Thinking Cancun is just white sandy beaches, all-inclusive hotels and wild spring break parties? Think again. Do not let Cancun’s party reputation fool you, the city’s beauty rests beyond the luxury 5-star hotels. Step away from swimming pools and discover the best unique things to do in Cancun that have nothing to do with partying.
When travelling to Cancun, try to avoid Spring Break (try not to come to Cancun in March and April) as thousands of travellers fill huge nightclubs across the city for a week of partying.
13 best unique things to do in Cancun in Mexico
1. Swim with whale sharks
When in Cancun, make sure you take the trip of a lifetime. Who wouldn’t want to come face to face with the world’s largest fish? Swimming with whale sharks offers you an opportunity to get up close and personal with these incredible creatures. Experience the thrill of sharing the pristine waters with animals who can reach the length of 12 metres (39 feet). However, do not let their size scare you, whale sharks are docile and harmless to humans. Snorkel tranquilly near them and admire those endangered species on our planet.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Whale sharks hang out in the waters near Isla Mujeres during the summer months. Therefore, try to plan your getaway to Cancun during whale shark season, which runs from June through mid-September.
Make sure you choose a tour company which provides a sustainable practice and responsible tourism. An eco-conscious company doesn’t feed whale sharks and restricts divers (2 and a guide). For whale shark’s safety, keep a safe distance from them. Hence, swim ethically with whale sharks.
2. Cancun scenic tower (Torre Escenica)
Of course, one of the best way to see Cancun is from the air. Cancun scenic tower offers breath-taking views not only of Cancun but also the Caribbean coast. On a clear day, you can see Cozumel island in the distance. Lookout from the window of the 100-metre tall tower and enjoy the view of the entire Hotel Zone.
Learn more about the history of Cancun while the tower slowly spins. This 360° rotating tower is the highest point in the city and, therefore, it is one of the popular attractions in Cancun. You can find it at km 4.5 of the Hotel Zone (Playa Linda).
A scenic tower is open every day from 9am to 9pm. The admission is USD 15 for adults and USD 7.50 for children (5-11).
GOOD TO KNOW:
Cancun scenic tower is a part of the Xcaret network of sights. Therefore, a bracelet from their theme parks is valid for free admission.
Alternatively, get panoramic views of Cancun from the Ferris Wheel, which you can find at 12.5 km on the Kukulkan Boulevard in the Hotel Zone. A relaxing ride on a 70 metres height wheel with gorgeous views is part of a Go Cancun pass.
When it comes to unique things to do in Cancun, the Temazcal ritual is impossible to beat. This ceremony of purification is a traditional Maya ritual. Experience an ancient Temazcal, which cleanses the body, mind and also spirit. You will also learn more about the ancient Maya culture.
The Temazcal ceremony takes place in a small ceremonial hut in complete darkness. During the ritual, a local shaman pours water over heated volcanic rocks. He also uses different types of herbs to invite spirits. This traditional Maya healing ceremony is a magical experience that you don’t want to miss when in Cancun.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and also after taking the Temazcal. Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit, towel and sandals. Avoid alcohol and have only a light meal before the ritual.
Experience Cancun through tastebuds and sample a range of Mexican delicacies in Xoximilco theme park. Be brave and try fried crickets, other traditional cuisine and also a variety of tequila and beer. Spend a few hours floating on colourful Mexican gondolas and enjoy traditional music, games and also Mariachi singing. Try a different blend of flavours representing the whole of the country on this traditional Mexican fiesta.
A visit to Xoximilco is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Cancun if you want to get in touch with the Mexican culture and spent a fun night out with an open bar. However, bear in mind that kids are welcome here, but it is mostly oriented for adults.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Do not forget to bring comfortable shoes and a bug spray.
For the best prices, make sure you book your Xoximilco experience in advance.
5. MUSA underwater museum
There are a few places where you can go snorkelling in Cancun. However, the MUSA underwater museum is one and only. Snorkel in the world’s largest artificial reef, and fall in love with more than 500 underwater sculptures. Get up close and personal with marine life and see how corals grow and local species colonize statues. This innovative project created to prevent the effects of climate change already has three different galleries.
