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10 Fun Day Trips From Cancun

In Cancun and its nearby towns, you will find everything from cenotes to ruins to adventure theme parks. You could easily spend weeks, if not a month exploring the Mexican Yucatan area. Here are our favorite fun excursions and the best day trips from Cancun.

From breathtaking islands to Mayan ruins and cenote swimming pools – as well as beautiful, colonial towns – the area surrounding Cancun is bursting with day trips.

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Cancun view of coast

Day Trips, Excursions, and More Things To Do in Cancun

Cancun is located in the state of Quintana Roo on the Mexican Caribbean coast. Here are a few highlights of how you might want to spend your time in Cancun including easy day trips .

Alexa Meisler rappelling

Beach and pool time is a huge reason many people vacation in Cancun. Let’s face it, if you are heading to Cancun in January from Wisconsin or Nebraska, you’ll want to soak in the sunshine (and who can blame you)! Make sure to plan for at least a day or two to decompress and relax poolside or at the beach. However, do yourself a favor and explore Cancun and more of the Yucatan peninsula!

The best way to arrange day trips and tours is by renting a car and doing it on your own or booking with a tour company.

When I visited with my son, for our excursions to the surrounding areas we rented a car and drove ourselves to several Mayan ruins and cenotes near Cancun. We used rentalcars.com to reserve our car in advance. 

If you decide to book a tour, I really like and trust Viator as well as Get Your Guide.

Towns & Areas Nearby Cancun that are Worth a Visit (Or even a 1-2 night stay)

Riviera Maya

Turtle Swimming

The Riviera Maya is a stretch of Caribbean coastline on Mexico’s northeastern Yucatán Peninsula. It’s known for its numerous all-inclusive resorts, such as those in the town of Playa del Carmen, and its long beaches.

Riviera Maya also includes Tulum, Akumal and Puerto Morelos. Top theme parks in the Riviera Maya include Xcaret Park, Xplor, Xel-Ha Park and Xenses Park.

Suggested Activity3-in-1 Discovery Combo Tour: Ruins, Reef Snorkeling Plus Cenote and Caves

Costa Mujeres

Located just to the north of Cancun, this is the newest area to be developed. You’ll find a variety of resorts here, that tend to be a bit quieter, calm, and more secluded.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is a coastal resort town dotted with palm trees and known for it’s coral reefs and superb snorkeling. They also have a great pedestrian walkway that runs parallel to the beach called Quinta Avenida with blocks of shops, restaurants, laid-back bars and dance clubs.

The Río Secreto Nature Reserve is one of the most popular things to do here. The semi-sunken cave system is located just a few miles from Playa del Carmen.

Best Tour in Playa Del Carmen: Rio Secreto stunning underground river with thousands of dramatic stalactites and stalagmites.

Tulum

Tulum ruins

To the south, Tulum is home to yoga retreats and the preserved ruins of an ancient Mayan port city, perched on an outcrop above a white-sand beach. Beyond visiting the ruins, one of the best things you can do in Tulum is rent a bike for the day. It’s a great way to explore.

The best day trip from Cancun to Tulum: Ruins & Cenote Tour

Day Trips from Cancun to Quaint Colonial Towns

Merida

Merida, Mexico

Mérida is the capital of the Yucatán. It has a rich Mayan and colonial heritage. The city’s focal point is Plaza de la Independencia, bordered by the fortresslike Mérida Cathedral and white limestone Iglesia de la Tercera Orden, both colonial-era churches built using relics from ancient Mayan temples.

The Casa de Montejo, a 16th-century mansion, is a landmark of colonial plateresque architecture.

Best Day Trip Tour from Cancun to Merida: Merida Uxmal and Cacao Plantation Day Trip

Valladolid

valladolid, mexico

Valladolid is located west of Cancun and is the halfway point to the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá. The colonial city of Valladolid has sites including the 16th-century Convent of San Bernardino of Siena, with an ornate wooden altarpiece, and baroque-style San Gervasio Cathedral.

Casa de los Venados has Mexican folk art and furnishings. Cenote Zací is a sinkhole pool with stalactites. The underground cenotes of Samulá and X’Kekén lie southwest.

