My Favorite Cancun Day Trips: Cenotes, Ruins + More

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My Favorite Cancun Day Trips: Cenotes, Ruins + More

Trying to figure out the best day trips from Cancun? You’ve come to the right place!

I’ve spent over 2.5 months exploring Cancun, Tulum, and the rest of the Yucatan peninsula and I’m sharing my favorite Cancun day trips in this article.

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🌴 My Cancun Favorites 👙

🥾 Day Trip to Chichen Itza & Valladolid: Don’t miss Mexico’s most iconic ruins at Chichen Itza and my favorite Yucatan town, Valladolid! For the best experience, book this VIP private tour from Cancun, or check out this budget-friendly option.

👙 Swim in Cenotes: The Yucatan is home to thousands of gorgeous cenotes (natural sink holes) that make the perfect swimming holes! Rent a car and go explore them!

🏺 Mayan Museum: Learn about Quintana Roo’s Mayan history at this museum, located in Cancun’s hotel zone, then explore the San Miguelito ruins onsite!

🌊 Beach Hop: What makes Cancun so popular? Its beaches! There are many to choose from and each are different—check out a few on your Cancun vacation!

⛵ Boat Adventures: Kayak through the mangroves in Cancun, experience a sunset cruise to Isla Mujeres, or rent your own luxury yacht for the day!

🌺 Where to Stay: Oceanview penthouse with private pool at Nizuc Resort & Spa, swim out suite at beachfront luxury Atelier Playa Mujeres (all-inclusive, adults only), lagoon view suite at Casa Tortugas, or budget-friendly quirky La Villa du Golf à Cancun.

Find more of my Cancun favorites and Mexico travel tips at the bottom of this article!

Best Cancun Day Trips

1. Chichen Itza

Chichén Itzá is the most popular day trip from Cancun, and for good reason! This Mayan archeological site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and it is only 2.5 hours from Cancun.

You can either visit Chichen Itza on your own if via a rental car, or go on day tours (browse Chichen Itza tours from Cancun here). Since visiting Chichen Itza is such a popular thing to do, it can get really crowded. I recommend booking an early-morning tour, or visiting by yourself at opening or closing time.

Woman in dress standing in front of El Castillo temple at Chichen Itza, a popular Cancun day trip destination

Is Chichen Itza really worth visiting? Yes! Although I’ve visited dozens of archaeological sites across Mexico and Belize, the unique architecture at Chichen Itza really took my breath away. El Castillo, the main temple you see in all the photos, is truly striking, but its just the beginning. Chichen Itza also features hundreds of mysterious stone pillars, an astronomical observatory, and two cenotes where human sacrifices were made. Of course, visiting Chichen Itza might be less enjoyable if you’re there with all the crowds, but you can avoid that by taking this early morning tour, or showing up close to closing time.

2. Valladolid

Valladolid happens to be a popular stop along the way for Chichen Itza day trips from Cancun, but this magical colonial city is worth an entire day by itself!

Officially designated as a pueblo magico (magical town) by the Mexican government, Valladolid is teeming with color and vibrancy, and feels like a completely different country compared to Cancun.

And Valladolid is home to the most beautiful cenotes I’ve ever seen (yep, more beautiful than Tulum’s cenotes!) I mention some other Cancun cenote day trips later in this article, but if you’re looking for a diversity of gorgeous cenotes, head straight to Valldolid!

There is so much to do in Valladolid that I cover in my Valladolid travel guides, but if you only have a day, here are some of my recommendations:

👟 Wander along Calz. de Los Frailes: Valladolid’s most picturequse street, lined with colorful buildings housing vintage shops, cafes, bars, and plenty of hidden gems.

👙 Cenote hopping: Cenote Xcanahaltun and Cenote Secreto Maya are my favorites, but they’re also a little bit out of town. Cenote Saamal and Xkeken are some other great options closer to town, and Cenote Zaci is located right in town if you’re pressed on time and want to enjoy a refreshing swim!

🙏🏼 Convento de San Bernardino de Siena: Interesting historical convent painted pink and white on the inside.

💒 Uayma church: This gorgeous church’s facade is like nothing else I’ve seen in this part of Mexico! It is 15 minutes outside of Valladolid and definitely worth the drive just for a look!

3. Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve & Tulum

It is no secret that Tulum is one of the most popular day trips from Cancun! But my recommended Tulum day trip includes a place you may have never heard of—Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve.

Just a few minutes south of Tulum, Sian Kaan is a massive protected area with neon blue lagoons, jungle trails, ancient ruins, and an abundance of wildlife.

My favorite thing to do at Sian Kaan is the Muyil River Float, where you gently float down a natural lazy river that was carved out by the Mayans who used to call this lagoon home!

It is such a unique experience and truly one of the most fun things I’ve done in Mexico after exploring the country for over 8 months.

I have a full article on the Muyil River Float if you’re interested in learning more as there are several things you’ll want to know before you go. For instance, go with a guided tour with roundtrip transportation from Cancun or Tulum, or you can drive to the lagoon, but you’ll still need to hire a tour guide onsite to do the river float!

Woman standing in shallow water at the Muyil River Float, a perfect day trip from Cancun

The Muyil River Float itself only takes a few hours, so you’ll still have plenty of time to explore other parts of Tulum. After living in Tulum, here are some of my favorite things to do in the area:

☕ Brunch at a garden cafe: Tulum does brunch well (and much better than Cancun!) I have a full article on my favorite cafes and coffeeshops in Tulum if you want a tasty bite in a picturequse setting!

👙 Cenotes: There are dozens of cenotes surrounding Tulum, and one free cenote hidden within the Aldea Zama neighborhood, aptly named Cenote Aldea Zama.

🍹Rooftop pool bars: There are handful of rooftop pool bars throughout downtown Tulum if you’re looking to relax poolside with a fruity drink! I liked Casa Vegana for their delicious vegan food and tasty drinks!

🏖 Beach clubs and public beaches: Be aware that getting to (and parking at) the beach can be difficult. My favorite public beach is Playa Paraiso.

🥾 Tulum ruins and Coba ruins: Tulum’s ancient Mayan ruins are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen as they overlook the Caribbean ocean. The nearby Coba ruins are also a popular spot to learn about Mayan history.

4. Chemuyil & Xcacel Beach

Go off the beaten track and explore two of my favorite lesser known spots on the Riveria Maya, the small town of Chemuyil and Xcacel Beach.

Chemuyil is a small local community that is home to some of the most beautiful, and least touristy cenotes in Quintana Roo. It is located between Tulum and Akumal.

Just across the highway from Chemuyil you’ll find Xcacel Beach (also referred to as the Xcacel Beach Turtle Sanctuary), one of the best beaches along Mexico’s Caribbean coast. This uncrowded white sandy beach is tranquil and undeveloped, making it the perfect place to escape the noise and busyness of Cancun and Tulum’s beaches. Plus, it is a protected area for sea turtles to safety lay eggs and hatch babies.

Photo of cenote in Chemuyil, Mexico

While you can visit some of Chemuyil’s cenotes by yourself, some of them are not on Google Maps and difficult to find. Instead, I recommend driving down to Chemuyil (1.5 hours from Cancun) and then joining this local cenote bike tour.

I went on this exact cenote bike adventure in Chemuyil and can’t recommend it enough. You get the chance to visit a diversity of local cenotes that few tourists ever see, led by local tour guides who grew up swimming in these spots.

After joining this local cenote experience, grab some local food in Chemuyil before heading over to Xcacel Beach. Keep in mind that you can’t bring any food into Xcacel Beach as it is a protected area, so be sure to eat beforehand. Also make sure you have some pesos to pay the entry fee to Xcacel, it costs $97 pesos per person and parking is free.

If you have extra time on your way back to Cancun, you can stop in Playa del Carmen or Puerto Morelos for dinner!

5. Isla Mujeres

Teeming with white sand beaches, palm trees, and colorful streets, the small island of Isla Mujeres is an easy day trip from Cancun.

This 7-kilometer long island is only a 40-minute ferry away from Cancun. It is quite touristy and busy, but still more lowkey and relaxed than Cancun. Most folks get around the island via golf cart, scooter, or on foot, and it is small enough to explore in one day!

