15 Best Day Trips from Cancun

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Cancun has become a Mecca for young party animals in search of a cheap holiday and an epic adventure.

Consisting of two distinct areas El Centro, and Zona Hotelera, the city is awash with vast hotel resorts and tourist orientated bars wherever you turn.

In Zona Hotelera you will find the party people, the beachfront bars and chaotic clubs.

Although Cancun has a lot to offer it is best appreciated when teamed with a day trip or two, to provide you with a rounded view of the wonderful nation of Mexico.

Rich in cultural heritage there are dozens of incredible places to visit with the easy day trips from Cancun.

1. Xel-Há

Xel-HáSource: Lisa Strachan / shutterstock

The Xel-Há is an amazing natural aquarium park like no other.

This is a truly unique tourist attraction that features a mangrove forest, a cenote, zip lines, waterslides and more.

Both a theme park and an ecotourism and ecological preservation project, Xel-Há is an awesome way to spend a day.

You can snorkel with the tropical fish and follow the iridescent shoals as they flit around the warm waters.

What is great about Xel-Há is that you can do as you please; you can cram in activities from dawn until dusk or you can relax in a hammock and soak up the sun with a swim thrown in for good measure.

2. Chichen Itza

Chichen ItzaSource: Pakhnyushchy / shutterstock
Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most important historical landmarks and has been named as one of the new seven wonders of the world.

This tremendous stepped pyramid is also known as El Castillo or Temple and Kukulcan.

Chichen Itza is, to this day, considered to be a deeply spiritual and sacred place by the Mayan people.

Throughout the Chichen Itza ruined city you will find dozens of stone carvings that have survived over 2000 years.

Look specifically for the Wall of Skills and the Temple of the Warriors.

When Chichen Itza was abandoned the jungle took over.

It is humbling to see how the jungle has reclaimed the surrounding areas.

3. Isla Contoy

Isla Contoy, MexicoSource: Maciej Czekajewski / shutterstock
Isla Contoy

Isla Contoy sits about a 40-minute speedboat ride from Cancun and is one of Mexico’s best snorkelling spots.

Lying in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef ecosystem in the world.

With so much doom and gloom hitting the headlines about our world disappearing before our eyes Isla Contoy gives you the opportunity to experience the planet’s natural marine beauty at its best.

This tiny island is merely 8.5km in length and is picture perfect beyond belief.

As Cancun grows in popularity so does Isla Contoy so visit as soon as you can to avoid the impending crowds.

4. Isla Mujeres

Isla MujeresSource: Fairy Lens / shutterstock
Isla Mujeres

Much like Isla Contoy, Isla Mujeres is one of the most beautiful spots along the Yucatan Peninsula.

This is an inhabited island that features a smattering of Mayan ruins and dozens of breathtaking snorkelling spots.

Isla Mujeres is a vacation destination that is becoming more and more popular, especially around Playa Norte.

If you get lucky you could be snorkeling with sea turtles all day long.

For a mixture of exploration and relaxation spend the morning strolling around El Meco and Punta Sur then head to Playa Lancheros or Shark Beach for a sunbathe and snorkel.

5. Xplor Park

Xplor ParkSource: www.xplor.travel
Xplor Park

For a super fun, action packed day out then there is no better place to head than Xplor Park.

This jungle playground can be found at the heart of the Riviera Maya and genuinely has something for everyone.

From rafting to zip lining, cave swimming and amphibious vehicle adventures, Xplor Park provides an adrenaline fuelled day out for all.

In addition to the man made attractions Xplor Park sits right on the river banks, is surrounded by lush, dense rainforest and has its own cave complex featuring calcareous stalagmites.

The Xplor Park is one of the most popular day excursions from Cancun so be sure to book in advance, especially in high season.

6. Tulum

Tulum, MexicoSource: xabi_kls / shutterstock

Tulum is not only a coastal resort town but is a protected national park and ancient Mayan archaeological site.

Sitting on the ridge of the vegetated cliffs Tulum is a walled Mayan frontier that overlooks the dazzling Caribbean Sea.

Reinvented as a hang out for hippie travellers Tulum offers you the best of both worlds; impeccably preserved cultural heritage and dozens of tourist oriented bars and cafes.

Learn about Mayan culture from a local guide and take time to immerse and reflect in this spiritual site.

Then move on to modern Tulum, hang with locals and travellers, swap stories and even take a stroll along the sun kissed beach.

7. Cenote Zacil-ha

Cenote Zacil-haSource: Alyssa Gunn / shutterstock
Cenote Zacil-ha

If you like to flick through travel magazines and scour social media for travel inspiration chances are you have seen dozens of photographs of your fellow adventurers swinging from vines into mystical sinkholes, also known as cenotes.

One of the most impressive cenotes near Cancun is Cenote Zacil-ha, close to Tulum.

This is a family friendly attraction that costs just 50 pesos to enter.

There are no stall vendors hassling you nor is it too overcrowded.

You can hire snorkels or bring your own.

You can couple a visit to Cenote Zacil-ha with an afternoon at Gran Cenote to experience more of these geographical wonders.

8. Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen, MexicoSource: Patryk Kosmider / shutterstock
Playa Del Carmen

Sharing the Yucatán Peninsula with Cancun is the lesser known resort town of Playa del Carmen.

This little gem has just the right amount of tourist facilities and a sublime stretch of beach.

