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Cancun’s Surprising Side

Its resorts are world-famous, but there’s much more to Mexico’s most popular beach town - Maya sites, gourmet restaurants, and activities form water sports to spa treaments

Cancun's Surprising Side

Cancun—the Mexican resort city on the northeast coast of the Mexican Caribbean—is famous for many things: gorgeous white-sand beaches, high-rise resorts with amenities galore, and a vivacious atmosphere accompanied by refreshing tropical drinks and an abundance of sunshine. But there’s much more to Cancun than its well-known appeals, and if you look underneath the surface, you’ll find everything from shopping and gourmet dining to cultural attractions and nature-based activities.

Start by unearthing the mysteries of the ancient Maya civilization, with excursions to the numerous archaeological wonders around Cancun, including El Rey, a former temple complex located in the Hotel Zone, and San Miguelito, the remains of a columned palace. Meanwhile, the Museo Maya de Cancún showcases an extensive collection of Maya artifacts, with magnificent pieces from sites from other regions including Palenque and Chichén Itzá.


Continue your Mexican vacation by visiting a different type of regional wonder with a swim or snorkel in one of the area’s underground sinkholes, or cenotes, carved out of limestone; the deep and cavernous formations—penetrated by rays of sunshine—are great places for cave-diving and for spotting fish and turtles. If you’re looking for more water-based adventures, you can take a catamaran cruise skimming along the sandy shores, go for speedboat tours in the mangroves, or snorkel among coral reefs—Cancun is home to the second largest reef in the world. A unique sight here, the Cancun Underwater Museum of Art, with its monumental statues covered with algae and polyps, can be viewed through a glass-bottom boat or up-close on a dive. On the strip of land where the Hotel Zone is located, between the Caribbean Sea and the Nichupté Lagoon, you can head to the marinas for every water sport imaginable from windsurfing, flyboarding, and kitesurfing to parasailing, sports fishing, and paddleboarding.

There are also adrenaline-packed adventures on dry land, which have the added plus of letting you explore the area’s lush landscapes: You can go on an ATV or a cycling tour through the tropical jungle, or spot exotic birds as you sail along zip-lines over the rain forest canopy. Even some of the parks—such as Nativa Park—are of course nature-themed, centered around native flora and fauna like endemic orchids, jaguars, and crocodiles.

And when you’re in Cancun, you’re never far from a golf course. You can tee off on world-famous greens designed by legends Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Tom Fazio, and Robert Trent Jones, Jr., among others. Many of the courses host international and national tournaments and border the sea—perfect places to take in spectacular vistas, aim for holes-in-one, or hang out in the clubhouses for post-round cocktails.


Cancun’s diverse culinary scene goes beyond buffets and tacos; its gastronomic delights draws influences from the regions of Mexico but also span the globe. Both authentic and traditional as well as innovative and forward-thinking, Cancun’s range of restaurants feature palate-pleasing menus with premium views of the Caribbean Sea and the Nichupté Lagoon. Since vacations are meant for relaxation, it’s only fitting that Cancun offers many sophisticated spas with revitalizing cures, many inspired by nature and Mayan traditions. Try a session in a Temazcal, an ancient-style sweat lodge that purifies the body and mind. Other ancient rituals use herbal sachets, corn paste, or jade and tiger-eye stones.

Sometimes the best part of your vacation can be the memories you bring home. And there’s no better opportunity to get a memento of Cancun than a shopping tour. From cosmopolitan mega-malls with high-end boutiques and interactive experiences to open-air markets with traditional handicrafts, you’ll be sure to find a suitable place to pick up a souvenir or two.

Learn more about all that Cancun offers, both popular favorites and surprising activities, at cancun.travel

Mexican Caribbean
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