exploring Cancun

exploring sites around Cancun is intriguing

I’m thrilled to have recently re-discovered the wonders of Mexico, spending time over the past few years on the Pacific coast, the Yucatan/Gulf of Mexico, and the interior of this magnificent country. I never tire of visiting Mexico as there is so much culture to experience, great food and music to enjoy. And so much natural beauty to behold.


This is just a magazine photo of the Mayan ruins at Tulum overlooking the secluded beach below. All my images of Cancun and Tulum were taken in the 1990’s before the days of digital, so it’s definitely time to go back!

But it’s been far too long since I’ve spent time in Cancun or Tulum! I still remember the beauty of Cancun’s expansive beach. And the spirituality of the sacred site in Tulum where the Mayan ruins stand tall on the cliff overlooking the natural beauty of its small secluded beach—a stark contrast to the immensity of Cancun’s 12-mile strip of beach along its Hotel Zone. Did you know that the creation of Cancun as a mega beach resort was a federally funded tourism project begun in 1970 by the Mexican government? Fifty years later, and Cancun is now the number one vacation spot in Mexico and home to the second busiest airport (next to Mexico City) in the country.

I remember Cancun Beach as one of the finest in the world. Long and wide, and blessed with some of the finest white sand you’ll find anywhere. But there’s a lot more to Cancun than lying on a beautiful beach. Here are a few other attractions to round out your visit.

Cancun day trips can be a highlight of your visit

Isla Contoy
Enjoy your own castaway adventure with a trip to this uninhabited national park island. Accessible via a short boat trip from Cancun, be sure to book in advance as only 200 people per day are allowed to visit. At only seven kilometres long, it may be compact but there’s an abundance of wildlife to admire and a selection of short hiking trails. You can also climb an observation tower which offers spectacular views for those who can brave the heights.

Underwater museum
There’s no shortage of world class scuba diving sites in and around Cancun but none quite as unique as the underwater museum. A collection of 470 concrete sculptures sit on the sea bed as part of a massive reef regeneration project. Visitors can now swim among these human statues and learn more about Mexico’s extensive conservation efforts. How cool is that?

Chichen Itza

The crumbling ruins of this ancient Mayan civilization have become one of Mexico’s most popular attractions. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chichen Itza is a collection of temples and an impressive observation tower best explored during early morning hours to avoid the midday heat. The iconic pyramid, El Castillo, was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Isla Mujeres
For those who enjoy a bit of seclusion, this 15-minute day trip to the neighbouring island of Isla Mujeres provides a great experience. You’ll find a selection of beautiful beaches which remain pleasantly uncrowded, providing some welcome relief from the lively resorts of Cancun. There’s also a trendy downtown area which boasts a great mix of chic eateries and boutique shops.


Paradise River Xcaret Mexico

A truly memorable and natural theme park, Xcaret showcases the best of Mexico’s natural beauty and rich culture. Traditional Mayan events are carried out throughout much of the year where you can learn more about this ancient civilization through exhibits and performances. There’s also a dolphin show, butterfly pavilion and a chance to hike deep into the jungle discovering caves and waterfalls along the way.


The Mayan ruins at Tulum are even closer to Cancun than Chichen Itza. The spectacular clifftop location can be explored in under an hour, but I’d suggest allowing yourself a full day to admire the impressive pyramid of Tulum, and then enjoy a swim in the tranquilizing beach below. Looking up at the ruins as you soak in the warm waters really makes a visit to Tulum complete and much more memorable.

Tulum is 131 kilometres (81 miles) south of Cancun. Cancun is at the northern end of the Riviera Maya, a tourist region stretching 183 kilometres/115 miles that runs south along Mexico’s Caribbean coastline all the way to Punta Allen. So very much to see! In 2017, I enjoyed a trip to a beach resort near Playa del Carmen–considered to be the heart of the Riviera Maya. We really enjoyed a day trip from there to Puerto Morelos, highlighted in this post.

Have you been to Cancun lately? What are some of your favourite Cancun day trips? Please share, and wish me luck in manifesting a return trip to Tulum and the Mayan Riviera. It worked for Belize!

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

60 Responses

  1. JANET MAY - HEWSON says:

    Life post-covid…. looking forward to getting back to this area.

    • I hear you, Janet! With these COVID variants multiplying like crazy at this point in time, we sure don’t know when international travel–and specifically travel to Mexico will be safe and available to us. But we can dream … Thx for stopping by to share your thoughts.

  2. I’d always thought of Cancun as the sort of place I’d avoid, so it’s interesting to see that it has historic sites and natural attractions nearby. Perhaps I should think again!

  3. Bola says:

    I would to visit Cancun one day and go on one of these adventures. Then visit Isla Mujeres
    to enjoy a bit of seclusion and the uncrowded beaches.
    Bola recently posted…What Life Looked Like In London During LockdownMy Profile

    • Hi Bola. Yes, it’s great that the region has such a variance of attractions to appeal in anyone in a group. I actually find that for most of Mexico. Whether you like great beaches and natural beauty, art, history and culture, food and chocolate, or a variety of libations, every Mexican region I’ve been to ticks most of those boxes!

