If you’re looking for some sweet stuff to do in Cancun, you’ve come to the right place.
Cancun was the very first stop of my “Gringo Trail Adventure” when I left home back in 2015 (holy moley does time fly!). I don’t think I’ve ever felt as excited (or scared) in my entire life.
At the beginning of my trip, I suffered from a serious case of FOMO (for all you old people out there, that means “fear of missing out”…who am I kidding, I had to look it up too).
One of my biggest mistakes in Mexico was feeling like I had to see EVERY DESTINATION. If not, I’d be missing out. That’s a lot of pressure. And unfortunately, it meant I rushed through Cancun and the surrounding area.
So, instead of me pretending I know all the best things to do in Cancun, I’ve recruited a handful of veteran travelers to help me.
In this post, they share all their favorite things to do in Cancun—including stuff to do in Cancun itself, as well as tons of awesome day trips around the area.
Got your to-do list notepad ready? Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- Map of the Best Things to Do in Cancun
- #1 – Swim with Whale Sharks on Isla Mujeres
- #2 – Explore Chichén Itzá
- #3 – Visit the MUSA Underwater Museum
- #4 – Climb the Ek’ Balam Ruins
- #5 – Go Cenote-Hopping
- #6 – Scuba Dive Through Cenote Caves
- #7 – Check out the Mayan Museum of Cancun
- #8 – Unwind on Isla Holbox
- #9 – Shark Dive at Playa del Carmen
- #10 – Enjoy the Spicy Rauxa Cabaret Show
- #11 – Experience Maya Culture at the Xcaret Park
- #12 – Crawl up the Nohoch Mul Pyramid in Coba
- #13 – Go Shopping in Puerto Morelos
- Best Stuff to Do in Cancun Cheatsheet
Map of the Best Things to Do in Cancun
Before diving into the list, take a gander at this handy little map to help visualize where everything is. As you can see, most of the top things to do in Cancun are actually outside the main city. Fortunately, this area is pretty compact, with most activities within a 1-2 hour bus ride (perfect for day trips from Cancun or a Yucatan road trip).
Alrighty, now that you’ve got your bearings, let’s jump in!
#1 – Swim with Whale Sharks on Isla Mujeres
“From June to September whale sharks migrate to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and can be found at the same places each day eating plankton from the surface of the water. This makes it really easy to spot them and an unforgettable adventure tour to do from Cancun!
Isla Mujeres—where the whale sharks are found—is only a 20 minute ferry ride from Cancun. The ferry costs $8-$14 depending on the port you leave from. Open roundtrip tickets can be purchased from Ultramar directly at the port.
For your whale sharks tour, you should book as soon as you know the dates of your trip because the best-rated tours tend to fill up quickly. All tours cost at least $125 per person required by law in order to protect the whales. There are quite a few different tours which you can book online in advance. (Here is my recommendation for the best whale shark tour on Isla Mujeres).
Make sure to buy motion sickness medication for the bumpy and long ride to the whale shark area. Also, sunscreen is not allowed on the tour since it can be toxic for the animals, so make sure to bring sun coverage for the boat trip over.
Lastly, don’t forget to bring a GoPro or underwater camera to capture the moment with these giant underwater creatures!”
~Dayna Brockbank, Happily Ever Travels
#2 – Explore Chichén Itzá
“Chichen Itza is a Mayan ruins complex in Yucatan, Mexico built around 600AD. It is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO Heritage site.
The name Chichen Itza means “at the mouth of the well of Itza”. The Itza is believed to mean water magicians (hence the name).
One of the largest Mayan ruins and the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico, it was considered one of the most powerful Mayan cities of its time.
To visit Chichen Itza from Cancun, you need to spend an entire day. It might take around two hours to get here from the city. And the best way to do so is with a group tour so you can maximize your time (faster than than taking a bus yourself). Prices vary but on average group tours can cost between $40-60, which includes lunch and entrance fees to a couple other side trips.
If you don’t want to join a tour, the entrance fee to the archaeological complex is around $13 per person, and the bus to get there will cost around $10 each way. Lastly, you might not be able to visit other places because you have to adjust to the bus schedule. So joining tours is the most economical and practical way to visit Chichen Itza.”
