5 Alternative Cancun Day Trips You Shouldn’t Miss

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5 fun alternative day trips from Cancun Mexico

Most visitors to Cancun don’t see much beyond their resort in the Hotel Zone and maybe an obligatory trip to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, or the tourist attractions at XPlorXel-Ha or Xcaret park.

It’s really a shame, because just outside of Cancun, you’ll find lesser-known gems well worth a visit.

Here are five alternative Cancun day trips that we think you shouldn’t miss.

Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morales Fishing Boats Tied at Pier

Fishing boats at the pier

Just 20 minutes down the highway from Cancun, the sleepy fishing town of Puerto Morelos is an easy day trip that feels a world away from the fast pace of Cancun.

There’s not a lot to do here other than grab a bite to eat in town, watch the fishing boats, lounge on the beach, and snorkel in the clear water, making it the perfect place for a relaxing day out away from the crowds.

Isla Mujeres

Hands on at the Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm

Hands on at the Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm

Isla Mujeres (Spanish for “the island of women”) is only 15 minutes by ferry from Cancun. Rent a golf cart when you arrive in Isla Mujeres and spend the morning touring the island.
Don’t miss the Tortugranja, the turtle sanctuary where they rehabilitate injured sea turtles and help raise hatchlings to survive in the open ocean. In the afternoon, hang out on one of the white sand beaches and read a book, or choose from one of the many great restaurants in town.

The Colonial City of Merida

Merida Red VW Bug Blue House

Colonial Merida is about as different from Cancun as you can imagine. While Cancun is known for its brash party atmosphere and boatloads of tourists, Merida is a cosmopolitan, historic Mexican city filled with locals and expats who’ve made the city their home.

Make sure you check out the sprawling colonial buildings along the leafy Paseo de Montejo and shop for Mexican handicrafts at the bustling market district, just southeast of the Plaza Grand. It’s a good three-hour drive on a decent, flat highway from Cancun to Merida (or a one hour flight).

The Mayan Ruins at Tulum

Tulum Ruins by the Sea

Tulum Ruins by the Sea

Most visitors to Cancun head to the larger Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza or Coba for a day trip. However, the smaller Mayan site at Tulum is well worth a visit just to take in the spectacular sight of ancient ruins perched high atop cliffs overlooking the turquoise Caribbean water below. It’s a beautiful site, easily walkable in a few hours, and only about an hour and a half by car from Cancun.

The beach is one of the nicest and quietest on the Yucatán Peninsula and the town also has some great restaurants and shopping when the sun goes down.


Akumal Mexico Turtle Diving

Diving after a breath at the surface

The small resort town of Akumal (the name means “place of the turtles” in Mayan) is known for its shallow, protected waters and diverse marine life. If you scuba dive or snorkel, then Akumal is worth a visit for a chance to swim with endangered green sea turtles.

Make sure you stop by the Centro Ecologico Akumal, which is doing great work educating tourists and locals alike about ecological protection of Akumal’s unique marine environment. Akumal is about an hour and 20 minutes drive south of Cancun halfway between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum.

Dig Deeper

Cancun has so much to offer beyond the touristy fare in the Hotel Zone. Take a closer look at this beautiful place and you will be rewarded with once-in-a-lifetime views and experiences.

This post was written in partnership with Hipmunk’s series on Cancun for the #HipmunkCityProject.

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4 Responses

  1. Tate Nanje

    I would love to do some diving and free diving in Cancun with the sea turtles! Do you know if they have any PADI stores to rent diving equipment in Cancun? They should have, I guess… what about the underwater water visibility, is it good? Thank you very much!

    • Charles Kosman

      Hey Tate. There are 4 PADI stores in Cancun proper and more all along the coast with a bunch more in Playa Del Carmen and the island of Cozumel. There’s even one directly on the beach in Akumal where you can see a bunch of sea turtles right off the beach. All you need is a snorkel and mask (fins help but not really necessary) in Akumal.

      The visibility is decent in most places and pretty awesome in the cenotes. Definitely worth diving in a cenote if you like exploring underwater caves. Definitely pretty cool.

      Here’s the link to the PADI page for Cancun. Hope that helps!

  2. Lynn Reed

    Hi. I am visiting Cancun in September this year. I have two legally blind kids that I want to take part in a turtle rescue program, hopefully helping some hatchlings out to sea. Does anyone know of someone to contact about a program like this?

  3. Lesley Peterson

    Ooh, I need to go back! I stayed on Akumal Bay and visited spectacular Tulum but would love to return and see more, especially Merida. Mexico is a marvel.


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