Cancun is one of Mexico’s top vacation destinations, and for good reason. Located at the tip of the Mexican peninsula, it is cradled by the warm blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Cancun is also a place where Mayan culture comes alive, where you can explore a vibrant jungle, and later, enjoy a rocking nightlife.
Cancun is so exciting that Trip Advisor has named it the second most attractive summer vacation spot the world over. So what are the top things to do, see, and enjoy in Cancun? Stick around, we’ll tell you!
Explore Chichen Itza
Though technically outside of Cancun, you can’t miss the chance to visit Chichen Itza, an ancient city that dates back to the 5th century.
When you think of the pyramid ruins of Chichen Itza, chances are it is El Castillo, or the Temple of Kukulkan, that comes to mind. It is designed in accordance with the astronomical calendar and during the equinoxes, the sun’s rays create the appearance of a feathered snake slithering down the sides.
Other highlights at Chichen Itza include a Mesoamerican ball court, a sacred cenote (read more about cenotes later), an ancient observatory, and the tzompantli, a macabre spot where the skulls of captured and slain warriors were proudly displayed.
Get there via any of the many daily bus tours available.
Swim with Whale Sharks
Marvel in the grandness of nature when you swim alongside the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. As huge as they are (roughly the size of a school bus), whale sharks are very docile creatures. With a blunt snout and orderly white spots between pale vertical and horizontal stripes all over their bodies, whale sharks are a wonder to behold.
The best place to see whale sharks is the Yucatan coast near Cancun. From June through September, you can take a boat tour that allows you to actually swim with these majestic creatures. For the safety of the animals, most tours limit the number of people in the water at one time. Take a private tour in order to get more whale face time.
Maya Museum & San Miguelito Ruins
When you visit Cancun, you’ll probably end up staying at one of the beautiful hotels in the Hotel Zone. This is a 12-mile long island (accessible by public transportation) that features some of the most gorgeous resorts anywhere in the world.
It also boasts the Museo Maya and San Miguelito archaeological site, a not-to-be-missed attraction. The museum is loaded with fascinating Maya artifacts from the Yucatan to immerse you in the history, archaeology, and culture of this technologically advanced people.
Tickets to the museum also cover a visit to the San Miguelito site, which is a collection of Mayan ruins displayed throughout a lush jungle garden. You will feel transported back in time as you encounter the remains of family homes, a temple, and a pyramid.
All this is located on an 80-hectare compound right within the Hotel Zone. Talk about an easy day trip that can seriously change your life.
Speed Boat Jungle Lagoon Tour
The gorgeous Nichupte Lagoon is an area surrounded by mangrove jungle that has been cut through with many winding canals. Several tours allow you to explore the lagoon in a two-seater speed boat, but come ready to decide who gets to drive!
Along the way you’ll see a ton of wildlife and when you reach the reef, take a relaxing snorkel break before heading back. Some snorkel sites are actually in view of the Underwater Museum, but you’ll want to make that a separate adventure.
You don’t want to miss a visit to the Underwater Museum (or MUSA) in Cancun, which consists of more than 500 sculptures designed and installed by six artists. These sculptures are not only beautiful, they are there to encourage the growth of new coral and replenish stripped marine habitats.
New installations are added regularly as marine wildlife obscures older pieces. For the most intimate look at this living art, schedule a scuba diving tour. If that’s not your thing, you can also experience MUSA by snorkeling or in a glass-bottomed boat.
One of the best things about vacationing is the shopping – passing countless hours discovering treasures you never knew existed. The best place to shop in Cancun is Market 28 (Mercado 28 in Spanish). It’s a gigantic flea market right in the downtown area with over 600 vendors and restaurants.
Wander the dense maze-like passageways to find all sorts of unique handicrafts and delicious treats. Be prepared, though, because the salespeople can be aggressive and expect to haggle. If you’re good, you will score some amazing deals.
Get to the Mercado by bus from your hotel. If you don’t find anything that sparks joy at the market, which we doubt, the Walmart is only one bus stop further on.
Snorkel in the Cenotes
Cenotes are natural pools that form in craters made by collapsed limestone. One of the most famous cenotes is at Chichen Itza, but the Riviera coast actually has almost 7,000 of them total. Some are open to the sun while others exist as part of huge underground cave and river systems.
Both types are thrilling to swim, snorkel, or scuba dive. Equipment is usually available for rent at the site; you’ll get a flashlight along with your diving or snorkeling gear at the underground locations.
This list represents some of the top things to do, see, and enjoy in Cancun, but is by no means an exhaustive list. There are probably hundreds of reasons to put Cancun on your vacation wish list, not just once, but many times over!