What to do during your stay in Cancun
1. Chichén Itzá
Chichén Itzá is a large Mayan archaeological site and one of the most notable and recognized landmarks on the Yucatán. The site itself was originally a main hub of Mayan civilization and has since been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The focal point of the ruins is the pyramid-like El Castillo that was once used by Mayans as a temple to the god Kukulkan.
Unfortunately, because of its fame, Chichén Itzá is crawling with tourists trying to snap a picture of one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Nevertheless, the spectacular ruins are well worth it, even for the jaded traveler. You can avoid crowds by visiting the site in the early morning before the throngs of tour buses arrive. Recent visitors also advised bringing water and bug repellent and wearing appropriate footwear and a hat.
In addition to large crowds, another drawback to Chichén Itzá is its distance from Cancún: about a 2½-hour car or bus ride. If you’ve strictly come to Cancún for the beaches and parties, you might want to skip the trek. But if you want to discover the strong cultural roots of the Yucatán, there’s no better place. To get the fullest experience, some visitors recommend hiring a tour guide to explain the history and significance of the site. You can hire guides at the site, or through a company like Gray Line, which past travelers recommend as the tours include transportation to and from your accommodations and the cost of admission, among other perks. If you’re not reaching Chichen Itza via an organized tour, there is bus service provided by ADO that departs every day at 8:45 a.m. Bus tickets cost about 250 pesos (about $12) and do not include admission to the site. Chichén Itzá is open year-round from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission costs 230 Mexican pesos (roughly $12) per person.
2. Isla Mujeres
To escape the frantic beat of Cancún’s nightlife and beaches, head to Isla Mujeres (or the Island of Women). There is little to do on this small, 4-mile island just a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, but travelers like it that way.
Despite the island’s sleepy reputation, it hosts a few sites worth checking out. Recent visitors suggested renting a golf cart and driving to Punta Sur, located on the island’s southern tip. Home to an ancient temple honoring the Mayan moon goddess, the landscape is surrounded by steep cliffs and spectacular bay views – in fact, this is where the rising sun first greets Mexico. This area is also where you’ll find Garrafon Reef Park, which offers a variety of activities against the scenic backdrop of Punta Sur, including a swimming pool, a zip line, kayaking and snorkeling.
Isla Mujeres also remains popular for its sea turtles, and you can glimpse the creatures at the local tortugranja, or turtle farm. Visit between August and October, and you just might get to witness the baby turtles hatching. You can reach the farm by taxi from Isla Mujeres’ downtown. If you’re just looking to relax on the sand, head to Playa del Norte, regarded among travelers as a beautiful, pristine beach.
You can reach Isla Mujeres by ferry from several different terminals in the Hotel Zone, including Playa Tortugas and Playa Caracol, as well as Cancun center.
3. Playa Tortugas
Widely considered a beach spot for locals, Playa Tortugas is known for its relaxed atmosphere and clean sands. The area also boasts several open-air restaurants that make for great evening dining, according to past visitors. The beach also features a pier, where brave visitors can bungee jump.
Some travelers enjoy Tortugas so much that they choose the area over their own hotel’s beach. Visitors appreciated that the public beach is free to enjoy and the water is calm and relaxing (a particular highlight for those traveling with children). Playa Tortugas is located on the northern part of Cancún’s “7,” along the Hotel Zone and accessible by bus or rental car. Umbrella and chair rentals are also available.
4. El Rey Ruins
While they may not have the awe factor of Chichén Itzá, the El Rey Ruins have convenience on their side. Located in the heart of the Hotel Zone, these ruins are extremely accessible to visitors, and the site’s small size makes it easy to see in a short time. Once a center for maritime trade, El Rey dates back to A.D. 1200.
But for many past visitors, the ruins themselves were not the primary attraction: people flock to El Rey to mingle with the hundreds of iguanas that have invaded the former Mayan town, saying the iguanas make for some unforgettable photo ops.
The El Rey Ruins are open for exploration between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and admission is 50 pesos (roughly $2.50). As is the case at Chichen Itza, there are guides available for hire if you’d like to learn more about the history of the archaeological site. You can reach the site via the R1 or R2 bus or rental car.