~Christine Rogador, The Travelling Pinoys
#3 – Visit the MUSA Underwater Museum
“MUSA is the underwater art museum located between Cancun and Isla Mujeres. The museum was originally created in an attempt to recolonize damaged reefs in the area. It’s become a tourist attraction in its own right and now has more than 500 permanent sculptures in what was previously 420 square metres of barren seafloor.
You’ll find life-sized sculptures of people, houses (including one where you can blow bubbles up through the chimney), and a VW bug. This is a unique thing to see, not just the recolonization of the area with sea life, but a museum underwater!
It’s possible to dive the museum with a dive shop from Cancun (SoloBuceo is a good choice) and head down to 8 metres underwater and swim amongst the rather spooky sculptures. You can also visit the museum on a snorkelling trip from Cancun, where you’ll visit the area that is just 4 metres deep. For those that don’t wish to go in the water, take a trip from Cancun in a glass-bottomed boat and enjoy the sun’s rays while viewing the museum.
If you wish to dive MUSA and you’re not tight on time, then you could wait until the day before to see if you can get a discount in order to save money, but bear in mind if you’re visiting in high season you could also be disappointed.
Out of all the unique things to do in Cancun, the MUSA museum is definitely one of my favorites.”
~Sarah Carter, A Social Nomad
#4 – Climb the Ek’ Balam Ruins
“If you want to escape the fun of Cancun for a while, hire a car and drive 2 hours to Ek’ Balam. These incredible Mayan ruins are in amazing condition and are one of the last Mayan sites that you can actually climb. They’re one of my favorite hidden gems in Mexico.
The site is relatively new as it was only uncovered in 1997. Huge parts of it are still being cleared even today.
The best part of climbing the Ek Balam ruins is the Great Pyramid, which stands at 96ft tall (about 8 storeys) and offers an incredible view of the jungle and surrounding ruins. There are also beautiful carvings all along the pyramid- the sheer scale of it is breathtaking.
Ek Balam is about 20km north of Valladolid. It is possible to visit by tour (and the guides are very knowledgeable), but in my opinion, you’ll have a better time if you go on your own. Ticket prices without a tour are 70 pesos per person. (TIP: There are no toilets or facilities inside, so make use of the rest area before you enter.)
You also need to visit the beautiful cenote here, called X’Canche, where you can zip line across the cenote, rappel into it, and even float on rubber rings. It’s a beautiful place.
Last tip—If you go to X’Canche, hire bicycles!! It’s a long walk from Ek Balam to the cenote!”
~Kat, Wandering Bird Adventures
#5 – Go Cenote-Hopping
“The area in which Cancun lays has a very magical feature unique to this part of Mexico. The Yucatan peninsula is filled with underground clear water sinkholes called “cenotes”. There are over 6,000 of them in this area and many are open to the public to swim, dive and explore. The natural beauty of these cenotes makes them a true hidden gem and a much-needed escape from the hot Mexican sun.
There are so many incredible things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, but exploring cenotes should be a bucket-list experience for any traveller.
With plenty of cenotes to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start.
The Gran Cenote is one of the most popular cenotes near Tulum and is filled with submerged tunnels, exotic plants and bats hanging from the cave ceilings.
The entrance fee is 180 pesos, and the cenote is easily reached from Tulum by Taxi. You can get to Tulum from Cancun easily by ADO bus, a local taxi bus (“collectivo”), or by hiring a car.
If you are visiting the famed Chichen Itza, make a stop to explore the crystal blue waters of Cenote Ik-Kil which is just 3KM away. Entrance fee here is 80 Pesos, and you can rent a locker for just 30 pesos. There are also changing rooms and towel rentals available.”
~Rebecca Rayner, Rayner En Route
#6 – Scuba Dive Through Cenote Caves
“As mentioned earlier, cenotes are freshwater-filled sinkholes formed when the roofs of limestone caverns collapse.
In the Yucatan peninsula these cenotes provide an entrance into a complex network of underground caves of hundreds of kilometres in limestone rock. The rainwater that fills the cenotes and cave system is crystal clear, perfect for diving.
An array of stalagmites and stalactites formed over millions of years can be seen diving in some cenotes, making these caves even more beautiful. The Yucatan cenotes are entrances to intricate cave systems that draw divers from all around the world for spectacular cenote diving.
Some info on cave diving requirements—There are many different cenote diving options around this area. If your dive is up to 60m away from the entrance of the cave, it’s considered a “cavern dive”, which requires no special technical dive qualifications (an open water or advanced qualification is sufficient). If you are a trained cave diver you can explore inside the caves.
