Most people travel to Cancun to make the most of the beautiful beaches, fabulous hotels, and incredible service and value for money. I have been to Cancun a bunch of times (I was there for New Year’s Even once, and had a great time) and love it.
But there are many more things to do in Cancun, and the largest city of Quintana Roo is an excellent starting point to explore the Riviera Maya. For example, you’ll find some of the most impressive Mayan sites in the Yucatan Peninsula, smaller islands off the coast, colonial cities, cenotes, natural sites, and so much more.
You can also go on many day trips from Cancun! The city is a great base to explore the Yucatan.
If you are looking for the best Cancun day trips, you are in the right place. As I have already said, I have traveled to the area several times and explored it thoroughly.
Continue reading this post for a selection of the best places to visit on day trips from Cancun, with tips on how to get there and how to make the most of your day!
The Best Cancun Day Trips
The island of Cozumel is easily one of the best Cancun day trips. This beautiful island is located just off the coast of Playa del Carmen and is well known for its beaches and emerald waters abundant with coral and sea life.
Once you’re in Cozumel, it’s time to unwind and bask on those beautiful beaches. Or if you feel like being more active, there are many more things to do in Cozumel, such as snorkeling or scuba diving and seeing the vibrant submarine life beneath the waves.
After all, this is where you’ll find part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – the world’s second-largest coral reef.
You may want to join a boat tour that will take you to the best snorkeling spot. This is a glass-bottom boat tour that takes you to the best snorkel spots on the island.
How to get to Cozumel from Cancun
First, you have to travel from Cancun to Playa del Carmen. You can take a taxi, an ADO private bus, or a colectivo (a public bus across the street from the ADO station in downtown Cancun).
The ride from Cancun to Playa del Carmen should take about an hour.
Once you’re in Playa del Carmen, you have to take the ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel. The ferries are located right in downtown Playa del Carmen, on 5th Avenue (Quinta Avenida). The ferry ride should take about 45 minutes.
If you’re short on time, you can also take a quick day trip from Cancun to Cozumel. This Snorkel Tour in Cozumel departs from Cancun. The guides organize all transportation for you.
No trip to the Yucatan Peninsula would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Chichen Itza. This incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site is only around a two-and-a-half-hour drive away from Cancun, making it easy to reach on day trips from Cancun.
It’s an incredible place that’s cited as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
This large complex of Mayan ruins is dominated by an enormous, stepped pyramid named El Castillo – or, more correctly, the Temple of Kukulcan. This impressive monument overlooks an area that was once a city that thrived between 600 and 1200, and it was home to an estimated 35,000 people.
A day here is an unforgettable way to learn about the history of this part of the world and get an insight into how people once lived in the heyday of the Maya civilization.
How to get to Chichen Itza from Cancun
Currently, there is one ADO bus departing to Chichen Izta from downtown Cancun every morning. The bus takes approximately three hours, which means you’ll get to Chichen Itza during the busy times.
You can also drive yourself. The drive is pretty quick and gives you a lot of freedom to explore nearby activities and places.
A guided tour is the easiest way to get to Chichen Itza, as they organize all transportation for you. Chichen Itza is such a popular destination; there are dozens of different day trips from Cancun departing every day. Both of the tours below are highly rated and include an English-speaking guide.
This is a full-day, all-inclusive tour of Chichen Itza, Valladolid, and a cenote that is a great option to fully enjoy the area.
You should also check out this full-day tour of Chichen Itza with lunch. It also goes to Valladolid and a nearby cenote.
Make sure to read my post A Complete Guide To Visiting Chichen Itza, Mexico.
Valladolid is a beautiful colonial town known for being a great starting point to visit Chichen Itza, but it’s actually a great place to visit in and of itself and hence a great destination for Cancun day trips. A two-hour drive from Cancun, Valladolid is a small city – around 50,000 people live there.
The highlight of the city is easily the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena, a Franciscan convent dating back to 1552. Also notable is the cathedral, and you will surely enjoy wandering around the colorful streets to admire the colonial buildings painted in bright colors.
Finally, within walking distance from the center of Valladolid, you will find a bunch of beautiful cenotes that are perfect for a swim! Zac-Hi is definitely the most famous, whereas a short driving distance, you will find Xkeken (Dzitnup) cenote.
How to get to Valladolid from Cancun
I recommend driving to Valladolid for a chance to explore the surroundings and nearby cenotes. If you don’t feel comfortable driving, you can count on several ADO buses connecting the two cities. The trip takes around two hours and 45 minutes.
