Top 20 Essential Things to do in Cancun

Close your eyes and picture your ideal tropical vacation. You probably imagine swaying palm trees, sun-soaked beaches, and an ocean filled with colorful fish and vibrant sea life. You’ve just described Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula – one of the best places in Mexico for travelers and tourists around the world!

Besides being home to some of the best beaches in North America, this little slice of paradise is also brimming with a variety of fun outdoor adventures. There are so many things to do in Cancun, you can scuba dive, cliff jump, swim in cenotes, and even explore centuries of ancient Mayan History. There are Cancun attractions for every type of traveler!

If you’re looking for the top things to do in Cancun, we’ve compiled this list of amazing experiences and adventures you need to put on your bucket list!


Main temple of Chichén-Itzá - Best things to do Cancun

Day Trip to Chichen Itza

Dive deep into Mayan history with a visit to Chichen Itza, a pre-Columbian archeological site located in the Yucatan. Although it was built between 750 and 900 AD, the city transformed into a capital empire during the early 10th century. You could easily spend the entire day walking around the ancient town marveling at the massive temples.

As the political and economic epicenter of the Maya lowlands, Chichen Itza contains the preserved ruins of temples, pyramids, and stone buildings with over 1,000 years in history. The highlight of the site is El Castillo, a 98-foot tall pyramid which was once used as a temple.

Recommended Chichen Itza Tours from Cancun


woman climbing out of Cenote Calavera on a ladder - One of the best Cenotes in Tulum and Mexico

Swim in a Cenote

Skip the ocean waves and opt for a swim in one of Cancun’s natural cenotes instead! As you descend into the cave, you’ll be submerged in an emerald green pool surrounding by lush ivy and limestone cliffs. Luckily, Cancun and the surrounding Yucatan are scattered with dozens of these magical cenotes.

Flow-through the intricate mazes of Cenotes Siete Bocas or escape into the jungle with a visit to Cenote Azul. Cenotes Dos Ojos is another beautiful area that’s off the beaten path, which means you might get the chance to swim without bumping shoulders with the crowds of tourists.

If you’ve rented a car we suggest visiting several cenotes while taking a day trip from Cancun. Every time we visit a new to us cenote as there are over 6,000 cenotes in Mexico. Here are our favorite cenotes:

Cenote Tours from Cancun


Aerial view of the Mayan ruins in Tulum Mexico - Top places to visit

Day Trip to Tulum Ruins

Travel 700 years back in time and visit the rocky ruins of Tulum. Located just a two-hour drive from Cancun, the Tulum Ruins sit on the edge of the coast in Tulum – one of Mexico’s most famous port cities.

Although it’s not as touristy or as old as the Chichen Itza ruins, the Tulum Ruins have a stunning location with the ocean as the backdrop.

Don’t miss the Castillo, the main temple that’s perched on the edge of a rugged 40-foot cliff overlooking the Caribbean. After you admire the panoramic views, you can head to the Templo de las Pinturas, which contains a restored, colorful mural wall.

Best Tulum Ruins Tours


Whale Sharks in Cancun - Top things to do in Cancun

Swim with the Whale Sharks in Cancun

During your visit to Cancun, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to swim with one of the ocean’s most notable residents – the whale sharks! There aren’t many places in the world you can swim with whale sharks, luckily if you time your visit right you can swim with whale sharks in Cancun.

While it might sound dangerous to swim with sharks, most swimmers have nothing to worry about. Despite their size, whale sharks are generally friendly towards humans and mostly feed on plankton and krill. If you want to see these magical creatures, look off the coast of Isla Contoy and Isla Holbox.

When is Whale Shark Season in Cancun

These gentle giants can be seen during the height of whale shark season in Cancun from June to August, and measure almost 40 feet in length.

Recommended Cancun Whale Shark Tours


 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by MUSA Underwater Museum of Art (@musamuseo) on

Cancun Underwater Museum

Laying 20 feet below the ocean’s surface is a unique museum, unlike anything you’ve seen before! At the Cancun Underwater Museum, you’ll have a chance to swim amongst 500 hand-carved art installations.

Most of the sculptures were designed by Jason deCaires Taylor. You’ll also find artworks from five other world-renown Mexican artists.

Choose between snorkeling, scuba diving, and for those who prefer not to get wet, a glass-bottom boat ride. As you swim around the coral-covered sculptures, you’ll also have plenty of opportunities to see turtles, tropical fish, and other marine life. This underwater sculpture park is one of the most memorable things to do in Cancun!