Snorkelling in the MUSA underwater museum is one of the best unique things to do in Cancun because this man-made reef encourages coral reef development.
GOOD TO KNOW:
It is also possible to visit this underwater museum by glass-bottom boat, or you can go diving.
6. Shopping in Cancun
If you would like to avoid the high priced sales of the Cancun Hotel Zone, you should go to Mercado 28, which has got a more local feel. Mercado Veintiocho is a traditional Mexican flea market situated in the heart of downtown Cancun. This is made up of a labyrinth of alleyways and stalls. It is a massive craft market filled with vendors hawking many of the same souvenirs (ceramics, clothing, jewellery, magnets, tequila or spices) you can find in the Hotel Zone, but for a half price. It is a fun way to get the real Mexican market experience. Shopping in Market 28 is one of the best things to do in Cancun if you like bartering with vendors.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Shopping in markets such as Mercado 28 in Cancun is an excellent place for picking up souvenirs and gifts. It is far from the fancy mall you can find on Avenida Kukulkan, but here can find some of the most treasured souvenirs.
The vendors are keen to make a sale. If you want to buy something, negotiate the price down. If you are not interested, just give them a firm “no thank you”.
Shopping in Hotel Zone, Cancun
If Mercado 28 is not your thing, do not worry. Cancun is a shopping haven where you can find everything from ultra-chic designer stores and famous brand names to souvenir shops selling local Mexican handcrafts. Here is a list of just some of the perfect places to go if you fancy shopping in Cancun:
- Plaza Flamingo (Blvd. Kukulcán, Km 11.5)
- La Isla Shopping Village (Blvd. Kukulcan Km. 12.5, Hotel Zone)
- Kukulkan Plaza & Luxury Avenue (Blvd. Kukulcan Km. 13, Hotel Zone)
- Plaza Caracol (Blvd. Kukulcan Km. 8.5 Hotel Zone)
- Plaza Las Americas (Av. Tulum 260, Downtown)
7.Day trip from Cancun to Isla Mujeres
When you feel ready to take a break from cosmopolitan Cancun, find a piece of paradise in the nearby Isla Mujeres. The tranquil island with a laid-back feel is just a ferry ride from the busy city.
A day trip to Isla Mujeres is one of the best things to do in Cancun. This relatively unspoilt island with crystal clear waters is Cancun`s best spot if you want to escape the city`s crowds.
LEARN MORE ABOUT ISLA MUJERES:
Chichen Itza, one of the largest Maya cities.
No trip to Cancun is complete without a visit to Chichen Itza. These ancient Maya ruins are both a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Discover a beautiful ancient pyramid Kukulkan, the largest ball court in America, and see a sacred cenote where the Maya people made offerings to their God.
Exploring the ancient Chichen Itza is one of the best things to do in Cancun because it is one of the best-preserved Mayan archaeological sites in the world. Therefore, if you only have a time of one sightseeing excursion, make sure it is Chichen Itza.
READ MORE ABOUT CHICHEN ITZA:
9. Swim in a cenote
The Yucatan peninsula is home to nearly 6,000 cenotes.
If your idea of a perfect holiday in Cancun involves adrenaline adventure, then swimming in cenote should be on your list. Believe it or not, the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico does not have major rivers. Instead, you can find here thousands of cenotes filled with fresh water from the rain. They are natural sinkholes made by the collapse of the surrounding limestone.
In fact, these unique natural swimming pools create the Yucatan’s massive underground river system.
Some of the cenotes with turquoise and emerald waters are open to the sun and surrounded by tropical vegetation. The others are underwater caves with rising stalagmites and stalactites. However, they all have one thing in common – they are perfect for swimming, snorkelling, and some also scuba diving. Therefore, cooling off in cenotes is one of the best unique things to do in Cancun.
Many of these natural swimming pools are easy to reach, and you can visit them on your own. You can find some of the best cenotes, along the Cenote Route (Ruta de Cenotes) near Puerto Morelos. It is about 30-minute drive away from Cancun.
10. Nichupte Lagoon
As you may know, Cancun sits between the Nichupte Lagoon and the Caribbean Ocean. The Nichupte Lagoon is a large lagoon with fresh and saltwater located between the Hotel Zone and the mainland. This natural reserve of the mangrove ecosystem with seven lakes is heaven for bird watchers, outdoor lovers and adventurers.
