There’s nothing wrong with spending your Cancún getaway parked in a lounge chair with a frozen margarita or cold beer in hand -- in fact, we think it sounds like a pretty great trip. But, if you want to inject some adventure into your Mexican getaway, these five excursions from Cancún are worth every peso.
The ancient Mayan city of Chichén-Itzá -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- is just a two-and-half-hour drive from Cancún and relatively inexpensive to get to. Busloads of tourists arrive daily to see El Castillo (the iconic stepped pyramid), the Great Ball Court (the largest in the Americas), and the Sacred Cenote (a sinkhole where the Mayans conducted human sacrifice).
2. Rio Secreto Nature Reserve
A “secret river” flows past crystal stalactites and stalagmites in an underground cave at Rio Secreto Nature Reserve near Cancún, and you can wade through its aqua waters in one of two tour options. The standard tour ($109 per adult, $54.50 per child; includes round-trip transportation from Cancún) includes a float in the mineralized water and time with headlamps off in total darkness. The second option, a deluxe tour ($129 per adult, $64.50 per child; includes round-trip transportation from Cancún) includes the above plus a light and sound show projected on the cave’s formations. Both tours end with a Mayan lunch.
3. Xcaret Park
For something completely different, head to Xcaret Park. The self-described eco-amusement park features zoo exhibits, including an aviary, coral reef aquarium, and island populated by jaguars, and cultural exhibits, such as a Mayan village, Mayan ruins, and 19th-century hacienda. You can watch performers demonstrate traditional Mayan dances or the skills necessary to “fly” to the ground in a Voladores pole show. There’s also a jungle trail, river boat tour, and a folk art museum onsite. Most activities are included with the price of admission (from $98 per person without transportation), but you’ll have to pay extra to snorkel or snuba (a combination of scuba diving and snorkeling). The Sea Trek underwater adventure also costs extra.
The Yucatán Peninsula is known for its cenotes (sinkholes formed when limestone bedrock collapses and exposes the groundwater underneath). Depending on which cenote you want to visit -- Ik-Kil and Dos Ojos are two of the most famous -- you may have to rent a car and hire a guide once you’re there. Or, you may be able to arrange a tour. Xenotes Oasis Maya offers a day trip to four different cenotes, each with a different activity: assisted rappelling, zip lining, kayaking, and snorkeling (from $116 per person). If you’re lucky, though, your resort may have a cenote on property. Sandos Caracol Eco Resort in nearby Playa del Carmen, for example, has several cenotes on-site.
Although you can dive off the coast of Cancún, some of the best regional diving is a day trip away in Cozumel. You can either hire a diving company in Cancún to take you from your resort to the diving waters off Cozumel, or take a water taxi to Cozumel and work with a local diving company, such as Deep Blue Diving. In the depths, you’ll see an elaborate reef system harboring schools of barracuda, stingrays up to five feet across at the wings, whale sharks, nurse sharks, blowfish, and more. Snorkeling is also an option.