The Absolute Coolest Things to Do in Cancun
Sitting at the tip of Mexico's breathtaking Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun has long managed to attract every type of traveler. You'll find spring breakers sunbathing next to families, honeymooners dining right beside outdoor enthusiasts and friend groups meeting solo travelers while bar hopping.
What exactly makes Cancun so alluring to practically everyone? We're thinking it has something to do with its delicious street taco stands, its idyllic Caribbean beaches, its unbeatable nightlife, its nature preserves and the nearby Mayan ruins — but that's only the beginning.
With so many things to do, it can be paralyzing to plan your trip to Mexico's second most visited destination (after the capital). Here are the 15 best things to do in Cancun and its surrounding areas.
15. Party at Coco Bongo
During your trip to Cancun, you'll probably find yourself bar hopping down Kukulkan Avenue in the Hotel Zone. And while there will be many bars and nightclubs to choose from, none really rival Coco Bongo for a memorable and wild night out.
The nightclub was inspired by the fictional one in Jim Carrey's hit film, "The Mask," and is known for its over-the-top, Vegas-like shows. From musical numbers to Carnival dances to acrobatic performances, Coco Bongo definitely likes to put on the fireworks. The best part? Drinks are included in your ticket.
Whether you stay at your table enjoying the shows or get on the dance floor, you're guaranteed to have a good time.
How to Party at Coco Bongo
Hours: 7:00 p.m.-3:00 a.m.
Price: $90-$140 *
Tips: If you want to experience Coco Bongo but aren't interested in the shows, the club also has Coco Bongo Bar and Coco Bongo Beach Party.
* Prices are subject to change.
14. Do a Mexican Fiesta Experience
If you want to experience Mexican nightlife but don't want to get too touristy, do the Xochimilco Mexican Fiesta instead.
One of the experiences offered by Mexican-owned Xcaret Group, Xochimilco recreates a Mexico City tradition of partying on a wooden boat. If you can't make it to the actual Xochimilco outside the capital city, this is the next best thing.
Your group will board one of the colorfully decorated boats and enjoy being serenaded as you float down a canal. Fun is guaranteed, as you'll have mariachi, an MC, Mexican food and an open beer and tequila bar.
How to Do Xochimilco
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m.
Price: $100 for adults, $50 for kids
Tips: Unless you have a very large group, you'll be on the boat with other tourists. Take this as an opportunity to make new friends.
13. Walk Down Avenida Tulum
Walking down Kukulkan Avenue can be fun, but it doesn't give you a feel of what the real Cancun is like. To see the city outside of the tourist area, walk through Tulum Avenue.
The long avenue will take you through the center of town. You'll still find restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. But, unlike in the Hotel Zone, you'll hear more Spanish than English and see locals that aren't working.
Hit landmarks like the Municipal Palace, the Monument to the History of Mexico and the Ceviche Fountain.
How to Go to Avenida Tulum
Hours: Open 24/7
Tips: Avenida Tulum is home to numerous local art galleries and crafts centers. Keep your eyes peeled for these cool venues.
12. Have a Beach Day at Playa Delfines
The beach is probably the main reason that everyone comes to Cancun. If you're staying within the Hotel Zone, your hotel may have access to a private beach, but you'll still want to spend at least one day at Playa Delfines.
Probably the most popular beach in the city, Playa Delfines is known for its large "Cancun" sign in front of which tourists love to pose. But its really the white sand, blue water and thatched beach umbrellas that draw people in.
How to Go to Playa Delfines
Hours: Open 24/7
Tips: The current can get pretty strong at Playa Delfines, so make sure to check signs and flags before getting in the water.
11. See Pink Water at Las Coloradas
It's a mystery why this pink lagoon is still under most tourists' radars, but we hope it stays that way.
Three hours from Cancun, Las Coloradas offers the natural phenomenon of pink water. You can thank the brine shrimp that inhabit the lagoon for the color of both the water and the large flock of flamingos that come to feed here. The tiny crustaceans also ensure that the salt produced in the lagoon is of very high quality.
