Staying in Cancún and you want to experience more than the beautiful beaches and it’s nightlife? Good news, there are many exciting day trips from Cancún to explore the surrounding areas. In Cancún, Yucatán, you’re in the right place to see the world wonders of the old Mayan civilization
Here are some of the best day trips that you should be taking during your visit to Cancún. Easy to organize and affordable.
- Chichen Itza - most famous Maya ruin
- Tulum - historic site and snorkeling
- Cozumel and Playa del Carmen - island and reefs
- Rio Secreto - underground river
- Cobá - the tallest Maya pyramid
- Ek Balam - ancient Mayan city and cenote
- Rio Lagartos & Las Coloradas: pink lagoons
- Isla Mujeres - catamaran and snorkeling
- Scuba Diving near Cancún
- Theme Park Xcaret
Day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancún
The pre-Columbian city of Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous Mayan ruins in Mexico. It is located approximately 120 miles (190 km) west of Cancún. You’ll experience impressive architectural structures from the ancient Mayan culture, such as the Kukulcan Pyramid. You can take a guided tour of the ruins to learn more about the history and culture of the Mayan civilization.
How to get from Cancún to Cichen Itza?
Choose between a private car, bus or private shuttle and a guided tour.
- It’s a 3 hours drive from Cancún. Parking is available nearby, just make sure to drive through the end. Many people will try to guide you into their private parking, although there is plenty of space right next to the entrance to the historic site.
- There are not many direct buses between Cancún and Chichen Itza (about 2 per day) and they take about 3 hours each way. However, they only cost about 10-15 USD. Private shuttles cost between 180 and 360 USD, usually for up to 9 persons. Both options are available on rome2rio.com.
- Organized tours makes most sense for this day trip, especially if you do not travel by car. Most of the time you can skip the line and have a guided tour. Most tours combine the trip with a visit to Valladolid, which offers charming colonial-era architecture or a Cenote.
Day trip to Tulum from Cancún
Tulum is a beautiful coastal town located approximately 80 miles (130 km) south of Cancún. The town is home to ancient Mayan ruins that overlook the Caribbean Sea. We highly suggest visiting the ruins (appr. 1 hour) and snorkel in the nearby riff. Where else can you combine viewing turtles, exotic fish and a Mayan ruin at the same time?
Also check the guide on day trips from Tulum.
What to do in Tulum?
- You can take a guided tour of the ruins of the Zona Arqueológica de Tulum to learn more about the history and culture of the Mayan civilization. The tour includes the Temple 54 and beach ruins (”Playas Ruinas”).
- Snorkel in the Santa Fe riff (”Arrecife Santa Fe”) right next to the Mayan ruins. Tours start regularly from the Santa Fe Beach (”Playa Santa Fe). Just go there and you’ll be offered a tour. Depending on what you want to see, they cost between 20 and 70 USD.
- After exploring the ruins, you can relax on the nearby “Playa paraíso”, which - compared to Cancún - offers more pristine white sand beaches, turquoise waters and palms. If you fancy some fresh coconut water or local food, you’ll find vendors and accommodating restaurants right next to the beach as well.
How to get to Tulum from Cancún?
You can choose between driving to Tulum with your own car, bus or private shuttles, and book organized tours.
- If you have a car at your disposal, you can just drive there. It takes about 2 hours. You’ll find free parking near the Playa Santa Fe, as well as surveilled car parking for about 4 USD per hour.
- Bus shuttles depart about every hour and cost approximately 15-20 USD per way. You can find a reliable connection at busbud.com.
- Taxis or private shuttles are more expensive: you have to pay about 280 USD for 9 passengers. If that is your preferred option, find shuttle on Wayak.
- Organized tours offer not only the transportation, but also entrances and sometime food and drinks. We recommend a tour that combines Tulum, the astonishing ruins of Cobá and diving in a Cenote (a water filled cavern).
Day trip from Cancún to Cozumel
Cozumel is a beautiful island located off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. It is known for its spectacular coral reefs, making it a popular destination for snorkelers and scuba divers. The island can be reached from the coastal city of Playa del Carmen, which itself offers great activities.
What to do in Cozumel?
- Rent a Scooter (or Jeep) and tour around the island to see all of its beauty. Rent a jeep, car or scooter right next to the pier on the island. This allows you to visit parks further away from the pier - which are usually also less crowded. If you’re visiting in high season, we recommend booking it in advance.
- Go to Punta Sur and see crocodiles and wildlife: in Punta Sur Eco Beach Park with its Laguna Colombia you’ll have great views on the wildlife, riffs and the archeological sites of El Caracol.
- Wander around San Miguel de Cozumel and enjoy one of the many restaurants, bars or souvenir shops right next to the waterfront.