Even if you don’t have a whole day to visit Isla Mujeres, I highly recommend this sunset cruise to Isla Mujeres from Cancun (with a live saxophonist!), which is one of my favorite Cancun hidden gems!

Two people watching the sunset in the water at Isla Mujeres day trip from Cancun

If you do have time for a whole day trip to Isla Mujeres form Cancun, some of best things to do on the island include:

⛱ Sunbathe and snorkel at Playa Norte: Ranked as the 9th most beautiful beach in the world in 2019, Playa Norte is an easy beach to visit as it is walking distance from the ferry terminal! The water here is crystal clear and there is decent snorkeling around Mia Reef Isla Mujeres.

🛵 Explore the island via golf cart (or scooter): Scooter and golf cart rentals are abundant on Isla Mujeres. Rent your own wheels and see all that the island has to offer on a fun little road trip!

🌅 Watch the sunset at Playa Centro: Just steps from the ferry terminal, Playa Centro is one of the island’s best beaches and a wonderful spot to watch the sunset, with a view of Cancun in the distance!

🤿 Go coral reef snorkeling: Although you can do a little snorkeling from the shore, the best snorkeling required a boat ride to the barrier reef. This local tour company offers snorkeling tours daily at 12pm, giving you ample time to get to the island before it starts!

Whatever you do, make sure to check the most up-to-date ferry timetables on Ultramar’s website and don’t miss the last ferry back (usually 7pm).

6. Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos is a darling fishing village that is one of the best hidden gems along the Riviera Maya. It is only 40 minutes south of Cancun, so you can easily take your rental car, or a shuttle.

Some of the best things to do in Puerto Morelos include:

🌊 Spend a day at Unico Beach: The best beach club in Puerto Morelos, with a waterfront seating, a highly-rated restaurant, a pool, a spa, live music, and a boutique store. If you want to spend a day by the beach but are hoping to escape the busyness of Cancun, Unico Beach might the the perfect spot!

🤿 Go snorkeling with tropical fish, sea turtles, and more: Being so close to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Puerto Morelos is a wonderful place to go snorkeling! Choose from this budget-friendly snorkeling tour or this catamaran sail and snorkel experience.

⛱ Relax at Puerto Moreleos beach: The city’s public beach is a lot more chill than the beaches in Cancun. If you want, you can rent a beach chair from My Paradise Beach Club.

🛥 Catamaran sailing to a secret sandbar: If sailing on a luxury catamaran is on your bucketlist, this is the sailing tour for you! It leaves from marina between Cancun and Puerto Morelos, and includes lunch and unlimited drinks!

🌮 Puerto Morelos food tour: Foodies, join this food tour to experience local cuisine off the beaten path! Led by an English-speaking local guide, you’ll explore lesser known parts of Puerto Morelos and taste the very best local food!

7. Bacalar

Bacalar—a pueblo magico (magical town) beside the picturesque lagoon of seven colors—is one of my favorite places in the state of Quintana Roo.

If it was closer to Cancun, I’m sure it would be one of the most popular Cancun day trips, but Bacalar is nearly 5 hours away, closeby the Belize border. If you’re intrigued by the gorgeous lagoon, I definitely recommend planning a full vacation in Bacalar (check out my Bacalar travel guides).

But if you don’t mind a VERY long day, you can still take a day trip to Bacalar from Cancun! Surprisingly, you can see a lot of the best of Bacalar on this guided day trip with roundtrip transportation from Cancun. It includes a boat tour through the lagoon with stops along the way at the lagoon’s most beautiful cenotes and plenty of time to swim in the gorgeous blue water, plus a visit to Fort San Felipe and the pirate museum, and lunch!

You can also visit Bacalar with your own rental car (more on that below), but however you get to Bacalar, be sure to not visit on a Wednesday as the lagoon is closed to boat traffic, including boat tours, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding. Also beware that many of Bacalar’s restaurants close once or twice a week, so be sure to plan your Bacalar day trip based on which days the most places are open.