Of course, the main purpose of a day trip here is to see the water (and get some great pictures), but be on the lookout for hundreds of bird species, crocodiles, sea turtles and even jaguars that inhabit the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, of which Las Coloradas is a part.
How to Go to Las Coloradas
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Tips: To see the pink lagoon in all its glory, try to go on a clear, sunny day. The color will be at its most intense at midday when the sun is directly hitting the lagoon. Opt for a tour that includes other parts of the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve.
10. Kayak or Paddleboard in Nichupte Lagoon
Made up of seven lagoons, Nichupte is one of the best-preserved natural areas within the Cancun city limits. Leading to the ocean, the lagoons will give you an idea of what the area looked like before it was overdeveloped.
You can experience the Nichupte Lagoon in different ways, but we think the best way is by kayak or paddleboard. Moving slowly through the lagoon, you'll get a better chance to see the wildlife that thrives here, including blue crabs, leopard frogs, birds and the occasional sea turtle. Take the opportunity to also see four different species of mangroves.
How to Kayak in Nichupte Lagoon
Hours: 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Tips: For an eco-tour led by locals, use Koox Diving.
9. Gorge on Street Food at el Parque de las Palapas
Let's be real: Food is one of the top reasons to go to Mexico.
The country has been blessed with a flavorful, varied and absolutely delicious cuisine that is best enjoyed from the street-food stands that pop up throughout the city. To try some juicy tacos al pastor and other typical foods, head to Parque de las Palapas, which is near Tulum Avenue.
How to Visit el Parque de las Palapas
Hours: The park is open 24/7; food stands are usually open until around 1 or 2 a.m.
Tips: Come hungry, so you can try as much food as possible. Besides tacos, you'll find fresh cut-up fruit, spicy corn on the cob, churros and more.
8. Have a Ziplining Adventure
The beach is fun and all, but if you crave something that gives you a bit more adrenaline, you can spend a day ziplining at Xplor Park.
Another one of Xcaret Group's parks, Xplor is located in nearby Playa del Carmen and boasts the tallest zipline in the Riviera Maya. Besides ziplining, you can take an amphibious ATV through the jungle, paddle through an underground river, swim in caves and more.
Xcaret Group has been highly praised for its commitment to eco-tourism, so you can enjoy all these fun activities knowing that you won't be harming the environment.
How to Have an Adventure at Xplor Park
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Price: $130 for adults, $65 for kids
Tips: Kids have to be over 5 to be admitted into the park.
7. Go Snorkeling
Spending the day snorkeling is a preferred activity for both tourists and locals in Cancun. The city has access to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef — the second-largest in the world. But besides reefs, you can also snorkel in mangroves and underwater sinkholes known as cenotes.
If you were inclined to do so, you could spend your entire vacation snorkeling in different places around Cancun. If you only have time for one, however, head to the Underwater Museum of Art, a large installation filled with sculptures that you can snorkel around. Besides being a unique museum experience, the pieces help provide an environment for new coral reefs to form.
How to Go to the Underwater Museum of Art
Tips: If you're a certified scuba diver, you can also enjoy this incredible experience on a diving tour.
6. Tour the Cenote Route
Some of the most distinctive features of the Riviera Maya are its cenotes, natural sinkholes that provide access to underground rivers.
Cenotes were sacred to the Mayans and continue to hold a strong cultural and environmental importance for the local population (23.7 percent of whom still speak Mayan as a first language).
Visiting at least one cenote is a must-do when visiting Cancun, but given how many there are, it can be difficult to choose. This is why we advise you to do the Cenote Route, where you will visit four cenotes, all with distinctive features: Cenote Selvatica, Verde Lucero, Cenote Mojarras and Cenote La Noria.
How to Do the Cenote Route
Tips: It is possible to rent a car and do the route on your own or to hire a driver to take you. If you want an organized tour to take care of everything for you, you can book Xcaret Group's Xenotes Tour.
5. Do a Temazcal Ceremony
We all need some rejuvenation from time to time — it's part of why we go on vacation. While in Cancun, take advantage of the ancestral Mayan knowledge in a temazcal ceremony.
