Cancun is one of the most popular beach destinations in Mexico. The city and island resort zone, Quintana Roo, sits on the Yucatan Peninsula’s northeastern coast facing the Caribbean Sea. Visitors from all over Mexico and the world flock to Cancun during school holidays and vacations.
Most visitors head there because the beaches of Cancun are some of the best in the world. There’s a range of excellent resorts and exciting day trips from Cancun to complete your vacation when you’ve had enough of sipping cocktails on the beach. Here are 20 places to explore on a day trip from Cancun to experience the region’s beauty, history, culture, and food.
- Cancun, Mexico
- 20 Day Trips From Cancun
20 Day Trips From Cancun
The island of Cozumel sits just offshore from the Riviera Maya, a short ferry ride across the water from Playa del Carmen.
Cozumel is an excellent place to go snorkelling and diving as the Mesoamerican Coral Reef, one of the world’s largest reefs, is accessible from Cozumel.
Sea turtles, colourful fish and sharks can be found along the reef.
Divers and skilled snorkellers should also visit the submerged art museum of Cozumel Chankanaab to admire underwater statues of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.
The port at Cozumel is a popular stop for cruise lines because it is one of the most beautiful beach locations in Mexico.
Cozumel is 70 miles/114 km (about three hours by road) from Cancun.
Xcaret is an eco-park to the south of Playa del Carmen.
The archaeological site at Xcaret has been converted into an interactive park where you can discover the Mayan culture and Mexico’s intriguing pre-Hispanic history.
In addition to the archaeological site, you can explore the aquarium, a butterfly garden, three underground rivers and a traditional Mexican cemetery.
Performers reenact an ancient Mayan ball game at this park.
In addition, Xcaret is most famous for its spectacular evening show, where Mexican culture is showcased in all of its colourful beauty.
Xcaret is 47 miles/76 km (a one-hour drive) south of Cancun.
3- Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox is an island off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, located within the largest ecological reserve in Mexico, Yum Balam.
Isla Holbox is a beautiful natural area where cars are not permitted and there are no paved roads.
Both residents and visitors to the island either walk, bike or drive an electric golf cart everywhere they need to go.
Several lodging options exist, and many restaurants around the island serve traditional Yucatan dishes and fresh seafood.
Holbox is best known for its tranquil atmosphere, bioluminescent phytoplankton and whale shark viewing during the summer.
The port town of Chiquila is 86 miles/140 km (a two-hour drive) from Cancun, where you can board a boat to get to the island.
4- Las Coloradas
Las Coloradas is a small fishing town on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The town sits on a spit of land between the Gulf of Mexico and the Ria Lagartos lagoon.
Las Coloradas is famous on Instagram because of the pink colour in the salt lagoons that are part of the salt processing plant on the coast.
Pink flamingo flocks can be found here and in the nearby Ria Lagartos Reserve.
You can take an eco-tour through the reserve and see a wide variety of bird species and alligators amongst the mangroves that dominate the estuarine flora.
Las Coloradas 166 miles/268 km (a 3.5-hour drive) from Cancun via Valladolid.
5- Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres has several popular beaches, the most famous of which is Playa Norte.
The MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum is a great place for snorkellers and divers to gawk in amazement at an impressive display of 500 life-sized sculptures hidden on the ocean bed 28 ft (8.5 m) below the surface.
At the island’s southern tip, Garrafon Park has cliffs and underwater reefs waiting to be explored.
A sea turtle sanctuary and aquarium called Tortugranja is also located on the island and where you can learn about and support sea turtle conservation efforts.
There’s also a small archaeological site dating back to the Mayan period on Isla Mujeres.
Isla Mujeres is 12 miles/20 km off the coast of Cancun and a short ferry trip away.
For more adventures in Mexico, read:
- 20 Things To Do In Tijuana
- 20 Things To Do In Merida
- 20 Things To Do In Ensenada
- 20 Tulum Day Trips
- Where To Stay In Tulum
- 20 National Parks In Mexico
- 20 Day Trips From Mexico City
- 20 Day Trips From Cancun
- 20 Things To Do In Cancun With Kids
- 20 Things To Do In Mexico City At Night
- 20 Things To Do In La Paz
- 20 Things To Do In Monterrey Mexico
- 20 Things To Do In Acapulco
- 20 Famous Landmarks in Mexico
- 20 Best Beaches in Mexico
- 20 Ways To Spend Christmas in Mexico
- 10 Things To Do In Baja California
- The Wonder of Chichen Itza
- When Is The Best Time To Visit Mexico?