- Ancient Mayan architecture at the San Gervasio archeological zone. The location - with the pre-Hispanic name Tantun Cuzamil - were once a temple and place of worship to the goddess Ix Chel. It also hosts the (rather small) Ka’an Nah pyramid. It is only an 20 minutes drive from San Miguel.
- Snorkeling and scuba diving at one of the beautiful beaches of the island that is surrounded by pristine reefs. Just make sure to not hit any jellyfish.
- Boat and submarine tours offer the opportunity to spot old shipwrecks or enjoy the sea life through a glass-bottom boat tour. One of the most popular activities in Cozumel is the submarine tour, which allows you to dive into the protected reef and observe the marine life from the comfort of a submarine.
And if you are already in the area, make sure to sop by in Playa del Carmen. The town also offers magnificent beaches, great restaurants bars and vibrant nightlife. The town is also known for its street art
How to get from Cancún to Cozumel?
You guessed it: you’ll need a ferry to get to the island of Cozumel. Ferries depart from Playa del Carmen at least every 2 hours (depending on the season) and can also be combined with a visit to the Isla Mujeres. Costs are between 20-50 USD per Person. Check out itineraries and fares below.
Rio Secreto - an underground river
Rio Secreto, also known as the "Secret River," is a protected natural reservoir of caves and underground rivers. Its a 100% worth the drive 45 miles (75 km) drive from Cancun. The cave system is about 23 miles (38 km) long. You can explore the caves by walking through shallow waters while admiring the cool rock formations and unique fauna.
The tour is available in any weather and is a great day trip option, especially for families. It is safe to say that nature reserves like the Rio Secreto are hard to find around the world.
Cobá - Mayan ruins in the jungle
Most people kno Chichen Itzá as the Mayan pyramid. But make sure to include the archeological site of Cobá in your itenary! It is the highest ever discovered Mayan pyramid (yes, higher than Chichen Itzá). Beside the 137 Nochoch Mul pyramid there are many more structures and stone causeways to discover in the middle of the jungle. We rented a bike to explore the site and liked it even better than Chichen Itzá. Our secret yet not so secret tip if you want to 🙂
Once there you can also enjoy one of the nearby Cenotes. Have a look if you want to combine Cobá with the Tamcach-Ha, Multum-Ha or Cenote Choo-Ha caverns.
Day trip to Ek’ Balam - ancient Mayan city and cenote
Ek' Balam is a Maya archaeological and was a major city in the region and the capital of the polity that controlled the area during the Common Era. Explore the ancient ruins of the Maya city, including the remains of a large pyramid, ball court, palace, and various other structures. The city's main pyramid, known as El Torre or The Acropolis, is one of the largest and most impressive in the region. In our opinion the climb to the top for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape alon is worth the visit.
It's a relatively small site compared to Chichen Itza, but it's less crowded and offers a more intimate experience. The site is also relatively well-preserved, with many of the structures still standing and some of the carvings and stucco reliefs in excellent condition.
Rio Lagartos & Las Coloradas: pink lagoons
Rio Lagartos is a small fishing village located on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is situated within the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, which is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including flamingos, crocodiles, and various species of birds. The lagoons are known for their bright pink color, which is caused by the presence of algae and brine shrimp. Get your pictures with flamingos and pink lagoons or simply swim in the unique pink waters.
The boat tours are a great way to explore the reserve and learn about the local ecosystem.
Day trip to Isla Mujeres
Staying in Cancún you can almost see the Isla Mujeres across the water. It is a small island located approximately 8 miles (13 km) off the coast of the city. As expected, you’ll encounter crystal-clear waters, white sand beaches, and a laid-back atmosphere. You can take a ferry from Cancún to Isla Mujeres and spend the day swimming, snorkeling, and exploring the island's natural beauty. Meet dolphins or manatees, or enjoy sunsets on a catamaran with open bar. This is by far the closest and relaxed day trip from Cancún
Scuba Diving near Cancún
Experience a beginner's scuba diving tour in Cancún, where you'll receive brief pool lessons at the marina before diving in open water. Explore the Underwater Museum and marvel at the vibrant reef. Or if you want to enjoy the thrill of swimming alongside the ocean's gentle giants on a boat trip from Cancún. Get up close with the world's largest concentration of whale sharks, snorkel through vibrant coral reefs.
Theme Park Xcaret near Cancún - is it worth the buck?
If you’re into theme parks, it definitely is! You won’t find a comparable mixture of tropical nature, water slides and Mayan themed activities. The park is well known for the grand-finale of a day full of fun: the closing night show.
Cancún is a great destination for tourists who want to experience the beauty of Mexico's Caribbean coast. However, there are also many exciting day trips that you can take to explore the surrounding areas. Whether you want to learn about Mayan culture, relax on a white sand beach, or explore the underwater world of Cozumel, there is something for everyone to enjoy. If we had to pick out of all options it would probably a combination of Cobá, Tulum and Chichen Itzá. What is it for you?