Alternatively, you can also opt for a guided tour that goes to Chichen Itza, Cenote Ik Kil, and Valladolid – it’s a great option if you are short on time.
The ruins of Ek’ Balam date from 700-300 BC to 900-1100 AD and are among the most impressive in Mexico. Two hours and 20 minutes drive from Cancun, the site is actually really close to Valladolid, which means you could visit both on day trips from Cancun.
The most notable thing about the site is the defensive walls that surround it and the platforms, plazas, and sacbeob. You’ll be able to spot Mayan glyphs throughout the site too, and a tall pyramid – El Torre.
How to get to Ek Balam from Cancun
There are no direct buses from Cancun to Ek Balam, so the easiest way to travel there is with your own car. The journey takes a little over two hours. You’ll drive past Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and other well-known destinations.
If you don’t have a car, you can go on guided day trips from Cancun that also go to Chichen Itza. For example, you could consider this tour to Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and a cenote that comes highly recommended.
Head over to my post The Best Mayan Ruins In Mexico to learn more about the ruins in the Riviera Maya.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is another of the beautiful, laid-back, yet fun-loving destinations along the Maya Riviera of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Once a quiet fishing village, it has developed into a vibrant town where a wealth of shops, eateries, entertainment, and accommodation have sprung up around this part of the Caribbean coast.
The palm-lined beaches of Playa del Carmen are only part of the story. There are also coral reefs to explore offshore – multiple companies in town will be able to take you on a tour of the best spots. It’s great for nature lovers and for those who simply want to soak up the sun on the sand.
Beach clubs in Playa del Carmen offer food, drink, and poolside chilling in stylish settings. And all of this is just 45 minutes away from Cancun by car or bus.
How to get to Playa del Carmen from Cancun
Playa del Carmen is only 68 kilometers (42 miles) from Cancun, and there are plenty of ways to travel between the two hubs, making this one of the easiest Cancun day trips.
First, you can take an ADO bus from either downtown Cancun or Cancun International Airport to Playa del Carmen.
You can also take a colectivo (local bus) from downtown Cancun to Playa del Carmen. You can catch a colectivo across the ADO station. Colectivos look like large white vans.
You can hire a taxi for a quick ride. While this is one of the most expensive routes, it’s easy to do and hassle-free.
Dreaming about a break on a Caribbean island? Well, dream no more. Isla Mujeres is a tiny but beautiful Caribbean island just a 20-minute boat ride from Cancun. This is definitely one of my favorite day trips from Cancun.
More laid-back and authentic than the larger resort areas along the coast, Isla Mujeres provides one of the top places for Cancun day trips for anybody looking for a rustic atmosphere.
There are plenty of things to see and do on Isla Mujeres – you can reach them all by hiring a golf cart and zooming around the island. The attractions here are varied, including visiting a turtle sanctuary, checking out Mayan ruins, and snorkeling at an underwater museum.
Beaches are definitely also a thing on Isla Mujeres. Playa Norte, on the north of the island, is a particularly good family-friendly spot for soaking up some sunshine and splashing around in the shallow water.
How to get to Isla Mujeres from Cancun
To get to Isla Mujeres, you can hop on a quick ferry leaving from Puerto Juarez or Punta Sam. There are currently three companies that transport to Isla Mujeres: Ultramar, Xcaret Xailing, and Jetway.
For a more relaxing day and if you only want to swim, check out this all-inclusive catamaran day trip from Cancun to Isla Mujeres.
30 kilometers (18.6 miles) north of Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy is the perfect destination for Cancun day trips.
The tiny island (it’s just 8.5 kilometers – 5.2 miles – long) is located on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, and the island is part of a national park. It’s also a perfect place for birdwatching, as it is home to an abundance of sea turtles and more than 150 tropical bird species.
It’s an overall great place to visit if you want to get away from the typical crowds of Cancun and the rest of the Mayan Riviera and be completely immersed in the pristine nature of this part of the Yucatan Peninsula.
How to get to Isla Contoy from Cancun
Because Isla Contoy is a tiny island protected by the state, you can only really get there with a boat or on a guided tour.
The easiest way to reach Isla Contoy is with a guided boat trip, either from Cancun or Isla Mujeres.
This is an Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy tour from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or other nearby places in the Riviera Maya. This tour has excellent reviews and is one of the best ways to visit Isla Contoy.
