Cancun is one of the most popular destinations for North American vacationers over the winter and the college crowd during spring break. With beautiful beaches, great hospitality, and vibrant nightlife, many people head to Cancun’s resorts to soak up the sun. Many resorts are all-inclusive offering food, drinks, activities, and entertainment. Staying at one of these it is easy to find yourself never wanting to leave the resort since everything you could want or need is right at hand. But Cancun and the Mayan Riviera offer more than resort activities and late-night bar crawls. Here are some ideas for activities and places you can visit on a day trip away from the resort.
To say Selvatica is a theme park really would not do it justice. One of the more popular day excursions for visitors, Selvatica covers 330 acres of the Mayan jungle and is an adventure destination experience. Drive ATV’S on the Mud Madness course, hurl headfirst through the jungle on the zip lines, swim in a cenote (underground swimming hole), try the bungee swing, ride Tarzana the human roller coaster, or test your balance on the aerial bridges. TripAdvisor rated the park as being in the top 10 adventure destinations in the world. The park’s motto is “making adventure personal”. Several tour packages exist at the park so you can tailor the activities you want. Lunch is provided at the ticket price. The park offers free pick up and return to your hotel in Cancun so all you have to do is pack a bag for the day and enjoy the adventure.
9. Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is an island located off the Yucatan peninsula coast. A short 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun transports you to a more laid back island with lots of things to enjoy. The island has great beaches where you can relax or do some snorkeling. Several boat tours and charter fishing boats operate on the island and the turtle farm is a popular destination. There are several golf cart rentals on the island but these have been designed to look like jeeps and cars. Rent a cart and explore the island and since the island isn’t that large it should only take about an hour. If you want to relax head over to Captain Dulche where you can relax on the beach, have a drink at the shipwreck bar, or visit the small maritime museum with artifacts and historical presentations.
8. Xcaret Park
Xcaret Park is a theme park, eco-tourism destination and resort located near Playa Del Carmen about an hour’s drive from Cancun. Located within the park are the Mayan ruins of Xcaret which date to between 1400 and 1517 AD. The Park also offers a ride through the underground river where visitors get on inflated inner tubes and slowly float through the cool waters and the current takes you on a leisurely ride through the caverns. In the 200 acre park, there are various exhibits, a Mayan village an aviary where tropical birds interact freely with guests, a coral reef aquarium, a marine turtle pond, and a small island occupied by jaguars. Visitors can walk the jungle paths, take a riverboat ride or enjoy dining in the restaurants. An equestrian show provides entertainment during the day and at night the renowned “Xcaret México Espectacular” show takes you on a visual journey through Mexico’s past from prehistoric times to the present day. Many tour operators offer hotel pick up and return making the trip an easy one from Cancun.
7. Playa Del Carmen
Playa Del Carmen is another favorite destination for travelers and an easy day trip from Cancun. A smaller town than Cancun, Playa Del Carmen is a great place to spend the day shopping, taking a relaxing catamaran boat ride, do some deep-sea fishing, or enjoying the nightlife. Cleanse your body and soul with a sweat lodge experience at an authentic Mayan Temazcal with a real Shaman, cruise onboard a private yacht and enjoy the Mayan Riviera or walk the Quinta Avenida pedestrian thoroughfare adjacent to the beach and check out the local vendors. There are several public beaches where you can enjoy the clear blue waters along with first-class restaurants and of course the famous nightlife. Popular clubs in Playa Del Carmen include the Blue Parrot, a Playa landmark, Coco Bongo, and the Tequila Barrel. If you can decide which club to visit then take a pub crawl where you will visit several of the area’s hot clubs in one night.
