The Best Things To Do In Cancun

Cancun is the largest city in the state of Quintana Roo (the capital is actually Chetumal) in the Yucatan Peninsula, which means there are so many things to do in Cancun! It is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the famous Riviera Maya.

With a large airport that connects it to the rest of the country and many other places in North America and Europe, it’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico.

In Cancun, you will find plenty of good hotels, restaurants, and activities to keep you busy in the city and right nearby. Curious to discover some of the best things to do in Cancun, Mexico? Continue reading!

Make sure to read my post Where To Stay In Cancun.

Downtown Cancun

25 Fun Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico

Wander around Downtown Cancun

Cancun is roughly divided into two main areas – Downtown Cancun, also known as Ciudad Cancun, and the Zona Hotelera, the hotel area where all hotels and resorts are located and most tourists hang out.

During my first trip to Cancun, I actually opted to stay in the Downtown Area, which is where the locals live. It’s a fun place to explore! The main street there is Avenida Tulum. It’s where you’ll find small local restaurants, taco carts, shops, bars, and more.

You may want to check out this guided tour of Cancun that also includes tequila tasting and takes you to the main landmarks in town.

Alternatively, you could consider one of the fun street food tours of Cancun. It’s a great way of getting to know local flavors, and a lot of fun!

Parque de las Palapas

Watch local life at Parque de Las Palapas

For the chance to simply sit back and people-watch, one of the most fun things to do in Cancun is to hang out in Parque de Las Palapas. This Downtown city park, just a short walk from Tulum Avenue, is Cancun’s central plaza and has historically been the place to meet, socialize, and hang out.

Here, you’ll find El Cristo Rey, the city’s oldest Catholic church. This means that the plaza is particularly busy on a Sunday. Situated around the park, there are many food vendors and stalls, with local artisans selling various goods.

There’s also a large stage where concerts are often held – it’s where locals go to celebrate New Year’s Eve (and exactly what I did when I was there!).

Families converge here in the afternoons to let their children play as they chat and catch up. The best way to experience it as a visitor is to grab a snack, find a bench, and simply watch everything unfold.

things to do in Cancun
Photo by Ronnie Chua @shutterstock

Experience the energy of Lucha Libre

Lucha Libre is basically Mexican pro wrestling, an iconic sport that has become well-known across the globe. For fans of Lucha Libre, you can actually go and witness a live match in Downtown Cancun.

There are different types of matches you can see – some you can see as part of a tour, so it’s all organized for you.

However, there will be bouts that are less touristic and more about seeing some authentic Lucha Libre throw-downs. You can see the luchadores (wrestlers) strut their stuff at Arena Cancun throughout the week.

If you’re staying at a resort, make sure to check the program – some even put on Lucha Libre matches for guests to see what it’s all about.

Visit El Meco Ruins

The ruins around the Riviera Maya are some of the most popular activities in Cancun, as they give you a peak into the rich culture of the region.

El Meco Ruins is one of the smallest Mayan sites in Mexico. It’s very close to Cancun, so you may as well visit! Even though it’s small, it’s such a good stepping stone into the Mayan culture of the region.

It once was a port in the Yucatan Peninsula that had a close relationship with Isla Mujeres. The most impressive sight there is the 41-foot pyramid.

If you want some time exploring the Caribbean after your visit to El Meco, you can check out the nearby El Meco reef. The reef is right next to the El Meco Ruins and is made up of sunken Spaniard shipwrecks. The wildlife is thriving, and the snorkeling is excellent.

Zona Hotelera
Photo by Frederick Millett @shutterstock

Explore the Zona Hotelera

Cancun Zona Hotelera stretches in the shape of a seven along a 15-mile (24 km) beautiful white-sand beach. This is literally where the vast majority of hotels are, as well as the best restaurants, all along Kulkukan Boulevard.

While it isn’t the most adventurous thing to do, it can be very entertaining, as there is no end to the entertainment in this area.

You will also find plenty of places for a fun night out, too (more about that in a bit).

Visit the Museo Maya

For a more cultural experience without roaming out of the Zona Hotelera, make sure to visit the Museo Maya. This is the perfect pick for museum-lovers and history buffs.

Here, you’ll find a display of more than 3,500 artifacts that will help you get a better understanding of the Maya civilization and what it meant for the Yucatan Peninsula.

You can also visit the San Miguelito Archaeological site, which is included in the price of the ticket and located on the same property.

San Miguelito Archaeological site has four main ruins, with The Chaak Palace sitting in the center of the site. The ruins are mostly in the shade and relatively small, so it’s easy to stay cool while exploring.