Cenotes – derived from the Yucatec Maya word tsʼonot – are natural sinkholes that are filled with water from underground rivers or groundwater.
Once used for religious rites by the ancient Maya people, these natural pools are today dreamy destinations for diving into glistening turquoise waters. Depending on the cenote, you could explore subterranean rivers and caverns, too.
There is a whole host of cenotes that make really easy day trips from Cancun. Some are very easy to reach, such as the nearby Cenote La Noria (around a 50-minute drive away), a picture-perfect spot that boasts snorkeling opportunities.
Around 45 minutes by car, Cenote Azul – near Playa del Carmen – is a popular spot for swimming, drenched in sunlight and surrounded by jungle. Close by, Cenote Jardin del Eden and Cenote Cristalino are also easily visited.
How to get to the cenotes from Cancun
Some cenotes are easy to travel to by bus. Specifically, the cenotes between Cancun and Playa del Carmen (Cenote Jardin del Eden, Cenote Cristalino, Cenote Azul, and Dos Ojos).
However, you may want to rent a car or hire a driver. This way, you’ll have more freedom and can visit some of the lesser-known cenotes.
Conversely, some tourist companies do offer a cenotes tour that takes you to some of the best cenotes in the Riviera Maya and handles all transportation.
This is one of the best Cenote Tours in all of the Riviera Maya. The guide takes you to several different cenotes, including closed cenotes, adventure cenotes (with ziplining), and kayaking in a semi-open cenote.
Akumal, meaning “Place of the Turtle”, is a perfect spot for relaxing on white sand beaches and lapping up its easygoing atmosphere. It’s actually one of my favorite places for day trips from Cancun, and probably my overall favorite beach in Mexico!
The small beachfront community is much more sleepy in comparison to Cancun and was built on a former coconut plantation.
But what it lacks in people (its population is only around 1,500), it makes up for in terms of marine life. In fact, Akumal was actually founded as a community by scuba divers in 1958.
Since then, it’s become a prime destination for snorkeling, diving, and other aquatic adventures. In particular, the shallow bay of Akumal attracts endangered green sea turtles who come to feed on seagrass.
Because of its abundant wildlife, Akumal has been named a marine refuge.
How to get to Akumal from Cancun
If you drive south along the coast from Cancun, after 100 kilometers (62 miles) or so, you’ll reach the resort town of Akumal.
You can hop on an ADO or a colectivo toward Tulum and ask to get dropped off at Akumal. The bus will let you off on the side of the highway, and it’s just a 10-minute walk down to the beach.
There are also several day trips from Cancun that stop in Akumal for snorkeling with the sea turtles.
Some tours around the Riviera Maya include a guided snorkel trip to Akumal. This is an excellent boat tour that includes swimming with sea turtles in Akumal and a guided trip to Tulum Ruins.
You should also read my post The Best Beaches In Mexico.
Xcaret is a nature park situated near Playa del Carmen, around an hour from Cancun. This park is totally jam-packed with adventurous activities and makes for one of the best Cancun day trips.
In fact, there are more than 50 natural and cultural attractions scattered around Xcaret, so you can’t get bored here.
Pronounced “Ish-ka-ret”, this eco-park is spread over 250 acres. Time here can be spent admiring the colorful birds in the aviary, floating along an underground river, embarking on the tropical jungle trail, and meeting some spider monkeys on Monkey Island.
And with cenotes and a slice of beach, make sure not to forget your swimsuit and snorkel.
With restaurants, shows, and educational talks about Mexican culture, Xcaret is a great family-friendly place to come to learn and be educated on your vacation.
Elsewhere, Children’s World is crammed with activities, from climbing nets, labyrinths, and obstacle courses, to wading pools and sandpits.
You can get a full-day pass to Xcaret here (note: this ticket does not include transportation).
How to get to Xcaret from Cancun
Xcaret is one of the most popular activities in the Riviera Maya. Therefore, transportation is really easy. You can take a bus or colectivo from Cancun directly to the Xcaret entrance. Or you can take a taxi.
There’s usually a line of taxis waiting outside of Xcaret to help with your return.
Some tour companies also offer a package deal of Xcaret entrance tickets with transportation from Cancun.
If you want to save yourself some hassle, you can book your Xcaret entrance with transportation from Cancun ahead of time.
If you like a beachside destination and also want to see some Mayan ruins at the same time, then you might want to take a day trip from Cancun to Tulum. When my sister and I visited for the first time we could not believe the beauty of the site (and of the beach below!). Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit!