- A Guide To Las Grutas De Tolantongo
- A Guide To Valle De Bravo
- 20 Best Cenotes In Mexico
- 20 Interesting Mexican Traditions
- 20 Mayan Ruins In Mexico
Merida is the Yucatan’s largest city, with a vibrant and colourful history that started with the Mayans and continued through Spanish colonisation.
The culture of Merida is unique and attracts people who want to experience the style of architecture and art that you can’t find anywhere else in Mexico.
The area surrounding Merida is rich with Mayan history, and visitors who travel to this city will find plenty of evidence of their existence in the many archaeological sites nearby.
The food of Merida is also unique and draws foodies from all over the world who want to experience the region’s gastronomy.
Merida is 186 miles/300 km (four hours) from Cancun.
7- Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is Mexico’s most famous and iconic archaeological attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site attracting around two million visitors.
Dense jungle surrounds Chichen Itza and archaeologists have reclaimed many of the ruins from the jungle and reconstructed them.
It’s best to visit this site earlier in the day for a less crowded experience but even if you have to visit during peak time, you won’t be disappointed by Chichen Itza’s splendour.
While you can no longer climb the main pyramid, there are many other structures at this site you’ll love seeing.
Several tours operate out of Cancun and often combine a trip to Chichen Itza with a visit to cenotes.
Chichen Itza is 122 miles/197 km (a 2.5-hour drive) from Cancun.
8- Cenote Tours
Cenotes are one of the unique geological formations found in Mexico and there are thousands of cenotes dotted across the Yucatan peninsula.
You can readily explore and go swimming in three types of cenotes.
Open cenotes are the oldest type where the roof of the cenote has collapsed and exposed the water to the sky.
Semi-open cenotes are partially hidden in a cave, but holes in the ceiling allow sunlight to reach the water, while closed cenotes are completely hidden underground.
You can find all three types of cenotes within easy driving distance of Cancun and can drive yourself or book a tour.
When visiting cenotes, you’re not allowed to use sunscreen or bug spray on their bodies and need to shower before getting in the water.
Valladolid is a Pueblo Magico one of the most colourful day trips from Cancun as it’s a beautiful historic city.
Explore temples and ex-convents like Santa Lucia and San Bernardino and the architectural beauty they display.
The Centro Historico architecture of Valladolid, including the main cathedral and municipal building, should not be missed.
Several cenotes can be found within the city and are worth visiting in the middle of the day for a cool dip when the temperatures are high.
Valladolid is also close to important Mayan archaeological sites that you can visit in one trip, like Chichen Itza and Ek Balam.
Valladolid is 97 miles/156 km (a two-hour drive) from Cancun.
Tulum is famous for its beautiful archaeological site, also called Tulum.
This site overlooks the Caribbean Sea, sitting above a beautiful white-sand beach.
You can explore the ruins and then spend time swimming and relaxing on the beach.
Tulum is also home to a national park, where you can enjoy the lush jungle vegetation and look for wildlife.
If you go on a day trip from Cancun to Tulum, you’ll enjoy a more laid-back vibe and a quieter beach experience.
You can also find popular cenotes nearby.
Tulum is 81 miles/131 km (a two-hour drive) from Cancun down the coast of the Riviera Maya.
11- Playa del Carmen
This beach resort town is well known for its vibrant nightlife and pristine beaches.
Playa del Carmen is also home to many theme parks such as Xcaret and adventure parks like Xplor Park.
There is something for everyone to do in this town, from relaxing on the beach and sipping cocktails to exploring the recently discovered underground river.
Restaurants in Playa del Carmen offer a wide variety of cuisines, from traditional Mayan foods to international eats.
This is a beautiful place to visit year-round, but the best weather is from November to June.
Playa del Carmen is 43 miles/69 km (a one-hour coastal drive) south of Cancun.
These ancient Mayan ruins at Coba may have been settled as early as 50 B.C.
This important site contains several excavated structures, including the pyramid that visitors are allowed to climb, unlike the pyramid at Chichen Itza.
Several excavated stelae, or large slabs of stone, are found throughout the site on display.
Coba sees far fewer visitors than Chichen Itza, and you can spend a few hours exploring by foot or on a bike along the ancient white roads known as ‘sacbeob’.
These sacbe, or white road, connects the different areas of Coba to the main pyramid structure.
The Coba archaeological site is 84 miles/135 km (a two-hour drive) from Cancun.
13- Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a pristine UNESCO World Heritage Site that protects thousands of plant and animal species in one of the largest protected areas in Mexico.
