Cancun sits on the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, south-eastern Mexico, surrounded by the aqua tropics of the Caribbean Sea and packed with verdant jungles, crocodile lagoons, ancient ruins and beautiful beaches. Cancun is many travellers’ first introduction to Mexico, thanks to its highly-connected international airport; Cancun International Airport (CUN) is the third busiest airport in Latin America.
It’s famously known as Mexico’s party capital, which can put some people off, but Cancun has much more to offer than just spectacular nightlife. Whether you’re a bold adventurer, a thrill-seeker looking for that next rush, or just want to sit back and relax on white-sand beaches, Cancun has a bit of everything. This is evident by Cancun’s popularity as a holiday destination.
Even though you’ll find lots of things to do in Cancun, some of our recommendations are worthy of day trips. For convenience, this list is organised from the closest to furthest away from Cancun’s Hotel Zone, a popular accommodation choice for many visiting Cancun.
20 Things To Do In Cancun
1- Explore The Two Sides Of Cancun: The Hotel Zone And Downtown Cancun
Cancun has two distinct areas: Cancun Island, more commonly called the Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera) and Downtown Cancun, known as the city of Cancun (Ciudad Cancun).
The Hotel Zone is a 15-mile (24 km) sand strip in the shape of a number seven and, as you might have guessed, is not short of hotels.
Most visitors to Cancun will probably stay here.
There is only one road in the Hotel Zone, Kukulcan Boulevard, which runs along the island so getting around is easy, particularly by bus.
Downtown Cancun, where the local Mexicans live and work, is where you’ll find some local culture with Parque Las Palapas (a friendly park) and Mercado 28 (a huge flea market) – both worth a visit.
Parque Las Palapas is at 77500, Tulipanes LB, Cancun, Quintana Roo. Mercado 28 is at Xel-ha Mz 13, 77509 Cancun, Quintana Roo. Take a guided city tour.
2- Scuba Dive And Snorkel At Cancun’s Underwater Museum
Part of the second-largest reef system in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Cancun is home to tropical fish, dolphins, whale sharks and manta rays.
Its waters make for superb scuba diving and snorkelling.
If you love snorkelling or diving, the Cancun Underwater Museum Of Art (MUSA) is one of the unique things to do in Cancun.
This underwater museum has a total of 500 sculptures, all created from eco-friendly materials and displayed in three underwater galleries between 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 metres).
You can hire snorkelling and scuba diving equipment directly from the site, and, hiring a guide is recommended as the area sees some strong currents.
The Cancun Underwater Museum is at Kukulcan Boulevard, km 13, Zona Hotelera, 775500, Cancun, Quintana Roo.
3- Take In The Views At Cancun Scenic Tower
To get a swooping bird’s eye view of the Caribbean coastline and Cancun’s Hotel Zone, take a ride up Cancun’s Scenic Tower (Torre Escenica).
Good news? No climbing is required as the deck lifts up 260 feet (80 metres)!
You will learn some history as you revolve 360 degrees.
Tip: If you plan on going to Xcaret Park (featured earlier in our list) during your time in Cancun, keep your entry bracelet, as this will get you into this site for free.
4- Join In The Passion At A Lucha Libre Show
Lucha Libre, also known as ‘free fighting’, is a unique Mexican experience where two fighters, one representing ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’, fight it out in a mixture of wrestling and acrobatics.
Although similar to American Pro wrestling in that the fights are choreographed, this doesn’t quell the passion of the Mexican crowd and is a cultural experience not to miss.
The Arena Cancun hosts Lucha Libre shows multiple times each week.
Arena Cancun is at Yaxchunal 14, 77515 Cancun, Quintana Roo. Book your tickets to a match here.
5- Splash About With Some Water Sports
Name a water sport, and you can probably do it in Cancun, from snorkelling to jet skiing, parasailing, fishing and kayaking.
One beach that offers a range of water sports experiences is Playa Chacmool (Chac Mool beach), where you can rent equipment to get splashing.
One of the latest trends in water sports is stand-up paddle boarding, a relatively easy and friendly sport.
In Cancun, kayaking is also very popular, particularly along Cancun’s Nichupte Lagoon, where you can spy tropical birds, fish and if you’re lucky, dolphins.
If you take one of the early kayak tours of this lagoon, you might even catch a glimpse of the crocs.
Chac Mool beach and Nichupte Lagoon are both in Cancun’s Hotel Zone. Check out this watersports combo adventure.
6- Bath In The Beautiful Caribbean Beaches
Cancun and, to its south, the Riviera Maya is home to 150 miles (241 kilometres) of lush white-sand beaches.
You cannot visit Cancun without seeing some of the beaches.
Often touted as the best beach in Cancun, Playa Delfines (Dolphin Beach) is a large beach noted for its lack of commercialisation, so bring your own food and refreshments.
