cancun day trips

This is the only Maya site known to overlook the ocean. (Photo: Norbert Figueroa)

Tips + Trends

Beyond the Resorts: 5 Day Trips Within Arm’s Reach of Cancún

Cancún, the vibrant city on the Mayan Riviera, boasts great hotels, spirited nightlife and dozens of miles of beautiful tropical beaches. Besides these excellent characteristics, which make it a central tourist destination, there are places to visit in Cancún and its surrounding areas that offer the opportunity to explore other touristic, cultural and historic areas in the region.

From adventure trips to cultural walks, below you will find five one-day excursions that will show you how incredible it is to explore not just outside the resort, but also outside Cancún itself.

Swim with whale sharks

cancun day trips
Swimming with these gentle giants is a highlight of many travelers’ visits to Cancún. (Photo: Norbert Figueroa)

Whale sharks visit the waters near the Yucatán Peninsula in the months of May to September to feed on the plankton found in the area. From Cancún you can take a speedboat tour, which will take you offshore to have a close encounter with these enormous sea creatures. There, you can snorkel alongside several whale sharks and marvel at the way they feed in groups.

Despite being the largest species of fish known to man – reaching up to 15 meters in length – whale sharks are completely harmless to humans.

Explore the ruins and cenotes of Tulum

Tulum is a small city two hours from Cancún where you will see one of the most picturesque Mayan structures in the whole of Mexico. The archaeological park and its ruins, also known as Tulum, are perched on a clifftop overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

Although visiting Tulum is a valuable one-day excursion, you will have a better experience by staying there for one night in order to enjoy the cenotes in the area.

These cenotes are natural sinkholes or underground caverns full of fresh water, and they are excellent for diving and snorkeling because of the transparency and purity of the water. You can visit the Dos Ojos Cenote, which offers two separate cenotes that are partially open to the sky, and the Sac Actún Cenote, which is completely enclosed underground.

Discover the history of Chichén Itzá

cancun day trips
Don’t miss a dose of history at the Chichen Itza ruins. (Photo: Norbert Figueroa)

Considered one of the seven wonders of the world, the old Mayan city of Chichén Itzá is practically a mandatory stop when you are in Cancún. The historic and cultural site is three hours from the city and you can visit it on an individual or group day excursion.

Chichén Itzá is the most popular among the Maya sites in the whole of Mexico thanks to structures like the Kukulkán Temple, the El Caracol observatory and the Sacred Cenote.

Although you will see dozens of ancient structures in various states of preservation, remember: this is only a small portion of what archaeologists have discovered to date. Given the large scale of the park, it is recommended that you spend several hours there in order to appreciate its cultural and historical importance.

Relax on Isla Holbox

The island of Holbox is a few hours from Cancún, and although you can visit it as a day trip (if you fly to it), it is recommended that you stay there at least one night in order to fully experience this paradise. The island is not very crowded, so you can take your time to relax on its white sandy beaches, which are still untouched by the hustle and bustle associated with Cancún. Also, do not miss the chance to explore its mangroves and stroll down its tiny pedestrian streets.

If you have time, take a guided boat tour of the Isla Pájaros Reserve to have one of the best birdwatching experiences in all of Mexico. There, you will see flamingos and other exotic birds while they feed and nest on this tiny Caribbean island.

You can reach Holbox by taking a ferry from the port town of Chiquila, a few hours north of Cancún, or you can take a short flight from Cancún airport.

Sail to Isla Mujeres

Another stunning island, although more developed and closer than Holbox, it is still much more peaceful and boasts better beaches than Cancún. You can sail from Cancún’s hotel area on a catamaran or yacht to the island, where you can snorkel in its crystalline waters between the vibrant corals.

Isla Mujeres is small enough to be able to explore its few streets by foot, but you can make the most of your time by hiring a bike or golf cart. A visit to the Garrafón Natural Reef Park at the south end of the island is also well worth the effort. There, you will find activities such as kayaking, diving, zip lining and cliff jumping, as well as more tropical beaches.

Cancún and the peninsula offer plenty more one-day excursions, but with just these five you will enjoy a trip that includes the region’s most iconic sites.