There are many things to do in Cancun, including the beautiful Caribbean beaches, Mayan ruins, and lively party scene. Cancun, the main point of arrival for most visitors to the Yucatan Peninsula, and its sprawling resorts make it an ideal base to explore the region. We’ve compiled this list of 20 must-see things in Cancun after using Cancun for many Yucatan adventures.
Mobile data is essential for research and navigation, as it is in most countries. There are many options at Cancun Airport. We found Telcel to offer the best coverage while we traveled. Pre-order your Telcel sim card online to save time and avoid waiting at the airport.
Cancun: Where to Stay
There are many hotels in Cancun, from all-inclusive resorts on the beaches to convenient airport hotels.
Hard Rock Hotel Cancun is a top-rated all-inclusive hotel in Cancun. It boasts 5 restaurants on the premises, numerous amenities, and beautiful pools. This is a great place to relax and take in all the sights of Cancun.
Renaissance Cancun Resort & Marina – This hotel is a great non-resort option. It’s located in the more modern part of the hotel zone (Puerto Cancun), and offers beautiful views over the bay and marina. The mall is home to many shops and restaurants.
1 | Isla Mujeres
It is only a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun to the tiny Caribbean island Isla Mujeres. This is a popular day trip from Cancun’s sprawling resorts. A catamaran trip that includes drinks, dancing, snorkelling, and time on Isla Mujeres is another popular option.
Playa Norte is a beautiful beach at the northern tip of Isla Mujeres. Playa Norte is surrounded by restaurants, beach bars, and even a yoga treehouse. This is why it’s one of our favorite things to do in Isla Mujeres.
There is also a Turtle Sanctuary on the Island and small Mayan ruins that can be found along Punta Sur’s rugged coastline. The MUSA Underwater Museum has a life-sized underwater world that is perfect for snorkelling and shallow diving.
For more information on getting to Isla Mujeres, check out our complete guide.
Playa Delfines and the Cancun Sign Selfie
Playa Delfines is one of Cancun’s best public beaches. You can dip your toes in the turquoise waters of Playa Delfines. This beach is a great alternative to Cancun’s beach clubs. You will find street vendors and shaded palapas, as well as a massage shack offering great massages for a fair price. There is also a playground available for children.
You should also stop by the Cancun sign, which is located next to the beach.
3 | El Meco Ruins
Just north of Cancun’s downtown, you will find the El Meco Ruins. This well-preserved site dates back to 200 AD, when it was a small fishing village. El Meco is a great place to see Mayan ruins, without having to leave Cancun.
El Castillo, a 40-foot tall pyramid is located in El Meco. El Castillo, the tallest archaic structure in Cancun, offers breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea, Isla Mujeres, and the surrounding area. It’s possible to have El Meco to yourself, as the site is quite far from tourist areas in Cancun. You might not have to be alone, though. The iguanas that live in the ruins are a lot of fun to see!
Check out our guide to the best Mayan Ruins near Cancun if you’re interested in visiting more archaeological sites.
Sail around Cancun
There are many fun boat tours in Cancun, from romantic dinner cruises to all-day party boats and pirate-themed adventures. These are our favorites:
Jolly Roger Pirate Show is a family-friendly show that takes place on a real pirate ship. As guests board the giant galleon boat, pirates greet them.
Isla Mujeres Catamaran – Travel to Isla Mujeres with style This adventure includes snorkelling, lunch and drinks as well as time spent in Isla Mujeres.
5 | Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza, the most well-known sight in Yucatan is about a 2.5-hour drive from Cancun. It is definitely worth a day trip.
The instantly recognisable Mayan ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. The magnificent El Castillo Pyramid in Chichen Itza and the impressive Temple of Warriors are two of the highlights of Chichen Itza. The Great Ballcourt is another highlight. It houses a Mayan-style basketball game that saw the winner beheaded. There are carvings depicting the execution and rules.
MUSA Underwater Museum
500 sculptures are found along the seabed in the waters around Cancun and Isla Mujeres, at the MUSA Underwater Museum. These life-size sculptures were created to counteract climate change’s impact on the oceans, reefs, and beaches around Cancun.
You can reach the incredible sculptures by either snorkelling, or diving.
Snorkelling: The four-metre deep, snorkeling friendly Punta Nizuc is found at the southern tip in the Cancun Hotel Zone.
Scuba Diving: The sculptures at Manchones Gallery are located south of Isla Mujeres and can be viewed at depths of 30 feet. MUSA offers scuba driving tours that are open to all guests, even those without certification.
6 | Tulum
Tulum, a mix of quaint beach town and hip party spot, is only 2 hours from Cancun. Exploring Tulum is a highlight of any Yucatan itinerary. It has pristine beaches and Mayan ruins. Tulum can be reached in a day from Cancun. If you book a tour, it can also include a visit at another Riviera Maya site. This Tulum tour includes Cenote Dos Ojos which is one of the most visited cenotes in Tulum.
The 13th Century Tulum ruins, perched on a cliff edge, are among the most remarkable Mayan ruins in Cancun.
The Beach Road is where most of Tulum’s action takes place. At the south end of Beach Road are some stunning resorts that can be accessed via their day-beach clubs. Playa Paraiso is Tulum’s most popular public beach. This side is more laid back. The south beach road boasts the most Instagram-worthy spots in Tulum, including Matcha Mama, an extravagant resort entrance, and a Follow that Dream sign.
Another must-do in Tulum is a swim in a cenote. Cenote Zacil Ha and Cenote Dos Ojos are our favorite cenotes in Tulum.
Swim in a Cenote
Near Cancun, there are amazing cenotes. These swimming holes have clear water. Ruta de Los Cenotes is an excellent option, and is located near Puerto Morales. There are more than 10 cenotes along the 20km stretch of road that runs close to Puerto Morales. Cenote Las Mojarras is our favorite cenote, with its ziplines and diving platform.
