10 Unique Things To Do in Cancún

by Paul Stafford  |  Published April 7, 2024

Notorious for its role as a party and package holiday destination, Cancún offers so much more to the discerning traveller.

MUSA’s sculptures (Photo:

Wander through the streets of downtown Cancún and you would never know that human presence amounted to a clutch of small fishing communities here in 1965. Nowadays, Cancún Airport sees more than 30 million passengers pass annually through its terminals, most of whom are heading for a resort along the Zona Hotelera nearby. And while most resort-goers may barely ever leave the hotel, there are some remarkable and memorable experiences awaiting guests intrepid enough to try. Here are ten activities and sights around Cancún that will give you a unique flavour of the true Mexico.

Dive down to underwater sculptures

In 2009, the sculptor Jaime González Cano began taking his works and putting them on the sea floor. It was all in preparation for one of the world’s most unusual underwater experiences. MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) is today an underwater museum. At the main reef, Manchones, there are close to 500 sculptures. Highlights include a Volkswagen car and The Silent Evolution, which involves 400 lifelike human figures. Visitation can be by scuba diving down or viewing them through a glass bottom boat. Snorkelling is a popular option. This daily snorkelling tour through Viator visits MUSA, along with a reef and a shipwreck.

Learn about the region’s rich pre-Hispanic culture

Stunning stonemasonry on display at Museo Maya (Photo: Paul Stafford)

The Maya forged a unique, creative culture, leaving behind a plethora of remarkable carved artefacts that unveil the secrets of their religious beliefs and daily lives. Museo Maya de Cancún holds one of the world’s finest collections of Mayan statues and stelae. Located next door to some of Cancún’s biggest resorts, it’s a must for anybody staying in the city. Highlights include the exhibition on Mayan art, and the San Miguelito ruins that are located in the museum grounds. Closed on Tuesdays.

Blvd. Kukulcan km 16.5, Zona Hotelera

Discover Mayan ruins minutes from the beach

An iguana presiding over the ruins at El Rey (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Once you’ve got that crucial background and seen relics that were rescued from the temples, it’s time to visit the remnants of a Mayan city. There are at least 200 dotted around the Yucatán Peninsula, that we know about. There are likely hundreds of additional structures still buried in the forest. But while the big hitters such as Chichén Itzá and Tulum are well worth the day trip, you can visit the ruins of El Rey Archaeological Zone right in the Zona Hotelera. The site features dozens of structures, including the remains of a pyramidal temple, all overrun with iguanas. Open daily from 8am until 4pm.

Blvd. Kukulcan km 18, Zona Hotelera

Soak up the local culture

In downtown Cancún, there are very few historic attractions, due to the fact that the city grew rapidly to meet the tourism demand over the past few decades. Nevertheless, there is plenty of life here, with local culture thriving in ways you’d never experience in the tourist traps. One highlight is the modest Parque de las Palapas where, on Sunday evenings, the space is transformed with live music, street food carts and dancing. Families and couples use it as a meeting place and the atmosphere perfectly illustrates what makes Mexico so charming.

77500, Tulipanes LB

Take a day trip around Isla Mujeres

Mujeres catamaran (Photo:

Only 3.5 miles offshore lies Isla Mujeres, a perfect day-trip destination from Cancún. While most of the island is now developed, the atmosphere is a world away from that of Cancún. Most people navigate the roads in electric golf carts and the beaches are among the best in the region. It’s possible to hop on a regular Ultramar ferry from Puerto Juárez (best reached by taxi), but guided tours are a great alternative, such as this catamaran trip through Getyourguide. This option has an open bar, gives you six hours to explore the island, and includes a stop for snorkelling.

Find a bargain at Mercado 28

When it comes to shopping for keepsakes that will remind you of Mexico wherever else you may be, Mercado 28 is the place to find them. Hundreds of vendors have stalls at this colourful and endearing flea market, specialising in bottles of tequila, Day of the Dead figurines, textiles and much more. It’s also a good place to find beachwear. But be aware that the absence of prices is a sign that a little bartering is expected if you don’t want to overpay.

Xel-ha Mz 13

Mexican whimsy at Mercado 28 (Photo: Paul Stafford)

Attend one of the world’s wildest nightclubs

Locals roll their eyes at the mention of Spring Break in these parts, but that doesn’t mean they’re averse to partying, per se. In fact, one of the most intriguing nightclubs in the world was born right here in Cancún. Coco Bongo is a nightlife experience like no other in Mexico. It’s what you would get if a cabaret mated with a circus in a movie theatre. Throughout the night, themed shows take place all around you. All tickets include an open bar. Book well in advance for a 25% discount on regular tickets. Although it’s so good, you don’t even need to drink to appreciate it.

Blvd. Kukulcan 30, Punta Cancun, Zona Hotelera

Switch salt water for fresh in a cenote

The great mystery of the Yucatán Peninsula to European colonisers when they arrived was that it appeared to have no estuaries, and therefore no rivers. That is because all the freshwater flows beneath the ground in a complex subterranean network carved over time through the limestone. Natural openings into this system on the surface are called cenotes, and they happen to be excellent places for a swim, snorkel or, if you have the training, scuba dive. What To Do in Cancun runs cenote tours from Cancún that include a stop at Museo Maya and a tequila tasting. Book this tour through Viator, here.

Cenote tour (Photo:

Party on the water at Xoximilco theme park

Named after the Aztec-era waterways found to the south of Mexico City, Xoximilco replicates the spirit of Mexican culture in this popular theme park for adults. And just like its Mexico City namesake, this theme park is water based. Visitors are paddled around, gondola-style, in trajineras, which are traditional boats bedecked with lights. These ones have a table down the middle for you to eat a variety of included Mexican dishes, while sampling beer and tequila from the open bar. Mariachis serenade you throughout the evening, capping the experience.

Chetumal Km. 282, Juárez

Catch a Caribbean sunset from a Ferris wheel

Being on the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Cancún’s golden hour is usually at dawn, when the sun rises over the Caribbean. But seeing how early mornings aren’t generally the Cancún crowd’s forte, Sky Wheel Cancún (aka La Gran Rueda) is the ideal solution. Standing a whopping 70 metres high (230ft), you get a panoramic view of the entire Zona Hotelera, out towards Isla Mujeres and away down the coast towards Tulum. From here, you can watch the warm glow of sunset over the Nichupté lagoon, as it bathes the whole coastline in orange.

Blvd. Kukulcan km 12.5, La Isla, Zona Hotelera

Sweep of the beach at the Zona Hotelera in Cancún (Photo: Paul Stafford)