Cancun has become famous all across the world as one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico. And a quick glimpse at the beaches will tell you exactly why that is!
Those picture-perfect beaches you’ve been dreaming of? Cancun’s beaches aren’t too far from this.
Cancun has over 13 miles of coastline to explore, made up of stunning white-sand beaches perfect for spending the day on. Venture into the turquoise sea and you’ll discover the second largest reef in the world.
Metres from the beach, you’ll find countless luxury resorts offering beach clubs and bars. The perfect oasis to escape all your worries.
There are so many restaurants, bars, clubs and shops all around Cancun that it’s virtually impossible to get through them all.
In a way Cancun has formed its own bubble. It has everything you could possibly need. Exactly the reason why the majority of the travellers spend their entire trip to Mexico in Cancun.
#1 Spend the day on one of Cancun’s beautiful beaches
With 13 miles of coastline, there are plenty of beaches to explore in Cancun. For most visitors, a beach holiday is exactly what they came for. So why wouldn’t you start spending your first day lounging on the beach?
Pretty much wherever you go along The Hotel Zone beachfront you’ll find a nice beach, but here are our three favourites:
Playa Forum – is a long stretch of perfect white sand just behind the popular club Coco Bongo. The beach is backed by lots of restaurants and hotels.
Playa Delfines – is one of the longest beaches in Cancun, but unfortunately due to the current swimming isn’t advised. It’s still a nice beach to lounge on and paddle your feet.
Playa Tortugas – one of the safest places to swim around Cancun thanks to the calm ocean. It’s perfect for families with small kids.
#2 Party the night (or day) away on the strip in Cancun
It wouldn’t be a real Cancun guide, if we didn’t include nightlife at the start of this guide.
Cancun is known worldwide for its crazy nightlife, particularly around Spring Break when thousands of American’s descend on the city. The city is well and truly prepared for these party-goers with its huge choice of bars and big clubs.
If a party is what you’re looking for then head to the Punta Cancun area of The Hotel Zone. Here you won’t be able to walk 5 feet without being hounded by a club promoter with unbeatable deals.
Where should you go?
A popular choice in Cancun is Coco Bongo (there’s also a Coco Bongo in Playa del Carmen). In the club it’s more than just a party, it’s an experience. There are acrobats hanging from the ceiling, performances and musical tributes.
A busy and great place to start your night is Botanero Nacional. Everything is 21 MXN ($1)! The perfect place to pre-drink, but it’s hard not to get too carried away.
#3 Snorkel around the second largest reef in the world
When you’ve finished rejuvenating on Cancun’s white sand beaches and are looking for something more active besides partying the night away, we’ve got you covered!
To start with, Cancun is one of the best places to go snorkelling in Mexico. Just off the coast you’ll find the Mesoamerican reef, which is the second largest reef in the world. You’ll find a thriving underwater world that will undoubtedly wow you.
One of the best places to go snorkelling in Cancun is Punta Nizuc. As the resorts in front of the area make it difficult to reach the snorkelling point, you’ll have to join a tour. One of the recommended organizations is Aquaworld. Which provides amazing snorkelling trips, with over 30 years of experience taking people out to Cancun’s reef.
PRO TIP: If you don’t mind travelling a bit further from Cancun, then head to Puerto Morelos. Only 12 miles south of Cancun, the reef is closer to shore and the conditions are perfect! You may even spot sea turtles, rays and barracuda here.
Another ideal place to snorkel is amongst Cancuns’ underwater museums which can be found at 3 different locations. You can find out more about this in the point below!
Also check out our compact Cancun Guide for the best areas to stay, restaurants you don’t want to miss and many more tips for your visit to Cancun!
#4 Dive or snorkel at Cancun’s Underwater Museums
Punta Nizuc doesn’t just provide a perfect opportunity to explore the reef, it’s also home to one of Cancun’s underwater museums. Here you’ll find a selection of artist’s sculptures that have been submerged underwater, ready for snorkelers to explore.
This particular one has 33 sculptures only 2-4 metres deep, making snorkelling an ideal way to view them.
If you’re an avid diver then you should head to the Manchones reef situated around the coast of the nearby Isla Mujeres. This museum has more than 450 sculptures submerged at a depth of 8.5 to 10 metres. It’s also possible to snorkel here, but to really admire the sculptures, diving is the best way.
Punta Sam Gallery in Cancun is another option, but this museum only has 2 sculptural sets at 3.5 metres.
Did you know that each of the scenes are sculpted from coral-friendly materials? They actually facilitate coral growth and have now become home to a variety of sea life.
