On the Riviera Maya, Cancun has transcended your everyday beach vacation to become one of the most sought-after tourist destinations. This status could have overwhelmed lesser cities, but for Cancun, it was all part of the plan.
The impressive Hotel Zone was structured to combine luxury and great service. Here, everything is about making your experience more memorable. Have your choice of a range of all-inclusive resorts and waterfront hotels that provide you with a private beach experience. It’s a place to unwind and relax, but there are also several fun things to do in Cancun to keep you entertained for a while.
See also: Where to Stay in Cancun
If you itch for adventure, Cancun is also well placed along the peninsula to deliver a range of wonderful outdoor adventures and Mayan history.
In this post, we'll cover:
23. Parque de las Palapas
A few steps from the bustling Avenida Tulum, Parque de las Palapas is a paved park that provides plenty of local culture. The park is a common meeting point for Cancun residents who can explore the plaza, completing with a collection of handcraft vendors before dining on street food from churros to tacos and marquesitas.
Parque de las Palapas always has a charming atmosphere thanks to live music and regular performances that occur on the stage. Kids can explore the playground, ride the carousel, or even hire small electric cars and get about on four wheels.
From the park, you can wander the famous avenue to discover many Cancun landmarks.
22. Xoximilco Cancun
Another of the Yucatan’s quasi-theme parks, instead of focusing on nature, Xoximilco Cancun is all about food and culture. The attraction is a brief drive out of Cancun and drew plenty of inspiration from Mexico City’s Xochimilco.
The park features a series of canals that bring you to a variety of islands. The area was once home to a history city, and you can explore each section on a traditional boat called a trajinera.
As you journey along the canals, sounds of mariachi bands will run through the air. The boat will stop by vendors floating on the water selling authentic eats, tequila, and beer.
21. Playa Langosta
Between downtown and the Hotel Zone, Playa Langosta is a quintessential Cancun beach. The long stretch of snow-like sand flows into the light blue sea, where soft waves crash down on the shore.
In a protected section of Cancun, the calm water is perfect for floating and watching the sky above. The beach is also prime for families thanks to the pleasant conditions along with a playground plus restrooms, showers, and ample local restaurants.
As many travelers head to Playa Mujeres or stick closer to the Hotel Zone, Playa Langosta remains without hearty crowds. You can expect some room to spread out on a beach beloved by locals.
20. Swim with Dolphins
There are multiple places to swim with dolphins in Cancun. The Interactive Aquarium is one, but for the best experience, one needs to link up with Delphinus. There are a range of options to choose from, including those suited to couples, families and even a one-on-one swim.
Delphinus offers several locations, many of which are within or close to the Hotel Zone. A popular choice is in Playa Mujeres, where you can swim with dolphins in a sanctuary in the Caribbean Sea. It’s the only one of its kind on earth that also connects to a beach. Other options include a trip to Xel-Ha Park and Puerto Morelos.
19. La Isla Shopping Village
In the middle Hotel Zone, La Isla Shopping Village is on a man-made island. The island’s main purpose is this immense mall that houses local boutiques, national brands, and international clothing lines.
The mall is the biggest in Cancun, and if you want some retail therapy or simply need a break from the sun, this is the place to go. You could spend all day jumping between the stores, browsing, and buying whatever takes your fancy, but the impressive space also features a range of Mexican and international cuisine and souvenir stores to mix things up. While you’re here, check out the village’s Ferris wheel and the Interactive Aquarium.
18. Coco Bongo Cancun
In the northern Hotel Zone, also known as Punta Cancun, is the center of the coastal city’s nightlife scene. Here, the nights start young and run all the way into the early hours. The king of the Punta Cancun’s night scene is Coco Bongo Cancun.
Far beyond your typical nightclub, Coco Bongo is an insane, live performance hall. Part circus, part club, visitors can enjoy an enthralling night packed with acrobatics, live music, bubbles, and confetti. No night is the same. Spend your time dancing to the wild beats and picking your jaw up off the floor.
17. Interactive Aquarium
Within the La Isla Shopping Village, the Interactive Aquarium sheds the usual enclosures that stand between you and the wildlife. The popular family attraction lets you jump into the action and swim alongside some of your favorite sea creatures.
The complex boasts the Aquarium Trek. This experience allows you to don what looks like a space helmet and venture down into the water for 30 minutes. You’ll be surrounded by a range of fish and rays while also having the chance to feed them.
Other interactive experiences include the opportunity to swim with dolphins. Kids will love the Interactive Zone with a series of engaging exhibits that will teach them about the natural world.
16. Mercado 28
Travelers looking to experience 21st century life in Cancun should venture into the downtown district and explore Mercado 28. The most prominent market in town, Mercado 28, features over 600 vendors selling everything under the sun.