5. Playa Delfines
If you’re tired of the standard beaches along the Hotel Zone, try heading to Playa Delfines, which is a largely undeveloped ribbon of sand located near El Rey. Likewise, the beach often lacks the heavy crowds found elsewhere throughout the Hotel Zone. Make sure to bring your own drinks and snacks since there won’t be opportunities to buy them here. This is also where you’ll find the colorful “Cancun” sign featured on many of the city’s postcards and brochures.
Travelers regard Playa Delfines as the quintessential escapist’s beach as there are no umbrellas or shade and few vendors hawking goods or services. Just be mindful of heavy currents and riptides, since the beach is known for its rough waters.
Delfines offers excellent views of surrounding Cancún and is easily accessible by bus, taxi or rental car. If you do decide to drive, the beach is one of the few in Cancún with free public parking.
6. Playa Marlin
Situated in the Hotel Zone about a 5-minute walk from the Kukulcan Plaza shopping mall, Playa Marlin offers a broad stretch of sugar white sand. There’s also lifeguards and beach supplies, such as chairs and umbrellas, for rent.
Recent travelers said that Playa Marlin is a beautiful, public beach, perfect for those who aren’t staying in a beachside resort. Still, some do warn of its powerful waves and strong undertow. Though the waters can be too rough for swimming, they’re great for water sports like parasailing.
You’ll find the beach off Kukulcan Boulevard, at the end of Tepen Road.
7. Avenida Kukulkan
Even if you don’t seek out Avenida Kukulkan, you’ll likely cross its path at least once during your Cancun vacation. That’s because Avenida Kukulkan is Cancun’s main artery, traveling through the Hotel Zone and stretching from downtown Cancun running south toward the airport. The avenue is lined with pathways and several shops and eateries. If you’re not strolling along the avenue, you’ll likely be riding the bus along it since this is the main route for the buses most frequently used by tourists.
Recent travelers described Avenida Kukulkan as a safe, well-maintained and well-lit, place to walk or jog. Still, some travelers warn about the crocodiles that lurk on the lagoon side of the road, suggesting that travelers stick to the pathway or better yet, stay on the ocean side of the avenue.
8. Coco Bongo Cancun
Considered the spot for nightlife in Cancún, Coco Bongo isn’t your traditional, DJ-controlled nightclub. Instead, thousands of travelers pack the house to witness nonstop performances from acrobats, conga lines, live bands and musician impersonators. A typical night at Coco Bongo involves projected videos, balloons, soap bubbles and confetti.
While the club is a nonstop amalgam of cocktails and dancers, there is no traditional dance floor. This fact surprises – and even upsets – many travelers expecting a conventional nightclub experience. Don’t come to Coco Bongo if you just want to dance to a DJ; there are plenty of other clubs along the Hotel Zone that you’ll prefer. But if you’re seeking some stage antics and endless performances, Coco Bongo is definitely worth a try. Most travelers say that they had a great night at Coco Bongo, even if their seats offered poor views, there were long lines for drinks, and the cover charges were too expensive.
The club welcomes visitors daily from 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Be prepared to pay a sizable cover charge for entry: online ticket prices range from $80 to $195, though prices include unlimited domestic drinks from 10:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. And be warned: lines to get in can be long on the weekends and during the high season. For more information, visit Coco Bongo’s website.
9. Delphinus Punta Cancún
Operating out of the Hyatt Ziva in the Hotel Zone, Delphinus Punta Cancún allows visitors to swim with dolphins. The facility offers multiple programs, each focused on a different type of interaction with the dolphins. For example, the “Dolphin Ride” program allows visitors to swim with the dolphins, while “The One” allows swimmers to get to know one specific dolphin over the course of 45 minutes.
Recent visitors raved about their experience and said it’s particularly well suited to children 5 years and older. Along with the interaction with the animals, visitors are also given a short presentation on the animals and their environment. The only complaint among past visitors pertained to the prices (especially for photos), which some described as “ridiculous.”
Delphinus is based in the Hyatt Ziva. Schedules and prices vary depending on which program you choose: For example, “The One” costs $424.15 if booked online and $499 if booked on-site, while the “Dolphin Ride” costs $92.65 if booked online and $109 if booked on-site. Transportation from other properties within the Hotel Zone is available for an additional fee.