Cenote Azul is one of the most popular Playa Del Carmen Cenotes. It offers shallow waters and an open swimming area. Cenote Zacil Ha and Gran Cenote, Cenote Carwash, Casa Cenote, Cenote Carwash, Cenote Carwash, Cenote Carwash, and Cenote Carwash are just a few of the many open-air cenotes that can be found near Tulum. Cancun’s most popular day trip destinations are Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Many visitors combine them with a stop at a cenote.
8 | Maya Museum & San Miguelito Ruins
The San Miguelito Ruins are located in the Hotel Zone, not far from Playa Delfines. They share a site with the Maya Museum. San Miguelito is a museum that preserves Mayan artifacts from different Mayan archaeological sites. It dates back to the 13th Century.
9 | Playa Tortugas
Popular swimming beach located in the hotel area. It has calm waters, open-air restaurants and lots more water sports.
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere, a tropical paradise just south of Tulum, is a remote jungle that’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. Si’an Khan is home to quiet beaches, Mayan ruins and a coral reef. Crocodiles can even be seen sunbathing along the mangrove canals.
There are many great shopping options in Cancun: Mercado 28 and La Isla shopping village are two of our favorites. You will find amazing shops, entertainment, and dining at Plaza La Isla, which is situated in the middle of the hotel area.
Mercado 28, a lively shopping market in the heart of Madrid, is a great place to find souvenirs and local goods.
12 | Cozumel
Cozumel is a popular destination for snorkelling, diving, and other activities. It’s just a short ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen. You can also explore the turquoise waters of Cozumel by taking a ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen. There are also beautiful Punta Sur Ecological Park, Playa Mia Grand Beach Park, and the Mayan Bee Sanctuary, which is home the stingless Melipona honey bee. If you’re looking to explore Cozumel, it’s fun to rent an open-top Jeep Wrangler.
13 | Akumal
Akumal, also known as “the place of turtles”, is a peaceful beach town between Tulum und Playa Del Carmen. It is located 90 minutes south from Cancun.
Akumal is the perfect Riviera Maya getaway. Although it has stunning white sand beaches, warm Caribbean waters and a coral reef home to resident turtles, most day-trippers from Cancun flock to Akumal.
A 40-minute speedboat ride takes you to Isla Contoy, a tiny Caribbean island. Isla Contoy, a paradise for snorkeling, is home to the Mesoamerican Barrier reef. This coral reef stretches all the length of Honduras. You can combine your trip to Isla Mujeres with Isla Contoy.
For stunning views, climb the 65-foot watchtower while you are on Isla Contoy. Isla Contoy, which is also a designated National Park, is protected. It is home to more than 170 bird species and is 70% covered by mangrove forest. The island is only accessible to 200 people at a time.
Holbox is a great choice if you’re looking for a place to stay overnight away from Cancun. Although it takes some extra effort to reach Holbox, the turquoise waters and relaxed island vibes make it a great overnight escape from Cancun.
Isla Holbox retains a unique charm that is difficult to find on the busy Yucatan Peninsula. There are many things to do in Holbox. The beaches of Playa Holbox, Punta Cocos and Punta Mosquito are the most popular. Another highlight is the walk along the sandbar to Punta Mosquito. You can also check out the street art and flamingos on Holbox’s beaches. Also, you can catch the famous Holbox sunset from its pier.
Ek Balam, 2 hours west from Cancun, is one of the most fascinating and least visited ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula. It once housed almost 20,000 people. The Acropolis, a magnificent 6-level structure, is the main attraction.
Cenote Xcanche is the Ek Balam Cenote. It’s a beautiful open cenote that offers swimming, zip-lining, swing jumps, and waterfalls. You will need a separate ticket to access it. It is located in Ek Balam Archaeological Zone.
17 | Valladolid
Day trips from Cancun and Chichen Itza often include Valladolid, a charming and lively city. Our favourite spots are the colourful cobbled streets of Valladolid, Plaza e Parque Francisco Canton and Valladolid’s main square, as well as the 16th Century Convent San Bernardino de Siena.
Coba is located approximately 2 hours from Cancun. It is one of the most significant Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula. Although the site contains over 5,000 structures, only three settlements can be explored. Climbing the 120 steps up to the top the 137-foot tall Nochoch Mul pyramid is one of the most memorable experiences in Coba. It is a stunning view of the lagoon and jungle surrounding.
Three cenotes are located near the entrance to Coba Ruins: Cenote Choo-Ha (Tamcach-Ha), Multum-Ha (Multum-Ha) are small underground cenotes that are ideal for refreshing your swim after exploring the amazing jungle ruins.
Cancun’s vibrant nightlife is well-known and offers many opportunities to party hard. There are many options for partying:
Coco Bongo, the ever-popular dance troupe, has a Vegas-style mix of acrobats, dancers, and djs.
The City is Latin America’s largest nightclub and hosts DJs from all over the globe.
Senor Frogs is a Cancun institution. This vibrant, low-key bar features sawdust on its floor, humorous signs decorating the walls, and large-sized cocktails that are the drink choice. There’s nothing better!
Xcaret Eco Park
A few miles from Playa Del Carmen is the Xcaret Eco Park, which is one of the most popular things to do in Riviera Maya. Xcaret offers a unique mix of a waterpark, cultural attractions and thrilling adventures, as well as stunning nature. There are many fun activities to do in the lush jungle surrounding Xcaret. These include boat trips along a river, an aquarium, a butterfly park, and three underground rivers. A spectacular evening show, a Mexican cemetery, and reenactments from the traditional Mayan ballgame are some of the cultural attractions.