#5 Take a day trip to Isla Mujeres
Going to Isla Mujeres is a must if you’re staying in Cancun. It’s a small island 13km off the coast from Cancun and only a 30-minute ferry ride away.
Isla Mujeres is the epitome of paradise, with its white-sand beaches and crystal-blue seas. It’s a great place to go snorkelling thanks to the great visibility and underwater museum.
Once you’re done lounging on the famous Playa Norte beach, you can grab a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants and bars on the island. Or simply peruse through the souvenir and clothes shops.
We’d recommend staying a night or two on Isla Mujeres. Whether you’re there for 1 or 3 days, a great way to explore the island, is to hire a golf cart.
#6 Spend the day exploring one of the 50 activities at Xcaret Park
Situated 1 hour from Cancun, Xcaret is one of the largest theme parks in Mexico. The park attracts over 1 million visitors each year, and covers over 250 acres with around 40 attractions.
As this is a lot to cover in a day, a lot of people opt for a multi-pass to keep coming back for more fun.
How to spend your day at Xcaret Park?
Xcaret lets you get a taste of Mexico all in one go through its large number of attractions. You can visit Mayan towns, churches, explore archaeological sites, see a traditional Mexican cemetery and even taste some Mexican wine. And that’s only a few of the things available.
One of the most popular activities is swimming in one of the three underground rivers. You can explore the maze of caves and tunnels, only lit by natural light from air vents. You’ll see coral formations fossilised millions of years ago!
Nature lovers can spend their time either at the butterfly farm, aviary or coral reef aquarium.
There are a number of packages starting at $100 that can be purchased online via the Xcaret site.
#7 Visit Chichen Itza, one of the new 7 Wonders of the World
Want to tick off one of the new 7 Wonders of the World?
Chichen Itza receives over 2.5 million visitors every year, each one eager to explore the Mayan complex dating back to 600 AD. The complex of Chichen Itza offers a total of 26 Mayan ruins, with El Castillo taking centre stage as the main pyramid of the complex.
Chichen Itza is about 2.5 hour drive from Cancun which makes it perfect to visit as a day trip. To get the most out of your day, you can also visit the colonial town Valladolid and end the afternoon with a refreshing swim in a nearby cenote.
The easiest way to visit the Chichen Itza from Cancun would be to join this tour. For only $28. You will get to experience a super fun 12-hour day that includes:
visit to Valladolid
swim at a secret cenote
During the day you’ll also get to enjoy a free lunch meal, and be accompanied by a knowledgeable guide who can tell you everything you want to know about Mayan history.
Where’s the best place to visit Chichen Itza from?
If you’re planning on visiting multiple destinations along the east coast of Mexico, then you’ll get more choices of where to visit Chichen Itza from.
Here are the distances and prices for the best tours from 3 of the main destinations along the Riviera Maya:
(Chichen Itza entrance fee of $30 is not included in tour price)
PRO TIP: If you’re visiting Chichen Itza, use it as an opportunity to also explore some of the nearby cenotes. Cenote Ik-kil is only a 8 minute drive from Chichen Itza, and is a stunning underground pool of water surrounded by hanging vines and vegetation.
#8 Explore the many cenotes in Yucatan
If you don’t already know, cenotes are essentially a sinkhole that results from the collapse of the bedrock exposing groundwater. And they’re beautiful!
Yucatan, the peninsula where Cancun is situated, is full of them! To visit the best cenotes you may have to travel further afield to places like Valladolid, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
Cenotes in Valladolid
2 hours away from Cancun is Valladolid, a small colonial city surrounded by cenotes. Cenote Zaci is popular with locals as it’s within the city centre and super cheap. It acts like a fancy community swimming pool.
Both Tulum and Playa del Carmen have a wide selection of cave cenotes and open-air ones, giving you a variety of options to visit.
You can reach Playa del Carmen by car in 45 minutes and Tulum in 1.5-2 hours from Cancun.
Our top 3 favourites are Gran Cenote, Cenote Azul and Cenote Dos Ojos. Only have time to visit one? We recommend the Gran Cenote for the chance to swim in some crystal clear waters with lots of turtles.
If you want to buy something to remember Cancun, then Mercado 28 in Downtown Cancun is the place to go.
The market has over 600 vendors selling all sorts – jewellery, souvenirs, paintings, clothes. You name it, someone will be selling it there.
Make sure to haggle for anything you try to buy. They’ll want to make you pay the tourist price, so stand your ground!
