Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

13 Great Cancun Tourist Attractions and Things to Do

Cancun tourist attractions and things to do 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, be sure to look at prices and services for at least several tour operators.

1) Chichén-Itzá Mayan Ruins

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

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

Chichén-Itzá, arguably the best Cancun tourist attraction and one of the best attractions in the Caribbean, 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 and whether the trip includes a stop at cenote underground lakes. We felt the cost was well worth it. Note that it takes at least an hour and a half to go from Cancun to Chichen Itza.

2) Interactive Aquarium

The Cancun Interactive Aquariuam on Boulevard Kukulcan in the hotel zone does lie withing walking distance of some hotels. For others, the easiest way to get there is via the cheap and convenient public bus system.

The aquarium attractions include swimming with the dolphins, touch tanks, an underwater snuba “aquarium trek” and dolphin shows. Ticket prices vary according to the program.

3) Cancun Underwater Museum

The Cancun Underwater Museum of Art is a unique excursion consisting of two underwater galleries available for viewing by snorkeling, scuba diving or glass bottom boats.

The Punta Nizuc gallery with 33 fiberglass and concrete sculptures is at the southern tip of the hotel zone. It is about six to 12 feet deep and best for snorkelers and glass bottom boats. Prices range from $40 to $70. The Manchones gallery by Isla Mujeres has 473 sculptures and is about 25 to 30 feet deep. Prices range from $90 to $140.

4) 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. Prices usually range from $100 to $150 or more depending on the level of interaction with the dolphins.

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, Bay Street on Nassau and Palm Beach on Aruba. The one-hour drive south of Cancun via rental car or excursion bus is a worthwhile day trip.

6) Cenotes and Underground Rivers

Rio Secreto is an underground river with crystal caves just south of Playa del Carmen. This four- to five-hour excursion from Cancun includes nearly half the time on the road. Prices start at about $85 per person.

Cenotes are collapsed caves filled with water. Visitors snorkel in the cenotes and explore underwater rock formations. They are usually available as part of a package of things to do during shore excursions. Chichen Itza shore excursions sometimes include visits to cenotes.

7) 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. It’s best to combine it with a visit to Playa del Carmen.

Uxmal, which was built between 700 A.D. and 1000 A.D. and lasted until the Spanish conquest. This full-day excursion, with costs ranging from $70 to $100, may include a stop in Playa del Carmen.

8) Cozumel

This brief video shows 10 of the top attractions in and around Cancun.

The major Mexican island of Cozumel is a 45-minute ferry ride across the water from Playa del Carmen. It has easy access to some minor Mayan ruins and other attractions such as the Chankanaab National Park.

It is an excursion for anyone who wants to explore the island, but other Cancun area attractions are probably a better use of time. 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.

9) 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 called The Rocket.

10) 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.

11) 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.

12) 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.

13) Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

Another ecotourism 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.

Other Ecotourism 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.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
October 19, 2023

Best Times to Visit Cancun

Cancun spring break
Choosing the best time to visit Cancun is a matter of weather, prices and activities.

13 Top Cancun Tourist Attractions

Cancun excursions are available by the dozens. A handful are unique and popular.

Cancun Beach Vacation Tips

Cancun is popular because of its luxurious hotels, convenient location and many things to do.

Chichen Itza Shore Excursion Tips

Cancun Monthly Weather Averages: Rain, Temperatures

Video: 10 Top Cancun Attractions

Cancun Video: Best Times to Visit

Best Cancun Beaches to Visit