Situated around an hour and forty minutes away by car – further south than Playa del Carmen – Tulum is more chilled out than its neighbors. It’s popular not only with spring breakers and honeymooners but also with backpackers and families, making it less party-centric than other towns.
Tulum was once a major port for the Maya civilization and was a walled, fortified settlement. It was one of the last Mayan cities to be built and abandoned, surviving well into the late 16th century.
Today, remnants of this make for some of the best things to see in Tulum, such as the cliffside Tulum ruins – a picturesque spot to whisk you back to the heyday of this port town.
How to get to Tulum from Cancun
The easiest way to get from Cancun to Tulum ruins is by car. If you don’t have a car, you can take one of the frequent ADO buses departing from Cancun to Tulum ruins. Finally, you may consider joining one of the many guided tours departing daily from Cancun.
This is one of the best guided day trips from Cancun to Tulum. The tour includes Coba, Tulum Ruins, a cenote, and a tour of Playa del Carmen too.
Make sure to read my Guide To Visiting Tulum Ruins.
For more Mayan ruins, you should make time to visit Coba. This is a site I truly like and which actually came as a surprise the first time I visited. I was not expecting anything so grand – in fact it’s much bigger than Tulum! This archaeological site is around a two-hour drive away from Cancun, so it makes for an easy day trip.
Situated next to a modern village of the same name, the ancient ruins of Coba once formed part of a city that is thought to have been home to around 50,000 inhabitants.
The site consists of residential areas, as well as walkways and temples, so visitors will really have a chance to explore and see what it may have been like to live in a Mayan city.
One of the most prominent buildings is the Nohoch Mul Pyramid – a 138-foot tall (that’s 32 meters) pyramid with 120 steps that visitors can climb up. After wandering around this ancient wonder, the nearby cenotes make for a refreshing place to cool off.
How to get to Coba from Cancun
The easiest way to get from Cancun to Coba is by car. There are no direct buses, so you’d have to travel to Tulum Pueblo and then get a bus or – better – a colectivo to the site. Alternatively, there are plenty of good guided tours departing from Cancun. I actually recommend a guided tour anyways, because the site is massive.
The best tours of Coba departing from Cancun usually include a visit to Tulum and a nearby cenote.
Head over to my post The Best Guide To Visiting Coba Ruins for more information on this unique site.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, or simply Sian Ka’an, is an area rich with flora and fauna that nature lovers will enjoy. Dedicated as a biosphere reserve in 1986, the 400,000-hectare site was then designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site a year later.
Located a two-hour drive from Cancun, visiting Sian Ka’an – meaning “Origin of the Sky” in the Maya language – means further understanding the natural beauty of this part of Mexico.
The reserve encompasses coastal wetlands and glimmering lagoons and is home to various different animals, including 300 species of bird, jaguar, puma, and black howler monkeys.
A portion of the reserve also covers a marine area, which protects a part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, as well as the seagrass beds, which are important for sea turtles and other marine animals.
Visitors to Sian Ka’an can go bird watching, hop on a sunset tour, or opt to snorkel over the reef.
How to get to Sian Ka’an from Cancun
Sian Ka’an is a large area, so it should be no surprise that there are several entrances. There are two entrances not too far from Tulum: Punta Allen and Muyil.
Punta Allen is the beach and coastal section of Sian Ka’an. In contrast, Muyil is the jungle, marsh, and lagoon section of Sian Ka’an.
You can reach both these entries by colectivo, but it’s rather complicated as there is usually only one colectivo departure a day. That means you’ll need at least a few days to spend in the nature reserve.
It’s much easier to drive yourself. That way, you can leave early in the morning and work on your own schedule.
However, the easiest way to visit Sian Ka’an is with a guided tour from Cancun. A tour will plan on transportation and organize entrance fees and the itinerary. There are several day troips from Cancun to Sian Ka’an Reserve.
This half-day tour from Cancun takes you to all the best archeological sites in Sian Ka’an and includes a boat tour of the region.
Laguna de Bacalar
Situated in southern Quintana Roo is Laguna de Bacalar. This picture-perfect slice of water is a long, narrow lake, running for 42 kilometers (26 miles) but is only two kilometers (1.2 miles) across at its widest. It’s fed by numerous underground rivers, for which the Yucatan Peninsula is well known.
Thanks to the white limestone at the bottom of the lake, the water here is famously clear and, therefore, ideal for snorkeling and swimming. It’s also rich in underwater life, including a colony of stromatolites – stony formations created by cyanobacteria and some of the oldest lifeforms on Earth.
