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 XPlor, Xel-Ha or Xcaret park.
Sure there are plenty of things to do Cancun, but it’s really a shame that most folks stay at their all-inclusive hotel, 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.
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 (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
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
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.
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.
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.