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From beautiful beaches to bustling nightlife: The Best Things To Do In Cancun

These spectacular sites and top attractions will guarantee the Cancun vacation of your dreams. | By Cassandra Brooklyn | June 2, 2022

Maybe you want to spend entire days in the pool at an all-inclusive resort, or maybe you’d rather be exploring Mayan ruins and swimming in cenotes around the Riviera Maya. Whatever your vacation tempo, there’s always something to do in Mexico’s most popular destination. Here are some ideas to create memories in Mexico, Cancun style:

  • Archeological attractions: Visit the world-renowned Mayan ruins at Tulum, a pre-Columbian masterpiece overlooking the Caribbean Sea

  • Tropical adventures: Spend mornings on the beach or on a paddleboard, or take an afternoon ride on a Jet Ski or catamaran

  • Theme-park thrills: Cancun is close to countless theme parks, offering fun for the whole family

Dive into the beach and cenote scene

If Cancun is famous for one thing, it’s white sand beaches and crystal-clear water running up and down the immaculate coastline. Swimming, snorkeling, paddleboarding, scuba diving and Jet Skiing are all available offshore, but for a truly unique experience, head to one of the area’s dozens of cenotes.

These stunning underwater sinkholes range from shallow pools perfect for families with young children and snorkelers of all ages to deep underwater cave systems that require advanced scuba-diving certification. At Cenote Jardin del Eden, you’ll get the best of both worlds: Family-friendly snorkeling is available up top while scuba divers can head down into the caves and caverns below.

Mouthwatering Mexican cuisine

While many of Mexico’s most famous foods — like tacos and tamales — can be found all over Cancun, foodies would be wise to also try some of the area’s unique regional specialties. Cochinita pibil, surely the region’s most famous creation, is a citrus-y roast pork dish typically served as tacos topped with pickled red onions.

You don’t have to go too far to scout out the tastes, either: Authentic Mexican cuisine is just steps away at spots like Maxal, one of Hilton Cancun, an All-Inclusive Resort’s 12 on-site dining experiences.

Thrilling theme parks

Young kids and young-at-heart adults alike will have the time of their lives at one (or several!) of the theme parks in and around Cancun. At Xcaret Park, visitors can float down rivers, explore caves, visit the aquarium or attend spectacular dance performances. Instead of a traditional theme park, this spot gets billed as an “eco-archaeological" water park, where guests can explore both natural and cultural attractions unique to the area.

Water lovers should head to Xel-Ha what with its waterslides, river tours and snorkeling, while thrill-seekers would do well at Xplor by Xcaret, where zip lines and all-terrain vehicle adventures are on the agenda.

Ancient archeological sites and museums

Mayan ruins are sprinkled across the entire state of Quintana Roo, but one of the most impressive ruins is only about a two-hour drive south of Cancun, in Tulum. Not only are the well-preserved ruins of Tulum stunning in their own right, but their position overlooking the Caribbean Sea makes for a particularly picturesque backdrop.

Further inland, Chichen Itza — one of the Seven Wonders of the New World — and the nearby Coba ruins are also archeological treasures that could be explored via day trips from Cancun or Tulum, easily arranged by your resort’s concierge.

Prefer to explore indoors? The Museo Maya de Cancun houses extraordinary Mayan artifacts, while the Mexican Folk Art Museum is dedicated to Mexican culture and handicrafts.

For a much less traditional museum experience, don a wetsuit and dive into the Caribbean Sea — hundreds of sculptures rest 30 feet below sea level at the Cancun Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA).

Party hard

Whether you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, Tulum or Cancun proper, there’s always something to celebrate. Wander from tiki bar to cantina, or opt for a more upscale evening at one of the many elegant establishments. You’ll find Cancun’s Party Zone at the end of the Hotel Zone, where dance clubs and bars buzz until the wee hours of the morning. Oh, and if you’re visiting Cancun in late October or early November, the entire city will be decorated with marigolds, altars and colorful skulls for the Day of the Dead. It’s a perfect chance to sample traditional food, have your face painted and maybe even catch the annual parade.

Want to wrap up a great day with a great drink but don’t want to go too far? Head to the Azulinda Lobby Bar at the Hilton Cancun for bespoke cocktails and regional beers.

Seaside shopping

La Isla Shopping Village is the Hotel Zone’s most-visited shopping site, and for good reason. Whether you’re looking for affordable swimwear, fine jewelry, luxury handbags or authentic Mexican tequila, you’ll find it here.

For a more relaxed shopping experience, head to the Fifth Avenue shopping corridor in Playa Del Carmen. Stroll down the pedestrian-only street, admire the street art and pop in and out of small shops and restaurants while enjoying the salty breeze floating over from the beach a few blocks away.

Whether you choose to relax with retail therapy, sunbathe on the beach or hop between adventure parks, you'll leave Cancun with fun-filled memories — and a plan to make more.

Cassandra Brooklyn is a freelance writer specializing in travel, culture, and all things outdoors. She's the author of the cycling guidebook, Cuba By Bike, and has bylines in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, Forbes, The Daily Beast and Lonely Planet, among others.

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