  4. Here’s to manifesting you a trip back to Cancun someday soon Doreen! I too am up for a return trip – I’d love to go to Isla Contoy ( never been) and see if I could snorkel to the Underwater Museum.
    michele peterson recently posted…15 Bucket List Things to Do in Puerto EscondidoMy Profile

    • Thx so much for your good wishes, Michele! Yes, it’s been crazy being in isolation for SO long. I am dreaming about so many places, but Tulum seems to be capturing my heart and spirit. Wouldn’t it be fun if we could converge in Cancun?

  5. The Cancun region definitely offers great opportunities for exploring all of the best that Cancun offers–from the great outdoors to adventures just for fun!

    • For sure, Noel! There’s something about Mexico, and the government very wisely built Cancun in an area that contained much natural beauty in addition to very noteworthy historic and archaeological wonders. There’s something for everyone!

  6. Quang Huy says:

    I want to visit Mexico but haven’t had the chance to go yet. I enjoyed this article about the Cancun area very much! Thank you very much for sharing the highlights of a visit to Cancun. If possible, can you share more about other attractive tourist spots in Mexico? I am looking forward to an answer from you. Thank you very much.

    • Hello Quang Huy and thank you for your comment. If you’re interested in reading some of my other posts on Mexico, just to the search box on the home page of my site and type ‘Mexico’ or any of the place names you might be interested in. There are posts on Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque, Mexico City, Tequila, Merida, Puerto Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Uxmal.

      • Quang Huy says:

        I plan to bring my family to Mexico next month. Do you share anything for a self-sufficient tour?
        Thanks Doreen Pendgracs.

        • Hello Quang Huy. I don’t believe that now is the time to travel to Mexico. The Centre for Disease Controls says that even fully vaccinated persons may still be at risk due to the COVID variants that are very quickly spreading throughout the country. See this site for details: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/covid-4/coronavirus-mexico. I think that planning travel to Mexico for the fall and winter would be safe and wonderful. Your travel agent will help you select just the right location for your specific needs.

  7. I’ve updated this post and have republished it with hope that I will get to Tulum and some incredible new properties I am talking to in the Riviera Maya that are featuring chocolate spa treatments and cacao cuisine. All for you, my dear readers. All for you. ❤️
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…your collections reflect your passionsMy Profile

  8. Susan Meinzinger says:

    I’m visiting Cancun in two weeks and was hoping to do a workshop in chocolate making authenticly do you know of a place noncommercial that would do that sort of thing. I am a chocolate maker in a small family business, self taught and would like to have some other experiences with chocolate making from a placertain where cocoa is originated.

  9. Saad Waqar says:

    Nice post …. I like it 🙂

  10. Hi Doreen, I have always wanted to visit Cancun and Tulum. I’ve heard such amazing things about this area, the flights there are always a great price and the pictures and history of the area are fascinating. I’ve still been a little worried about travel to Mexico these last few years, but hopefully someday I’ll get the.
    Susan cooper recently posted…Candied Pecans: #RecipeMy Profile

  11. We were also SO impressed by the underwater museum! Loved the concept and the visibility of the water make it so ethereal and magical feeling.
    Jenny @ Till the Money Runs Out recently posted…Jean Lafitte National Park, New Orleans Self-Guided Swamp TourMy Profile

  12. I’ve always fancied Cancun, and now I know there’s an underwater museum, I definitely want to go! Mexico is next on my list after Jamaica, hopefully!

  13. Mar Pages says:

    Xcaret sounds like a ton of fun and adventure. I’ve yet to spend some more time in this part of Mexico but I’m definitely going to keep this on my list. Thanks for the recommendations, Doreen!

  14. Sanket D. says:

    Lots of my friends studying in the USA are beginning to go to Cancun for spring break. I can see the appeal. Mexico’s really picking up some traction lately as a tourist spot, isn’t it?
    Sanket D. recently posted…Travel Blogging: The Ugly Truth Social Media Doesn’t ShowMy Profile

    • It is indeed, Sanket. I think Mexico had a tough time over the past 2 decades in attracting new visitors and getting others to return. But it has made a resurgence and has begun singing its attributes with confidence and determination. It appears to be working, and Mexico is back on the world stage as an amazing destination.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…accommodation options for Puerto VallartaMy Profile

  15. Ah Mexico, I will have to come back for you! Move over Canada, Xcaret has that blue too! I am keen to dive amongst the underwater museum, you are right – very cool!
    Gemma Two Scots Abroad recently posted…Three Weeks in PeruMy Profile

    • Right on, Gemma. Mexico really does have something for everyone. It’s especially been able to satisfy my appetite for culture and the arts, and of course … chocolate! Thanks for stopping by.

