Close your eyes and think of Cancun; now what exactly do you see? More than likely it’s white sand beaches in front of large resorts, where cobalt waters lap the shore and palm trees sway in the breeze. For as enticing as beaches and water might be, there’s an entirely different side of Cancun that offers just as much excitement; a place where you swim in turquoise waters set miles inside of the jungle, and literally race through the jungle canopy to feel the breeze in your hair.
At the famous Selvatica Eco-Park, an hour south of Cancun, visitors can infuse their beach vacation with a shot of jungle adrenaline. Clip into a harness and race through the trees on the 12-line zipline adventure, or test your nerves on a bungee swing while staring out over the forest. If you’d prefer that a motor generate the speed—rather than regular old gravity—crank the throttle of an ATV while splashing through dirt and mud.
Party the night away in a disco ambiance with song and dance shows performing into the early hours of the morning at CoCo Bongo. The performances highlight music from big-name artists like Rihanna and Elvis, and you’ll also see impressive acrobatics as performers fly through the air dangling from a long rope of fabric, flip through large hoops and more. CoCo Bongo has an energetic vibe that will get you dancing along to every performance.
Cancun’s best, most festive and most authentic fiesta tradition, Xoximilco, is an eponymous throwback and homage to the floating gardens and canals of Mexico City’s famous neighbor-hood Xochimilco. Xochimilco means “field of flowers,”and this Cancun attraction brings all the beauty and splendor of the floating gardens of Mexico City to the tropical paradise of Cancun. Today, a visit to Xoximilco entices guests with Central American traditions like floating flower-strung boats, live music serenades and some of the best food in Cancun.
Playa Delfines is a welcome respite from the crowded beaches and bustling nightclubs that make Cancun a popular Spring Break destination. One of the highest points in the city, this beach lies just beyond the “Hotel Zone” strip and offers breathtaking views perfect for tropical vacation photo ops. The quiet stretch of sand is ideal for a leisurely stroll or a relaxing lounge and the untouched nature of Playa Delfines makes it a favorite among travelers eager to get off the beaten path. Be advised, its rustic feel means there are few places to purchase food or drink, so it’s best to pack your own. And while the shores are calm, the undercurrent can be rough and waves impressive, so proceed with caution when dipping your toes in the ocean here.
Love it or hate it, Avenida Kukulkan is a Cancun strip where nearly all visitors will end up. If you’re staying at one of the oceanfront resorts across from Nichupte Lagoon, Avenida Kukulkan is the pulsing thoroughfare that leads to all of the resorts. Lined with shops, restaurants, cafés, and thumping late nightclubs, it’s also home to what many visitors consider as Cancun’s best shopping. And, while brand name stores and high end labels aren’t very difficult to find, there are still pockets of local boutiques selling traditional, handmade Yuacatan crafts for those who take the time to explore.
The stores and restaurants and shopping malls aside, one of the best activities on Avenida Kukulkan is simply going for walk. Along the length of this long, flat strip, visitors can marvel at the manicured resorts and their ornately designed entranceways, or get views looking out at Nichupte Lagoon and people watch by the shops.
Cancun is full of places to party, but the young and energetic late-night set knows the exclusive Mandala Night Club is the best place to sip strong drinks, dance to loud beats and mingle with a truly cosmopolitan crowd. Guests love the wide-open dance floor, glittery lights and impressive entryway. Fifty dollars gets partygoers through the door and keeps drinks in their hands, too, with access to an all-night open bar.
Take a break from the beaches of Cancun to explore artifacts from Mexico’s ancient past at the Maya Museum, one of the largest created by the National Institute of Anthropology and History. Inside the museum, visitors can see incredible items recovered from sites like Chichen Itza and Tulum, including the Woman of the Palms, ancient skeletal remains found submerged in a water-filled cave near Tulum. Next to the museum is an ancient archaeological site called San Miguelito, where visitors can stroll among the ruins and gardens.
There are dozens of ways to see Cancun but one of the most entertaining is aboard the Captain Hook Pirate Ship. Spend an evening enjoying dinner served by salty sea men followed by dancing on the deck and an all-night open bar.
The cannon’s fire signals the departure of this famous ship. As the night progresses visitors can enjoy tales from the high sea, as well as a live enemy attack complete with swords and pistols. A ride aboard the Captain Hook Pirate Ship is the perfect way to experience life on the sea without the fear of being forced to walk the plank.
The El Rey Ruins (or Las Ruinas del Rey) are a spectacular archeological site in Cancun's Hotel Zone, with 47 structures estimated to have been inhabited by the Mayans as early as 900 AD. There are two primary platforms and temples believed to be the remains of religious ceremonial buildings and market areas.
El Rey was named for the ceremonial mask and skull found on the site to honor the Mayan Sun God and over the years further excavations have incited speculation over the ruins history. Although, the El Rey Ruins are not as large in size when compared to Chichen Itza, many visitors enjoy taking pictures of the hundreds of Iguanas that call the ruins home. The Iguanas are unafraid of humans as the park guides keep them well-fed with tortillas.
