21 Hidden Gems in Cancun Gallery
21 Hidden Gems in Cancun
One of the Caribbean’s top destinations, Cancun is a phenomenon more than it is simply a destination. Known for amazing beaches and a great party scene, however, Cancun doesn’t get the credit it deserves for all that it has to offer.
When packing your bags, we strongly suggest you make sure you have some snorkeling or diving gear – Cancun is full of amazingly beautiful cenotes, or natural freshwater wells that can contain fantastic caves or caverns ripe for exploration. Learn about Mexico’s fascinating and unique wildlife at its natural parks or its rich Mayan history and heritage at a national museum or archaeological site. Cancun is also not far some islands which may not be on your bucket list but are still gorgeous and worth a visit all the same. If you’re considering a visit to the beautiful city of Cancun and its surrounding area, you should definitely consider discovering these 21 hidden gems.
Aktun-Chen Natural Park
Located in the village of Akumal just an hour south of Cancun, Akuten-Chen Natural Park is a 400-acre rainforest preserve that has tons of beauty. Explore a limestone cave that’s five million years old, witnessing its amazing caverns and swim-friendly pool at the mouth of the cavern. A network of ziplines will allow you to get an amazing view of the rainforest from above, filled with whitetail deer and wild spider monkeys.
This over-the-top Airbnb home shaped like two seashells is a gated property on Isla Mujeres, just eight miles off the coast of Cancún. Just up to four guests can take advantage of its two king-size bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, private pool, barbecue, and fully-equipped kitchenette for $308 a night. Casa Caracol also includes free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, cable TV in both rooms, a CD player, bottled water, and maid service.
Cenote Chaak Tun
Not far from Cancun in Playa del Carmen, you’ll find Cenote Chaak Tun, a gorgeous cenote that has three caverns and a large pool of water. Two of the caverns are perfect for snorkelers on account of their clear water. You’ll need a hard hat and a life jacket (included with the entrance fee), as well as snorkeling equipment and a wet suit. Enjoy the beautiful sight of stunningly huge stalactites hanging above you as you explore the cenote, which is even home to a few bats.
Cenote Chikin Ha
Another cenote in Playa del Carmen, Cenote Chikin Ha has an open-air cavern with beautifully clear water in which you can see coral, fish, stingrays, and turtles swimming alongside you. Go snorkeling or scuba diving to explore the surrounding caverns or try ziplining into the freshwater basin. You can even witness a traditional Mayan ceremony here or picnic out in the wild.
Cenote Dos Ojos
“Dos ojos” means “two eyes” in Spanish, and Cenote Dos Ojos is so named because it is made up of two cenotes connected by a large cavern zone. Located north of Tulum and south of Playa del Carmen, the beautifully clear water in the underwater caves is around 77 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, with a maximum depth of 33 feet. You’ll find a few species of fish, as well as a couple kinds of freshwater shrimp, in the water as you go for a cavern dive, cave dive, or for some snorkeling.
The ruins of the ancient city of Coba aren’t as popular as Chichen Itza, which is exactly why it’s a better place to explore the history and culture of the ancient Mayan civilization. You’re allowed to climb the 130 steps to the top of the ancient pyramid, and in addition to its fascinating structures, the site also has restaurants, a campsite, and a few hotels, as well as local craft shops.
Croco Cun Zoo
Croco Cun Zoo used to be a crocodile farm, but today it’s a fantastic zoo with all sorts of creatures that you can interact with. Go on a guided tour where you can play with native dogs and witness spider monkeys roaming around freely. Walk with crocodiles, kiss a macaw, feed a deer, and hold a boa constrictor or a baby crocodile.
El Rey Ruins
The ruins at El Rey Archaeological Zone in Cancun provide an amazing trip back in time to the ancient Mayan city of El Rey, which was at its height between 1250 and 1521 AD. The largest archaeological site in Cancun, the complex contains 47 buildings, including a pyramid-shaped Mayan temple, and you can book a tour through your travel agent or your hotel, with many tours being available in multiple languages.
Garrafon Natural Reef Park
Located just 25 minutes from Cancun on the island of Isla Mujeres, Garrafon Natural Reef Park is a reef park where visitors can marvel at the beautiful reefs and cliffs of the area and take part in activities such as zip-lining, snorkeling, kayaking, and going on tours of the island. If you’re looking to relax, you can also enjoy their panoramic pools, Mayan sauna (called a temazcal), and lounge chairs and hammocks throughout the park.