  16. I love Mexico. We had some great Mayan chocolate in Valladolid near Cancun.
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted…2015 Was Huge! Here are the Craziest Things We Did…My Profile

  17. Mar Pages says:

    Live and learn 🙂 I have a few friends who have done climbing and yes, it is hard, definitively not a dress and converse trek 🙂 but nonetheless, I’m sure they had memorable experiences. I have a friend who climbed Mount Kinabalu in flip flops… 🙂
    Mar Pages recently posted…50 things to do in SingaporeMy Profile

  18. Mar Pages says:

    I would love to visit Mexico. One of my best friends is from there and just hearing her talk about the country makes me want to go every day. However, it is so far from southeast asia that I am leaving it for when it is closer, a long-standing wish list and this is just making me more impatient
    Mar Pages recently posted…50 things to do in SingaporeMy Profile

  19. chandi says:

    I LOVE the Mayan Riviera. I have been to most of those places you mention but not to Xcaret. Your picture makes it look wonderful. Have you ever gone south of Tulum? I had an adventurous trip there with my 77 year old mother! You might have fun reading it: http://paradiseofexiles.com/mayan-adventures-with-my-77-year-old-mother/

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  20. I love Cancun! One of my favorites when visiting is the underwater museum! It’s pretty amazing!
    Joe Ankenbauer recently posted…Mobile Photography: Advanced Exposure & FocusMy Profile

  21. I always hear about Cancun in TV shows, but I’ve never really got to visit it until now. There are really nice places to go there especially the Chichen.
    Karla (Karla Around The World) recently posted…16 Off Beat Destinations named by Travel BloggersMy Profile

  22. Elizabeth says:

    Good timing. Cancun might be a stop in this years travels and there are some good things to do here. I will pin it for later.
    Elizabeth recently posted…Healthy Travels: What you Need to KnowMy Profile

  23. Doreen – I haven’t been to Cancun but I did visit Chichen Itza many years ago which I believe is on the mainland. We climbed to the top but then the walk down was so scary that we “sat” our way down, meaning we moved down each step on our backsides!
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…The Downside of the Decline of Blogging Among the Fortune 500My Profile

  24. arvin says:

    I visited Cancun earlier this year, I did go to Chichen Itza, my favorite was Downtown Cancun, away from the hotel zone, thanks for sharing your travels!
    arvin recently posted…Things to do in Dublin IrelandMy Profile

    • Hi Arvin and thanks for your comment. Yes, exploring the old downtown regions of destinations such as Cancun and Puerto Vallarta is a great way to see more authentic sites and often find great deals on food and drink!
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…exploring CancunMy Profile

  25. Jessica says:

    Underwater Museum seems to be wonderful and definitely must visit in Cancun. All the highlights you listed are all extraordinary and great list for an exploration. Thanks.

  26. Lux says:

    Intriguing indeed. But really beautiful too.
    Lux recently posted…A Scary Kind Of CalmnessMy Profile

  27. Tulum, and the ruins of Tulum, and the waters of Tulum are defo something On my list…. there is nothing I would like more at this minute…also who doesnt want to visit Chichen Itza at some point in their lives. well done, good suggestions 🙂
    Kimberly Erin @ Walkaboot.ca recently posted…8 Cozy products to help keep you warm this winterMy Profile

    • There are many great Mayan ruins in Mexico, Kimberly. In October, we visited Uxmal–also in the Yucatan region, and it was wonderful. It really takes you back to a time long gone when you stroll thru these ancient ruins.

  28. Chris says:

    I can agree about the wonderful Chichen Itza and Tulum, but I can’t stand the thought of Cancun.

    It’s more American than Mexican for my mind…
    Chris recently posted…CajamarcaMy Profile

    • Hi Chris. I know what you mean. Cancun is indeed commercialized. But it is the centre to which we travel to access some of the amazing natural and historic sites that make the trip worthwhile. Enjoy your travels, and thanks for stopping by.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…exploring CancunMy Profile

  29. Beverly says:

    I had a brief visit to Cancun in the early eighties when in transit from Cozumel back to Canada. I have toured the Mayan Ruins in Cozumel and particularly enjoyed snorkeling in the clear water there because it offered such a fantastic opportunity to see so may varieties of fish close up.

  30. Pat says:

    Have spent two vacations in Cancun and loved it!! It is a beautiful place. Saw Tulum and those awesome beaches. Were not able to go swimming but loved looking at them. I have some vague memories of Isla Mujeres – on a boat wearing some hat that had a straw dispensing margaritas!! Lot’s of fun!!

  31. I’ve never been to Mexico but would love to go one day. This sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing your adventures. I always learn something new with every post.

  32. I’ve wanted to visit this area for many years, but have still yet to go. Now you’ve made it all very tempting. Ive always thought Isla Mujeres a great name for an island. I forget the history now whether the women were banished there if of they fled by choice. Looks like a beautiful part of the world.
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