Easy, Breezy Day Trips from Cancun

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Deal Expert, Los Angeles
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With its tropical climate, serene crystal-blue waters and delicious Mexican cuisine, Cancun is an ideal location for travelers in search of a beach paradise. While the city’s Hotel Zone offers countless resorts, entertainment and shopping, make a day trip out of exploring these nearby destinations I visited on a recent trip:

Isla Mujeres

Take a 15-minute ferry ride to Isla Mujeres, a colorful, less developed island just 5.5 miles long. Once you arrive, renting a golf cart is the easiest way to get around. If you’re bringing kids, stop into Tortugranja, a small turtle sanctuary that lets you feed their collection of tortoises with admission at only US$3. Be sure to bring cash for souvenirs to take home as the island offers a variety of locally-made gifts.

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Photo from Flickr by David Stanley

Maya Ruins of Tulum

Located roughly two hours south of Cancun’s Hotel Zone sits the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum. Walk through what was once a bustling seaport and home to 600 Mayan people while admiring native iguana and coatimundi. While the site offers stunning views of the Caribbean Sea, the weather can be extremely hot, so don’t forget to pack a hat and bring a water bottle. If not, there are shops and restaurants at the base of the property.

tulum

Papaya Playa

On your way back from the ruins, stop into the Papaya Playa Project, a rustic seaside property that focuses on sustainability and eco-conscious practices. Non-hotel guests can dine on fresh-caught seafood and sip Mezcal on the multi-level patio or two-story bar just steps from the shore.

papaya

Other popular places nearby include:

Xel-Ha Park

Located in the Riviera Maya district that sits along the Caribbean, Xel-Ha Park is an all-natural, outdoor water park that offers an all-inclusive aquatic adventure. Spend the day rafting under mangrove trees, zip line over the canopy, spot tropical fish while snorkeling, and enjoy traditional Mexican cuisine and drinks with a variety of package options. Because Xel-Ha is a full-day excursion and 1.5 to 2-hours from many of the popular hotels, we recommend skipping the drive and opting for an air-conditioned tour bus.

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Photo from Flickr by Justin Otto

Cenotes

Cancun is home to approximately 30,000 cenotes, which are systems of underground fresh-water caves and tunnels that were formed thousands of years ago. Translating to “sacred well,” cenotes are perfect for snorkeling and diving; some are tucked away in caverns with stalactites jutting from the natural ceiling, while others are exposed and surrounded by trees and vines. Some of the most famous are Dos Ojos and Ik-Kil.

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Photo from Flickr by Oswaldo Rubio

Chichen Itza

The historic Mayan civilization of Chichen Itza is one of the most visited sites in Mexico; the well-maintained El Castillo pyramid was deemed one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. To fully absorb the rich history and culture of the area, make sure to take a tour with a local guide. Because this day trip is a far drive as well, a tour bus is a preferred transportation option.

Chichen Itza

Travelzoo Tips

  • Although Cancun offers an array of Mexican and American dining, if you’re trying to stock up on groceries, look no further than the Super Chedraui in the Hotel Zone — the grocery store offers a high-end shopping experience with a top-notch food court, wine tasting and more.
  • Ask your concierge for the best tour bus options, and make sure they’re air-conditioned as the weather can get hot.
  • The Yucatan peninsula is often breezy on the water, so make sure to pack a hat with a chin strap to fasten it so it doesn’t fly away.
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