Head to Nichupte lagoon if you fancy recreational fishing, water-skiing or non-motorized water activities, such as kayaking or paddleboarding. Besides, you can also rent a jet ski or explore the lagoon by a speed boat.
The lagoon pathways with beautiful views of the lagoon and a hotel zone are a perfect place for joggers, bike riders, and walkers.
However, keep your eyes peeled, Nichupte Lagoon is home to crocodiles. Signs are warning of the presence of crocodiles and the risk of danger in approaching their habitat. Therefore, if you like to experience the thrill of sharing waters with powerful predators, then exploring Nichupte Lagoon is one of the best things to do in Cancun.
11. Coba ruins day trip from Cancun.
When you want a break from sunbathing and sipping cocktails, head inland to explore the Coba ruins. This ancient Maya city, once lost to the jungle, is one of the most important archaeological sites in Mexico. It may not be as famous as Chichen Itza, but the Coba ruins are one of the very few ancient sites where you can still climb the pyramid.
Exploring the ancient Coba ruins is certainly a unique attraction in Cancun, where you can see some of the finest Maya architecture. Walk and bike past two ball courts and discover the tallest ancient pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula. Enjoy breath-taking views of the lush jungle and learn more about a shocking world of the ancient Maya.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE COBA RUINS:
12. Isla Holbox
If exploring other islands is your thing, then take a relaxing boat ride to Isla Holbox. This laid-back island located on the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the best-kept secrets of Cancun. A sleepy Isla Holbox with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters in less-developed and is also car-free.
An island located within largest ecological reserve in Mexico is a place where you can also see the glowing bioluminescent plankton. A day trip to Isla Holbox is undoubtedly one of the most unique things to do in Cancun, because the island is rich in marine life such as sea turtles, dolphins and whale sharks. Besides, if you are a fun of street art, you can spot many colourful murals on the island.
13. Isla Contoy
If you are looking for another unique day trip from Cancun, then a visit to Isla Contoy is a must. This small protected National Park sanctuary located north of Isla Mujeres is a bird watcher’s paradise in Mexico. One of the things that make Isla Contoy special is that this uninhabited island near Cancun has extraordinary biodiversity and wildlife. The island is home to 4 species of turtles and many different birds, such as flamingos, frigate birds and pelicans.
GOOD TO KNOW:
To keep Isla Contoy pristine, all visitors to the island need to respect strict rules and pick up after themselves. Moreover, a daily limit to the island is only 200 visitor.
GETTING AROUND CANCUN
If you are staying in Cancun, forget about renting a car or taking an expensive taxi. Cancun has an excellent bus system. The buses run 24 hours a day throughout the Cancun Hotel Zone, and the cost of a one-way ticket is only about 8.5 pesos. It is straightforward to use and the most important – very cheap. Therefore, the public transport in Cancun is an excellent alternative to expensive taxis.
The bus stops are easy to find because they are almost everywhere. They go all the way by Kukulkan Avenue from the beginning of the hotel zone to the Cancun Downtown area. The two major routes in Cancun are R1 (Ruta 1) and R2 (Ruta 2):
R1 – Take this route if you want to go downtown, Puerto Juarez, or the Cancun bus station (to get onto ADO buses to Playa del Carmen or Tulum)
R2 – Goes to Mercado 28
- The buses on “the ocean side” of the street will go towards downtown, and “the lagoon side” buses will go towards the airport.
- If you know the bus you want and you see it coming, wave your arm, and a driver will stop for you.
- It is best to pay as close to the 8.50 pesos as possible. If you give a driver 9 pesos, most likely you will not receive any change.
- Bus drivers do not accept American coins, so if you pay with dollars, it is 1 dollar.
If you prefer to take a taxi, every hotel and Shopping Mall at the Cancun has a Taxi spot. But make sure you check the fare before you get in. Also always check that the taxi driver has the ID card with the driver`s name, driver`s licence, and his photo.
Have you been to Cancun in Mexico before or is it on your bucket list? If you have any Cancun recommendations, we would love to hear in the comments.
Pin unique things to do in Cancun instead of partying for later!
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