VW bug driving in Mexico - Cancun Rental Car FAQ

Rent a Car in to Explore the Yucatan

While lying on the beach might sound like an ideal vacation, sometimes you just need to get out of the city and see something new. By renting a car in Cancun, you can explore everything Mexico has to offer, including the stunning natural beauty of the Yucatan.

Start your adventure with a visit to some of the best Mayan Ruins in Mexico, the historic archeological sites of the Chichen Itza and Uxmal ruins. Then, drive to one of the underground cenotes in Mexico to see giant protruding stalactites and deep, blue waters. Of course, there are many charming villages and towns in the Yucatan where you can stop for some lunch and souvenir shopping.

No matter what you choose, exploring the Yucatan is a great way to immerse yourself in Mexico’s cultural heritage.

Renting a car in Cancun much easier and cheaper than you would imagine. We have personally rented a car in Mexico 10+ times. Click here to read our tips for renting a car in Cancun. We typically pick up our rental car at the Cancun airport and return it there as well. Often rental cars will be under $5 a day. The only way to get these low prices is to book online in advance, click here to check prices. Discover Car Hire has free cancellation, so should your plans change you can cancel at no charge.


Isla Mujeres Beach one of the best places in Mexioo

Day Trip to Isla Mujeres

One of the best day trips from Cancun is Isla Mujeres. Located off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Isla Mujeres is a tranquil island escape from the bustling city of Cancun. On Isla Mujeres, you can spend a relaxing day sunbathing and swimming in Playa Norte – one of the island’s most popular beaches. Filled with sugar-white sand and clear turquoise waters, Playa Norte is a slice of tropical paradise.

The island is also home to a diverse variety of marine and sea life. Search for sea turtles, swim with bottlenose dolphins, and even fish for pointy-nosed sailfish! Whether you’re diving off the shores or sailing through the waves, you’ll enjoy a day trip to the outdoor wonderland that is Isla Mujeres.

Recommended Isla Mujeres Tours


Cancun Beach & hotel zone

Explore the Hotel Zone

Lined with all-inclusive resorts, top-of-the-line shopping, and gourmet restaurants, Cancun’s Hotel Zone has everything you need for the ultimate vacation. It’s the best place to stay in Cancun, and one of our favorite things to do in Cancun!

Most visitors choose to spend most of their time in this area, and it’s easy to see why! There are numerous attractions and activities that guarantee your time in Cancun will be memorable.

Spend your morning visiting one of the museums or swimming in the soft-sandy beaches surrounding the narrow stretch of the island. When the sun goes down, you’ll have a wide variety of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to choose from.


exterior of the famous night club Coco Bingo in Cancun - Best Night life - Things to do in Cancun

A Night out in Coco Bongo

There are plenty of lively nightlife spots to choose from when going out in Cancun, but Coco Bongo is by far the most entertaining! This one-of-a-kind production has it all – flying acrobats, balloons and confetti, and live entertainment all night long. Not to mention, unlimited beer and cocktails!

Your night starts off with an action-packed show, filled with performers, musicians, and high tech visuals. Then as the night progresses, Coco Bongo transforms into one of Cancun’s top nightclubs, with music and dancing late into the evening. If you’re looking for a fun, unforgettable night in Cancun, look no further than Coco Bongo!


Pink Lakes Mexico - Las Coloradas - Things to do near Cancun Mexico

Day Trip to Las Coloradas Mexico

Las Coloradas might be one of the most magical things to see and do in Cancun. Tucked away in the peninsula’s biosphere reserve, Las Coloradas is a lake filled with bright pink water! The color is formed by salt left behind after the liquid has evaporated, giving the lake a vibrant, cotton-candy hue.

Although you can no longer swim in the pink lakes, it’s still worth a visit just to see their stunning color. Photographers can also snap a few amazing photos, although you’ll probably have to convince your followers that the color isn’t photoshopped!

We have always rented a car and drove to Las Coloradas. It’s a pretty easy and straightforward drive from Cancun/Playa del Carmen/Tulum. Due to its sudden popularity, there are now a few Las Coloradas Tours.

  • $145 Book Now – Private Tour with Lunch, visit Las Coloradas, Chichen-Itza, Cenote Ik-Kil, and Rio Lagartos

Plate of two tacos from a local taco place in Cancun - Must try things in Cancun Mexico

Tacos at a Local Taqueria

Mexico has some of the most mouth-watering dishes in the world, and Cancun is no exception! From baked enchiladas to freshly caught seafood, you can’t go wrong when dining at a restaurant here. However, you must try tacos at a local taqueria for a deliciously authentic dining experience in Cancun.