Much of the town is pedestrianised so you can saunter, stroll and snake your way through the streets without a care in the world.

There is a typically Mexican feel to Playa del Carmen, the people are incredibly welcoming and are happy to help you navigate the Spanish language should you be prepared to try.

There are some amazing coral reefs lying off the shores of Playa del Carmen; get snorkelling if you can.

9. Ek’Balam

Ek’BalamSource: Angelina Pilarinos / shutterstock

The astounding Mayan archaeological site of Ek’Balam is one of the largest of its kind.

Strategically placed at the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula, in ancient times Ek’Balam was the location of ritual ceremonies and mass worship.

Ek’Balam means Black Jaguar but historians have revealed that the original name of this city was more likely Talol.

Once a beacon for the Mayan people Ek’Balam slowly became dwarfed by Chichen Itza.

Although the focus moved 56 km northeast to Chichen Itza, Ek’Balam was lovingly preserved.

To this day visitors can observe the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the walls of the city and too the stucco sculptures that remain.

10. Valladolid

Valladolid, MexicoSource: Eddy Galeotti / shutterstock
Valladolid, Mexico

Culture vultures will love Valladolid.

Proudly preserving its Spanish heritage and further cultivating it within modern life Valladolid is a truly special city.

The Convent of San Bernardino of Siena, constructed in the 16th-Century is a wonderful example of colonial architecture.

The convent features an ostentatious wooden altar which is a sight to behold.

The convent complex also houses the San Gervasio Cathedral which is a little younger and built in baroque style.

If you are short on time it is possible to couple a visit to Valladolid with the ancient Mayan site of Ek’Balam.

11. Coba

Cobá, MexicoSource: phortun / shutterstock

You could easily spend a whole vacation exploring one ancient Mayan site after another and never tire.

One Mayan city not to be missed is Coba.

What makes Coba so special is that its well off the beaten tourist trail.

One of the highlights of a visit to Coba is taking a bicycles ride through the scabes.

There are 16 of these ancient roads open to the public although over 50 have been discovered by the archaeologists who have dedicated their lives to studying this area.

You cannot leave Coba without having climbed to the top of ‘Ixmoja’ the central pyramid, although there are only 120 steps you’ll certainly be short of breath by the time you reach the top.

12. Akumal Bay

Akumal BaySource: Irina Klyuchnikova / shutterstock
Akumal Bay

For many people swimming with turtles comes at the very top of their bucket list.

In Mexico you can make your dreams come true.

This is a world class snorkeling spot that is famed for is strong population of sea turtles.

Off the coast of Akumal Bay you’ll find not only your flippered friends but beautiful coral reefs and awe-inspiring sinkholes, caverns and caves.

You should endeavour to keep a respectful distance from the turtles and certainly never touch them.

You can couple a snorkelling session or two at Akumal Bay with a tour of Tulum should you wish.

13. Sian Ka’an Biosphere

Sian Ka’an BiosphereSource: Inspired By Maps / shutterstock
Sian Ka’an Biosphere

Sitting within the municipality of Tulum, and just south of Playa del Carmen, is the UNESCO World Heritage Site named Sian Ka’an Biosphere.

Universally considered to be one of Mexico’s best nature preserves, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere features vast mangroves and marshes, as well as a breathtaking tropical forest.

Many people choose to join a tour group to visit the biosphere in order to have a seamless and engaging experience.

However you can go solo and enter the Sian Ka’an Biosphere from Punta Allen or Muyil.

Head to Muyil if you are keen on jungle and Mayan ruins.

You’ll love the Punta Allen side if you are keen on wildlife and ocean lagoons.

14. Isla Cozumel

Isla CozumelSource: Ramunas Bruzas / shutterstock
Isla Cozumel

Isla Cozumel is one of the most authentic of the islands sitting off the Mexican coast.

Despite being a famous cruise ship port Isla Cozumel preserves is cultural charm and natural beauty.

Encompassed by the Mesoamerican Reef if you want to visit some of the world’s greatest snorkelling and diving spots you should make a day trip to Isla Cozumel a priory.

From the pristine sandy shores of Isla Cozumel you can jump aboard a speed boat, snorkel and mask in hand, and head out to Museo Subacuático de Arte.

This is a submerged art museum featuring dozens of sculptures.

A visit to Museo Subacuático de Arte is a great way to test your snorkelling skills.

15. Puerto Morelos

Puerto MorelosSource: Tono Balaguer / shutterstock
Puerto Morelos

The much loves coastal town and seaport of Puerto Morelos can be found in Quintana Roo, sharing the Yucatán Peninsula with Cancun to the North.

Once a fishing village Puerto Morelos has experienced a surge in development over the past few decades, nevertheless is retains much of its village charm.

Divers, snorkelers and swimmers will love Puerto Morelos for turtles not only breed on the beach but reside in the crystal clear waters that lap against the sand.

Returning to the inland there are dozens of freshwater cenotes to explore.

The most popular of them being Verde Lucero Cenote, closely followed by Las Mojarras Cenote.

15 Best Day Trips from Cancun:

  • Xel-Há
  • Chichen Itza
  • Isla Contoy
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Xplor Park
  • Tulum
  • Cenote Zacil-ha
  • Playa del Carmen
  • Ek’Balam
  • Valladolid
  • Coba
  • Akumal Bay
  • Sian Ka’an Biosphere
  • Isla Cozumel
  • Puerto Morelos