Top 10 Things to do in Cancun & the Mexican Riviera

Cancun and the Riviera Maya region of Mexico (which includes Akumal, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Puerto Morelos, Xcaret, etc) are extremely popular tourist destinations on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, alongside the Caribbean Sea. The area is well-known for large-scale all-inclusive resorts, luxury villas, fine dining, and numerous tourist attractions — both natural and manmade. Indeed, there is plenty to see and do in Cancun and Mexican Riviera.

Most travelers know this is an excellent vacation spot with a lot of resort options catering to different price points and vacationer needs.  And it’s a great place to sunbathe by the pool, chill on the beach, and take part in dozens of activities offered on the resort properties.  But what many don’t know is what else there is to do in the region.  So, here is our Top 10 list of things to do and see.

**To watch our YouTube channel video version of this article, click HERE.

 

Cenotes

Cenote Ik Kil

Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula features more than 6,000 cenotes — pronounced cey-NO-tays.  When translated to Mayan, the word roughly means ‘hole with water.’ As a most basic explanation, that’s what a cenote is.  However, a more accurate description is an underground cavern that has been created from the collapse of a limestone cave and has since filled with crystalline turquoise water. Each cenote is unique in shape and size, some with hanging vines and surrounded by lush vegetation, some located down steep stairwells, and some with more or fewer stalactites than others. Not only are they beautiful, but they are also excellent places to swim so there are plenty of tours in the region that include visits to the various cenotes.  Among the most popular is Cenote Ik Kil near Chichén Itzá; Grand Cenote in Tulum; Cenote Dos Ojos in Tulum; Cenote Chaak Tun near Playa del Carmen; and Cenote Suytun near Valladolid.

*To see our YouTube channel video of Inside Mexico’s Cenotes, click HERE

 

Downtown Cancun or Playa del Carmen

Playa Del Carmen (Founder’s Beach)

Depending on where you are staying and which town you are closest to, head to downtown Cancun or downtown Playa del Carmen if you want to sightsee or do some shopping.

In downtown Cancun, you can visit the Mayan ruins of El Meco, watch Mexican wrestling, do a little shopping in the modern malls, or experience the local culture with a walk down Avenida Tulum.  Visit Parque Urbano Kabah, a natural reserve featuring a vast array of flora and fauna, recreational space for children, a museum, and pathways for walking or jogging. The wildlife here is a highlight, especially the crocodiles. The entrance to the park is free.

If you’re staying closer to Playa del Carmen, choose downtown for a multitude of restaurants and bars, as well as shopping opportunities.  You’ll find everything from souvenirs to boutique clothing shops.  You’ll also find Mayan tapestry, local art, and Mexican chocolate.  Head to Park Fundadores (Founder’s Beach), located at the beach, for traditional Mayan dance performances, a kid’s park, and an Instagrammable bronze statue called Portal Maya that resembles two mermaids.

 

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres Souvenirs and Handicrafts

Boat and ferry trips (that run every half hour) are available for travelers to take side trips to Isla Mujeres, a picturesque island just 8 miles (13 km) off the coast of the mainland.  It’s the perfect way to take a break from your resort and have an adventure in paradise.  The island is quite small at just 2.6 square miles (4.22 km) so it’s easy to get around. Some visitors might choose to walk the area given the size, however, there are plenty of rental golf carts available for the purpose of exploring.

Things to see and do include touring the colorful narrow streets, visiting Playa Norte for restaurants and shops; and exploring Punta Sur for dramatic cliffside views and a look at a temple dedicated to a Mayan goddess. Garrafon Natural Reef Park has several activities for visitors, including kayaking and zip-lining.  There are also snorkeling excursions and catamaran cruises available on the island, and plenty of beachfront restaurants where you can simply enjoy the view.

 

Ruins

Tulum Mayan Ruins

When it comes to vacationing in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, no stay is complete without a visit to one or more of the archeological sites known as the Mayan Ruins.

Fortunately, there are several locations peppered throughout the region that contain such ruins for tourists to explore and admire.  But the 4 most prominent locales include Tulum, located 2 hours south of Cancun and set against a beautiful backdrop of the Caribbean Sea; and Coba, the jungle setting where visitors are still able to climb the main pyramid.  There is also Chichen Itza; which is the most popular location with graphic stone carvings and the El Castillo pyramid (now considered one of the ‘new’ Wonders of the World); and Ek’ Balam, which is one of the newer sites to be discovered, located approximately 35 miles from Chichen Itza.

**To see our YouTube channel video of Inside the Mayan Ruins, click HERE

 

Swim with Whale Sharks

Gentle Giants

Every year, between the months of June and September, whale sharks migrate to Isla Contoy in the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, passing by Cancun and Isla Mujeres as they feed on plankton found in the warm Caribbean waters.  During this time, tour operators in the region provide visitors with the experience of a lifetime in the form of swimming with these massive yet docile creatures.  Despite that their name literally contains the word ‘shark’, they are nothing like a shark so the experience is safe.  And because operators want the experience to be safe for the whale sharks as well, there are some rules when it comes to participating in a swim, one of which is ‘Don’t Touch’.  Also, they ask tourists to abstain from the use of sunscreens and lotions which can permeate the waters and cause the whales to ingest them.

