There’s nothing wrong with spending your Cancun vacation parked in a lounge chair, a frozen margarita or cold beer in hand. In fact, we think it sounds like a pretty great trip. But, if you want to inject some adventure into your Mexican getaway, these five excursions from Cancun are worth every peso.
1. Chichen Itza
The ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza — one of the New Seven Wonders of the World — is just a two-and-half-hour drive from Cancun and relatively inexpensive (from $69 including transportation to and from your resort). It’s also insanely popular. Busloads of tourists arrive daily to see El Castillo, the iconic stepped pyramid; the Great Ball Court, the largest in the Americas; and the Sacred Cenote, a sinkhole where the Mayans conducted human sacrifice.
Avoid the crowds by booking a tour that arrives early in the morning or stays for the evening light and sound show when Mayan images are projected on El Castillo as traditional rhythms fill the air.
2. Rio Secreto Nature Reserve
A “secret river” flows past crystal stalactites and stalagmites in an underground cave at Rio Secreto Nature Reserve near Cancun, and you can wade through its aqua waters in one of two tour options. The basic tour ($109 including round-trip transportation from Cancun) includes a float in the mineralized water and time with headlamps off in total darkness. The second option ($129) includes the above plus a light and sound show projected on the cave’s formations. Both tours end with a Mayan lunch.
Worth noting: A percentage of every dollar you spend at the reserve, including admission, goes towards conservation efforts and environmental education programs.
3. Xcaret Park
For something completely different, head to Xcaret Park. The self-described eco-amusement park features zoo exhibits, including an aviary, coral reef aquarium, and island populated by jaguars, and cultural exhibits, such as a Mayan village, Mayan ruins, and 19th century hacienda. You can watch performers demonstrate traditional Mayan dances or the skills necessary to “fly” to the ground in a Voladores pole show. There’s also a jungle trail, river boat tour, and folk art museum.
Most activities are included with the price of admission (from $89), but you’ll pay extra to snorkel or snuba, and the SeaTrek underwater adventure also have additional charges.
The Yucatan Peninsula is known for its cenotes, which are sinkholes formed when the limestone bedrock collapses, exposing the groundwater underneath, making it possible to swim, snorkel, and kayak in several around Cancun. Depending on which cenote you want to visit — Ik-Kil and Dos Ojos are two of the most famous — you may have to rent a car and hire a guide once you’re there. Or, you may be able to arrange a tour. Xenotes Oasis Maya offers a day trip to four different cenotes, each with a different activity: assisted rappelling, zip lining, kayaking, and snorkeling ($109, including round trip transportation).
Stay: If you’re lucky, though, the resort you’re staying at might have one on property. Sandos Caracol Eco Resort in nearby Playa del Carmen, for example, has several cenotes on property.
Although you can dive off the coast of Cancun, some of the best regional diving is a day trip away in Cozumel. Hire a Cancun diving company to take you from your resort to the diving waters off of Cozumel, or take a water taxi to Cozumel and work with a local diving company, such as Deep Blue Diving, once there. In the depths, you’ll see an elaborate reef system harboring schools of barracuda, stingrays up to five feet across at the wings, whale sharks, nurse sharks, blowfish, and more. Snorkeling is also an option.