The town is easy to navigate and fun to walk around. There is a quaint city square, good shopping, a chocolate factory, and delicious restaurants to choose from.

This day trip from Cancun combines Chichen Itza, Cenote Ikkil, Valladolid and Mayan Lunch

Archaeological Sites​​ & Mayan Ruins

Chichén-Itzá archaeological site located in Yucatan

Chichén Itzá is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico and is just over two hours from Cancun. The ancient Mayan site is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

There is limited shade to be found at most of the ruin sites, and it can be very hot. Most importantly, bring plenty of water and stay hydrated!

Chichen Itza is a must, but know there are additional Mayan ruins and archaeological site locations that can be visited including El Rey (ancient Mayan city), Tulum (Mayan ruin), Coba (ancient Mayan city), and Ek Balam (pre-Hispanic Mayan city).

Best Cancun Full-Day Tour: Chichen Itza Plus Cenote Maya

Nearby Islands

Holbox

Holbox
Punta Cocos on Isla Holbox

Isla Holbox is a small island north of Cancun. It’s part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve and is separated from the mainland by the Yalahau Lagoon, which is home to flamingos and pelicans.

The car-free island, between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, is rich in marine life such as sea turtles and whale sharks. Highlights include laid-back Holbox Village and Punta Coco Beach.

Chek out How to Get to Holbox by Ferry.

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Isla Mujeres is a quick boat ride from Cancun; just 13 kilometers and there are daily boats to the island. It’s known for beautiful beaches such as northern Playa Norte, resort hotels and for snorkeling and scuba diving on the surrounding coral reefs.

You can rent a golf cart to explore the island, visit Punta Sur, the southern tip, to see the lighthouse, the remains of a Mayan temple and a sanctuary for sea turtles. Or visit the Royal Garrafon Park Zip Line Adventure for a full day of fun (you can do the unlimited zipline, snorkel along the reef, kayak, bike around the park and relax on a hammock and enjoy the view).

Cozumel

Cozumel, Mexico Scuba Diving

The coral reefs off the coast of Cozumel are part of the Mesoamerican Reef—the second-largest barrier reef system in the world.

Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park; part of the reef is a popular dive spot with different sections based on depth. You’ll also find the Museo Subacuático de Arte’s which are the famous submerged sculptures.

As well as diving, it is one of the best places for snorkeling in the Yucatan because of it’s crystal clear waters and abundance of tropical fish.

Cozumel is also home to the Chankanaab eco-park; a lagoon with underwater caverns, and one of the best places to spot dolphins, manatees and sea turtles.

If you aren’t looking for underwater adventure, the small city of San Miguel is fun to explore. You can also book guided hiking excursions through the Northern jungle and mangroves.

Fun Things to do in Cancun Outside Your Hotel

If you don’t have time for full or half-day trips, here are a few fun things to do in Cancun.

Water Activities – ​You’ll find everything from snorkeling, jet skiing, scuba diving, parasailing, stand-up paddleboard, banana boats and even swimming in cenotes in the Cancun area.

Cancun Hotel Zone District​ – You’ll find lots of shops, restaurants, nightclubs and activities here. This area is what most tourists may assume is downtown Cancun. The traditional downtown area is El Centro and can be reached by taxi or bus. The Zona Hotelera exists for tourists.

Downtown Cancun​ – Just a few miles from Cancun’s hotel zone is El Centro, otherwise known as downtown Cancun. Adventurous tourists know that Downtown Cancun has some great markets, restaurants, and shops. It’s a much more authentic Mexico experience.

Market 28 – (Mercado 28) is a huge shopping center in downtown Cancun. This isn’t your typical mall, instead, at this giant flea market, you’ll find 600+ vendors who sell pretty much everything. Bring cash, as most vendors here don’t accept credit cards.

Nightlife​ – Cancun’s nightlife is composed of everything from beach bars to nightclubs, such as the infamous Coco Bongo, and Senor Frogs. Bars are very casual, but most nightclubs require dressy attire such as a dress and heels for women and for men, a collared shirt, slacks, and dress shoes.

Thanks for sticking with me to the end and have an amazing time in Cancun.

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