Ideas for Day Trips from Cancun, Mexico

Cancun welcomes millions of visitors every year, including huge numbers of families who stay at all inclusive or other resorts in the 25-kilometer Hotel Zone. Below are eight fun day trips for families staying at a Cancun or Mayan Riviera resort.

  • 01 of 09

    Swim with Whale Sharks

    Photo courtesy of Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau.
    Photo courtesy of Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau.

    Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, yet they feed on the sea's tiniest creatures such as microscopic plankton. Forget any image of scary shark jaws: whale sharks are filter feeders, and humans can safely swim among these gentle giants. Whale sharks congregate off the shores of Cancun from June to mid-September, and many companies offer excursions. Many tours head out past Isla Mujeres to find the whale sharks; expect a boat ride of an hour or more.

  • 02 of 09
    Ferry dock at Isla Mujeres. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    Here's an easy excursion from Cancun that can be budget-friendly too: families can take a twenty-minute boat ride on a local ferry and enjoy a laid-back day on the beautiful small island of Isla Mujeres. Eat at a beach restaurant, have a swim, browse in local shops. Visitors can also rent a golf cart and explore more of the island.

  • 03 of 09
    Garrafon Natural Reef Park. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    Garrafon Natural Reef Park -- at the south end of Isla Mujeres -- is mainly about activities: zip-lining, snorkeling in a designated area, kayaking. Admission is sold as a package that includes meals, drinks, and certain activities.

  • 04 of 09
    Xcaret - Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    Xcaret "eco archaeological" theme park is a popular attraction south of Cancun in the Riviera Maya, about an hour's drive from the Cancun Hotel Zone. Don't miss the amazing night-time show. Other highlights include an underground river float, a re-created Mayan Village, and daytime performances. Plan to spend the whole day at Xcaret; the restaurants are excellent are families can find places to rest and relax.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09
    El Castillo, at Chichen Itza. Photo courtesy of Mexico Tourism.
    El Castillo, at Chichen Itza. Photo courtesy of Mexico Tourism.

    Chichen Itza is well-known place for seeing Mayan ruins. Families should note, however, that the drive from Cancun takes about 2-1/2 hours. A day outing means hours of travel plus touring the grounds in the mid-day heat -- perhaps not the best choice with young kids, but plenty of families do enjoy this day-trip. Try to include a visit to a cenote during your day-trip, to cool down with a swim.

  • 06 of 09
    Mayan ruins by the sea at Tulum. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    Tulum is another place to see Mayan ruins, located down the coast at the south end of the Mayan Riviera, about an hour and a half drive from Cancun. Tulum is the only place to see Mayan ruins right by the sea, and the setting is beautiful. Take a tour with one of the knowledgeable trained Guides and learn about Mayan history. Tulum is a large site; after walking around the extensive grounds, families can walk down the steps to the beach and enjoy a swim.

  • 07 of 09
    Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, boat on the open water. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    This UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site is just south of Tulum, and makes a wonderful day-trip from Cancun. Driving time is approximately an hour and a half. Sian Ka'an's 1.3M acres include tropical forests, mangroves, and coral reef. Sian Ka'an also has Mayan temples and other ruins: centuries ago, a Mayan trading post thrived in this area. Two long canals -- one natural and one man-made -- linked the trading settlement to the open sea, and today visitors can take a relaxing river float on one of the canals.

  • 08 of 09

    Swim in a Cenote

    Cenote in the Riviera Maya. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    A great thing to do in the Riviera Maya is to have a swim in a cenote (pronounced "seh-no-tay"), a natural pool formed in limestone. The area south of Cancun offers opportunities to swim in cenotes such as the one pictured here, and in underground cenotes as well.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09
    Photo courtesy of Xel-ha.
    Photo courtesy of Xel-ha.

    Xel-Ha Eco Park is known as a spot for beautiful snorkeling. Over the years, the park has developed and visitors can now choose from many activities: biking, hiking in jungle vegetation, a lazy river, jumping from a rope into a cenote...

    Other eco-parks in the Mayan Riviera include Xplor, with ziplines, underground river rafting, cave swimming, and more; Rio Secreto underground river; Hidden Worlds, with skycycling, rappelling into a cenote, cave snorkeling, and a "zipline rollercoaster".