Sailboat on the Bacalar lagoon of seven colors

Having visited Bacalar twice myself, I honestly think this Bacalar tour from Cancun seems like the best option. The one thing that is missing from the tour is a visit to Los Rapidos, one of the most beautiful parts of the lagoon. That being said, if you are up for driving 10+ hours roundtrip yourself, you can rent a car in Cancun and use it to take a day trip to Bacalar. My favorite things to do in Bacalar include:

🌊 Los Rápidos: Float down a natural lazy river beside breathtaking stromatolites (believed to be the oldest living organisms on earth!!) Read my guide to ethically visiting Los Rapdios.

🏴‍☠️ Fort San Felipe + Pirate Museum: Bacalar’s main historical site, located in the main square overlooking the turquoise lagoon. This colonial fort was built to protect the town of Bacalar from pirates and you can learn all about the area’s pirates and general history in the small pirate museum inside the fort. Read my full guide to visiting Fort San Felipe.

⛵ Bacalar Boat Tour (NOT POSSIBLE ON WEDNESDAYS): If you have time, be sure to join a boat tour in Bacalar as it is the best way to experience the magic of the lagoon of seven colors. Browse Bacalar boat tours here.

🌿 Swim and Sunbathe at Ecoparque Bacalar: This ecological park with a large boardwalk over the lagoon and through the mangroves. For only $20 pesos, this is a lovely place to spot wildlife, swim in the turquoise waters, or relax on the dock. Keep in mind that it can get very busy here but it is still worth visiting!

🌮 Indulge in good food: In my experience, the food in Baclaar is far better than the food in Cancun (or even Tulum). Read my guide to my favorite restaurants in Bacalar.

8. Cozumel

Before visiting Cozumel, I thought it would be exactly like Isla Mujeres but these two islands could not be more different!

Overall, Cozumel feels less developed, but with the best roads I’ve seen anywhere in Mexico and a long history of tourism. What this means it that Cozumel is tourism-friendly, but with many uncrowded beaches and undeveloped jungle. It also feels incredibly safe and many locals speak perfect English.

Cozumel is easy to get to, with regular ferries from Playa del Carmen, but it is further from Cancun than Isla Mujeres.

The ocean waves from Rasta Bar on Cozumel, an idyllic day trip from Cancun

Some of my favorite things to do on Cozumel include:

🛵 Ride around the island on a scooter, buggy, or ATV: This is one of the most fun things my husband and I have ever done! There are so many fun little spots and hidden beaches around the island and even though the total drive only takes about 2 hours, you can easily spend a whole day doing this. My favorite spots to stop are listed in my guide to renting a scooter on Cozumel.

🐠 Snorkeling El Cielo: Cozumel has some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world! The best spot is El Cielo, which can only be reached by boat tour.

🏺 Visit the Cozumel museum: Curious about the history of the island? The Cozumel museum in downtown San Miguel is close to the ferry dock and a great place to learn about the island.

👙 ATV tour to a hidden cenote: When I visited Cozumel, I was curious if there were any cenotes but couldn’t find any information but now this ATV cenote tour is available! If you take it, let me know how it is because I’d love to visit this hidden cenote on my next trip to Cozumel!

🥾 Visit the Mayan ruins: See Cozumel’s Mayan ruins at Zona Arqueológica San Gervasio. Explore the ruins on your own time with a scooter or car, or join this guided tour.

More Cancun Day Trip Ideas

🏝 Isla Contoy: This secluded island north of Cancun is one of the best places to visit on a day trip from Cancun. The island can only be reached by private boat and most Isla Contoy boat tours also include a stop at Isla Mujeres. Look into this Isla Contoy boat tour, and read more about the island in my guide to Cancun’s hidden gems.

🌊 Isla Blanca: Home to some of the best beaches in the Cancun area, Isla Blanca is less than an hour north of Cancun. Although it is an island, you can drive to it from Cancun, and if you do, you’ll be in for such a treat with white sandy beaches and gorgeous turquoise waters.

🥾 Ek Balam: Ek Balam is another ancient Mayan city that is often overshadowed by nearby Chichen Itza, but with less crowds and the ability to climb 100+ steps to the top of a temple make Ek Balam an interesting Cancun day trip option!

⚓ Isla Holbox: This tiny island north of Cancun attracts backpackers and other travelers looking to get off the beaten path.

