Cancun is well known as a beach destination, and travelers looking for sun, sand and relaxation will find lots to enjoy, but don't stop there: there's plenty more to see and do beyond the beach. There are many options for day trips from Cancun to visit nearby parks, archaeological sites, and other attractions, but if you don't want to venture too far away, here are some fun things to do in and around the city.
Cancun has such gorgeous beaches that even people who aren't beach lovers will want to spend at least some time appreciating the powdery white sand and beautiful blue water. Besides taking a dip in the ocean, walking along the beach and catching some rays, there are other ways to enjoy the beach, such as flying above it in a parasail, exploring the world below the surface while snorkeling, or zipping along it on a banana boat or jet ski.
The hotel zone is lined with 14 miles of gorgeous beaches, and if you're staying in a beachfront hotel, just head outside and enjoy. If your hotel doesn't have a beach, Mandala Beach Club is a great spot to spend a day — grab a lounger and order some drinks or a meal from the friendly waiters. If you're on a budget, head to Playa Delfines, Cancun's most instagrammable public beach (the oversized letters spelling Cancun are here) with beautiful views and lifeguards on duty, well maintained restrooms, but no restaurants or hotels — bring a picnic! Always check the color of the beach flags for safety conditions before entering the water.
What is a vacation for if not to relax, and what better way to do that than with a pampering spa treatment? Whether you decide on a massage, chocolate wrap, body scrub, or a traditional Mexican spa experience like a temazcal, it's the perfect way to unwind and feel pampered during your holiday. Mayan-themed Xbalmque Spa in downtown Cancun offers these treatments and more in a tranquil atmosphere and at lower prices than what you'll find in the hotel zone.
Sample Mexican Food on a Food Tour
Cancun has its share of gourmet restaurants but if you want to sample some traditional Mexican fare, and learn more about the Cancun that locals experience, you may want to get away from the hotel zone and eat where the locals eat. A great way to do that is with a food tour. Eat Mexico offers street and market food tours so that you can sample and learn about the some Mexican dishes that may not be on the menus of the upscale restaurants in town, but are absolutely delicious.
Explore Ancient Sites
Get some insight into what this place used to be like by visiting some ancient Maya sites. The most well known archaeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula such as Chichen Itza and Tulum can be visited on day trips from Cancun, but there are a couple of sites that are located in the hotel zone that you can easily visit in an hour or two. El Rey is located at the southern end of the zone, and San Miguelito is on the grounds of the Maya Museum, which is also worth a visit to learn about the Maya civilization that lived here.
Even if you've never been at the helm of a boat before, you can enjoy steering a speedboat through the Nichupte Lagoon. This body of water separates the hotel zone from the mainland and is one of the best spots in the destination to see wildlife and the mangrove jungle. Jungle Tour Cancun offers a special experience allowing you to navigate a speedboat through the lagoon and also do some snorkeling at Punta Nizuc.
Learn to Scuba Dive
If you've always wanted to try diving but haven't gotten around to getting certified, your Cancun vacation is a great time to do it. You'll start with some instruction in a pool before doing an easy ocean dive. Cancun Scuba Center offers a PADI Open-water certification course. If you're already a certified diver, you'll find lots of opportunities for exploring the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest coral reef in the world, as well as cenotes and other dive sites in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Speaking of dive sites, a unique one to visit in Cancun is the Museo Subacuático de Arte — Cancun's underwater museum. In 2009, museum organizers invited British artist Jason deCaires Taylor to create sculptures that would rest at the bottom of the sea that divers could enjoy. The sculptures are made of materials that encourage the growth of natural coral and help to replenish the habitat of tropical marine life. Over the years, the works of art are evolving as the coral grows on and around them.
The Nichupte Lagoon is home to crocodiles and on occasion these need to be moved when they get a bit too close to where there are people. Croco Cun Zoo rescues these crocodiles and other animals and cares for them while also teaching people about these animals. A visit to this zoo, which is located just south of Cancun in Puerto Morelos, will give you the chance to get up close to these animals and learn some interesting facts about them.
Whale sharks, the world's biggest fish, are impressive creatures especially when seen up close. They are carnivores, but actually only eat plankton, so they're not a threat to people. Swimming next to one of these giant creatures is an incredible experience. They feed off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula between May and September, and you can join an expedition to swim alongside them from several operators in Cancun, though we recommend heading out with Solo Buceo.
The Yucatan Peninsula has a unique geological profile creating a network of underground rivers and caves, as well as cenotes. One of the best ways to explore these natural formations is on an excursion through the Rio Secreto. Here you can experience a unique guided cave tour where you'll walk, wade, and swim along paths that wind through rocky natural formations and breathtaking underground caverns.
Shop for Souvenirs
Whether you're looking for designer brands or if you would like to pick up some Mexican handicrafts, a bottle of tequila, or keychains, T-shirts and refrigerator magnets, there's an option for you in Cancun. For upscale shopping, head to Luxury Avenue, or one of the other malls such as La Isla, which also has wonderful sunset views, if you'd like to pick up some handicrafts, Mercado 28 in Downtown Cancun is a good bet, especially if you like haggling.
Party the Night Away
Cancun is notorious for its nightlife, and there are options for most anyone. The famous nightclub Coco Bongo has performances by acrobats, magicians and celebrity impersonators, and an evening here will include soap bubbles, confetti and balloons Those looking for a little less wild and crazy but still impressive nighttime show should check out Joyá, the Cirque du Soleil show in Cancun. And if you're wanting to learn something about Mexican culture, consider a visit to Xoximilco, Cancun's take on the iconic floating gardens of Mexico City.