Buses run from the Hotel Zone to downtown with great regularity, costing as little as a dollar per trip. It’s the easiest way to arrive at the market where you can peruse a vast range of handcraft goods, textiles, and clothes. Visitors should be prepared to put their haggling hats on.
Away from the Hotel Zone, the market is the perfect place to embark on a culinary adventure. Enjoy local eats at a fraction of the price.
15. Isla Contoy
An uninhabited island north of Cancun, Isla Contoy, is an unspoiled paradise. Here, the sand has no footprints and the palm trees sway along a coast without a resort in sight. The secluded beaches provide the most pleasant of beach days.
The colors will be hard to forget, but it’s the wildlife of Isla Contoy that will best capture your imagination. The island is a prime nesting ground for four types of sea turtles. Beyond the sand is a lush forest that is a haven for birds. Isla Contoy is home to over 100 bird species who flutter about the canopy.
After exploring the island, chuck on your snorkeling gear and discover the treasures beneath the surface.
14. Xcaret Park
Along the Riviera Maya, there are another of eco theme parks that blur the line between nature and a water park. Xcaret Park is the big dog and comes with a huge expanse of water and jungle activities.
You’ll want to get your hands on a map before arriving. Planning out your day will help, as the number of options can be overwhelming. Floating along the park’s underground rivers is a must do activity. Here, you can drop off your gear, snorkel or relax as you head down. Somewhat magically, your belongings will be waiting for you at the end.
Afterwards, get exploring as you visit the bird sanctuary, the coral reef aquarium, and Monkey Island. Many of the attractions can be found along the Tropical Jungle Trail.
13. Snorkel with Whale Sharks
Weighing up to 20 tons and growing to lengths of up to 40 feet, whale sharks are some of the most impressive animals on our planet. The Yucatan Peninsula receives a significant number of migrating whale sharks each summer, and Cancun is the perfect spot to depart.
The species is officially on the endangered list, making the experience even more special. Tours depart regularly between June and September from Cancun along with Isla Mujeres.
Your tour will include snorkel gear with the group split up into “swimming shifts” that will limit the number of people in the water at any time. This creates a more personal experience for those swimming without intimidating the whale sharks.
12. Mayan Museum of Cancun
Comprising a significant collection of artifacts from many archaeological sites around Mexico, the Mayan Museum of Cancun is a door into the past. The museum is split into three major exhibition halls which combine to showcase over 400 captivating relics.
A major part of the museum is its repository from the famous Chichen Itza site. While nothing beats seeing the historic complex with your own eyes, the Mayan Museum offers guests further context to what was a storied era.
From the museum, you can join a walking trail that will guide you to the nearby San Miguelito Archaeological Site. The Mayan ruins are a great complement to the indoor experience.
11. Cenote Azul
Looking south past Playa Del Carmen is another must-see destination. Cenote Azul is a scenic 90-minute drive along the Yucatan Peninsula. The result of your efforts is a front-row seat to one of the top cenotes in the region.
A cenote is essentially an underground cavern or chamber. Its freshwater filters through the limestone rocks, providing for a picturesque swim where the light bounces around the cave and through the crystal-clear water. All these qualities and more can be found at Cenote Azul.
This cenote features a collapsed cave, providing a natural swimming pool. Boardwalks guide you along the water’s edge with the jade-blue water tempting you to dive in. There are a series of pools that help spread out the crowds, but you’ll want to arrive early before the midday rush.
10. Explore Downtown Cancun
If Avenida Kukulkan is the main drag through the prominent Hotel Zone, then Avenida Tulum is the heartbeat of Downtown Cancun. Away from the tourist hubs, travelers can enjoy a more locally focused look at Cancun. Forget all-inclusive resorts. Downtown is all about markets, monuments, food, and culture.
A trip along Avenida Tulum is the perfect way to see all the above. Put on some comfortable shoes and prep for a day of people watching, jumping between authentic restaurants and visiting important landmarks. The latter including a sculpture park called Fuente de Ceviche, the government buildings, and the Monumento a la Historia.
Along the way, stop for plenty of tacos before taking a rest at Parque Las Palapas.
9. Playa Marlin
The many beachfront resorts around Cancun offer their guests a private beach experience, but some of the best beaches in town remain public. One of them is Playa Marlin.
Just south of the El Rey Ruins, Playa Marlin is a serene stretch of golden sand. Guests can rock up and hire beach gear, including umbrellas and chairs, before finding their own private patch of sand. After taking some time to bathe under the warm Mexican sun, wander down to the turquoise Caribbean Sea and play in the inviting swell.
The beach is also home to restrooms and outdoor showers to freshen up before paying a visit to one of the several nearby restaurants.
8. Torre Escenica
Within Xcaret Park, Torre Escenica is a modern landmark that can be seen around Cancun. Standing at 360 feet tall, the thin tower offers visitors unbeatable views across the city and the beautiful coastline.