Keep your eyes peeled too, because, as the name would suggest, dolphins can sometimes be spotted here.
Playa Delfines is at Punta Nizuc, Cancun, 335, Zona Hotelera, 775000, Cancun, Quintana Roo.
7- Pretend You’re In Vegas With Cancun’s Vivid Nightlife
Cancun doesn’t get called Mexico’s party capital for nothing.
Every year between February and March, Spring Break brings flocks of young party-goers to Cancun who spend the night dancing away after a day at the beach.
One of the most popular clubs in Cancun is Coco Bongo.
It’s more than just a club, with acrobats, cover bands, DJs, musicians, massive screens and 5D elements.
If you want to visit Coco Bongo, book ahead and look out for tickets that include drinks to get the most out of the experience.
Other popular nightclubs in Cancun are Mandala Beach Club for a beach bikini party and Dady O for techno, house music and a party that goes on until sunrise.
Coco Bongo, Mandala Beach Club and Dady’O are all beside each other at Boulevard Kukulcan km 9.5 Plaza Fórum, Zona Hotelera.
8- Golf Among Mayan Ruins
Cancun has become a world-class golf destination with at least 15 golf courses scattered around the city that cater for all golf levels, from amateur to pro.
Many of Cancun’s golf courses have unique terrain, using mangroves, lagoons, jungle and even ancient Mayan ruins to make your golf experience more enjoyable and memorable.
Beware, some golf courses even have resident crocodiles!
9- Watch Baby Sea Turtles Take Their First Steps
Because Cancun’s beaches are some of the best in the world for spotting sea turtles, here are some turtle-y things to do around Cancun.
The best place to see turtles all year round is on Cancun’s neighbour island, Isla Mujeres, at the ‘Tortugranja’ turtle conservation centre.
Another once-in-a-lifetime experience is participating in a turtle release event on the beaches around Cancun on a moonlit night from July To November.
It’s best to ask your hotel if you’re here during these months, as they will know the best available tours you can join to watch baby turtles making their first journey.
The Tortugranja turtle conservation centre is at Isla Mujeres, 77400 Quintana Roo. Isla Mujeres can be visited by ferry from Cancun’s Hotel Zone and is next on our list.
10- Visit The Island Of Women On Isla Mujeres
Tired of the hustle and bustle of Cancun? Well, just a 15-minute ferry journey from Cancun’s Hotel Zone, find the quaint island of Isla Mujeres – the perfect place to sit back and unwind.
Isla Mujeres is named so after a Mayan fertility goddess, and there is, in fact, a temple on this island, Ixchel Temple.
You’ll find beautiful beaches and all the amenities you may need, with plenty of restaurants, bars and accommodation options on the island.
Here, two top things to do are visiting the turtles at the Tortugranja turtle conservation centre and snorkelling at Garrafon Reef Park.
Boats leave for Isla Mujeres from Puerto Juarez in Downtown Cancun. Book your catamaran tour here.
Puerto Juarez is located at López Portillo Calle 49, Puerto Juarez, Juárez, 77525 Cancun, Quintana Roo.
11- Swim With Whale Sharks
Cancun is one place where it is possible to swim with whale sharks.
Whale sharks are the largest known fish on earth, reaching up to 39 ft (12 m) in length and 20 tonnes (20,000 kg) in weight.
Don’t worry; they may be big, but they don’t bite.
Whale sharks eat plankton, not you!
The best time to swim with these endangered gentle giants is in the summertime between June and August when tours run.
Booking your tour ahead is always best, as swimming with whale sharks is an incredibly popular activity in Cancun, and you don’t want to miss out.
12- Muse At The Mayans At Cancun’s Mayan Museum
Located conveniently in Cancun’s Hotel Zone, Cancun’s Mayan museum and the adjoining San Miguelito Ruins archaeological site cover a sprawling 200 acres (81 ha).
At this museum, you’ll be able to ponder ancient skeletons, jade treasures and other artefacts uncovered from temples like Chichen Itza and others spread around the Yucatan peninsula.
A ticket to the museum will also grant access to adjacent ancient city ruins of San Miguelito!
Museo Maya Cancun is located at Kukulcan Boulevard, km 16.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancun, Quintana Roo.
13- Explore The Island Paradise of Isla Contoy
Isla Contoy is a bird watcher’s paradise with more than 100 species of birds calling this island their home.
This uninhabited island has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, where you can see coral, fish, turtles and sometimes even sharks.
It is worth noting that access to this uninhabited island is only through guided boat tours, which usually include a guide, breakfast, drinks, snacks and transportation.
Snorkelling is usually one of the activities of any tour to Isla Contoy.
Book ahead, as there are only a few tour operators, and the island has a daily cap of 200 visitors.
