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Cancun Tourist Attractions and Things to Do

Cancun tourist attractions are available by the dozens, but only a handful are unique and truly popular.

Many of the best attractions are regional, so a rental car or excursion operator is often necessary. When planning to visit a Cancun attraction or excursion, be sure to look at prices and services for at least several tour operators.

Chichén-Itzá Mayan Observatory near Cancun
Mayan Observatory near Cancun; ©

1) Chichén-Itzá Mayan Ruins

Visitors can tour nearby Mayan archaeological sites starting with the amazing Chichén-Itzá.

Chichén-Itzá, arguably the best Cancun tourist attraction, was first built around 900 A.D. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the second most-visited archaeological site in Mexico.

The famous El Castillo Pyramid has 91 steps to the top on each side and 52 panels on each side representing the 52 year cycle of the Mayan calendar

Going to the ruins is a full day's trip out of Cancun. Prices range from about $50 to $100 U.S. per adult and $40 to $75 for a child, depending on the starting location. We felt the cost was well worth it. Mayan excursions are provided by numerous tour operators.

3) Other Mayan Ruins

Other ruins include Calakmul, the largest city of the Mayan region with more than 6,000 structures mostly covered by jungle. Palenque has ruined structures with histories carved in stone that scholars only recently began to decipher.

Tulum, just south of Playa del Carmen, once served as a major seaport for Mayan traders. Uxmal, which was built between 700 A.D. and 1000 A.D. and lasted until the Spanish conquest.

3) Isla Mujeres

Visitors can take boat tours to this small island to see sandy beaches and brick streets, bright clapboard houses, snorkeling opportunities, a turtle sanctuary and other activities such as the Garrafon National Park.

Visitors to the turtle sanctuary can observe the turtles by paddling around indoor and outdoor pools. Isla Mujeres also is the location of a favorite Cancun excursion, swimming with the dolphins. The dolphin excursion also has swimming with the sharks for braver souls.

4) Cozumel

The island of Cozumel, a western Caribbean cruise stop known for diving and snorkeling, is about 40 miles away and a popular side trip. It also has easy access to Mayan ruins and other attractions such as the Chankanaab National Park.

It is a worthwhile Cancun tourist attraction for anyone who has the time and wants to explore. Visitors can take an excursion boat from Cancun to the island. Others can take a rental car down to Playa del Carmen and ferry over.

Playa del Carmen shopping
Playa del Carmen's Fifth Avenue is a popular shopping district.

5) Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen has one of the best shopping experiences in the Caribbean thanks to the long pedestrian mall on Fifth Avenue.

Yes, people can go shopping for T-shirts and souvenirs in Cancun. But Fifth Avenue has an atmosphere of fun and festivities that rank it with Phillipsburg on St. Maarten and Palm Beach on Aruba. The one-hour drive south of Cancun via rental car or excursion bus is a worthwhile day trip.

The city also is a gateway to Cozumel by ferry and Tulum and Xel-Ha to the south for anyone who wants to see much more in a day.

6) AquaWorld

Visitors to Cancun with more modern interests can go to AquaWorld, a major watersports center that offers diving, fishing, boat tours, waverunners and a unique ride call The Rocket.

7) Parque Nizuc

Anyone who simply wants contemporary fun might consider Wet and Wild / Parque Nizuc. This water park located at Boulevard Kukulkan Km. 25 in Cancun has snorkeling, water slides and swimming with the dolphins. Telephone: 52 (998) 881-3000.

8) Nohoch Jungle Crossing

Visitors will cross through Mexican jungle in 4x4s to see the world's largest underwater cave system, a daylong trip that includes snorkeling and kayaking.

9 Xel-Ha

This open-sea aquarium and water theme park built around the Xel-Ha Inlet is a major ecological attraction. It is located 60 miles from Cancun, close to Tulum.

10) Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Another eco-tourism and education attraction located near the Mayan ruins of Tulum is the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

The facility acts as a model for sustainable development in sensitive tropical ecosystems. Attractions include more than 345 species of birds and many animal species.

Revenue produced through tours, fishing and other activities is used to fund conservation and education programs within the reserve.

11) Other Eco-tourism Excursions

Other opportunities include a farm of large crocodiles at Crococun, the aquarium at Acuario Playacar and the birds such as the egret and pelican at Isla Contoy, which is a short boat ride from Isla Mujeres.

Xcaret is 45 miles south of Cancun and has Mayan ruins, a snorkeling lagoon and an underground river through which visitors can float.

12) Bullfighting

The Plaza de Toros is a small bullfighting ring near the northern end of Boulevard Kukulkán at Av. Bonampak and Sayil.

Bullfights are scheduled every Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. during the winter tourist season. The telephone number is 52 (998) 884-8372)
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Attractions   

November 17, 2016

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