🌺 Las Coloradas: I’ve heard mixed reviews about this Pinterest-famous pink lagoon. But if you’re interested, there are Las Coloradas tours from Cancun!

🐋 Whale Shark Tours: If you visit during whale shark season you can journey far off the coast of Cancun to encounter these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. Check out this whale shark tour from Cancun.

🦜 Bird Watching Tour: Spot Mexico’s abundance of exotic birds on this highly-rated bird watching day trip from Cancun.

text reads also see Unique things to do in Cancun with person kayaking through the mangroves in Cancun

Where to Stay in Cancun

👙 Atelier Playa Mujeres: Escape to the secluded beaches north of Cancun and stay at this luxury resort in a room with your own swim-out pool! This is an all-inclusive, adult-only resort.

🌺 Nizuc Resort & Spa: Stay at Punta Nizuc, which is known to have the best snorkeling in Cancun! This resort has a beautiful property and many rooms have private pools!

☀ Casa Tortugas: Stay in a lagoon view room at one of Cancun’s best boutique hotels, located conveniently in the hotel zone.

🌿 La Villa du Golf à Cancun: This quirky budget-friendly boutique hotel is situated in a quiet neighborhood with a beautiful pool and garden.

Getting Around Cancun

🚕 Taxi: I’ve taken a lot of local taxis in Cancun and usually have a positive experience, but every so often a taxi driver tries to rip me off. Be sure to ask for the price before you get in the car so they can’t overcharge you!

🚘 Private shuttle: Many tourists choose to book a private shuttle from the airport to their hotel. Ask your hotel about this option.

🚌 Public bus: Cancun has a surprisingly good bus system with busses running between the hotel zone and downtown every few minutes. The busses are cheap ($12 pesos), safe, and efficient. I also highly recommend ADO buses for regional travel between Cancun and other parts of Mexico!

👟 Walking: Some parts of Cancun are walkable, but it is very spread out. If you only need to travel short distances between your hotel and the beach, walking is always a great option!

🚙 Renting a car: Renting your own car is the best option if you want to explore more of Mexico outside of Cancun. Compare local rental companies here.

🚌 Guided tours: If you don’t rent a car, you can still visit other parts of Mexico on day trips with a local guides. I usually book tours through Viator and have always had a great experience—I always read reviews before booking to make sure I’ve chosen the best possible tour.

My Favorite Things to do in Cancun

🥾 Day Trip to Chichen Itza & Valladolid: Don’t miss Mexico’s most iconic ruins at Chichen Itza and my favorite Yucatan town, Valladolid! For the best experience, book this VIP private tour from Cancun, or check out this budget-friendly option.

⛵ Boat adventures: Kayak through the mangroves in Cancun, experience a sunset cruise to Isla Mujeres, or rent your own luxury yacht for the day!

👙 Swim in cenotes: The Yucatan is home to thousands of gorgeous cenotes (natural sink holes) that make the perfect swimming holes! Rent a car and go explore them!

🏺 Mayan Museum: Learn about Quintana Roo’s Mayan history at this museum, located in Cancun’s hotel zone, then explore the San Miguelito ruins onsite!

🌊 Beach hop: What makes Cancun so popular? Its beaches! There are many to choose from and each are different—check out a few on your Cancun vacation!

More Yucatan & Quintana Roo Travel Guides

✨ The Ultimate Bacalar Itinerary: 1-7 Days in the Lagoon of Seven Colors

☀ The Perfect Valladolid, Mexico Itinerary: 1-7 Days

🚤 Ultimate Guide: Muyil River Float and Mayan Ruins

🛵 The Ultimate Guide to Renting a Scooter in Cozumel

🐢 How to Visit Xcacel Beach Turtle Sanctuary Near Tulum

Cancun Travel Guides

Final Thoughts: Best Day Trips from Cancun

Whether you’re looking to relax on white-sand beaches outside of the busyness of Cancun, explore a smaller city, or go on one-of-a-kind adventure on the Yucatán Peninsula, I hope this Cancun day trips guide helped you plan your trip!

Do you have any other suggestions for fun day trips from Cancun? Be sure to let me know if the comments!

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