Chichen Itza, an archaeological site, was once a Maya city. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): Isla Contoy, which is home to four species of turtles and more than 150 species of tropical birds, is a nature lover’s paradise. // © 2016 iStock
Cancun already offers more than enough to do within its own city limits. But this tourism magnet also provides plenty of reasons to get out of town, even if just for a day. Whether you’re looking for nature, active excitement, shopping, dining or just some quiet time on an unspoiled beach, you can find it within a two-hour radius. These are some of the most interesting day trips from Cancun.
Perhaps Mexico’s best-known archaeological site, Chichen Itza is a must-see for first-time visitors to Cancun. This one-time Maya city (and current-day UNESCO World Heritage Site), parts of which date to the seventh century, is home to impressive pre-Hispanic architecture and offers a fascinating glimpse into ancient life and traditions on the Yucatan Peninsula.
This lesser-known destination on Mexico’s Caribbean coast is perfect for a nature-oriented getaway, with wetlands, jungle and grassland. Flamingos, quails, woodpeckers and toucans are among the wildlife clients might spot at El Corchal.
North of Isla Mujeres lies Isla Contoy, a smaller island that serves as a preserve for four species of turtles and more than 150 tropical marine birds, including the double-crested cormorant, frigate bird and brown pelican.
Many people choose to stay on Isla Holbox for a few nights to fully absorb the peaceful vibes of this island, which measures about 26 miles long and less than 1 mile wide. But clients can visit for the day by plane or via a ferry from Cancun to enjoy a few fun-filled hours of kiteboarding, bird watching or just resting on the sand.
Zipping around this much-loved island on a golf cart is a great way to spend a day. Visitors can stop for lunch at open-air restaurants, sunbathe and swim at lovely beaches. They can also enjoy outdoor activities at Garrafon Natural Reef Park, where clients can go kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving. A quick ferry ride makes Isla Mujeres especially accessible.
Playa del Carmen
This once-sleepy village in the Riviera Maya is a destination in its own right, but for those staying in Cancun, it’s an easy day trip to enjoy a stroll down Fifth Avenue, where a variety of shops and restaurants offer lots of diversions.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
This UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Riviera Maya features diverse ecosystems that include vast dunes, lush jungles and scenic mangroves. A short boat ride takes visitors to a natural swimming pool that’s graced with crisply clear water.
The popularity of the coast’s so-called eco-parks is proof of the Yucatan Peninsula’s natural beauty. Top attractions include Xcaret, which offers everything from snorkeling tours and dolphin swims to Maya music and dance performances and wildlife viewing. At Xel-Ha, ziplines, bike rides and cliff jumping provide lots of excitement, while jungle paths and a nursery allow visitors to learn more about nature. Action is the focus at Xplor, where ziplines, amphibious vehicles, underground rafts and stalactite rivers are among the options for exploring the great outdoors.
Located nearly two hours south of Cancun, the resort town of Tulum has gained increasing fame as a vacation hotspot. The longest-standing reason to visit, of course, is its group of pre-Hispanic ruins, which sit in postcard-perfect style next to the Caribbean coast.
Museo Subacuatico de Arte is a fascinating underwater art exhibit that debuted in 2009. Its more than 500 sculptures, which sit on the sea floor in the waters off Mexico’s coast, can be viewed by glass-bottom boat or during scuba and snorkel trips. Nizuc Resort & Spa offers free boat trips to the museum for hotel guests every Thursday.