There are two ways to get to the top of the Scenic Tower. Those wanting to get their steps in can take their time wandering up the steep staircase. But to keep things easy, there is a glass-encased elevator. As it goes from the base to the summit, it rotates, providing 360-degree views that improve by the second.
Those staying along the northern end of the Hotel Zone will have a lovely view of the tower at night. After dark, it lights up, forming a vibrant flower.
7. Museo Subacuatico de Arte
Directly off the southern tip of Isla Mujeres, the Museo Subacuatico de Arte (MUSA), is a different take on the classic art museum. Forget wandering a building and taking in the exhibits one by one. This museum takes the experience to another level by putting everything under water.
It began as a way to relieve pressure on the many beautiful reefs around Cancun. Today, it features over 500 pieces of art that can be seen from the comfort of a glass-bottom boat or on a scuba diving adventure.
Highlights include a submerged VW Beetle, haunting statues that rise out of the ground, the Time Bomb and the Last Supper. Coral continues to grow over the statues, bringing more and more marine life to the museum.
6. Playa Tortugas
Between Downtown Cancun and the heart of the Hotel Zone, Playa Tortugas is a popular beach backed by several sprawling resorts. The range of on-site amenities and calm water make it a great place for families with younger kids to enjoy a beach day.
The beaches in this part of Cancun are more sheltered than the windward eastern coast. This is because Isla Mujeres effectively forms a barrier, mitigating large swell and swirling winds. Swimming here is a delight and add in some shallow sections and you can see why it’s loved by locals and travelers alike.
From the beach you’ll be a short walk from waterfront restaurants for a midday feed or golden hour cocktails. Beachgoers will also have access to water sports, including SUPs and kayaks.
5. El Rey Ruins
For travelers staying in the Hotel Zone, the El Rey Ruins is one of the most accessible archaeological sites in Cancun. In the southern end, a few steps from Playa Delfines, the El Ruins date back to the middle of the 3rd century.
The impressive Mayan complex comprises over 45 buildings, including the remains of another stunning pyramid. The site was named after a mask that was excavated here. It’s believed that this artifact was dedicated to the sun god.
Aside from the pyramid, El Rey has several intriguing tombs from the 10th century. The site also has two major terraces. The first was part of a once thriving marketplace and the other was for ceremonies.
4. Explore Cancun’s Hotel Zone
Encompassing the heart of Cancun’s tourist district, the Hotel Zone provides travelers with everything they need on a silver platter. From Cancun International Airport, seemingly all roads lead here. There’s an abundance of hotels and all-inclusive resorts and there may not be an easier place to spend a vacation.
The zone is spread along the thin island, shaped like the number 7, just minutes from downtown. Avenida Kukulkan runs the length of the district connecting the south, middle, and north zones. While you’ll have no shortage of restaurants, bars, and beaches to enjoy, there’s plenty more to this part of town.
Guests can shop til they drop at La Isla Shopping Village, spend time at the Mayan Museum and play golf at Iberostar.
3. Isla Mujeres
Set eight miles off the mainland, Isla Mujeres is a quieter, yet arguably more beautiful sibling to Cancun. Travelers can take one of the regular 20-minute ferries that run from the downtown port to explore the island. But with a range of charming hotels and family-friendly resorts, it’s a breathtaking place to stay.
The island is short of four miles long and you can explore it all in a heartbeat on the back of a rented golf cart. Discover the protected western beaches, including Playa Norte that offer glass-like water and powdery white sand. Isla Mujeres is also home to the Garraton Natural Reef Park, which features some of the best snorkeling in the region.
Stick around to watch the sun fall over Downtown Cancun from one of the many laid back oceanfront bars.
2. Playa Delfines
In the southern end of the Hotel Zone, Playa Delfines is one of the most pristine beaches in town, but its tranquility is perhaps best defined by the lack of resorts compared to the streets around Punta Cancun.
The golden sand shore runs effortlessly along the coast. The effervescent sea remains shallow for some distance, making it a great place to sit and relax as the water comes in and out. For a break, head to the palapas for a waterfront cocktail.
Sun, sand, and the Caribbean Sea aren’t the only reasons to visit Playa Delfines. The beach is an Instagram hot spot thanks to its famous sign. Indulge your tourist side by taking a pick in front of the prismatic Cancun sign.
1. Chichen Itza
Around three hours west of Cancun, is a day trip not to be missed. Visiting Chichen Itza promises to be the highlight of your historical experiences in Cancun. Rise early to begin the road trip that guides you through the countryside to one of the most renowned archaeological sites on the American continent.
The oldest building in the exceptional complex dates back to the 5th century, with the site being a haven for archaeologists, as it represents three major eras in Mayan history. The highlight of the experience is gazing upon the jaw-dropping pyramid, the Temple of Kukulkan.
The towering structure stands at just shy of 100 feet. It has nine levels, each representing a distinct part of heaven. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has been remarkably well-preserved and will linger long in your memory.