As well as snorkeling and seeing the underwater world of Bacalar, there are a number of other activities to enjoy. Kayaking is popular here, and there are many rental companies situated around the lake – a boat tour allows you to see the length and breadth of the lake with a knowledgeable guide.
How to get to Bacalar from Cancun
Bacalar is a four-hour drive from Cancun. There are ADO buses that regularly make the trip, but because it’s such a long drive, it’s recommended to drive on your own or go on a guided tour.
It’s actually recommended to spend a few days in Bacalar since it’s kind of a long journey. However, if you’re short on time, you can turn this into a day trip, as well. Just make sure you leave early.
Check out this 11-hour guided tour of Bacalar from Cancun. This tour includes round-trip transportation, grilled lunch, snacks, and beverages. It doesn’t include any additional activities, photo service, or alcoholic beverages.
For more eco-tourism wonders, take a trip to Xel-Ha Park. Situated around an hour and a half south of Cancun, it’s a perfect mix of stunning, serene nature and a fun day out for everyone. It’s great for families or groups of friends alike.
Xel-Ha Park is a good option for Cancun day trips if you’re an active person who can’t sit still. There’s a whole range of things to do at this eco-park.
You could go ziplining across the jungle canopy, or maybe you could take a river tour and witness the wide array of wildlife here. Alternatively, you could hike the jungle trail overflowing with native plants.
One of the most popular attractions at Xel-Ha is the Scenic Lighthouse. This 131-foot (almost 40 meters) landmark tower offers 360-degree views across the landscape and really allows you to take in the gleaming aqua waters and lush green jungle.
To get down, you could opt to take one of the four waterslides that spiral down into the natural pool below!
How to get to Xel-Ha from Cancun
Xel-Ha Park is about an hour and a half from Cancun. It’s right off the 307 Highway, toward Tulum and just past Akumal.
You can take a local colectivo, ADO bus, or taxi to Xel-Ha. It’s always pretty easy to get transportation on your return home, as there are plenty of taxis and such waiting outside the park.
You will need to have a pass to get in – you can get that here.
Otherwise, you can get a pass with a transportation add-on and you won’t have to worry about how to get there.
Merida may be relatively far from Cancun, and there’s quite a bit to see there – so I’d actually recommend spending a night or two there. If a day is all you have, a day trip to this beautiful city is well worth it.
Merida is the capital of Yucatan and, as such, is rich in both Mayan culture and colonial heritage. Spending the day here means wandering the city’s charming streets, hitting up a museum or two, and eating at a traditional restaurant.
Dubbed “Ciudad Blanca” or “White City”, Merida is awash with white-washed colonial-era buildings dotted with a rainbow of pastel-colored homes – so don’t forget to bring your camera!
A great way to get to grips with what the city has to offer is to opt for a free walking tour of Merida’s historic center. And if you’ve got time, make sure to explore the bustling central market, which dates back to the late 19th century.
How to get to Merida from Cancun
If you have your own car, driving to Merida takes about three hours and 45 minutes. There are regular ADO buses, too – the quickest one takes four hours and leaves at 7:37 a.m., so you’d have plenty of time to explore the city.
Meaning “Black Hole” in the Mayan language, Holbox is a thin, serpentine island separated from the mainland by the Yalahau Lagoon. Part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, Isla Holbox sits between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
Due to being a reserve, it’s a car-free island. It’s so beautiful that you will want to spend way more than a day there!
People flock to Holbox for its powdery white sand beaches and its rich marine life. Think sea turtles and whale sharks, as well as bird species such as flamingos and pelicans.
Away from the wildlife-watching opportunities, Isla Holbox is renowned for its kiteboarding and incredible seafood.
It’s such a beautiful island that you may just end up wanting to spend the night here – thankfully, with its many laid-back hostels and beachside villas, that’s very possible!
How to get to Isla Holbox from Cancun
The journey from Cancun to Isla Holbox takes about two and a half hours. First, you’ll take a bus or taxi from Cancun to Chiquila (where the ferry departs for Holbox). Once in Chiquila, hop on the ferry to Holbox. The ferry takes about 30 minutes.
If you’re really short on time, consider booking a guided tour from Cancun to Holbox.
If you only have a day to spare, you can count on good day tours departing from Cancun. Check out this excellent, highly-rated full-day tour from Cancun to Holbox. The tour includes transportation, lunch, and a local guide.