#13 Go on a crazy adventure ziplining through the jungle
An adrenaline-filled activity close to Cancun is ziplining at Selvatica.
The park has 10 world-class zip lines for you to fly through the jungle. By the end of the day you’ll understand what it feels like to be as free as a bird.
That’s not where the fun stops though! Selvatica has a unique ‘human rollercoaster’ style zipline called Tarzania. If you like rollercoasters, you’ll love this ride. Though it’s slightly different, you’re the roller coaster car this time!
If you opt to join a tour to Selvatica you’ll also get to hop in a safari truck and visit a private cenote for a swim. The perfect way to relax from your thrilling day. The tour lasts 3.5 hours and costs 1,748 MXN ($87).
#14 Volunteer with animals at Tierra de Animales
If you’re an animal lover or just missing your furry friend at home then you can head over to Tierra de Animales, an animal rescue centre.
The centre rescues, protects and cares for animals in need. They have more than 500 animals, including 250+ dogs, horses, bulls, cows, sheeps, turtles, goats plus many more.
Situated just behind the Hotel Zone, and covering over 3,000 hectares is Nichupte Lagoon. The mangrove ecosystem that thrives within the lagoon has become home to a variety of animal species.
The lagoon is the perfect chance to escape the concrete jungle of Cancun for a while. Two of the best ways to explore the lagoon are by kayak, paddleboard or a boat tour.
#16 Explore Coba’s Mayan ruins
Coba ruins are some of the biggest in Yucatan, covering over 80km².
These ruins aren’t as busy as some of the others in Mexico, making them even more enjoyable to visit. Set amongst the jungle, you can explore the large network of stone streets which connect the pyramids and structures within the site.
A big draw of Coba used to be that you were able to climb the pyramids, something you can’t do at others such as Chichen Itza.
Covid-update: Unfortunately due to COVID, climbing the pyramids is currently suspended.
Coba is a little over a 2-hour drive away from Cancun. If you rather join a tour then driving yourself, you can combine Chichen Itza, Cenote Ik-Kil and Coba all in one day! It’s a busy day, but a great way to tick everything off your list, plus have everything organised for you.
If your trip to Mexico involves a stay in Tulum, then it may be better to visit Coba from Tulum rather than Cancun, as it’s much closer.
#17 Discover the pink lakes of Las Coloradas
Las Coloradas is potentially more than just a day trip as it’s a 3-hour drive away from Cancun, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Las Coloradas aren’t just any kind of lakes, they’re pink and stunningly beautiful! You may be wondering how they’ve developed to be this colour.
The pink colour is due to the abundance of red and pink marine life in the lake such as red algae, brine shrimp and plankton.
You won’t be able to swim in the lakes, but they’re a sight to see. Then once you’re done you can explore the 150,000 acres of wetland that the lakes are set within. If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a glimpse of some flamingos, crocodiles, birds and jaguars.
Joining a tour to Las Coloradas which also includes a visit to cenote Hubiku is one of the easiest ways to visit the pink lakes from Cancun.
Resorts in Cancun can cost you a bomb! Sina Suites gives you that resort-style feel without the high prices. Ever wanted your own private marina in a hotel? Now you probably do, and Sina Suites has one. It also has a large swimming pool set amongst gardens that overlook the lagoon.
You can enjoy a continental breakfast and delicious Mexican food in their poolside restaurant and bar that sits underneath a traditional thatched hut!
You’ll also get more than just a room, most suites also offer a kitchenette and balcony.
Viento Suites is somewhat of an escape from the busy and hectic cancun. Once you’re inside the walls of the hotel, chilling in the garden beside the swimming pool, you’ll forget about the outside world.
The location couldn’t be more perfect. It’s situated within Downtown Cancun but also very close to the Hotel Zone and beaches. The rooms look like those from a high-class hotel, but without the extortionate prices.
Looking for a unique sleeping experience? The Yellow Capsule Hotel will definitely give you that. Instead of traditional rooms, you’ll get to sleep in a pod. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the future when you clamber into your bright and spacious pod.
The capsules are clean and include everything you need for a comfy stay, a mirror, outlets, a safe and storage space. When you’re done hangin around in your pod, you can chill at the hotel's terrace and enjoy their free breakfast.
If you prefer a homely feel compared to hotels then definitely stay at Estancia. The owners will instantly make you feel welcome and are always there to offer advice.
The homestay offers a very convenient location, close to the local markets and not too far from the ADO bus station. The rooms are clean and spacious, plus a steal for their price. If you fancy doing some cooking whilst in Cancun, you can make use of the communal kitchen.