Things to do in Cancun

Newlyweds can find a huge array of things to do in and around Cancun. The Maya Riviera coastline between Cancun and Tulum offers a variety of water- and land-based activities.

Choose to sunbathe on a white-sand beach, go windsurfing, sailing, snorkelling, diving on the world’s second largest coral reef or touring by jet ski through the lush jungle of the lagoon.

Land-based activities include hiking tours through rainforest, spotting wildlife along the way and exploring ancient the Mayan ruins of Tulum, Coba and the magical pyramids of Chichen Itza.

Scuba diving

Cancun is one of the best places in the world to learn scuba diving, given its shallow reefs, brilliant colours, diversity of marine life and numerous photogenic wrecks.

Swim among angel, parrot and butterfly fish and watch sea turtles, stingrays, eagle rays and nurse sharks, as well as the occasional pod of dolphins or cruising reef sharks.

Some of the best dive locales include Punta Nizuc, located on the northern tip of the Gran Arrecife Maya (Great Mesoamerican Reef), the largest reef in the western hemisphere; at Parque Natural Garrafón, great for drift dives; and at Cozumel Island, one of Mexico's premier diving destinations. Many resorts and dive centres offer PADI courses.


Snorkel the cenotes (natural sinkholes), underwater caves and corals at Akumal. Or head to Cozumel Island, El Garrafón Natural Park, Isla Contoy, Punta Nizuc and Puerto Morelos, all of which have ideal conditions for snorkelling.

Game fishing

Line up a charter and fish the deep-water channel between the Yucatan coast and the Island of Cozumel. Pursue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, wahoo, dorado, tuna, kingfish, barracuda and grouper.

Shark feeding

Feed a shark from the protection of an acrylic cage at the Interactive Aquarium in Cancun. Here you can also see dolphins swimming and touch a variety of marine life, including sea stars and manta rays.

Horseback riding

Saddle up at Rancho Loma Bonita, a 30-minute drive south of Cancun, for two hours or more of riding that takes you through a mangrove swamp to the beach, where you have time to swim and relax.


Explore some of the half-million hectare ecological park of forests, lagoons, exotic marine habitats and wetlands at Sian Ka'an, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located just south of Tulum.

The biosphere reserve contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, with a habitat for more than 300 species of birds as well as a large marine area and barrier reef.

Here you can wander through the rainforest, go horseback riding or hook and release a sailfish or marlin.


Indulge in a guided adventure tour. Combine a walk through the ancient Mayan city of Cobá with a hike into the rainforest, hook up to a zip line and fly across a cenote (natural sinkhole) at Cenotes de Pac Chen, rappel into a cenote and kayak across a lagoon.

Drive a small, fast boat or jet ski through Cancun's lagoon and mangrove estuaries out into the Caribbean Sea to a shallow reef, then cool of with a swim and snorkel. Or take an all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) on a jungle tour.

Explore Mayan ruins

From Cancun's resorts it’s an easy trip to explore the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, those at Coba, which feature the tallest pyramid on the peninsula, and the magical pyramids of Chichen Itza.

Cancun and the nearby Riviera Maya, which features some of the Yucatan's most impressive ruins, offer a fabulous choice of must-see sights, including the following…

Cozumel Island

Discover one of Mexico's premier diving destinations in the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park. Known as “Island of the swallows’ by its earliest inhabitants, Cozumel is fringed by wide sugar-white beaches, beautiful reefs and clear turquoise waters.

Snorkel or dive underwater caves, offshore reefs and see wrecks and bays littered with sunken cannons, anchors and statues.

Stroll the waterfront boulevard of charming San Miguel village, see exhibits of the island’s history in the fascinating Museo de la Isla de Cozumel, swim with dolphins at Chankanaab National Park and wander Maya ruins at San Gervasio.

Ruins of the King

Stroll between a small temple and several ceremonial platforms in this interesting archaeological site (commonly called El Rey) located just a short distance from Cancun’s Zona Hotelera.

El Rey is notable for having two main plazas bounded by two streets. (Most other Mayan cities contain only one plaza.)

The Yucatan Peninsula

Stretching along the Caribbean Coast just a short drive from the beaches of Cancun lies the Riviera Maya (between Punta Tanchacté to Punta Allen), which features some of the Yucatan's most impressive ruins and cenotes.

Further south lies the Costa Maya (from Punta Allen to Chetumal), where you can find the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. This coastline offers a wide range of must-see sights and attractions, including…


Discover an eco-adventure theme park where you can swim with dolphins, see jaguars, flamingos and toucans, snorkel through underwater caverns, walk through a butterfly aviary and a bat cave or float down a river in an inner tube or on a raft.

The park is named after the nearby archaeological site, Xcaret, a pre-Columbian Maya settlement some of whose ruins lie within the park's boundaries (above photo).


Stroll around the walled fortress of Tulum, an important Maya spiritual and cultural centre.

Standing atop a bluff, this outpost of the Maya civilisation offers breathtaking views over the Caribbean.

Wander around the Temple of the Descending God, El Castillo and the Temple of the Frescoes. Afterwards, cool off with a swim in the Caribbean from the white-sand beach right in front of the site.

Tulum is the only major Maya archaeological site to overlook the Caribbean Sea, and is only 128 km south of Cancun, about an hours drive.

Sian Ka'an

Explore some of the half-million hectare ecological park of forests, lagoons, exotic marine habitats and wetlands at Sian Ka'an, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located just south of Tulum.

The biosphere reserve contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, with a habitat for more than 300 species of birds as well as a large marine area and barrier reef. Here you can wander through the rainforest, go horseback riding or hook and release a sailfish or marlin.

