Cancun has a reputation of being a mecca for spring breakers and party goers. While that can’t be denied, Cancun also has a lot more to offer. For one thing, it is the gateway to exploring the amazing Yucatan Peninsula. If you are seeking some adventure away from the city, all you have to do is to hop on a bus or ferry (or in a car if you fancy). Here are 10 stunning day trips from Cancun that you must experience.
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This little island off the coast from Cancun is the perfect destination for a “vacation from your vacation”. Time passes slowly here as you lay on the beach sipping coconut juice, contemplating how is it possible for the ocean to be so fricken blue. There are also tons of activities for active souls like biking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and zip lining. You can even swim with whale sharks when you visit in the right season.
As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is a can’t miss site when one is in the Yucatan. This archeological beauty left by the Mayan civilization has so many fascinating secrets and mysteries. Make sure to hire a guide for a walking tour. You will learn many mind-blowing cool facts. I was skeptical when I was told that if you clap your hands in front of the pyramid, the eco sounds like the call of a bird. But when I tried, I was shocked by what I heard.
Xcaret Eco Theme Park
Located in Riviera Maya, Xcaret is a unique theme park that guarantees an unforgettable day of fun. As my hostel manager in Cancun puts it, “It’s like Disneyland, but Mexican.” There is a wide array of activities you can do here, from cultural experiences to water sports. The highlight of the day is definitely the night time spectacle. It showcases the history and traditions of Mexico through the most dazzling music and dance. Read my guide to Xcaret for more photos and details.
Cenote Dos Ojos
With so many beautiful cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, you are spoiled with choices. But if you were to visit only one, make it Cenote Dos Ojos. On one site, you gain access to two amazing swimming holes. The canverns are absolutely awe-inspiring. Lights shimmering on magical stalactites, turquoise clear water that is the perfect temperature…You can spot tiny fishes and stunning rock formations as you dive/snorkel. Bring a Go Pro or waterproof pouch for your cell phone to document the experience. Cenote Dos Ojos is a popular spot, so make sure to visit early and leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy it.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is another beach town on the east coast. Although only an hour drive/bus away from Cancun, it boasts a very different vibe. You’ll find Playa to be more laid back and artsy. It’s really fun to walk around the bustling beach strip that is full of cool shops. I especially like visiting the plaza during sunset, when the cotton candy pink sky makes a gorgeous backdrop against the epic mermaid arch. There are also performers dancing in Mayan costumes to live drum music during this time. So get yourself some churros from one of the vendors, sit back, and enjoy a performance.
From Cancun, the cheapest way to get to Playa del Carmen is by taking a conbi van across the street from ADO station. These are white vans parked near the Sorianna supermarket. You can see the words “Playa Del Carmen” on the window. It cost only 40 pesos per ride! Way cheaper than the ADO buses.
An easy 45 minutes ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen is a vibrant island called Cozumel. Besides coming for the beaches and ruins (which you should definitely check out), the one unique activity visitors should not miss in Cozumel is scuba diving or snorkeling with turtles. Observing these little creatures swimming through coral reefs is a truly special experience. There are many diving spots on the island. Check out Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park on the south coast (Punta Sur), the largest eco-reserve in Cozumel, as well as Chankanaab, an eco-park on the west coast, with underwater caverns that are habitats for dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles.
Stepping away from the ocean, Cozumel also has stunning mangrove forests that are home to endemic animal species that you can’t find anywhere else in the world, like the Cozumel Racoon, Cozumel Emerald, and Cozumel Harvest Mouse. In short, this little island is super diverse and abundant in nature.
Tulum has become a hot destination for millennials. It is often compared to Bali, with its yoga and wellness scene, pristine beaches, and care-free energy. Also, do come here for the Tulum Ruins and abundance of cenotes. While a day trip from Cancun is possible, there is so much to do here, that I recommend staying at least one night. I really loved beach bumming and biking around Tulum. I am seriously considering coming back and just staying here for a month next time. #hippielife
For more ideas on how to spend two days in this paradise, read this guide on best things to do in Tulum.
Is pink your favorite color? Then you got to visit Rio Lagartos on the north shore of the peninsula. About a three hours drive from Cancun, this fishing village is where you can gain access to seeing flocks of wild pink flamingos. In fact, this area of Mexico is said to have the largest concentration of flamingos in the country. As well, there are many other bird species living in the region like egrets, tiger herons, and snowy white ibis. Make sure to have your bird watching goggles when you are in this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
But wait, there is another reason I mentioned pink. A couple of miles away from Rio Lagartos is a site where salt is commercially produced. Why is that interesting? Because it means salt ponds that are bright pink! If seeing a body of water in such an unusual color intrigues you, you can hire a guide from Rio Lagartos to take you.
Valladolid is a historic town with many colonial era architectures. It’s a great place to learn about the culture of the Yucatan peninsula. Check out the cathedral of San Servacio in the main plaza. There are also wonderful cenotes near by like Cenote Ik Kil. It’s a good idea to combine Valladolid with Chichen Itza in a day. There are many tour companies that offer this. If you are not in a rush though, consider lingering in Valladolid for one night. This way, you can experience more of this town, like its delicious food.
Last but not least, Holbox is a sleepy island on the north side that not too many tourists know about, yet. Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the Carribean coast, Holbox is a bit of work to get to, but completely worth it. The colorful murals, the hammocks on the beach, the dream catchers swinging in the wind, all add to the boho charms of this isla bonita. It’s easy to adopt to the mañana mañana attitude here. This is the island life baby! Here are the best things to do in Holbox.
To get to Isla Holbox from Cancun, take the ADO to Chiquila (2 hours, 190 pesos). Then, take the ferry to Holbox (0.5 hour, 150 pesos). This destination is less likely to do on a day trip as the last ferry back is at 2 PM. Highly suggest staying in one of the many cute accommodations in Holbox, and checking out the pretty bioluminescent on the beach at night time.
When is the best time to visit Cancun and the Yucatan region?
The peak tourist season in the Yucatan region is from December to April. The secret best time to visit Cancun is in November and May when the weather is just as nice, but the crowd is not as crazy. Make sure to book your flights and accommodations in Cancun well in advance to get the best deals.
Is the Yucatan peninsula safe for foreigners?
While Mexico has been portrayed as a country of violence and crime in the media, the Yucatan peninsula is safe for foreigners to visit. The grim stories heard in the news about rival gangs and drug cartels rarely involve tourists. Exercise common sense and stay out of illegal activities. Having said that, petty crimes like pickpocketing do happen. Watch out for your belongings. Invest in a theft-proof travel bag like this one here.
How to get around the Yucatan peninsula when taking day trips from Cancun?
You can either rent a car or take the local buses. The ADO bus network is quite extensive. It can take you to Chichen Itza, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and many more places. Purchase the bus ticket online or at the station. It’s convenient, cheap and gives you the real local experience.
Check out my Yucatan Guide on Youtube
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Book A Flight: Find the cheapest flights on Skyscanner, my go-to search engine.
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Read up on the best advice: Love a good old fashion guide book. Suggested reading: Lonely Planet: Cancun, Cozumel & Yucatan.
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