Indulge in fish tacos from a family-run restaurant or marinated pork tacos from a street cart. Since they’re inexpensive, filling, and most importantly delicious, you’ll want to try as many different tacos as possible!


White sand beaches of tulum - Best day trips from Cancun Mexico

Visit the Stunning Beaches of Tulum

Besides being home to ancient archeological ruins, Tulum is also known for its tropical beaches. If you ask us they have some of the best beaches in Mexico. Depending on what you’re interested in, you can swim, kayak, fish, or simply sunbathe on one of the many beaches in the area.

The beaches are also surrounded by fresh seafood restaurants, taco taquerias, and laid-back beach bars. Why not enjoy a cold beer and a tasty meal while digging your toes into the sand? Our favorite beach restaurant Taqueria La Eufemia serves up some of the best fish tacos in Mexico!

Related Article: Things to do in Tulum

Playa Ruinas is arguably the most famous beach in Tulum. Located just steps away from the Tulum Ruins, Playa Ruinas is a central beach where you can enjoy unobstructed views of the historic ruins. You can also visit Playa Paraíso and Las Palmas, two stunning areas filled with white sand as far as the eye can see!


woman swimming with a sea turtle at Akumal Beach Mexico

Swim with Sea Turtles in Akumal

Located south of Cancun, Akumal is known for its pristine beaches and, most importantly, sea turtles! If swimming with sea turtles in on your bucket list then you have to take a day trip to Akumal. Akumal Bay is teeming with friendly turtles, and the protected, shallow waters make it an ideal spot for swimming with them.

Grab a snorkel mask and a pair of fins and head into the bay to get up close and personal with these magical creatures. Swimming next to sea turtles is one of the most amazing things to do in Cancun. However, it’s important to remember that you are entering their habit. That means giving the turtles enough space and not touching them when they come close.


Mayan ruins inside the Xcaret Park near Cancun Mexico - Tours and attractions in Cancun Mexico

Visit Xcaret

With over 50 cultural and natural attractions, Xcaret Park is a wild adventure where you can swim, hike, and explore to your heart’s desire. At Xcaret Park, you can enjoy the natural landscape in a fun-filled and safe environment!

Explore the tropical jungle trails, visit the on-site butterfly pavilion and aquarium, or just relax and watch traditional dances and Papantla Flying Men. Fun for the whole family, Xcaret Park is filled with exciting activities in a beautiful, natural outdoor setting!

  • Address: Carretera Federal, Cancun – Chetumal Km 230, 307, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
  • Hours: Open 365 days a year 8:30 am – 10:30 pm
  • Admission: $56-$112

Discount Tickets for Xcaret

Buy your tickets online for up to 15% off here. Parking is free and makes for an easy day trip from Cancun.


woman on a yellow cable bike at Xel Ha Park near Cancun Mexico - Things to do in Cancun

Spend a Day at Xel Ha Waterpark

If you crave a bit of a thrill during your relaxing vacation, then Cancun has something especially for you! Surrounded by freshwater lagoons, Xel Ha Waterpark is the perfect place to enjoy all your favorite aquatic-based activities! The best part is everything is included, it’s an ALL-INCLUSIVE waterpark including open bar & unlimited beverages and meals.

At Xel Ha Waterpark, you can cliff jump, zip line, and bike ride through the limestone caves and lush jungles of the Yucatan. For those who want to get their feet wet, Xel Ha Waterpark also allows snorkeling, scuba diving, and even swimming with dolphins! This fun-filled ecotourism park is an outdoor lover’s paradise right in the middle of Mexico!

Discount Tickets for Xel-Ha

Buy your tickets online for up to 15% off here. Parking is free and makes for an easy day trip from Cancun.


Even with weeks or months in Cancun, you’d barely scratch the surface of what this stunning Mexican city has to offer. Between the beaches, jungles, and limestone cliffs, you’ll have an action-packed itinerary starting your first day in the city.

For those who just want to enjoy a relaxing holiday, Cancun has some of the best beaches in the world too.

As you can see, there are tons of exciting activities for every type of age, budget, and interest. Whether you’re swimming in the ocean with dolphins or swimming in the dark, illuminated caves of the cenotes, we know that you’ll enjoy soaking in Cancun’s natural beauty.


Don’t Forget to Pin Me for Later!

women swimming in Mexico - Pinterest pin for things to do in Cancun

This post may contain affiliate links, see our disclosure

Leave a Comment