Cancun is the official party capital of Mexico with great beachfront access to the Caribbean Sea. But there are so many more things to do in Cancun besides the beaches!
Known as the gateway to the Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun is often the first travel experience that most Americans have in Mexico. In fact up to 40% of American travelers are picking Mexico for their vacation.
It’s like a Mexican Las Vegas — crowded and full of obnoxious first-time tourists afraid of drinking the water or leaving their all-inclusive resorts…
There’s also the thousands of students who visit Mexico during Spring Break to party hard and get a tan — completely skipping any cultural experiences.
That said, the city does have some awesome nightlife and beautiful beaches. But there are many other fun things to do in Cancun that most people miss…
If you’re planning to spend some time in Cancun, I wanted to recommend some of my favorite fun and unusual things to do, no matter what time of year you visit.
Mexico has removed all COVID-19 entry requirements. Tests, vaccination details, and health forms are no longer required. It’s the perfect time to visit Cancun!
Most hotels, attractions, and private tours are open with new health & safety protocols in place, and you might have to follow certain guidelines (like wearing masks) depending on your destination.
You can find the latest updates on traveling to Mexico here.
Ok, I can’t talk about Cancun without mentioning the nightlife. The city is known for its crazy nightlife, especially during Spring Break, when students travel to Mexico for a little fun.
After a day at the beach, when sun goes down you can unleash your energy and dance the night away. The best nightclubs in Cancun usually have long waiting lines, but it’s worth the wait.
Cancun is divided into two areas. Downtown, also known as Ciudad Cancun — and Cancun Island, also known as The Hotel Zone or “Zona Hotelera”.
The Hotel Zone is the primary tourist area, synonymous with resorts, catamarans, wild nightlife and beaches. It’s a 15-mile strip of sand shaped like the number seven. This is where most people stay.
As the name implies, there are tons of hotels as well as most of the nightlife and beaches. Restaurants and bars line the only road, Kulkukan Boulevard, which runs from one side of the Hotel Zone to the other.
If you get sick of the tourist Disneyland that is the Hotel Zone, Downtown Cancun provides a taste of local culture, with delicious street food, small shops, green parks, and Mexican Wrestling!
Downtown Cancun (aka Ciudad Cancun) is the main residential area for locals too. This is where all the people who work in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula tourist industry actually live.
Wander down to Avenida Tulum to see and experience the “real” Cancun. If you’re a foodie, make sure to stuff your face full of tacos from the vendors there. There’s a nice family friendly park too, called Parque Las Palapas.
Snorkeling turquoise blue Caribbean waters is an ocean activity you can’t miss while visiting Cancun. One amazing underwater attraction is the Underwater Museum — or MUSA.
500 sculptures were created from materials which encourage coral reef development. Huge hands, statues of locals and VW Beetles, the exhibits are surrounded by ocean wildlife giving you a really unique experience.
MUSA continues to expand, as more sculptures are added, while the old ones are being eaten away by marine creatures. You can book a snorkeling tour directly starting at $30 USD.
The 13 miles of Cancun’s coast is lined with Instagram-worthy beaches featuring soft, white sand, teal-blue waters and a cool breeze.
The Hotel Zone has many beaches where you can relax and sip your margarita, but some of them really stand out, thanks to their beauty and atmosphere.
The Cancun Scenic Tower (aka Torre Escenica) offers amazing views of the Caribbean coast, and Cancun itself. It’s open every day from 9am – 9pm.
Hear about the history of Cancun as the tower slowly spins 360° for a spectacular birds-eye view of the entire Hotel Zone from the 100 m (300 ft) tall tower.
The ride up takes about 5 minutes, and you can spend another 15 minutes taking photos as the deck spins around giving you views in all directions.
Mercado 28 (Market 28) is a huge shopping center in downtown Cancun. This isn’t your typical mall, instead it’s a giant flea-market that boasts 600 vendors who sell pretty much everything.
From textiles to maracas and leather items, you can find some cool Mexican souvenirs at Mercado 28. Many items are handcrafted and unique, so they make great travel gifts.
Feel free to test your bargaining skills here. Resist the seller’s first price and you can walk away with a great deal. Stop by one of the local restaurants for food at a fraction of Hotel Zone prices too!
Mercado 28 is easy to reach by bus from the Hotel Zone, but if you have a rental car, remember which lot you park in, as there are 4 different entrances and parking lots that look very similar.
Stand up paddle boarding is the latest trend in Cancun, but it is also a pretty easy and friendly sport that everyone can enjoy. You can rent your own paddle board from the beach, or join a group trip to explore a certain area.
If you are up for a challenge, join a long paddleboard tour that travels from Cancun all the way to Isla Mujeres! Other options are to paddle Nichupte Lagoon mangrove jungle or go on a sunrise wildlife tour.
Mexico’s Riviera Maya and Isla Mujeres offer some of the most beautiful sunsets in the Caribbean and the best way to enjoy them is on a romantic sunset sailing trip off the coast.
Board a sailing catamaran and watch the colorful sunset as the breeze plays with your hair. Most sunset sailing trips out of Cancun also offer an open bar and snacks, so you can sit back and relax.
These journeys generally last about 2 hours, and companies offer a bad-weather refund if it gets too stormy or rough.
Cancun is a haven for water sports enthusiasts and it’s the perfect place to learn scuba diving. There are many underwater attractions in the area.
Cancun is located close to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest reef in the world. Home to dolphins, many kinds of tropical fish, eels, lobsters, nurse sharks, and majestic eagle rays.
Isla Mujeres, the underwater MUSA museum, and nearby cenotes are favorite spots. There are several locations where newbies can learn scuba diving and get their PADI license.