An added bonus is that manta rays often accompany whale sharks in this region, so many tourists that partake in this adventure end up seeing rays as well.  This tour is not suitable for children under the age of 6.  Children older than 6 should know how to swim due to the depths of the water in which the swim takes place.  A word of warning: getting to the swim location takes approx 45 minutes in a small boat and, depending on how busy the area is upon arrival, more time might be spent just drifting on the waves until the all-clear is given to begin the swim.  If you are prone to motion sickness, consider taking some Dramamine before the trip.

**To see our YouTube channel video of Swimming with Whale Sharks and Manta Rays, click HERE

 

Selfie with the Signs

One of many tourist destination names as an art installation

In every major tourist destination throughout Mexico, visitors will find bold and colorful art installations depicting the name of the region. Some letters are plain bold color while others feature designs or Mayan graphics. In most towns, there is more than one sign and usually located in or near a popular attraction or highly trafficked area so they are easy to find.

In Cancun, the sign is located in the hotel zone on Boulevard Kukulkan. In Cozumel, one of the installations is featured directly beside the cruise port and another is set in sand at the beach.  In Tulum, tourists will find one of the artful signs near the shops at the entrance/exit to the Mayan ruins.  In Valladolid, the sign can be seen on the corner of the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena — a tourist highlight of Valladolid because it is thought to be one of the oldest churches in North America.  Also, look for signs in Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, and Isle Mujeres, plus the sign that represents the entire Riviera Maya region, located near the Barcelo Maya resort.

These sign spots have become extremely popular so tourists view them as a MUST to post to Instagram.  Consider ‘collecting’ the photos if you plan to visit several destinations throughout the Yucatan.

 

Snorkeling

Snorkelling Cozumel

Off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula is home to some of the best snorkeling in the world.  The crystal turquoise waters offer supreme visibility, and the region is rife with colorful underwater life.  Several spots are noted for the best snorkeling including Akumal Bay where endangered green sea turtles often come to feed on the seagrass beds.

Cancun’s underwater museum, known as MUSA is also an interesting spot due to the manmade reef which is made up of 500 sculptures. Isla Mujeres offers an excellent place to dive and snorkel as does Cenote Dos Ojos which features a long, narrow cavern as well as a Bat Cave.

There is a multitude of dive shops throughout the Yucatan so even if you didn’t bring your own equipment, there are plenty of places to rent gear.

 

Tortugranja — Turtle Farm

Loggerhead Turtle

Tortugranja (Turtle Farm) is located on Isle Mujeres and is easily accessible from town with a rental golf cart.  It’s basically a no-frills aquarium that was developed by a local fisherman in the 1980s to protect endangered sea turtles, their breeding grounds, and their eggs.  The ‘farm’ is small but provides an effective refuge for hawksbill, loggerhead, and green turtles of all sizes.  Visitors can purchase turtle pellets to feed them.

Also on the property is an aquarium with various fish and crustaceans.  Several tanks located outdoors also feature turtles as well as large nurse sharks and manta rays.

Visitors should not expect to spend more than 20 minutes to half an hour at Tortugranja because it’s a small attraction and the exhibits are limited.  Proceeds from admission go toward the turtles’ upkeep so it’s a worthwhile cause and interesting to see.

 

Visit Las Coloradas

Las Coloradas Pink Lakes

The lakes of Las Coloradas are a magical shade of pink and need to be seen to be believed. Located in the municipality of Rio Lagartos, they are part of the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, an area protected for its wildlife, including crocodiles, jaguars, flamingos, and various other birds.

The lakes exist due to the salt produced by a local business using the salty waters from the Caribbean and the mangroves in the biosphere region. The separate and shallow lakes allow for faster and easier water evaporation under the hot Mexican sun, thus, leaving behind the salt — in excess of 750,000 tons a year. The vibrant pinkish hue of these lakes is due to brine shrimp and red-colored algae which is plentiful in this environment. As the water evaporates, these organisms become more concentrated and turn the water pink.

There are many tour guides available for hire when you arrive at Los Coloradas.  Although it’s unnecessary to hire a guide, it’s definitely more informative to have someone show you around. Swimming in the lakes is not allowed.

 

Xcaret

Xcaret Show

Located in Playa del Carmen, Xcaret is a theme park the size of 40 football fields and features 50 attractions on the grounds.  Included among them is a coral reef aquarium where participants can hold a live cucumber. Surrounded by jungle and the Caribbean Sea, the park is a paradise where visitors can also swim in underground rivers and enjoy cultural presentations.

Xcaret is focused on wildlife and nature, which combines with the history of Mexico and Mayan traditions and turns into entertainment.  This includes a Mayan village where a Shaman performs a ceremony.

Families with young children will appreciate this park.

 

 

 

Photo Credits:

Lead – CuteWallpaper.org
Cenote Ik Kil – Wallpaperflare
Playa Del Carmen (Founder’s Beach) – Wallpaper Cave
Isla Mujeres – Pixabay
Tulum Mayan Ruins – Pixabay
Swimming with Whale Sharks – Wallpaperflare
Cancun Sign – Cancun Public Facebook Profile
Snorkelling Cozumel – Wallpaper Cave
Sea Turtle – Wallpaper Cave
Las Coloradas – Rio Lagartos Las Coloradas Mexico Public Facebook Profile
Xcaret Park – Xcaret Park Public Facebook Profile