El Rey
Photo by achinthamb @shutterstock

Go to El Rey

El Rey is the third of the archeological sites on our list and is located only about 1.5 km (0.9 miles) from the San Miguelito Archeological site. You can easily walk between these two ruins, making it an easy addition to your list of things to do in Cancun.

This small Mayan site is located in the heart of the Zona Hotelera, so you may as well visit while in Cancun, whether or not you take time for Museo Maya.

There is a small temple and some ceremonial platforms, and roaming the site are lots of iguanas.

Cancun nightlife
Photo by Cabeca de Marmore @shutterstock

Party the night away

Alongside its breathtaking beaches, Cancun is well known for its lively nightlife. In fact, sometimes, it seems that the party doesn’t ever stop in this resort town. If you’re a party animal, you’ll definitely want to see what there is on offer when the sun goes down.

Though it has a reputation for being a spring break destination, it’s actually very possible to party in Cancun all year long. There are numerous nightclubs where you can do that.

Coco Bongo is one example – though it is a traditional nightclub. Coco Bongo is a super popular venue for tourists looking for late-night drinks and an eye-catching show. Coco Bongo is a unique show especially for partiers.

For more dance floor action, there’s also the City and, elsewhere, Mandala.

things to do in Cancun

Dive down into Cancún Underwater Museum

Cancun’s Underwater Museum is one of the best things to do in Cancun because of the incredibly unique snorkeling and diving opportunities.

Boasting 500 life-sized sculptures, this museum is unlike any other – mainly because it’s underwater. Located in the waters between Cancun and Isla Mujeres, the underwater museum (also known as MUSA) has been built to promote not only art but also the conservation of marine life.

You can see these weird and wonderful creations up close and personal on a scuba diving expedition. That way, you really see how the sculptures are becoming part of the reef themselves and are attracting various fish and other marine plants.

Don’t worry if you’re not into scuba diving – you can also see this museum by taking a trip on a glass-bottomed boat.

You could consider this snorkeling tour of MUSA. It includes all the gear you may need, but not transportation from your hotel.

Cancun beach

Kick back at Playa Tortugas

Of course, if you’re in Cancun, you’re going to want to spend some time at the beach at some point, considering it is one of the top things to do in Cancun. And there’s no better in town than Playa Tortugas.

This fun-loving beach is the place to go for partying and good times. There are plenty of food stalls and beach clubs for you to find refreshments when you’re not hanging out in the sun or splashing in the sea.

In the daytime, with its warm water and clean sand, Playa Tortugas is actually a fairly family-friendly destination – it’s not until the evening that the party atmosphere starts to kick off.

Various beach huts along the sand offer up a plethora of water sports options, so if sleeping in the sun isn’t your thing, you’re covered.

Playa Delfines
Photo by lunamarina @shutterstock

Unwind at Playa Delfines

This long stretch of sand is one of the most beautiful beaches in Cancun and is perfect for those looking for a less crowded option when they’re in town.

The public beach is lapped by shallow waters, and there are lifeguards here, making it ideal for families with children. There are plenty of amenities like sunshades and loungers, as well as a handful of food stalls to grab a bite to eat.

It’s not that overdeveloped, though, so don’t expect loads of restaurants (like in other parts of Cancun). For a more local, chilled-out kind of beach experience, Playa Delfines is certainly a good option.

And as an added bonus – true to its name – you can sometimes see dolphins from the shores, thanks to its wide-open views of the Caribbean sea.

Golf in Cancun

Play a round of golf

Whether you’re a keen golfer or just like to knock a ball around now and then, one of the best things to do in Cancun is to play golf. Boasting over 15 golf courses, you’ll be pretty much spoilt for choice when it comes to places to enjoy a game or two.

Fortunately, beginners shouldn’t worry – there are courses appropriate for players of every skill level here.

Golf courses range from Pok Ta Pok, which is an 18-hole course in the middle of the Hotel Zone (complete with two practice putting greens and mobile bars). But for something more idyllic, head to Puerto Cancun Golf Course, featuring friendly staff and wide-open views out across the glittering sea as you play.

There’s also Moon Palace Golf Course, a challenging, well-maintained course set among natural surroundings.

Climb up Cancun Scenic Tower

Climb up the Torre Escenica de Cancun – Cancun Scenic Tower for incredible views of Cancun and the Caribbean Coast.

It takes about 5 minutes to ride up to the top of the 100 meters (300-foot) tall tower. Once you are up, the tower slowly spins 360° so you can admire the views, all the while listening to the history of the city.

This is one of the things to do on your first day here because you can learn all about the city and get a lay of the land with a birds-eye-view.

