Things to Do in Cancun

by  Kristine Hansen | Jan 2, 2020
Cenote in Cancun
Cenote in Cancun / Aaron Hawkins/iStock

You might be surprised how much there is to do in Cancun. For years, the heartbeat of the Riviera Maya region was dubbed a party destination on the beach for kicking back with Coronas and volleyball in the pool —but not anymore. Dining has been elevated to five-star status and the design game at resorts is strong, adding a little bit of Vegas glam while still honoring the region’s Mayan roots. Thankfully the adventure angle is still here: popular activities include snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, horseback riding, ATV tours, ziplining, and scuba diving, to name a few. Here's everything to do in Cancun. 

Head to the Beach

Beach in Playa del Carmen / Mustang_79/iStock

Most resorts (if positioned on the sand) have their own private beach, which is a nice perk. Public beaches in Playa del Carmen can be a zoo on the weekends or during high season. If you can manage it, hire a driver or book an excursion to a nearby beach (such as Playa Tortugas and Punta Bete) where you can spread out. You may have to pay a nominal admission fee, but you won’t regret it. If you want a more adventurous experience, consider a kayaking tour. 

Snorkel in a Cenote

Cenote in Cancun / Tatanata/iStock

A cenote is a natural sinkhole-turned-swimming hole. They're found throughout the Riviera Maya region and date back to the ancient Mayans, who used them for sacrificial offerings. Popular cenotes in the region include Dos Ojos, El Jardin del Eden, and Ik Kil. Additionally, Cenotes Zapote Ecopark is home to three different cenotes. Here, you can zipline, swim, snorkel, and spot wildlife as you take in the scenic views and stunning blue-green waters. 

Eat Amazing Mexican Food

Everything you think you know about Mexican food is about to be challenged. Most Mexican food in the U.S. is served Tex-Mex style. Here, the cuisine — and the cooking methods — date back thousands of years. Many dishes feature spices, moles, and sauces. If you venture outside of the resort zone, you'll find lots of carts selling popular street foods including tacos, corn, and tamales. 

Shop for Arts & Crafts

The majority of art galleries and craft vendors are located along Fifth Avenue in Playa Del Carmen. It's also not uncommon for a resort’s gift shop to carry locally made arts and crafts. 

Visit Mayan and Aztec Ruins

Chichen Itza / SerrNovik/iStock

Nearby, there are several ancient sites ruins, including the Mayan Ruins of Coba, Chichén Itzá, Tulum, and El Rey Archaeological Zone. While you can certainly rent a car and drive yourself, we recommend booking an excursion with a reputable tour operator for an easy, hassle-free day trip. 

Hit the Spa

Chances are, your resort offers an amazing spa experience. Or, if not, consider a day trip to a nearby resort that does. Among Cancun's best is the 40,000-square-foot Gem Spa at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun Resort. Another option is Awe Spa at Moon Palace Cancun

Get Wet at an Eco Park

Before you assume this is just another theme park, know that Xcaret and Xel-Ha are a rare example of weaving in culture with outdoor adventure. Here, there are water parks, underground rivers, ziplining, arts performances, and one-of-a-kind drinking and dining experiences (paired with live music, of course). 

How Far Is Tulum from Cancun?

Tulum / SL_Photography/iStock

By car, Cancun is about two hours away from Tulum, the latter of which is more south. You can either book private shuttle or reserve a seat on an ADO bus, which departs from Cancun International Airport. Simply hop on the bus, get off at the Playa del Carmen stop, and take a taxi from there. We recommend booking a private transfer from the airport directly to your hotel.

How Far Is Playa Del Carmen from Cancun?

If you're staying in in Playa Del Carmen, your best option is to take the ADO bus. Playa Del Carman has two bus stations, including one on Fifth Avenue, right downtown. Once you get off the bus, just hop in a taxi for a short five- to ten-minute drive to your hotel. 

Where to Stay in Cancun

Cancun’s Hotel Zone / Jonathan Ross/istock

If you're in Cancun for a leisure trip, stay away from hotels in Cancun (the city proper) that don’t have a pool, beachfront access, or multiple dining options. These hotels are best for business travelers who are only in town for a few days, and not those searching for activities to stay busy and feel pampered.

Several hotels in Cancun are for adults-only — so be sure to read the fine print if you are looking for a family vacation. Cancun’s Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera) is populated by stylish, all-inclusive resorts like Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun, Hyatt Zilara Cancun, and Grand Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Cancun Resort and Spa. While you really don’t need to leave the resort — because meals are included as well as daytime activities near the pool and beach and nightlife as well — some guests do. However, this is not a destination built on walking. If you’re lucky enough to have a strip mall nearby, that’s great, but this also may be your only option.

Lodge at Chichen Itza / Courtesy of the property

If you prefer a more authentic eco-lodge experience, check out The Lodge at Chichén-Itzá, which is located in Chichén-Itzá, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests of the property can also take advantage of exclusive opportunities to access and explore the surrounding ancient ruins. 

In search of a quaint inn or bed-and-breakfast? Consider staying in Tulum or downtown Playa del Carmen. Many of these properties are also walking distance from restaurants and the beach.

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