This purification ritual happens in a hut that acts as a sweat lodge, where a shaman chants and pours water over hot rocks and herbs to produce steam. After the ceremony, you will feel both your body and mind detoxified.
How to Do a Temazcal Ceremony
Tips: Several hotels offer temazcal ceremonies for their guests. Otherwise, you can visit Temazcal Cancun, which is located in the jungle.
4. Swim With Whale Sharks
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world, and despite the connotation of their name, they are actually quite gentle.
Not very many places in the world offer the opportunity to swim with them in their natural habitat, so while in Cancun, you should jump on the chance to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Tours usually last at least six hours and include snorkeling in nearby reefs and the opportunity to see many other species.
How to Swim With Whale Sharks
Tips: Go with Eco Tours Adventure for a fun but responsible experience. Whale shark season is from May to September. Avoid tours that allow feeding the whale sharks or ones that allow you to get too close to them.
3. Take a Day Trip to Tulum Archaeological Zone
The Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with archaeological ruins and sites left over from the mighty Mayan Empire. One of the most impressive is the Tulum Archaeological Zone.
To visit, you'll have to do a day trip to the seaside town of Tulum. Once inside the zone, you will get to see the 13th-century site, which includes temples, murals, pyramids and a watchtower.
What makes the Tulum ruins so special is that they are located right in front of the sea. Climb down some steps on the side of a cliff to arrive at a small but beautiful beach from which some of the ruins are visible.
How to Visit Tulum Archaeological Zone
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Tips: If you can afford it, shell out an extra $30 for a guide to take you through the ruins. This way, you will get a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the people that once lived here.
2. Spend a Day in Xcaret Park
We've already mentioned Xcaret Group a couple of times, but we can't write about the best things to do in Cancun without mentioning the park that started this eco-conscious local experience company: Xcaret.
What makes Xcaret so special is that it provides a taste of many of the best things of the Riviera Maya. The park started almost by accident when its founder bought land and discovered that there were hidden cenotes in it. He decided to share the magic of the land rather than keep it to himself and then built an eco-park that celebrated his Mexican culture.
At the park, you'll get to swim in cenotes, walk along a path in the tropical jungle, explore three underground rivers, relax by a beach and see rescued local animals like jaguars.
One of the most spectacular things to do, however, is the night show, "Xcaret México Espectacular." You'll see folkloric dances from different regions of the country and witness the history of Mexico through a colorful and intricate show. You will also have the very rare and unique opportunity to see an authentic recreation of the Mayan ball game, one of the most important traditions of Mexico's indigenous peoples.
How to Visit Xcaret Park
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 8:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Tips: Xcaret Group also has three hotels that have pioneered the "all-fun inclusive" experience. If you stay at one of these hotels, not only are most meals and drinks included, but you'll also get free entrance to all of the group's parks and tours.
1. Visit Chichen Itza
If there is one single thing you do on a trip to Cancun, let it be a tour of Chichen Itza. One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, this Mayan archaeological site is one of the most impressive ancient ruins you will ever visit.
The sheer size of it is enough to impress, with archaeologists believing it once housed around 35,000 people — that's massive for a 10th-century city! But the wonders of Chichen Itza go beyond its size and into the deep knowledge of astronomy that the Mayans possessed.
For instance, the site's main structure, The Castle, has 365 steps, one for each day of the year. The structure is built in such a way that, during the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun forms shadows on the stairs — which end with two large serpent heads — in a way that makes it seem as if a giant snake were slithering down the pyramid. In parts of the complex, a clap bounces off the structures to create a sound similar to a quetzal, a bird of mythical importance in Mayan cosmogony.
Suffice it to say: It's worth going to Cancun just to see Chicken Itza with your own eyes.
How to Visit Chichen Itza
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Tips: While it's entirely possible to rent a car or take a bus and tour the complex on your own, it's certainly easier to book a tour that takes you from Cancun and provides a local guide. Even if you decide to go on your own, we highly recommend hiring a guide to take you through the complex and explain the details of this magnificent historical site.