, catastrophic droughts caused the collapse of the Mayan civilization and led to the disappearance of its cities. At that time, to appease the wrath of the rain god, Mayan priests used the water wells near Chichén Itzá for religious purposes. Such is the case of the sacred cenote of Ik Kil where offerings were made. Today it is possible to bathe in this place during the visit to relax the body and mind and cool off from the intense heat, a unique experience!

3. The best beaches and archaeology in Tulum

Ancient Mayan walled city of Tulum | ©ironypoisoning
Ancient Mayan walled city of Tulum | ©ironypoisoning

Another of the most important archaeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula is Tulum, an ancient Mayan walled city considered one of the most beautiful for its formidable state of preservation and its privileged location next to the Caribbean Sea.

Between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, both by sea and by land, it was a major commercial hub for minerals, which resulted in an important city with more than 70 structures such as the temple of the Descending God, the Castle or the temple of the Frescoes, among others.

If there is something that draws attention in Tulum is its wall because it is one of the few Mayan cities with this feature. Although this peculiarity alone is worth the visit, the fact is that the surrounding landscape is another attraction in itself since it is located on the edge of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean and in front of it you can find the second most important coral reef on the planet. A coastline out from a dream, filled with dense vegetation surrounding the ruins of an extinct civilization: simply breathtaking!

4. The Caribbean dream, in Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres beach paradise | ©dronepicr
Isla Mujeres beach paradise | ©dronepicr

Only 12 kilometers away from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is one of the treasures of the Riviera Maya. A little piece of paradise on Earth to enjoy a few well-deserved days of rest with family, friends, or as a couple. Despite its small size, it has everything to relax and have fun: quality restaurants, cozy craft shops, Mayan ruins, and a spectacular natural environment for outdoor activities such as walking along its beautiful beaches under the Caribbean sun or practicing scuba diving, hiking, kayaking, among other sports.

There are many ways to explore the beauty of Isla Mujeres but doing it aboard a catamaran is a unique experience. Sail the warm Mexican waters and dive with your snorkel gear to contemplate the wonders under the waves: tropical fish, manta rays, sea turtles, and beautiful corals. But that's not all, did you know that here you will find the Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA) with more than 400 sculptures placed four and eight meters deep underwater?

The most amazing views of Isla Mujeres are found at Garrafon Park, with its cliffs and reefs. A perfect place also to enjoy adventure sports, to jump from a zip line over the sea, ride a bike or just relax on a hammock contemplating the Caribbean sunset.

5. Bathe in one of its Cenotes

Cenote Oxman | ©Free Birds
Cenote Oxman | ©Free Birds

The cenotes are one of the most beautiful natural treasures to see in Cancun and its surroundings. They are natural freshwater ponds supplied by underground rivers that the ancient Mayans considered the abode of the rain gods. Here they dedicated offerings such as pieces of jade, obsidian, gold, or copper and sacrifices of maidens that were thrown into the depths of these wells in search of the favor of the deities.

Nowadays, the cenotes have lost this sacred meaning and are places where you can practice different activities such as diving, kayaking, rappelling, or zip-lining. Many people even choose to simply refresh themselves in their waters and enjoy the surrounding landscape.

An excursion to the cenotes will allow you to visit the most beautiful ones during your stay in Cancun. Some of the most popular are the cenote of Siete Bocas, Boca del Puma, La Noria and Chilim Balam.

6. Enjoy Cancun's beaches

Playa Delfines | ©Tristan Higbee
Playa Delfines | ©Tristan Higbee

Cancun's almost 22 kilometers of coastline are the attraction for many travelers who see a little piece of Eden in this region bathed by the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. It is characterized by its white sandy beaches, wild vegetation, warm waters, and seabed that treasure a rich marine life waiting to be discovered by travelers from all over the planet.

Playa Langosta

One of Cancun's most central beaches is Langosta Beach, on Kukulcan Boulevard in the heart of the hotel zone. It is, therefore, a very popular beach for visitors and locals to enjoy a stroll along the pier under the sun, a refreshing swim in its crystal clear waters, or to practice sports such as soccer, volleyball, or kayaking with friends. At the entrance of Langosta Beach, there is a children's playground, making this place also very family-friendly.

Playa Tortuga

Another beach to enjoy with the family is Tortuga Beach, also located in Cancun's hotel zone. Its waters are calm and shallow, so it is ideal for children and the elderly. Being a protected area, this beach has a great diversity of fauna and coral reefs are abundant so snorkeling is one of the activities you will want to try, but not the only one! You can also go jet skiing or bungee jumping.

On the other hand, this Cancun beach offers a multitude of restaurants with the best flavors of the sea, with a Mexican touch and something more Mediterranean.

Delfines Beach

Unlike the one I just mentioned, Delfines Beach is far from Cancun's hotel zone and is a quieter place to enjoy the murmur of the waves. Besides being a beautiful and clean beach perfect to spend a day under the sun, it is also home to Cancun's famous colorful sign to take selfies and it is possible to see dolphins swimming freely from the shore, especially in the morning.

Delfines Beach also has a children's area with swings, an outdoor gym, and Wi-Fi. Although it has no restaurants or other food places, its street vendors offer food and drink.

Punta Cancun

Another of Cancun's most popular beaches is Playa Punta Cancun, with fine sand and gentle waves. It is located in the geographical salient that separates the beaches on the north side of the city as Caracol beach with those on the Caribbean side as Playa Gaviota Azul. The quietness of its waters makes it ideal for the whole family. It has two accesses, a private one close to the hotel and a public one a little farther away. This beach is close to restaurants and stores and other tourist attractions such as the Punta Cancun lighthouse or the archaeological site of Yamil Lu'um.

7. Visit the Tequila Museum

In Mexico it is a tradition to accompany tequila with sangrita | ©Lucian Savluc
In Mexico it is a tradition to accompany tequila with sangrita | ©Lucian Savluc

If there is one drink that represents Mexico around the world, it is the famous tequila. A liquor made from the fermented and distilled agave, which has its origin in the state of Jalisco but has crossed every possible border.

Tequila is a must at any party, but did you know that in ancient times it had a religious meaning since it was considered a gift from the gods? To learn more about this treasure of Mexican gastronomy there is the Tequila Museum in Cancun. Through a visit you can learn about its history, the process of growing and cutting the agave, the manufacture and aging of tequila, its varieties, and even do a tasting, they have more than 400 kinds! You will become an expert in this prized liquor.

8. Seek the thrill of adventure

Diving with whale sharks | ©Marcel Ekkel
Diving with whale sharks | ©Marcel Ekkel

Cancun is also a dream destination for adventure and sports lovers thanks to its great weather for snorkeling and swimming among sharks, dolphins, turtles, and all kinds of fish.

The waters of the Caribbean Sea hold countless treasures waiting to be discovered. Here you will find the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest reef in the world after the Australian Barrier Reef. Through an excursion, you will learn about its enormous biodiversity and the importance of protecting it from human action and climate change.

Once you have conquered the sea, return to land to head to the Mayan jungle. Go deep into the lush vegetation for an ATV tour. Or maybe you want to add a little more adrenaline to your Cancun vacation... how about flying like a bird over the jungle by jumping from a zip line or walking across hanging bridges through the treetops? Are you up for the challenge?

Taking a tour or excursion in Cancun is the best way to explore this city and its surroundings without missing any detail, as well as all its places of interest. If you are planning a trip to Mexico, I advise you to take a look at the tours and excursions in Cancun that you can do during your visit.

Things to do in Cancun