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Isla Mujeres, Cancun

The 10 best things to do in Cancún

From Mayan ruins to mouthwatering cuisine and pristine beaches, here are the best things to do in Cancún

Written by
Kelly Lewis
&
Lori A May
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Believe it or not, the best things to do in Cancún don't always involve partying—the city can actually be rather chill if you give it a chance. Arrive outside of spring break’s party season and you’ll discover a different side to the resort mecca where a calmer, more varied escape awaits sun worshipers, culture seekers, and food enthusiasts. While the city is a gateway to Mayan ruins located in Tulum and Chichén-Itzá, Cancún itself is home to heritage sites including an underwater museum, archaeological exhibits, and a varied culinary scene where age-old Yucatán flavors mingle with haute concept eateries. Add in a cultural tour, get active thanks to endless watersports activities, and explore the coastal scenery while you’re here to make the most of your stay in Cancún.

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Best things to do in Cancún

What is it? A contemporary art museum that's entirely underwater.

Why go? A visit to MUSA is a truly unique experience. The museum comprises over 500 statues completely submerged in the Cancún National Marine Park's waters. The best way to see these sculptural coral reefs (which take the form of familiar shapes, like children and cars) is by snorkeling up close, but if you don't want to get wet you can also see them via a glass-bottomed boat.

El Rey Archaeological Zone
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. El Rey Archaeological Zone

What is it? Mayan ruins located in the Hotel Zone of Cancún.

Why go? While we’d also recommend a trip out of town to the larger ancient Mayan city of Chichén-Itzá, Cancún's El Rey ruins are certainly worth a stop. Small but mighty, they are easy to navigate while offering great views of a nearby lagoon as you explore what life was like for ancient Mayan royalty.

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What is it? Aside from sleek architecture and ancient archaeological artifacts, the air-con is a big ol' tick towards a visit to the Mayan Museum of Cancún.

Why go? Learn all about the extensive history of the Yucatán Peninsula with a leisurely look at some 400 artifacts. Everything is displayed beautifully and clearly throughout, with dedicated sections that feature sculpture, jewelry, and ceramics. Looking for more? You'll find an archaeological site just outside complete with remnants of temples and pyramids.

What is it? Coco Bongo, a trio of clubs in the Caribbean, offers clubbing on steroids.

Why go? This is clubbing, but not as you know it. Located within the huge Forum By the Sea shopping center, Coco Bongo sees flying acrobats, tributes to top pop stars (think Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson), and an unrivalled party atmosphere every night of the week. Tickets (best booked in advance) also include unlimited drinks.

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What is it? Isla Mujeres is a 7km-long island located a 20-minute ferry ride away from Cancún.

Why go? Isla Mujeres has sweeping cliffs, great restaurants, and beautiful beaches that are less crowded than those in Cancún’s Hotel Zone. Rent a golf cart and explore the island, or claim some sand at Playa Norte. Visit Punta Sur on the south end of the island for stunning cliff views and ziplining, or book a snorkeling excursion in the turquoise waters.

What is it? Take a cooking class to perfect your favorite Mexican recipes.

Why go? Learn more about the history of Mexican cuisine with an afternoon-long cooking class that explores Mexican gastronomy. The day includes Mexican pastries and hot drinks upon entrance, followed by a history lesson, cooking lesson, six-course meal, and a tequila tasting.

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What is it? There aren’t many places in the world where you can swim with whale sharks, but here you can get up close to some of the largest fish on the planet.

Why go? Between May and September, the gentle giants come to the waters off Isla Mujeres and Cancún to feed on plankton. For a tour led by naturalists and biologists, Eco Travel Mexico offers outings from Cancún to the prime spot where the Caribbean Sea meets the Gulf of Mexico. You can also access the waters from Isla Mujeres, where tours are easily booked from one of the island's dive shops.

What is it? A high-concept restaurant with live entertainment and trendy fashion shows.

Why go? The combination of haute cuisine and haute couture will have you raving about this Cancún venue for months. Yes, it’s a high-concept Yucatán restaurant with incredible bites, but the venue is also buzzing with fashion models parading in between sparkler bottle service and cirque-like performances.

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What is it? A cafe focused on cacao and coffee grown on family-run farms in Mexico.

Why go? This organic cacao and coffee shop is a perfect pick-me-up with espresso and mocha beverages, cakes and pastries, and, of course, decadent chocolate bars. The cafe has patio seating at this La Isla Shopping Village location, perfect for people watching with a chocolate frappé in hand.

10. Street art tour

What is it? A series of murals along the streets of Cancún and in the Hotel Zone.

Why go? This self-guided street art tour is a great way to take in city sights without spending any coin. Sure, there isn't an official tour or even a map, but a series of large public art murals (found in various city nooks and in the Hotel Zone) will lead you throughout the city. Start off with the mural at the fire station beside Kukulcán Plaza in the Hotel Zone, then dip into the city and follow the residential development near Avenida Bonampak for a handful of outdoor murals.  

Get a taste of Cancun's food and drink scene

The 13 best restaurants in Cancún
  • Restaurants

From street tacos at 1am to world-class Japanese food and experimental, globally minded plates – the city’s restaurant scene has come a long way. On your next visit to the city, be sure to stop in at one of the best restaurants in Cancún.

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