Boat tour cancun

Take a boat trip

While you’re in Cancun, why not hit the high seas and explore the coastline on a boat? The glistening water of Cancun and beyond is so tempting that there’s no doubt you’ll want to get out there.

One of the most popular things to do in Cancun is to book a catamaran. There is a multitude of places that offer up catamaran cruises, each with different tour options and different perks available.

Sailing around on a catamaran is the perfect way to see this part of the Maya Riviera and all its islands. Some tours offer the chance for you to tailor them as much as you want and stop off at remote snorkeling spots. Alternatively, if a sunset dinner cruise is your thing, that’s also an option.

Isla Contoy

Spend the day at Isla Contoy

Isla Contoy is one of the collections of islands situated around the turquoise seas of Cancun. It’s around 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) north of Isla Mujeres. This small, uninhabited island is just 8.5 kilometers (5.2 miles) long and actually makes up the centerpiece of the national park of the same name.

Home to over 150 tropical bird species, as well as four types of endangered sea turtles, the island is a tropical wonder. It’s actually often considered to be the most unique of all the Yucatan Peninsula’s islands. It is located on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, after all.

If you’re looking to get away from crowds and want to relax in some pristine nature, visiting Isla Contoy is one of the most unique things to do in Cancun.

You may want to consider this day trip to Isla Contoy that also goes to Isla Mujeres. It’s a fun tour that includes stops for snorkeling, snorkeling gear and all meals, as well as pick up and drop off.

Read my post The Best National Parks In Mexico.

Isla Mujeres

Or spend a day in Isla Mujeres

One of the best things to do in Cancun is to hop on a ferry and head to Isla Mujeres. This island is only a quick boat ride away.

While it’s still quite a touristy place, the atmosphere in Isla Mujeres is definitely a bit more local or rustic if you like.

Once you get off the ferry, grab a scooter or a golf cart to go around the island. There are Mayan ruins to check out, lots of beautiful beaches (my favorite one is Playa Norte), a turtle sanctuary (Tortugranja), and so much more.

You may want to join this catamaran tour to Isla Mujeres. It includes snorkeling, lunch and hotel pick up and drop off.

Pay a visit to Coba Ruins

Coba Ruins is a whole day trip from Cancun, for sure – it’s about a two-hour drive from the city itself. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t carve out some time to see these ancient wonders.

Here is where the ancient Maya city of Coba once thrived. There are multiple critical buildings that point back to the importance of the city in its heyday – there’s even a preserved network of Mayan-era streets (called sacbe) and other buildings.

The most impressive of these is Coba’s enormous, stepped pyramid – especially impressive considering it was built over 1200 years ago! Make sure you come prepared – it can be hot, and you’ll be out in the blazing sun all day. However, it’s totally worth it to discover the history of the area.

And while Coba isn’t actually in Cancun, it’s still one of the unmissable things to do in Cancun due to strong cultural ties showing ancient Mayan history.

This guided tour of Coba departing from Cancun also goes to Chichen Itza and a nearby cenote. Keep in mind it only provides for a lunchbox so you may want to factor in an extra expense for a proper lunch, or bring your own snacks too.

There’s also this tour of Tulum and Coba ruins that also go to a cenote and includes lunch and transportation.

Or to Tulum

Why pick one set of historic ruins when you can visit both on the same day?

Tulum ruins are among the most impressive Mayan ruins in Mexico. Contrary to Coba, Tulum ruins aren’t immersed in the jungle but face the gorgeous waters of the Caribbean Sea and give access to one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico.

Tulum dates back to the 13th century. Back then, it was called Zama – or City of Dawn, as it faced the rising sun. It used to be a walled Mayan city that served as the main port for Coba, and with its watchtowers right on the cliffs, it also had the purpose of protecting from attacks.

You should consider this guided tour of Tulum departing from Cancun. In this case you need to pay an additional fee for hotel pick up.

Mexican soup

Dine at the old-school La Habichuela

For something a little bit more modern but still, definitely part of Cancun’s history, head out for a bite to eat at La Habichuela. This restaurant has been a Cancun classic for over 40 years and has been serving up delicious food and a homely atmosphere for its customers over the years.

This is the kind of restaurant that people keep coming back to again and again. The food here is a mix of Caribbean and Mexican cuisine, with plenty of seafood and fresh ingredients too. The setting is part of the charm – it’s actually situated in the owners’ garden, with Mayan decorations jostling with kitsch retro furnishings.

Don’t just take my word for it – it’s been featured in many publications as one of the best restaurants in Cancun and, therefore, one of the best things to do in Cancun!