Marvel at more than 100 famous faces (and bodies!) at Cancun's only wax museum. Wax figures from the world of entertainment (music, television, movies, sport and politics included) cover the 7,500-square-foot (700-square-meter) museum, providing visitors with some surreal photo opportunities. Each wax figure has been carefully and meticulously crafted, with everyone from Albert Einstein and Queen Elizabeth to David Beckham and Amy Winehouse on display. With a collection of well-known children's characters as well, the Cancun Wax Museum is especially popular with kids, and is therefore the ideal attraction for families. For maximum convenience and to avoid disappointment, it's best to book a Cancun Wax Museum admission ticket in advance.
Insider's Tip: A visit to the Cancun Wax Museum makes the ideal start or end to a day of shopping; the museum is located inside the La Isla Plaza shopping village in the Cancun Hotel Zone.
Whether it’s riding the wave pool’s serious 3-feet swells, soaring down the crazy Twister waterslide or floating down the Lazy River, Wet’n Wild water park offers visitors a chance to escape the heat, enjoy the sun and really splash around.
The speed slide Kamikaze thrusts riders over a seriously steep drop, while the Bubble Space Bowl launches guests down a 49-feet pass at 31 miles per hour. Those less inclined to a white water adrenaline rush can navigate bumper boats or even schedule a swim with friendly dolphins.
Offering family entertainment that both adults and children can enjoy, the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship sets sail from the Riviera Maya and sails the Caribbean seas while dazzling passengers with swashbuckling pirate shows and hearty food. The ship is a modern replica of the Santa Maria, which Columbus is said to have journeyed on when he discovered the Americas.
The Jolly Roger features four decks and can accommodate up to 240 passengers, with plenty of space for entertainment and dining. Filet mignon, lobster, a vegetarian option, plus a special pirate kids menu are on offer, not to mention the open bar with free domestic drinks. The pirate show is a blend of comedy and adventure, interspersed by dinner, fireworks, and dancing. Expect dramatic sword fighting, exploding cannons, and amazing acrobatics, all designed to entertain, delight, and draw you in to this unique pirate adventure.
This historic Catholic church located in the center of the city is surrounded by peaceful gardens that are sometimes used for open-air services. Its uniquely modern design is unlike any other religious structure in Cancun. The church’s good-natured priest, known for his humorous homilies and energetic services, makes Iglesia de Cristo Rey a popular stop for travelers seeking a Sunday Mass or a quiet moment of reflective contemplation in the middle of otherwise bustling city streets.
Playa Norte (North Beach) is a gorgeous, relaxing beach located on Isla Mujeres, a small island off the Yucatan Peninsula. Isla Mujeres means the “Island of Women,” but both women and men will love lounging at Playa Norte.
Known for its many palm trees and white sand beach, Playa Norte stretches along the northern end of Isla Mujeres, where beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rental. Though its water is shallow, swimmers need to be aware that there can sometimes be a strong undertow; swim with caution. Experienced swimmers and snorkelers will enjoy paddling around to see the underwater sea life, and onsite shops have snorkeling gear to rent along with kayaks and stand up paddle boards.
In addition to water activities, Playa Norte is also home to a slew of fun beach bars and restaurants. Take a minute away from the beach for a tropical drink or some fresh seafood.
Helping to define Cancun as more than just a tourism spot for dedicated beach lovers, the Cancun Underwater Museum is an attraction unlike any other in the world. While almost all of us have, invariably, at one point or another, been to a museum, few if any of us have been to an underwater museum. Until now, that is.
Essentially a bountiful series of sunken sculptures, the Cancun Underwater Museum is an ongoing project aimed at inspiring a love of art as well as Cancun’s magnificent coral reefs. Soon over 400 original sculptures will lie between depths of 9 to 20 feet, and so make for excellent viewing when either snorkeling or diving.
How does something this wonderful and unique come about? By simple artistic inspiration. Jason deCaires Taylor was the artistic brains behind the operation, and people have responded well to the idea.
Intrepid travelers can test their limits—and their nerves—while navigating the channels of Sac Actun Cenote System—the longest underground river network in the world. Located in the jungles of Tulum, visitors descend into the river via an ominous looking rock well, complete with a well-worn wooden ladder. Because it’s rather remote and difficult to access, Sac Actun proves an ideal destination for travelers looking to explore the beauty and mystique of Mexico far away from the crowds.
Known by locals as the Pet Cemetery because of the large number of animal fossils, Sac Actun Cenote holds a spiritual place in Mayan tradition and offers travelers spectacular views of hidden waterfalls, dark caverns dripping with stalactites as they swim through fresh water streams. Snorkeling options are also available for those looking to check out the scene even further below the surface.