Take a trip to Isla Blanca on a weekday, and you’ll enjoy a hidden beach with few to no people. Situated about 12.5 miles north of downtown Cancun, this beautiful beach is on a small peninsula and is known for fly-fishing and kiteboarding, with tours and lessons being given for both.
Just 30 miles north of Isla Mujeres, a popular destination for many people visiting Cancun, the small island of Isla Contoy is just over five miles long and has an area of a little over one square mile. A great spot to visit with beautiful white sand beaches, it’s an important nesting site for sea birds, but for humans, it’s exclusive; only 200 people are allowed on the island every day.
Just off the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Isla Holbox is an island northwest of Cancun free of cars and full of gorgeous beaches with amazing marine creatures such as whale sharks and sea turtles. You’ll also find all manner of exotic birds here in addition to flamingos and pelicans. The streets themselves are made of white sand, and because so few outsiders come to the island, it’s a relatively untouched paradise that’s also quite affordable.
Everyone loves a good market, and Mercado 23 is one of the most popular in Cancun. The first market built in the city, this is a local hotspot full of produce, grains, crafts, and more. You’ll find plenty of things here that are both of good quality and inexpensive. Enjoy the best of the Yucatán Peninsula’s cuisine and immerse yourself in the traditional local culture.
Museo Maya de Cancún
Cancun is located in the area that has historically been occupied by the Mayan people, and as a result, there is a rich Mayan culture and heritage here. A trip to the Mayan Museum, or Museo Maya de Cancún, is a must as it’s home to an important collection of archaeological artifacts pertaining to the Mayan civilization from jewelry to sculptures to everyday items.
Museo Subacuático de Arte
The Cancún Underwater Museum, officially named Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA), is a nonprofit museum dedicated to conservation and a great place to go snorkeling. Five hundred sculptures lie between three and six meters below the surface of the ocean at Cancún National Marine Park in three different galleries. The innovative museum is meant to save nearby coral reefs by giving divers a different place to dive.
Parque de las Palapas
Located in downtown Cancun, Parque de las Palapas is the main square of the city where locals gather to socialize among food vendors and entertainment such as live music shows and clowns. Get hold of some super-affordable and super-authentic Mexican street food and browse the stalls full of local arts and crafts.
Parque Natural Ria Lagartos
Adam Baker/Wikimedia Commons
Located in Río Lagartos on the northern shore of the peninsula, Parque Natural Ria Lagartos is an amazing bird-watching destination that anyone will enjoy. You’ll find more flamingos than you’ve ever seen in your life, as well as plenty of other exotic birds — about half of Mexico’s 1,040 bird species — to photograph and marvel at on a guided boat tour, and you may potentially encounter crocodiles.
A quaint fishing village with great beaches, Puerto Morelos is situated just 20 miles outside of Cancun. Stay in one of the world’s best all-inclusive resorts, Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita Riviera Maya, and experience some of the best snorkeling and diving since the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest, is located just 500 meters off shore.
Also in Playa del Carmen is Río Secreto, which literally means “secret river.” It’s the largest non-submerged cave in the Yucatán Peninsula. Explore the 600-meter underground river with a swim on a guided tour, exploring its many stalactites and stalagmites and amazingly magical spots.
Self-described as “the best eco-archaeological park in Cancun and Riviera Maya,” Xcaret Park is a theme park (named after the nearby archaeological site Xcaret) full of nature-based and cultural attractions. Go swimming or snorkeling down a river or in the ocean, exploring reefs or swimming with dolphins. A bird pavilion, butterfly pavilion, greenhouse, deer shelter, and bat cave are all on the premises, as well as an island of jaguars. Enjoy the museum and a replica of a Mayan village showcasing Mexican culture and history, and take in open-air performances of pre-Hispanic dances or a Mesoamerican ball game. At Xcaret Park, you’ll also find a spa and temazcal, as well as gift shops, restaurants, and an all-inclusive resort right next door.
Billed as a “Mexican floating fiesta,” Xoximilco is the ultimate Mexican party experience in Cancun. Enjoy the best of traditional Mexican culture on board a colorful Mexican gondola full of games, snacks, and music. Before you board your gondola, you can enjoy a traditional Mexican carnival full of games like darts, foosball, and pin the tail on the donkey. As you sail through the beautiful jungle scenery of Xoximilco, you have access to an open bar full of tequila (perfect for your recommended daily shot), beer, soft drinks, and flavored water while you enjoy live Mexican music you can dance to and some of the world’s most iconic street food.
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