Go shopping at Mercado 28

When you feel a bit restless lazing around in the sun, the sand, or by the pool, it’s time to try some local life. For this, it’s best to head over to Mercado 28. This much-loved flea market features a colorful array of food stalls and souvenir stands, as well as clothes and souvenirs.

Mercado 28 is a must-see when you’re in Cancun, so don’t miss this one! You should definitely make sure you arrive hungry so you can appreciate the array of food vendors and the snacks they serve up.

Once you’re full, wandering the market and browsing the many stalls for a unique find is a perfect way to grab yourself some gifts and souvenirs.

things to do in Cancun

Have fun at Xcaret Park

This large nature park is actually located close to Playa del Carmen, but it makes for a super fun day trip from Cancun – it only takes around an hour to get there, so you won’t be spending too much of your day on a bus.

Spread over 250 acres, Xcaret is a veritable extravaganza with over 50 natural and cultural attractions. It’s certainly not your run-of-the-mill water park.

If you like architecture, head over to the eye-catching Capilla de Todos Los Angeles to witness this incredible structure (and get some amazing views). For glimpsing some wildlife, you can take one of several trails winding their way through the jungle. Alternatively, you could safely snorkel or just float along one of Xcaret’s pools or underground rivers.

Make sure to get your all-inclusive passes to Xcaret Park.

Photo by Mara Feodor @shutterstock

Or at Xplor

One of the most fun things to do in Cancun is riding an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) around the jungle, and there’s no better place to do it than Xplor Park, south of Cancun.

It’s not a cheap activity, but it’s actually not a bad deal when you consider everything that’s included. Once you are in, you can go rafting, cave swimming, ride ATVs, eat and drink whatever you want.

You should get all-inclusive admission tickets to Xplor.

Go to Xoximilco

Designed after the original Xochimilco of Mexico City, where locals and tourists wander around canals on a colorful boat known as trajinera, Xoximilco is a where to go for a fun day (or evening) out.

Here, you hop on a boat that travels along the canals near Cancun while listening to live music and admiring people dancing. Food and tequila are also part of the experience!

Take a day trip to Chichen Itza

No trip to Cancun is complete without a trip to Chichen Itza. It may be around two hours away by car or bus, but seeing this UNESCO World Heritage Site and actual Wonder of the World is a must when you’re in the area.

The ruins are visited by almost three million tourists every year, so make sure to arrive early and plan accordingly.

Dominated by the massive step pyramid, the Temple of Kukulcan (also known as El Castillo), this ancient Mayan city was at its peak between 600 and 1200 AD. In its heyday, it was one of the largest of all the Mayan cities, and it is thought to have had one of the most diverse populations in the Mayan world – hence the range of architectural styles around the ancient city.

You may want to consider this guided day trip to Chichen Itza departing from Cancun. It also goes to Valladolid, Izamal and a nearby cenote.

Otherwise, there is this tour that goes to Chichen Itza, Coba Ruins and Ik Kil cenote and that includes transportation from your hotel and lunch.

Cenote Cristalino

Swim in the cenotes

Cenotes are natural sinkholes that are filled with reservoirs of underground water and rivers. Once used for rituals by the ancient Mayan civilization, these glistening emerald pools are today more of an idyllic way to spend a day on the Yucatan Peninsula and one of the most refreshing things to do in Cancun.

Being based in Cancun, you’ll have a fair amount of cenotes practically on your doorstep. Around a 30-minute drive south of Cancun, you’ll hit the Ruta de Los Cenotes, just outside of Puerto Moreles. Here you’ll find more than 10 cenotes spaced out along a 10-kilometer (around 6 miles) stretch of the road.

Toward the beginning of the route, we have Cenote Sieta Bocas (or “Seven Mouths”), known for the seven underground rivers that confluence here.

Toward the end of the route, we have Cenote Kin Ha – a cave cenote with deep waters with wooden platforms for diving.

I recommend this Riviera Maya cenotes tour from Cancun as it is one of the best in the area.

A could alternative could be this tour that also goes to Chichen Itza and Coba, but it’s a long day away!

Finally, there are unique tours of Hubiku Cenote, Chichen Itza and Valladolid that include transportation and lunch too.

Final Considerations

I came across various sites commenting that one of the best things to do in Cancun is to swim with whale sharks. I can’t comment on this activity, as I haven’t done it myself.

But if you are interested in it, make sure to verify (by reading online reviews) that the operator you are going to do it with runs in a completely responsible manner that is respectful of the animals and the environment. Attracting the animals with food certainly isn’t in their best interest.

Read my post, A Guide to Ethical Animal Tourism, for more information.

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Discover the best things to do in Cancun - via @clautavani

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