The ultimate guide to all the things to do in Cancun, the ultimate Mexican beach destination Lined with turquoise water and pristine white sand beaches, and not short of incredible adventurous activities and world-class resorts. In this post, I will tell you all the things to do in Cancun and how to make the most of your vacation in the Mexican Caribbean.
From basking in the sun all day on the spectacular beach to getting pampered in your Luxury Resort, exploring the city, or setting off for an adventure, let’s see what are your option if you decide to spend a few days or months in Cancun.
Paddleboard and kayaking in the Nichupte Lagoon
One of the most overlooked spots and one of my favorite is the Nichuptè Lagoon. A huge mirror of sweet water that separates the city from the hotel zone. It has been recently cleaned and it’s home to juvenile fishes that hide in the mangroves, beautiful birds and if you are lucky you can even spot dolphins.
I have found a local company, Conexion Nativa, that organizes kayaking and paddleboarding in the lagoon, the best and most ecological way to explore it. If you do it at sunrise or sunset, what you will see will add to the experience. I promise.
Disclaimer: I don’t have any affiliate or sponsored partnership with this company. I just enjoyed their tours and I love to support locals.
Get acquainted with the Mayan Culture
Get a glimpse of the Mayan culture visiting the brand new archeology museum and the tiny archaeological sites in Cancun, El Rey, and El Meco. Of course, they are not Chichen-Itza, but still, they will give you an idea of the Mayan civilization and their history. It’s all located a few miles from your hotel in Cancun.
In this thorough post, I am giving you more precise information.
You can rent a car and travel around on your own or join organized tours and have an experienced guide taking you around.
Besides extraordinary beaches, you can explore local markets, visit archeological sites, do exciting water-sport activities and enjoy the nightlife.
Go where the locals hang out
Cancun is not only the Hotel Zone, where the luxury Cancun all-inclusive hotels are. There is also a town, which I find quite ugly overall, but there are a couple of interesting places that you might want to check out and mingle with locals.
- Mercado 28 – ( a little touristy now, but you can find some souvenirs)
- Mercado 23 – where locals go grocery shopping, an interesting place
- Malecon – That’s a nice promenade along the Nichupte lagoon on the downtown side. Locals use to go there early morning and in the evening to exercise. It’s beautiful at sunrise and full moon.
- Plaza las Americas – a mall where locals go for shopping, movies, and coffe
- Avenida Nader – one of the new areas where locals hang out at night, with lots of new lovely restaurants of all taste and pockets
Explore Cancun beaches
One of the highlights of Cancun is the endless white sand beach washed by turquoise crystal water. It’s actually one unique beach 18 km long, only interrupted in one point by km 8, by Crystal Palace hotel (former Hyatt).
Although the entire coast is occupied by huge hotels, the beach is totally public and you can hang out anywhere you want as long as you are not using the hotel’s facilities. There are a few spots along the Zona Hotelera road where you have access to the beach. My favorites are Playa Caracol and Playa Delfines.
Take a food and art tour
A new recently created tour that will take you around the most amazing and authentic Mexican food that you can find in Cancun and the awesome murals painted on Cancun buildings to revive an aged neighborhood.
Visit Isla Mujeres
At only 30 minutes ferry boat from the Hotel Zone, where most probably your hotel is located, Isla Mujeres is a tiny island, a little overcrowded with tourists and souvenir shops, still make it a great day tour. You can either join an organized catamaran tour if you want to merge snorkeling, party and a quick peek on the island or you can go on your own and take your time to explore. There is quite a bit to see to keep you busy all day, but don’t forget to keep a few hours on the beach to admire the spectacular sunset from Playa Norte.
If you want to know more about Isla Mujeres check out this thorough post where I am sharing all its secret spots and best places to see and stay (if you wish to spend a couple of days on the island)
Take a trip to Valladolid
The nearest colonial city that will connect you with the local culture to understand what Mexico is about. Unfortunately, although so beautiful, Cancun won’t show you exactly what Mexico is. If you stay in Cancun and you don’t explore around it’s like you haven’t been to Mexico.
Go see the jaw-dropping pink lakes of Las Coloradas
Located at about 3 hours drive from Cancun, these spectacular lakes are indeed pink, it’s not a photoshop trick, although some of the Instagram photos are a little too saturated, they do serve the purpose.
You cannot swim in the lakes of course. They are part of a salt factory that’s been there for ages.