Chichén Itzá

Take a day trip from Cancun or stay overnight to fully explore the fabled ruins of Chichén Itzá, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.

The Maya name ‘Chichen Itza’ means ‘at the mouth of the well of the Itza’ and the city was a centre of pilgrimage for ancient Maya for more than 100 years.

Admire the huge 38m-high Pyramid of Kukulcan (or El Castillo), stroll among the columns at the Temple of the Warriors, venture inside El Caracol (the observatory) and discover bas-reliefs and paintings that decorate every square metre of wall of the Nunnery.

Isla Mujeres and Garrafon National Park

Take the 20-minue ferry ride to Isla Mujeres off Cancun's coast and spend a relaxing day at Garrafon National Park snorkelling, kayaking, swimming or helmet diving.

Swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery and sunbathe at Playa Norte, the island's best beach. Or rent a bicycle and tour the island.

Isla Contoy

Join a guided tour of this protected reserve to see more than 150 migrating and resident birds, including flocks of pelicans, frigates, double-crested cormorants and boobies.

The island is a pristine wildlife habitat of mangroves, lagoons, corals and secluded white sandy beaches that are home also to nesting sea turtles. Located about 30 km north of Isla Mujeres, the reserve is only open to 200 visitors daily.


Go east of Chichén Itzá to discover sacred Mayan sinkholes where young girls were apparently thrown as sacrifices to the rain god Chaac.

At Xkeken near Valladolid, descend a vertical hole down narrow stone steps into a dark underground world of red limestone stalactites hanging above a green pool of water that shimmers in the sunlight from a gap in the cavern roof. Cool off in the ice-cold water.


Stroll among the elaborate stuccowork and detailed façades in this World Heritage site, one of the best restored and maintained ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Admire the entwined serpents in the Nun’s Quadrangle, the House of Pigeons and the Ball Court.

Climb the 30m to the top of the Pyramid of the Magician and explore the carvings of serpents, sculptures of the rain god Chaac and astrological symbols in the Governor’s Palace.


For panoramic views over this ancient Mayan site, climb the 120 stone steps to the summit of the weather-worn 42m-high El Castillo pyramid, which forms part of the Nohoch Mul Group.

Older than much of Chichén Itzá and larger than Tulum, Coba offers 20,719ha of scenic ruins scattered around five lakes and crowded with thick forest.

Come early in the morning when the site is less crowded, listen to the shriek of spider monkeys and watch colonies of army ants parading down ancient pathways before disappearing into the dense forest.

Pac Chen

Hike through the rainforest near Coba, 42km northwest of Tulum, and choose from several cliffs from which to rappel down into cool underwater cenotes (sinkholes). Then discover the Mayan jungle settlement of Pac Chan, where around 100 people live without electricity or running water in traditional round thatch huts.


Follow a 600m trail through underground passages, past stalactites and stalagmites until you reach the main cenote (sinkhole), a 12m-deep pool of crystal clear water estimated to be five million years old. Above ground, a 400ha rainforest boasts hiking trails from which you can spot wildlife such as white tail deer, spider monkeys, badgers, wild boar and iguanas.

Nohoch Nah Chich

Join a four-wheel drive tour through the Mexican rainforest to the Mayan community of Rancho San Felipe. From here explore Nohoch Nah Chich, considered to be the second-longest underground river system in the world. Snorkel through the clear water past thick strands of stalagmites and stalactites. Afterwards, tuck into a traditional Mayan lunch at the ranch.

Celestun Biosphere Reserve

Admire graceful pink flamingos while keeping an eye open for some of the other 300 species of birdlife that reside in the Yucatan's Celestun Biosphere Reserve, including cormorants, frigate birds, sheartail, black-throated bobwhite and egrets. Also look out for crocodiles, hawksbill and green turtles, iguanas and boa constrictors.

Chinchorro Bank

Discover the largest coral-ringed lagoon in the world at Chinchorro Bank, a 46km-long and 14km-wide reef that lies 35km offshore from Xcalak (about a two-hour boat ride).

The Bank’s 620km² of jagged reefs create a ring of coral with depths that range from 2m to 25m. Beyond the reef the water plunges dramatically to 1000m in the deep channel that separates Chinchorro from the mainland.

Dive past spectacular coral formations, see abundant marine life and a sea floor littered with the wrecks of vessels that have foundered on the reefs over the centuries.


Look out for Carnaval in February, the week-long Cancun Jazz Festival in May and El Senor de las Ampollas, celebrated with fireworks, dancing and music from late September to early October.

Day of the Dead

Celebrated on All Souls Day, the first day of November and into the next day, with intense passion throughout Mexico. In cemeteries see papier-mâché statues of skeletons and locals enjoying picnics by the graves of their ancestors.


Tee-off on the Jack Nicklaus Signature par 72 course at the Moon Palace Resort, located along the Riviera Maya. Navigate native Mayan vegetation, wetlands and bunkers and have fun at Hole 17, one of the course's most notable: a 141-yard par 3.

Other courses include the 18-hole Club de Golf Cancun course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr; the championship 18-hole, par 72 course around the Ruinas Del Rey at the Hilton Cancun Golf & Spa Resort; and the 9-hole executive course at The Gran Meliá Cancun.


For the Best buys in Cancun, head to tree-lined Avenida Tulum for open-air handcraft markets, and to Flamingo Plaza and Plaza Caracol on Kukulcan Boulevard for Taxco silver goods, high-end crystal and jewellery.

Best buys include gold and silver, ceramics and pottery, woollen blankets (sarapes), brightly coloured scarves in wool or silk (rebozos) and richly embroidered charro hats. Also look out for hammocks, rugs, baskets, carved wood and embossed leather.

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Latest update: Things to do in Cancun: 14 January, 2023