Dos Ojos is one of the best cenotes near Tulum for cave-diving. A full day trip including two dives from Cancun costs about $200. Cenote Dos Ojos is located in Dos Ojos National Park, close to Tulum a great city with many archaeological sites that can be explored!”
~Campbell and Alya, Stingy Nomads
#7 – Check out the Mayan Museum of Cancun
“If you’re looking for unique things to do in Cancun, you can’t go wrong with an afternoon exploring the artifacts and archeological site at the Museo Maya de Cancun, officially known as Museo Maya de Cancún y Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito, INAH. This activity is perfect if it happens to be raining or if an influx of sargasso seaweed is prompting you to look for activities beyond the beach.
Opened in 2012, and designed by Mexican architect Alberto Garcia Lascurain, with modern lines and an abundance of light, the museum is very contemporary and holds 3,500 artifacts collected by the National Institute of Anthropology and History as well as displays by visiting exhibits.
The museum’s fine collection of precious jewellery, burial treasures as well as stone and textile artifacts reflecting ancient Maya culture are beautifully presented. Also onsite is the San Miguelito Archeological Site where visitors can explore four areas including the Chaak Palace, the North Complex, South Complex and Dragon complex connected by meandering paths through tropical gardens. Be sure to wear insect repellent if you plan to walk in this outdoor area.
This fascinating museum is located in the heart of the hotel zone on Boulevard Kukulcán and can be easily reached by foot, by taxi or public bus (route 1 or 2). Cost of admission is 70 pesos, and the museum accepts MXN pesos only – no USD. Note that it is closed Mondays. Lockers are available for a fee.”
~Michele Peterson, A Taste for Travel
#8 – Unwind on Isla Holbox
“If you are running out of stuff to do in Cancun, why not check out the nearby island of Holbox.
Located 4 hours north of Cancun, Holbox is the place to chill out and enjoy what nature has to offer. On the island, life is simple. You can spend your day biking around the island, swimming with whale sharks, or even flamingo watching.
For lunch, I recommend trying the freshly caught seafood and a refreshing mojito—one of my favorite drinks in Mexico. At night, take a tour to see some of the coolest bioluminescent water.—this activity alone is worth a trip from Cancun.
To arrive at Holbox, you will need to take a bus from Cancun to Chiquila. The journey takes around 3 hours and costs about 250 MXN with the ADO bus company. At Chiquila, you then have to take a ferry that takes 30 minutes to the island of Holbox. The ferry costs 140 MXN pesos per person one way.”
~Sean Lau, Livingoutlau
#9 – Shark Dive at Playa del Carmen
“Let’s face it. There’s tons of fun things to do in Cancun. It’s pretty awesome. But do you know what else is awesome? Diving with bull sharks in Playa Del Carmen and coming face to face with the most feared predator in the sea.
If there’s one thing I learned from Finding Nemo, it’s that there are nice sharks out there, not just mindless killing machines. You are in their world, with nothing but bubbles between you and these beauties. You can’t help but feel a bit more sympathetic to one of nature’s most misunderstood creatures.
The dive site is just off the beach in Playa, so it’s an easy hop for the local dive boats. Sharks gathered here from when fisherman would clean their catch before taking it to shore. Divers have been coming here regularly for decades without incident, but it’s not a novice dive.
You need an advanced or deep certificate because you’ll be resting on the sand 90′ under the sea. The current can kick up too, so make sure you hold tight to the hand-lines on days it’s flowing. Nitrox is available, and not a bad idea to extend bottom time.
Reaching Playa is cheap and easy by bus. The Cancun Airport is about halfway between Playa and Cancun. It’s easier to take a bus from the airport to Playa than to the Hotel Zone. Final note, you’ll want to schedule your dive trip before you head into Cancun to make logistics easy—just make sure to avoid any complications from flying right after diving.
Out of all the best places to dive with sharks around the world, Playa del Carmen is a great choice.”
~Jenn and Ed Coleman, Coleman Concierge
Bonus Tip: If you have some extra time in Playa del Carmen, I highly recommend exploring the nearby island of Cozumel while you’re there!
#10 – Enjoy the Spicy Rauxa Cabaret Show
“One of my favorite things to see in Cancun was the cabaret burlesque show, Rauxa. It was easily one of the most interesting things we did while vacationing in Cancun.
