Cancun: Dive With Whale Sharks, Swim in Cenotes, and Explore Ancient Mayan Ruins


Millions of people visit Cancun to soak in the sun on warm sandy beaches or swim along the coral reefs to explore the ocean life. 

Whether you’re traveling with friends during spring break or taking a vacation with your sweetheart, Cancun offers stunning beaches, luxury resorts, and rich local culture for travelers to enjoy. 

For visitors, the mixture of relaxation and outdoor adventures is reason enough to continue returning to Cancun and the surrounding area. For exciting things to do on your next trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, keep reading to make the most of your time in Mexico. 

Explore Downtown Cancun

Cancun Sign

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Many travelers like to avoid spending time in crowded urban areas while on vacation. That isn’t the case in Cancun.

Downtown Cancun―a.k.a. El Centro―is full of local culture, from delicious food to street art to open markets and beautiful public parks. The best way to experience downtown is by hopping on the city bus and wandering around on foot.

El Parque del Las Palapas is one of the main attractions in the city. It offers a glimpse into the city’s traditions mixed with the modern culture of it’s thriving community. The large outdoor plaza features handcrafted artwork and souvenirs, an outdoor food court, and a playground space for children and families. If you stop by on weekend evenings, you can catch live music and other events that make El Parque del Las Palapas a hub. 

Swim With Whale Sharks

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You may be familiar with “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel, but how about swimming with whale sharks off the coast of Mexico?

Although a whale shark is technically a fish, they’re still impressive animals that weigh around 20,000 pounds and have more than 350 rows of teeth. You can dive into the Caribbean Sea and snorkel or swim alongside the largest fish in the ocean by joining one of many tours throughout the Cancun area. 

Several whale shark tours provide transportation and meals for your day trip out on the water. You might also see other marine life like dolphins and turtles who frequent the area and add to the excitement of exploring the Yucatan coast.

You may never get the chance to swim with whale sharks again, so you might as well go for it. 

Swim at a Cenote


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Wondering what a cenote is? A cenote is a natural sinkhole, often filled with water, that creates a pool or reservoir.

The Yucatan Peninsula is home to some of the longest underground cave systems connecting the cenotes. In Cancun alone, dozens of cenotes draw thousands of visitors to their startling blue waters each year. 

Enjoy snorkeling, swimming, and cliff diving into the picturesque waters at one of the cenotes throughout Cancun. But remember, be careful and always practice safe exploration. They are, after all, sinkholes. 

Tour the San Miguelito Ruins

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As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, ancient Mayan sites attract visitors from across the globe. At the San Miguelito Ruins, you can tour the structures and pyramids of this historic location, separated into four main groups―the North Complex, the South Complex, the Chaak Palace, and the Dragon Complex.

View hieroglyphics of animals, learn about the indigenous plants in the surrounding area, and explore the architectural design the Mayans used to construct their buildings. 

One of the most iconic structures at the San Miguelito Ruins is the Chaak Palace, dedicated to the Mayan god, Chaak. It sits on the north side of a small plaza and features the face of Chaak on all sides of the building. Visitors can take a leisurely walk around the grounds and step back into the world of one of the greatest civilizations to exist. 

Visit Chichen Itza

Chichén Itzá

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Chichen Itza was once one of the largest Maya cities during its time and is now one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world. Chichen Itza, meaning “at the mouth of the well at the Itza,” had four cenotes, or wells, that provided water to the city and its people.

It is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cancun with many guided tours, where you can learn from local experts and historians about the Mayan culture and the history of this city.

El Castillo, the largest pyramid in Chichen Itza, is the castle for Kukulcan, the feathered serpent god of the Mayan people. During the spring and fall equinoxes, light and shadow create an effect along the steps of the pyramid, known as the Descent of the Serpent. Thousands of visitors flock to Chichen Itza to witness the magical illusion of the snake slithering down the stairway. 

Relax on Isla Mujeres

Islas Mujeres, Mexico

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Located just off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Isla Mujeres is a tiny island with just one road that loops around the entire island. Visitors can rent golf carts or mopeds to beach hop, check out the ruins of the Mayan goddess of Ixchel at Punta Sur, or find their way to the nearest beachfront bar. Be sure to dip your feet in the beautiful turquoise water. 

Have you ever experienced an underwater museum before? Well, at the Cancun Underwater Museum of Art, you can see more than 500 statues and structures along the ocean floor and explore the second-largest coral reef system―the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

Visitors can also enjoy zip lining, kayaking, and snorkeling at the Garrafon Natural Reef Park near the south point of the island. 

Try a Temazcal Ritual

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Dating back to the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, a temazcal ritual is a purification ceremony led by a shaman through four stages of purification. The ceremony cleanses your mind, body, and soul in an enclosed structure, symbolizing the womb and the sense of transformation and rebirth. Keep in mind, that the ceremony involves intense heat and steam to purify your body, representing the difficulties one faces in life. 

In Cancun, visitors can book temazcal rituals to experience the ceremony with a local shaman. There are options for group rituals or private ceremonies, which may be a worthwhile investment if you’re traveling with a loved one and want to share this experience.

If you have the opportunity, participating in a temazcal ritual can offer healing and revitalization as you continue your journey toward personal growth. 

Discover the Nichupte Lagoon

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The Nichupte Lagoon consists of seven lakes rich in mangroves and wildlife, plus a mixture of freshwater and the warm waters from the Caribbean Sea. It’s a hidden gem near Downtown Cancun, so you don’t have to travel too far from the Hotel Zone to enjoy a day outdoors. Considered a natural paradise, adventure enthusiasts can enjoy stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing, and snorkeling year-round. 

Did we mention the wildlife in and around Nuchupte Lagoon? While you’re out kayaking or fishing on a boat tour, keep your eyes open for crocodiles, iguanas, migrating birds, turtles, and leopard frogs, just to name a few.

There’s no telling what might cross your path while exploring the wonders of Nichupte Lagoon. 

Visit Nearby Towns

Old Maya Beach in Tulum - Mexico

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Although Cancun has much to offer visitors, nearby towns like Playa del Carman and Tulum are equally exciting and worth the trip. Playa del Carmen, a little over an hour south along the coast, is home to Xel-Há, a natural aquarium full of fish, turtles, and dolphins. You can also take a guided tour of Río Secreto and explore the underground river and connected caves full of stalagmites and stalactites. 

Tulum, about two hours south of Cancun, is known for the Tulum Archaeological Site and its restored temples and castles along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

You can also explore the Punta Laguna Nature Reserve, home to jaguars, pumas, and howler monkeys.

These places offers a mixture of luxury resorts, ancient Mayan ruins, and outdoor activities to impress any traveler to the area. 

Relax Along the Hotel Zone

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If you need some rest and relaxation, or you and your significant other are looking for an all-inclusive resort package, check out the Hotel Zone. It’s a well-known strip along the coast full of beachfront resorts―with spas, great food, and activities for the whole family. Many hotels include different amenities and accommodations so you can enjoy Cancun however it fits your budget. 

And don’t worry, the Hotel Zone offers more than hotels and resorts. There are dozens of restaurants throughout the area, from casual burrito spots to sit-down restaurants.

Getting around the zone is also easy on public transit, with many bus stops at different parts of the city. 

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Zaida Marston