The trip is certainly worth the three hours drive and you can add a visit to the biosphere of Rio Lagartos and a stop at the spectacular archeological site of Ek Balam.
Visit Isla Holbox
Holbox is a spectacular island at only a couple of hours from Cancun. Actually, Cancun Holbox by car is about 2 hrs and 30 minutes but if you by bus you would need about 3h.30 minutes. I know, it’s a lot of time to go in one day, and if you ask me, I am telling you it’s not worth it. Holbox is a spectacular island with white sand deserted beaches and turquoise water, where there are no cars and people move around by bike or golf cart. It’s much less developed and chaotic than Isla Mujeres and with more authentic vibes. In this complete guide on Holbox, I will tell you all about it. However, if you don’t have enough time to spend a few days in that paradise, you might want to join an organized tour that will make your 1-day visit totally worth it.
Rent a car and drive around the Yucatan Peninsula
Driving around the Yucatan Peninsula is super safe and easy. It will give you the freedom to check out gorgeous hidden spots off the beaten path and also move at your own pace, change the itinerary, and spend more time where you feel like it. You don’t even have to book your stay in advance. Just go with the flow, which is my favorite way to travel. Check out my 15 days itinerary around the Yucatan Peninsula to have an idea of a possible road trip.
Check out the amazing cenotes
You don’t need to go that far to see a cenote from Cancun. There aren’t any in Cancun, or at least there haven’t been discovered. The closest ones are in Puerto Morelos, in the Ruta de los cenotes, a road that goes from the coast towards the inland and it’s lined with amazing cenotes, most of them open but some amazing cave cenotes too. if you don’t feel like driving you can hire a driver and arranged a return trip.
Take a day trip to Tulum
You cannot miss the Tulum archeological site and the boho-chic hotel zone of Tulum if you are in the Yucatan peninsula. It’s a must. The archeological site is a jewel and the only Mayan ruins built on the sea. The view of the Mayan temple with the turquoise waters as a backdrop is a postcard-worthy picture. And then you can take a dip in the beautiful sea and spend the rest of the day on the spectacular beach, maybe by one of the local beach clubs and restaurants on the beach. I recommend Cinco Tulum. for a moderate cost, you can have a great meal and use the beach facilities. Read my post on how to get from Cancun to Tulum if you wish to go on your own. Otherwise, you can book a tour where they take you to the ruins with a certified guide and make other stops in the meantime. It’s a great way to optimize time and see more in one day and with a certified guide included.
Organized tour options to Tulum from Cancun
- Coba, Cenote, Tulum and Playa del Carmen in one day
- Tulum Ruins and Cenote Dos Ojos
- Tulum Ruins, Coba’ Ruins and Mayan Village and cenote
Be reminded that you can cancel up to 24 hours before your activity starts for a full refund.
Spend a day in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is the notorious party town of the Riviera Maya, but besides party, you can stroll along the famous 5 Avenida for some shopping and nice restaurants, and relax at the beach for a nice swim in the tranquil azure sea.
You can easily get to Playa del Carmen from Cancun on your own by bus, but if you feel more comfortable you can check out taxi rates. They should be around 1000 MXN one way. (about 50 USD)[mailerlite_form form_id=1]
Take a trip to Chichen-itza
Although it’s now packed with vendors which in my opinion spoil the magic of this sacred place, it’s still one of the world’s seven wonders and if you haven’t been there you should see Chichen-Itza at least once in your life. If you read my previous suggestions and you are on a road trip around Yucatan you should squeeze it in. Otherwise, there are tours from Cancun that will take you there with a certified guide and will stop in some cenotes. Although to be really honest, I think you should go on a tour only if you don’t have any other options. The best way to visit Chichen-Itza is early morning when the big groups haven’t arrived yet. If you stay in Piste’ (the nearest town) or in Valladolid the night before and then get to the site by 8 you will be able to see it in its magic atmosphere and appreciate it more.
However, if you don’t have enough time you can join an organized tour, which has the advantages of a certified guide to offer some great information, and you don’t have to think about the logistics because everything is already organized for you.
Chichen-Itza organized tours from Cancun
- Chichén Itzá, Ik Kil Cenote & Valladolid All-Inclusive Tour
- Chichen Itza, Ik Kil Cenote and Valladolid with Lunch
- GetYourGuide Exclusive: Chichen Itza Sunrise with Lunch
- Cancun: Chichén Itzá, Valladolid and Hubiku Cenote Day-Trip
Do you think I have missed anything? Please do tell! I look forward to hearing back from you.