10 things to do in Cancún, Mexico

Mexico is home to some of the most beautiful beaches, cenotes (sinkholes), ancient architecture, people and food that the Earth has to offer. Although known as a popular American spring break hot spot, the city of Cancun and surrounding area have much more to offer than just parties and beer. The following are 10 must-do activities while visiting the Mayan Riviera. Be sure to bring the list with you and check them off as you go.

Take a day trip to Chichén Itzá

Chichen Itza presents one of the largest archaeological sites from the pre-Colombian era in the Western Hemisphere. Built by the Mayan civilization, it was inhabited from around 800 A.D. to 1200 A.D. These awe-inspiring ruins are a must-see for your trip to the Mayan Riviera.

The site contains the famous Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo Temple in Spanish, sitting majestically in the middle of a large field among the other ruins.

The distance to Chichen Itza is short compared to the unforgettable structures and vistas that you will witness during your visit.

Normal sunscreen doesn’t work well because of the humidity in the Mayan Riviera. Make sure you wear thick, waterproof sunscreen because your skin will be exposed for several hours.

Cost: $80
Distance from Cancun: 4 hours
What to bring: waterproof sunscreen/camera/swimming gear

Swim in the Cenote Ikil

The Cenote Ikil is located just a few minutes down the road from the Chichén Itzé archaeological site. It is home to one of the most famous and most photographed cenotes in the world.

The site is well preserved by site operators who keep the area protected from the hundreds of tourists that visit daily. The stone staircase that leads you to the water level provides natural windows to peer down into the endless blue water below as you descend. At the bottom you will find a large stone platform leading to the water’s edge from which you can jump off and swim. To the right of the platform is another staircase that takes you approximately 20 feet above water level, from which, if you dare, you can also dive off. There are small waterfalls feeding into the open water from above as well as all types of vines, palms and other flora.

El Cenote Ikil provides a beautiful backdrop and a relaxing environment for the family. Here you can spend hours swimming in one of nature’s finest water holes.

* Cost: $7
* Distance from Cancun: 4 hours
* What to bring: waterproof sunscreen/swimming gear/camera

Swim at the beach in La Playa del Carmen

Some of the greatest places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula are actually found outside of the City of Cancun. They are closer to La Playa del Carmen, located just an hour south. You can rent a car or take a bus for a minimal fare directly from the airport.

The beach in La Playa del Carmen is well-groomed and filled with brilliant white sand. The ocean is clear and the water is warm. The best time to take advantage of the beach is earlier in the morning before the crowds arrive.

Bring your snorkel gear and swim out to find fish, octopuses and other small marine life right from the shore of La Playa del Carmen. Take time to build a white sand castle, perhaps even model it  after the Temple Kukulkan that you recently visited in Chichén Itzá.

* Cost: Free
* Distance from Cancun: 1 hour
* What to bring: waterproof sunscreen/swimming gear/snorkel set/water

Tour Fifth Avenue (La Quinta Avenida)

Fifth Avenue is located just a block from the beach in La Playa Del Carmen. It is the center of all the activity, with dozens of shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. You can even find an Italian Gelato Ice Cream shop. Here, you have many options to choose from whether you are looking for a place to eat or some unique Mayan Riviera gifts to bring home.

* Cost: Free
* Distance from Cancun: 1 hour
* What to bring: wallet/camera

Swim in the Cenote Azul

El Cenote Azul is one of the most beautiful, quiet cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. It is filled with green palms, hundreds of iguanas and clear, blue water. Not very well known, it is generally not very crowded. It offers two main swimming areas as well as a small wooden dock from which the children can jump off into the water. It has a series of underwater caves to explore and a 10-foot-tall natural stone ledge from which you can jump off into the deep water below.

Swimming in El Cenote Azul is a must-do activity due to its beauty, interesting formation and low amount of visitors. It costs less than $5 to get in and is only a short drive from Fifth Avenue in La Playa del Carmen.

* Cost: $5
* Distance from Cancun: 1 hour 30 minutes
* What to bring: swimming gear/snorkel set/water

Tour Tulum

The ruins of Tulum are located approximately two hours driving distance to the south of Cancun. You will want to set apart the entire day for your visit.

Tulum is an ancient Mayan port city and weigh station for the Putun Maya ocean trade route. Fortifying the city is an impressively tall 16-foot wall. It was inhabited by some 1,600 Mayans from 1200 A.D. until the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century.

Tulum presents some of the more majestic ruins that Mexico has to offer. The main archaeological site is located on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The entire area is the size of a small town and the many buildings have been well preserved. Invest in a tour guide to explain the history relating to Tulum and its unique location.

* Cost: $4 entrance fee + $4 camera fee + $20 tour guide
* Distance from Cancun: 2 hours
* What to bring: waterproof sunscreen/camera/water

Rent a scooter and tour the Island of Cozumel

The Island of Cozumel is visible from the beach at La Playa del Carmen and is just a 30-minute ferry ride from the mainland. It is the largest inhabited island of Mexico. For less than $8 each way, you can travel to this exotic island and experience all the memorable activities that it offers.

Once on Cozumel, rent a scooter and tour the island. The drive doesn’t take more than a couple hours, and you will witness the lovely flora and fauna that exists there. You might even see a few friendly crabs cross your path.

On your trip, take a stop at one of the many public beaches that the island has to offer and relax. Although the beaches aren’t filled with the same white sand as  La Playa del Carmen, they offer the same warm, clear blue water with excellent waves.

* Cost: $35/day
* Distance from Cancun: 1 hour 30 minutes
* What to bring: waterproof sunscreen/water

Go snorkeling at the Palancar Reef

The Palancar Reef is located just off the coast of the Island of Cozumel. There are several dive shops and tour guides available to take you on either a private or group excursion. Most companies include in the price the snorkel gear, as well as beverages on the trip.

At the reef you will witness beautiful coral and colorful tropical fish. The area is also known for sea turtles and stingrays, as well as king crabs and lobster. The warm, clear water makes for a pleasant and easy dive for the family.

* Cost: $50
* Distance from Cancun: 1 hour 30 minutes
* What to bring: swimming gear/waterproof sunscreen

Visit the San Gervasio Ruins

The San Gervasio Ruins are located near the center of Cozumel. This small Mayan town was inhabited around 1200 A.D. but abandoned by the time the Spanish discovered it.

San Gervasio presents an archaeological treat with the remains of an ancient pyramid and several huts. You can hire a guide to explain the ruins and give an accounting of the Mayan civilization. Although a smaller archaeological site in comparison to Tulum, it makes for an unforgettable trip.

* Cost: $4 entrance fee + $20 tour guide
* Distance from Cancun: 2 hours
* What to bring: waterproof sunscreen/camera/water

Spend a day at Xplor Adventure Park

Xplor is a natural adventure park located a short drive south of La Playa del Carmen. Although there are many similar parks to choose from, Xplor stands out because of the variety of activities it has available. However, if you wish to visit them all, a package price is available online. You can check out the website at: www.xplor.travel

At Xplor you can choose from 14 different zip lines, swim in an underground river surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites, drive their amphibious all-terrain vehicles and gorge in a buffet. The price of admission includes access to all the activities, including lockers and the endless buffet.

* Cost: $98 for adult, $49 for children
* Distance from Cancun: 1 hour 15 minutes
* What to bring: waterproof sunscreen/camera/swimming gear

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