You can snorkel in the Mesoamerican Reef located offshore of the reserve.
Boat tours through the canals showcase many of the bird and wildlife species that can be found and some of the archaeological ruins discovered here.
Fly fishing tours are available for anglers of all ages and a sunset bird tour provides a beautiful view of the sky while listening to birds as they return to their roosts for the night.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is 120 miles/193km (a 3.5-hour drive) south of Cancun.
The small seaside town of Akumal is famous for turtle encounters.
Akumal means ‘Place of the Turtle’ in the Mayan language, and the residents are very protective of their sea turtles.
Snorkelling off of Akumal Beach is one of the most popular things to do in this town.
Snorkellers often encounter sea turtles in these waters, but it’s forbidden to touch the turtles.
Yalku Lagoon is also a popular place for families to snorkel to see colourful tropical fish, barracudas and stingrays.
Akumal is 65 miles/105 km (a 90-minute drive) south of Cancun.
15- Ek Balam
Ek Balam is an ancient Mayan city founded around 100BC and occupied for 1000 years.
Only a tiny part of this once-important city has been excavated and you can explore several buildings, including many temples, a couple of palaces and a pyramid.
This site receives fewer visitors than Coba or Chichen Itza, making it easier to take photographs of the structures without crowds of visitors photobombing your picture.
Visitors to Ek Balam, like Coba, can climb the pyramid’s steps and get a good view of the surrounding jungle.
Ek Balam is 107 miles/172 km (a 2.5-hour drive) from Cancun.
16- Isla Contoy
Near Isla Mujeres, another island in the Caribbean Sea worth exploring is Isla Contoy.
Many tour companies offer day trips from Cancun to this island, allowing visitors to snorkel or dive along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.
The reef is the second-largest coral reef in the world, sp snorkelling and diving from Isla Contoy allows you to experience the reef further offshore.
You’ll encounter colourful tropical fish species, sharks, and, most famously, whale sharks from March to July.
You can get to Isla Contoy by taking a speed boat (40 minutes) from Cancun.
17- Rio Secreto
Rio Secreto Nature Reserve is a partially-flooded underground cave system in Playa del Carmen.
It was not discovered until 2004 and opened to the public in 2008 after Playa del Carmen became a famous resort town.
This cave system has Mayan artifacts documenting their use of the caves in rituals.
Visitors to Rio Secreto must book an organised tour through the nature reserve.
You can hike and swim through the caverns for one kilometre, but it’s only a tiny portion of this impressive cave complex.
Rio Secreto Nature Reserve is 58 miles/93 km (about one hour) from Cancun.
18- Puerto Morelos
Less than an hour’s drive south of Cancun lies the small coastal fishing village of Puerto Morelos.
This village is a popular day trip from Cancun because of its relaxed vibe and peaceful beaches.
Travellers to Puerto Morelos can enjoy fresh seafood dishes and sip drinks while enjoying the view.
Sea turtles lay their eggs on this beach and the nesting season lasts from April to November.
24-hour surveillance tours monitor the nesting sites during the season, and thousands of baby sea turtles hatch out because of their efforts.
Visitors to Puerto Morelos can participate in the turtle surveillance activities by booking a tour for nighttime turtle watching.
Puerto Morelos is 24 miles/39 km from Cancun.
A two-hour drive south of Cancun is the eco-park of Xel-Ha, located just north of Tulum.
This aquatic theme park is owned by the Xcaret Group but offers a different experience than the Xcaret Park.
Xel-Ha park surrounds a natural inlet and lagoon containing brackish water separated from the ocean by a shark fence.
You can spend your day at the park snorkelling or swimming in this natural aquarium that contains hundreds of tropical fish and plant species.
This park also offers experiences such as hiking through the jungle, ziplining over the water, swimming with dolphins, SCUBA diving, finding manatees and exploring caverns.
Xel-Ha is 71 miles/114 km from Cancun.
20- Xplor Park
Xplor Park is another adventure theme park owned by the Xcaret Group, south of Playa del Carmen.
Visitors to Xplor Park can pay one price and experience everything the park offers.
This family-friendly adventure has a zipline tour of two circuits with seven zip lines each through the jungle treetops, complete with a waterslide and two water landings.
A rafting adventure, a stalactite river swim and an underwater expedition occur underground, offering a subterranean experience.
Visitors can also ride in an amphibious vehicle through caves and jungle mud.
This park is a popular stop for adventurous tourists in the area.
Xplor Park is 46 miles/74 km (a one-hour drive) south of Cancun.