We found out about the show from our hotel information desk, and everything was arranged for us there. We were picked up from our hotel in a comfortable passenger van and driven to and from the show. Be aware that your hotel may underestimate the amount of time it takes to get to the show from Cancun (it’s right past Playa del Carmen)! Whether it was in the interest of increasing sales or perhaps an ignorance of the distance, we were told 35-40 minutes whereas the actual travel time was 65-70 minutes.
The show itself was really entertaining. Described as #sweetdementia in promotional materials, Rauxa certainly lives up to its 18+ rating with sensual dancing, suggestive scenes, and scantily clad performers.
The talent level of the performers was fantastic. The show was extremely smooth and well-rehearsed, and there was never a dull moment. Dinner and an open bar was included and it too was excellent. The cost of the show is listed at $150 USD per person, although we paid 1/3 less through our hotel. I enthusiastically recommend seeing Rauxa when you’re visiting Cancun.”
~Lesley Christensen, Freedom 56 Travel
#11 – Experience Maya Culture at the Xcaret Park
“For a natural and cultural centric theme park that welcomes all ages, look no further than Xcaret Park.
Visit during the day to experience their natural attractions in all their glory. Don’t miss the underground river tours, the jungle, or the Caribbean sea during the day!
You can expect a plethora of cultural attractions within the park as well, including Papantla Flying Men and breathtaking Pre-Hispanic dance performances. You also might want to drop by the wine cellars for a more sophisticated experience within the park.
For an additional fee you can request transportation from your hotel to the park, which might be a welcome addition to your itinerary.
As of the writing of this article, tickets for general admission to the park will run you $112.49 for adults and $56.24 for children, so it’s probably not one of the best things to do in Cancun on a budget. That said, if you book at least 21 days in advance you’ll be able to score a cool 15% of your booking. Xcaret Park is a popular tourist destination. So if this sort of thing is up your alley, don’t miss it!”
#12 – Crawl up the Nohoch Mul Pyramid in Coba
“Coba is an ancient Mayan heritage site located 44 kilometers northwest of Tulum. While Chichen Itza has all the attention of the tourists, Coba is actually much bigger. During its prime time, Coba had five reservoirs and a population of 100,000.
Coba was a Nexus of the largest network of stone causeways of the ancient Mayan world; it is filled with historical evidence of the Late Classic Period of Mesoamerican civilization. Unlike Tulum, the site is built around two lagoons and buried in the Yucatan jungle. The structures are scattered in the woods and connected by branches of plaster roads. To me, the best way to explore the site is to rent a bike and cycle through the wooden paths under the overgrown jungle, trees, and vines.
While you’re at Coba, don’t miss out the Nohoch Mul Pyramid! This 42-meter pyramid is the tallest in Yucatan and one of the best viewpoints. Unlike Chichen Itza, tourists are allowed to climb this pyramid.
In ancient times, Mayan worshipped their gods by crawling their way up with sacrifice. They believed that the higher they went, the closer they were with god. Now, tourists are the ones crawling up to the top, seeking out unobstructed panoramic views—views that literally take your breath away.”
~Kenny Chow, Knycx Journeying
#13 – Go Shopping in Puerto Morelos
“About 30 minutes south of Cancun is the charming fishing village of Puerto Morelos. While there’s plenty to do in Puerto Morelos, one of my favorite things is shopping the markets in the town square.
You can shop for clothes, home goods and of course hand-carved trinkets, games and souvenirs. There’s a fresh fish market, farmer’s market with produce and an ice cream shop. Puerto Morelos is clean, safe and the vendors are not at all pushy.
Maybe the best thing about shopping in Puerto Morelos is that the items are at a steep discount compared to Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. Make sure you haggle your prices and take plenty of money with you. USD is fine, but Pesos are better.
To get to Puerto Morelos from Cancun, you’ll need to get a taxi, Uber or set up a private transfer from your hotel. These will range from $30-$50 each way. You can also take a taxi from your hotel or airbnb to the airport, where there are regularly scheduled busses that run into Puerto Morelos. This method will run about $15-$20 each way.”
~Nikki, She Saves She Travels
Best Stuff to Do in Cancun Cheatsheet
Hope this list gave you some ideas for fun stuff to do in Cancun!
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