Tours are offered from Cancun, Isla Mujeres or Puerto Morelos. We recommend this tour.
Isla Contoy is about 24 miles (38 km) from Cancun.
14- Treat Your Senses At The Resident Cirque Du Soleil Show: JOYA
World-renowned entertainment company Cirque du Soleil presents its first Mexican resident show, JOYA.
The show, JOYA, is an experience designed to engage all senses, combining performance and gravity-defying acrobatics alongside a delicious full dinner including aperitifs and champagne.
The show takes place at Vidanta Theater, which is about a 40-minute drive from Cancun, so make sure you have return transport pre-arranged.
I’d highly recommend booking tickets in advance as, due to its popularity, this show is often a sellout.
Vidanta Theater is at Calle Carretera, Federal Cancun, Chetumal Km 48, 77710, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo.
15- Have A Mexican Fiesta Aboard A Boat With Xoximilco
If trying local food, meeting new people and listening to live music while you float down lagoons sounds good, why not try Xoximilco?
This Mexican fiesta, held aboard boats called trajineras, is perfect for an evening of feasting where you’ll get to sample Mexican dishes, have open bar access to tequila and beer, and meet new faces.
The experience usually lasts about three hours, and, in Cancun, this can be booked online.
The Xoximilco site is at Chetumal Km. 282, Juárez, 77580 Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, 12 miles (20 km) away from Cancun.
16- Be Thrilled At Xcaret Park
Xcaret Park is an eco-friendly water park inspired by Mayan culture and one of the biggest amusement parks in Mexico, welcoming up to 1 million visitors each year.
At 250 acres (101 ha), Xcaret Park has more than 50 attractions inside to make for a great day out for the family, friends or couples.
Book ahead online for better deals on tours and tickets.
For added perks to your ticket, like luggage storage, snorkelling equipment and lunch, look for the Xcaret Plus option when booking.
Xcaret Park is at Calle Carretera Chetumal Puerto Juarez, 282 km, Solidaridad, 77710, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, about one hour’s drive from Cancun Airport in the direction of Tulum.
17- Swim In A Hidden Beach Under Tulum Ruins
Gain an appreciation for the feats of the Mayans by visiting the ancient city ruins of Tulum. More ruins? You ask.
Yes! And I’ll tell you why.
These ruins are on this list because they are one of the most beautiful ancient ruins in Mexico, thanks to their picture-postcard location, right on the edge of the Caribbean coast.
Underneath Tulum ruins, be sure not to miss the hidden beach where you can swim during your visit, so bring a bathing suit!
Tulum Ruins are about 130 km (82 miles) south of Cancun, a two hours drive away. This guided tour of Tulum is worth doing.
18- Wander Around The World Wonder: Chichen Itza
Cancun’s jungles are home to many ancient city ruins and, of course, none more well-known than the wonder of the world, that is, Chichen Itza.
Nowadays, the ruins at Chichen Itza are sadly not as free to explore as they once were. You could climb the pyramids here not too long ago.
However, Chichen Itza is worth at least one visit (it’s not every day that you get to see a world wonder, right?).
What’s great about Chichen Itza is that it’s very close to one of the most beautiful cenotes (sinkholes) in the Yucatan peninsula, Ik Kil, where you can swim.
This would make for a lovely afternoon of exploring ruins and swimming if combined with your visit.
Another good option to get more out of your Chichen Itza trip is to include a visit to the charming nearby colonial town of Valladolid afterwards.
Chichen Itza is 122 miles (197 km) from Cancun, about 2.5 hours driving distance by car. Check out this full day tour that includes all of the above.
19- Swim In A Sinkhole
The sinkhole or cenote is a natural feature found all over the limestone-rich Yucatan peninsula.
These sinkholes are created when the limestone on the surface collapses to reveal the underground river system below.
Many cenotes or sinkholes are open to the public for swimming, snorkelling or scuba diving.
They are located on the aptly named Cenote Route close to Puerto Morelos, 30 minutes away from Cancun by car.
One of the most beautiful cenotes, Ik Kil, is well worth a visit and can be found next to the world wonder of Chichen Itza, easily combined into a memorable day trip.
20- Be Tickled Pink With Pink Lakes And Flamingos
Get some Insta-worthy shots at Las Coloradas, a group of lakes known for their bright pink hue.
The lakes get this colour thanks to the red plankton and shrimp that live in them.
The lakes are part of a centuries-old salt mining facility.
These lakes are far out of Cancun at about a three-hour drive away but are conveniently located, a 30-minute drive from Rio Lagartos.
A great activity to combine with a trip to Las Coloradas is a boat tour of the Rio Lagarto reserve, where you can see flamingos. Pinkness abounds! Find out more here.
For more adventures in Mexico, read: