The best things to do in Cancún

Gabriela Peratello

Whether you want to soak up the sun on a paradise beach, soak up the history in spectacular archaeological sites, or just take a dive in a Cenote you’ll find what you need in and around Cancún.

Despite its reputation as a party city, Cancún can offer the best of all worlds — alongside the tourist bars you’ll still find hidden gems favored by the locals. From the best places to eat, drink and relax in downtown Cancún, through what to avoid to make sure you have the best time possible, this guide has you covered.

We’ll look at what to do in Cancún, when to visit, and how long to stay to make the most of your vacation. We’ll also introduce the Wise Multi-currency Account as a smarter way to save on currency exchange when you’re paying in MXN.

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📑 Table of Contents

What to do in Cancún?

Let’s get into the important stuff. In no particular order — our top picks for a stay in Cancún.

1. Playa Delfines

Playa Delfines — Dolphin beach — is one of the most popular attractions in Cancún. And that’s no surprise — you’ll be able to lounge on the long white sandy beach, and may even get to spot a dolphin as you kick back. There are shallow waters to play in, loungers to get shade, and restaurants to keep you fueled during your visit.

2. MUSA: Museum of Underwater Art¹

This is a museum like no other — scuba dive, snorkel or take a tour in a glass bottomed boat to see a range of underwater sculptures. The whole museum is doing a great deal of environmental good at the same time — by creating a new place for divers to visit away from the vulnerable reefs, and also providing a new place for reefs to establish. Tours range from 30 USD to 160 USD².

3. Zona Arqueológica El Rey³

Want to get a bit of a history fix while you’re on vacation? This archaeological site is one of the most important in Cancún — and it’s in the Hotel Zone so you can find it pretty easily. Named el Rey after explorers found a statue they thought represented a king, you can see and explore a range of building ruins here.

4. Sample the nightlife in Punta Cancún

You can enjoy the beaches, the malls and the quiet life all day — but if you’re looking for a party you’ll need to head to Punta Cancún for the nightlife. You’re going to be spoiled for choice with bars, terraces, shows and clubs — Cancún has a reputation to uphold, after all, and the Party Zone of Punta Cancún is where a lot of the magic happens.

5. Take a day tour to snorkel and explore

There are huge numbers of different tour options which take in the surrounding areas. Joining a tour is convenient — hotel pickups are common — and means you can efficiently see the sights without worrying about getting stuck without a ride. Take a look at this popular tour to see reefs, ruins and jungle all in one hit⁴.

6. Parque las Palapas — downtown Cancún

Your trip to Cancún won’t be complete without taking a little time to see how the locals live. Head for the downtown Cancún area⁵ and check out Parque las Palapas on a weekend evening for food stalls, and to join local families in a stroll and a pincic.

7. Xcaret — theme and ecotourism park⁶

You can join a trip to Xcaret, or get there using your own transport. Xcaret is a private theme park and hotel resort where you can swim, see birds in the aviary, check out the aquarium and visit the butterfly pavilion. There are restaurants and places to relax — with over 40 different attractions in all on the site.

8. Stock up on souvenirs in Market 28

You can shop in malls of course, but if you want to try your haggling skills, and get a few bargains, you need to get to Cancún’s Market 28. There are restaurants to refuel to keep your strength up as you buy souvenirs and local items. The market covers an entire block so pace yourself.

9. Check out an (adult only) show

If you’re looking for a wild night out there is plenty to choose from — assuming you’re legally old enough to be allowed into the clubs. Cocobongo⁷ — as an example — has themed parties and events daily, and different locations so you can make the most of your night out.

10. Get outdoors for some adventure activities

Cancún is home to a huge number of adventure tour providers. Whether you want to go horseback riding, ziplining, paragliding, hiking or sailing, you’ll find a broad range of options. Make sure you choose a reputable provider and check out the customer reviews before you hand over any money.

11. La Isla Cancún Shopping Mall

The Hotel Zone is home to plenty of malls if shopping is your thing. But La Isla Cancún is a smart place to head, for hundreds of stores, restaurants and even a ferris wheel to let you get up above the crowds.

12. Try the Cancún street food

Cancún has plenty of local flavor⁸ — you just need to know where to look. Street food stalls and carts are a great place to sample some local specialities. Ask your hotel or a friendly local to point you in the best direction for street food near you, and tuck in.

13. Playa Tortugas

There are lots of beaches around Cancún you can choose from, but Playa Tortugas has a reputation as having somewhat calmer waters, and is popular with locals as well as tourists. Check it out when you need some beach time.

14. Try a sailing trip

Getting out on the water in Cancún is pretty accessible, with a range of tours and hire options. Whether you’re looking for a quiet afternoon — or an open bar for the evening — you’ll find the package for you. Try this option for a trip including lunch and time to snorkel⁹.

15. The Cenotes Route

Cenotes — the underground reservoirs found in Yucatán — provide great places to swim, dive and cool off. You can visit several along the Cenotes Route, often with linked activities like ATVs or ziplines, and treks through the jungle. Stay for a while to swim and have a BBQ lunch, or explore several different locations — Cenote Las Mojarras is a popular spot worth a look¹⁰.

16. Tequila tours and tasting

Of course tequila is likely to be a feature of your trip to Cancún. Why not learn more about how it’s made, and try a range of samples, on a tequila tour? There are a few different options to try out — the Tequila Hotel¹¹ has tasting experiences and tours starting at 10AM for the early birds.

17. Cancún city tours by bike, bus or on foot

If you’re only in the city for a short time, you’re going to see more if you join an organised city tour. Bike tours are available and give a great option to see the sights while working up an appetite — although you can also get around on a bus or by foot if you’d rather¹².

