Cancun is known as the ultimate party destination, home to some amazing beaches where you can relax during the day and party all night. However, there’s more to Cancun than meets the eye, and you don’t have to love being in the sand and sun to enjoy this beautiful spot on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
Historically Mayan territory, Cancun and its surrounding area are full of the rich history and culture of the Mayan people and their ancient cities. As a Caribbean destination, you’ll also find that Cancun is full of amazing and exotic wildlife that you can get up close and personal with at its many natural parks or even the zoo. Locals also love to gather in town squares or at the market, and seeking those out will give you the ultimate authentic experience, full of local craftsmanship, amazing traditional recipes, and the warm hospitality that locals are known for. So if hitting the waves, building sandcastles, or laying out in the sun isn’t for you, don’t completely dismiss Cancun as a travel destination. You can still get your feet wet in authentic Yucatán culture and fun with these top 10 things to do in Cancun if you’re not a beach person.
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 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.
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.
Mexico is known for its amazingly delicious cuisine, and in Cancun you can experience authentic Mexican dishes as well as regional delicacies. Book a food tour through your travel agent or hotel — choose a tour of the city or even of the Riviera Maya region so that you can taste the best of Cancun as well as towns such as Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos. In addition to the tacos and tamales for which the whole nation is famous, make sure you try Yucatán specialties such as papadzules (an enchilada-like dish consisting of hard-boiled eggs in corn tortillas and covered in pumpkin seed and tomato-pepper sauces) or salbutes (deep fried tortillas topped with pulled chicken or turkey, avocado, lettuce, pickled red onions, and tomato).
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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 (a traditional Mayan sweat lodge), 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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