6. Sian Ka’an
Sian Ka’an means “Origin of the Sky” and is a biosphere reserve. Containing tropical forests, Mangroves, and marshes the reserve is home to over 300 species of birds, manatees, turtles, crocodiles, jaguars, and spider monkeys. The 1.3 million acres reserve is the largest protected area in the Mexican coastal area. In 1987 Sian Ka’an has declared a UNESCO World Heritage Property and is part of UNESCO’S Man and Biosphere Program. Visitors to the reserve can expect to see creatures rarely seen in other areas. A valuable part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef lies within the reserves protected area. There are over twenty known archeological sites located within the reserve and almost 700,000 of the 1.3 million total acres are limited to scientific research only. Several tour operators can arrange day tours to and from Cancun.
5. Tres Rios Ecopark
Located 35 miles south of Cancun lies the Tres Rios Ecopark. Enjoy kayaking, canoeing, or riding a jet ski. You can take a hike on the trails through the jungle or ride horseback where you can get up close and personal with over 100 exotic species of animals. Enjoy snorkeling and viewing the many tropical fish swimming the coral reefs just offshore. The park has three rivers running through it flowing to the ocean and ten cenotes (cave-like sinkholes with natural water wells) where you can enjoy a cool dip in the water which will come as a welcome relief from the hot humid weather. There is also a beautiful white sand beach to relax on and enjoy the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. With over 150 acres to explore it is a relaxing respite from the party atmosphere of Cancun.
A popular spot on the cruise ship circuit, Cozumel makes for an enjoyable day trip from Cancun. To get there travel south to Playa Del Carmen where you can buy a ticket to the high-speed ferry that will whisk you through the waters to this cozy island. Once on the island, you can explore the town of San Miguel and check out the gift shops and restaurants. Rent a scooter or jeep and take a ride to the eastern side of the island where you can enjoy secluded beaches and a more relaxed atmosphere away from the cruise ship day tourists. Visit the Celarain lighthouse which houses a small nautical museum and get an amazing view of the island from the top of the tower. The small village of El Cedral is built around an ancient Mayan ruin and dates to 800 AD and of course, there is world-class diving fishing, and snorkeling which Cozumel is known for.
While not the most famous, Tulum is certainly one of the most beautiful and picturesque Mayan ruins in Mexico. Tulum is 130 kilometers south of Cancun and many tour operators offer day tours picking you up at your hotel. Once there you will see the ancient well preserved ruins dating from the 13th century sitting on a bluff overlooking a white sand beach. Tulum was a Mayan port that traded mainly in turquoise and jade. Protected by a 784-meter limestone wall on three sides the ruins are accessible by 5 doorways built into the walls. One of the more prominent buildings is the Castillo or Castle that sits on a 12-meter limestone cliff where visitors can ascend the steep rock stairs and be greeted with great views of the Caribbean.
2. Coba Mayan Village
One way to learn about your host’s ancestors is to take a day trip to visit the Coba Mayan Village. Located at the Coba Mayan Ruins visitors can climb the tallest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula and have an unpatrolled view of the surrounding jungle. The ruins can be enjoyed on your own while you walk around and see the various building and ancient ball courts. If you don’t want to explore on your own there are guides available at the entrance for a small fee that will give you a guided tour. The site has three authentic Mayan villages where you can see how the Mayans lived in the past and present. You will visit with a family that will explain Mayan culture and shares how they live. Lunch is arranged where you can enjoy a real Mayan feast. Other activities include swimming in one of the area’s cenotes.
1. Chichen Itza
Probably the most popular and certainly the most recognized of all the Mayan ruins in Mexico is Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza was an important Mayan center of influence for 1,000 years and several buildings have survived, most notably the massive pyramid. The Kukulkan Pyramid is 75 feet tall as was built for astronomical purposes. During the vernal and autumnal equinox, the sunlight bathes the steps of the pyramid and descends the stairs lighting up triangles that form a serpent’s body until it reaches the head at the bottom. By standing at the base of the stairs and clapping your hands a sound resembling an eagle will echo from the massive structure. Other structures still exist including the Temple of the Warriors and the Great Ball Court. The ball court is 225 feet wide and 545 feet long overall and a whisper can be clearly understood by the other person at the other end. Chichen Itza is a popular destination and tours can be arranged from your hotel.