18. Cancún Mayan Museum¹³

The Mayan Museum is a sleek new building at the edge of the Hotel Zone, with easy transport access. Check out the range of historical artefacts, including permanent and changing exhibitions — the museum is also on an archaeological site itself so you can view that at the same time as your visit.

19. Tour the street art of Cancún city

Getting immersed in street art is a good way to see a new city and learn more about the inhabitants. There’s plenty to see in Cancún — with a broad range of tour options, as well as the opportunity to simply wander and see what you can spot. This tour is a good example, at 25 USD for a 2 hour morning or evening walk¹⁴.

What to avoid in Cancún?

Cancún has a whole lot going for it. But it’s also got a reputation as being an expensive tourist trap with a decidedly seedy side. So what’s the real deal?

Cancún — like most popular resort cities — does have something of a split personality, depending on where you are, when you visit, and where you choose to hang out. If you’re looking to make the most of your trip, there are a few things to watch out for, to stay safe and make sure you don’t spend more than you need to:

  • Only use reputable tour operators if you’re heading out on trips — check for customer reviews before you pay
  • Remember some of the beaches around Cancún have strong tides — keep an eye on advisories and don’t take risks
  • If you’re paying in dollars, check the exchange rates being offered — you’re usually better off using pesos instead
  • Always make sure you set the price before you drive off in a taxi to avoid getting ripped off
  • Some bars have been known to overcharge — check your change and your bills every time

Basically, you can’t go wrong if you ask a few locals for their opinions on where to go, what to eat or how to enjoy your vacation. That could be your hotel concierge, a friendly bus driver, or someone you get chatting to in a bar — gather some recommendations and explore. Remember to take sensible measures to stay safe, and see what you find.

How to get around in Cancún?

Hiring a car in Cancún is likely to be a stressful affair. Using public transport options, long distance coaches, shuttle buses and taxis can be far easier and ultimately safer. Remember that you’ll need to agree on a price in a taxi before you move anywhere, and you’ll need to pay in pesos. Carry enough MXN to see you through, and make ATM withdrawals locally as required.

There’s plenty to see elsewhere on the Yucatán peninsula outside of Cancún, either by joining any of the range of guided tours if you’re pressed for time — or by using the coach network. Getting out to explore can mean you see a whole different side to Cancún and the surrounding area.

💡 Withdraw pesos like a local with Wise. Get the mid-market exchange rate and hold MXN before even leaving US ground.

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When is the best time to visit Cancún?

Unsurprisingly, the best weather in Cancún coincides with the peak for tourist visits. Come anytime between December and April for minimal chances of rain, and warm weather that’s not yet too hot to handle¹⁵. But don’t forget, Cancún is a top Spring Break destination — if you’re not planning on being there to party, you’ll probably want to avoid the end of March into early April.

Cancún is equally suited to short weekend trips, and longer stays, just depending on your priorities. You can see all the key sights in the city and around in 3 or 4 days — but if you’re hoping to kick back on the beaches or take day trips, there’s still plenty to keep you busy for a week or more.

💡 Travel tips & advice
  • If you’re not planning on joining the party, avoid Spring Break in Cancún. It’s also good to know the summer is seriously hot, while fall can bring storms — so timing your trip right is important
  • Cancún is a resort city, so it’s easy to just stay in and around your hotel — but there’s lots more to see if you get out and about to explore
  • Make sure you’ve read up on staying healthy and safe while you’re in Cancún — avoid drinking the tap water and use decent sun protection to make sure you enjoy your stay
  • Lots of places — especially in the Hotel Zone — may accept dollars when you’re in Cancún. But you’ll probably pay over the odds if you rely on USD, and you’ll miss out on a lot of other local experiences, where carrying MXN is essential.

Paying with MXN? Save with Wise

You’ll be able to save on currency conversion — and make your money go further in Cancún, with a Wise Account.

You’re always better off paying in the local currency when you’re abroad — and with the Wise account and card that’s easy. Open your account online for free, top up in dollars and switch to MXN using the real exchange rate for a low, transparent fee. You can then use your linked Wise international debit card to make ATM withdrawals and spend for free as you travel. It couldn’t be easier.

  • Hold 40+ currencies and spend all over the world
  • Send and receive low cost international payments
  • Make ATM withdrawals and pay with your linked card anywhere MasterCard is accepted
  • You might save compared to your bank when you travel or send money internationally

💰 Spend MXN like a local

Hopefully this guide to the best things to do in Cancún has got you excited for your trip already. Do a bit of research to plan your itinerary, and don’t forget to get your free Wise Multi-currency Account so you can do more, for less while you travel.


  1. MUSA Mexico
  2. MUSA Mexico - Tours
  3. INAH - Zona Arqueológica El Rey
  4. TripAdvisor - Discovery combo tour
  5. Travel and Leisure - 5 things to do in Cancún
  6. Xcaret
  7. Coco Bongo
  8. Cookly - Top 10 foods to try in Cancún
  9. TripAdvisor - Sailing experience Isla Mujeres
  10. Cenotes World - Cenote las Mojarras
  11. Tequila Hotel - Tequila tours
  12. TripAdvisor - Cancún city tour
  13. INAH - Museo Maya de Cancún
  14. City Art Tours Mexico - Cancún street art tour
  15. US News (Travel) - When to visit Cancún

Images under Creative Commons licenses (CC BY 2.0/CC BY-SA 2.0):

#4 "2014 Dealer Meeting in Cancun" by Yamaha WaterCraft;
#6 "Parque de Las Palapas" by shinya
#18 "Museo Maya de Cancun" by D-Stanley
#19 "Street Art : Girl and turtles ..." by berniedup

Sources checked on 10.26.2021

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