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The Best Things to Do in Cancun and Riviera Maya

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There are plenty of reasons to leave the perfect beaches of Cancun and Riviera Maya—and that includes checking out other perfect (and, at times, family-friendly) beaches. Day trips give you the chance to explore one of the Yucatan Peninsula's last underground rivers or take in Mayan ruins. The shopping? There's plenty to enjoy, including craft shopping as a brilliant way to get respite from the sun's hottest work. Fans of all things marine life may find they don't get a moment's rest on the beach. There's so much to see beyond the resort.
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Carretera Federal, Cancun - Chetumal Km 230, 307, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
While not as large as other ancient Mayan cities in the region, Tulum draws in visitors for its stunning setting of centuries-old temples perched on a cliff by the Caribbean Sea. You’ll pass a large market with souvenirs, a casual Mexican...
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Carretera Chetúmal-Puerto Juárez Kilómetro 282, Solidaridad, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
The massive nature park called Xcaret may be the Riviera Maya’s most touristy attraction, but there’s a reason it’s popular: It’s the only place in the area where you can do it all—snorkel, visit animal habitats, swim...
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Carretera Cancún -Tulum Km 282, Puerto Juarez, Solidaridad, 77710 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
The Riviera Maya’s most beautifully styled adventure park begins with a reception area inside a natural cave. Tours here include Latin America’s highest zip lines over the tropical forest, amphibious vehicles you drive through caves...
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Carlos J. Nader, Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
The quiet street known as Avenida Nader, where several pioneers lived during the city’s 1970s genesis, ranks among the most “historic” neighborhoods in this all-but-brand-new city. With City Hall’s rear garden to the west...
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Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
If you’ve dreamed of climbing an ancient Mayan ruin yet remaining free from the madding crowd, Cancún has a little secret: the El Rey Ruins, an archaeological treasure tucked into the Hotel Zone and just a 10-minute bus ride from most...
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Carretera Federal Cancún-Tulum. Km 124, Jacinto Pat, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
This cenote’s name, which means “Two Eyes” in Spanish, refers to its two separate pools that lead into a large cavern of incredibly clear water. At more than 40 miles long, Dos Ojos is the largest underwater cave system in the...
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Carretera Chetumal Puerto Juárez Km 240, locales 1 & 2, módulo B, 77780 Q.R., Mexico
Xel-Há is one of the area's most popular attractions. The name identifies both the archaeological site and the ecotourism marine park and the site attracts hundreds of visitors from around the world, throughout the year. Ceremonial centers and...
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Carretera Federal Libre Chetumal- Puerto Juárez Km. 283.5 Ejido Sur, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Thousands of years ago, the entire Yucatán Peninsula was under water, as evidenced by its massive network of rivers that flow beneath the region’s limestone surface. No place better presents the area’s captivating caverns and...
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About half an hour south of Cancún stands the rickety wooden entrance sign to La Ruta de los Cenotes, a small highway leading into the jungle, populated only by the occasional souvenir stand or rental cabins. But the real attraction here is...
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Boulevard Kukulcan KM 13 , LOCAL 410 y 411A, Benito Juárez, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
Beginning right at the entrance to downtown Cancún (kilometer 0, where the median is also home to a spacious outdoor gym) and tracing the Hotel Zone’s entire northern stretch, this wide, red-paved path is a favorite for runners,...
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Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
This extensive white-sand beach is the one Cancún locals love the most, and it’s still largely unknown to tourists. Bisected by a lengthy pier, Playa Langosta has calm, shallow, crystal-clear waters like most other beaches on the...
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Locals absolutely love Playa Tortugas, and it fills up on weekends, especially Sundays. Equipped with several ferry piers, this stretch has calm, clear, shallow water; it’s no surprise it’s a top family-style hangout. You’ll also find seafood...
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Mexico
Running three miles along the Tulum coastline, this massive beach has some of the Riviera Maya’s best conditions: soft white sand, waves tame enough for a calm swim, plus incredible shades of turquoise water. The stretch is chockablock with...
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Ruta de los cenotes Km 18, Carretera Puerto Morelos - Leona Vicario, 77580 Puerto Morelos, Q.R., Mexico
Set deep in the jungle—about an hour from Cancún and far from the usual beaches and resorts—this adventure park boasts the region’s most impressive ziplines, designed for daredevil travelers in search of real adrenaline...
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Isla Blanca, Q.R., Mexico
Isla Blanca is in fact a narrow peninsula some 30 minutes north of Cancún, with the lagoon to the west and the Caribbean to the east. Seemingly no one except the locals come to this untouched, isolated beach, dotted with tiny seafood...
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Carretera Tulum- Cancun Km 1266, Riviera Maya, Q.R., Mexico
Thanks to its easy-to-reach location on the main highway just fifteen minutes south of Playa del Carmen, this open cenote ranks among the most popular with locals. One half of the clear spring is shallow, with areas for climbing adjacent rocks;...
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Aktun Chen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
This small-scale nature park boasts what might be the prettiest snorkeling cenote on the Riviera Maya, set inside a pale cavern filled with overhanging stalactites plus submerged formations that beckon you to explore waters now crystal clear, now...
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Solidaridad, Q.R., Mexico
Just off the main Riviera Maya highway, this cenote is easy to reach by car or colectivo vans that serve as small public buses up and down the route. The cenote is completely open and has no caves, but it’s a stunning spot for snorkeling in...
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Quintana Roo, Mexico
A few minutes north of Tulum, Xcacel (pronounced “ish-kah-sel”) is one of the region’s more unspoiled coastal areas. The beach has long been a local favorite, especially on Sundays, and in-the-know tourists are showing up now,...
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Xpu Ha, Q.R., Mexico
Pronounced “ish-pu-ha,” this ranks among the most beautiful beaches anywhere on the Riviera Maya. With calm, very clear waters, it’s a popular spot for local families as well as travelers in search of a quiet afternoon. Despite...
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Carretera Federal Chetumal-Puerto Juarez Km 285, Ejido Sur, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Emotions Native Park stands out from other Riviera Maya eco-parks for being smaller. Its modest scale means it is able to support the same activities as the others in an almost entirely natural setting, free from add-on “amenities.”...
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Blvd. Kukulcan, Punta Cancun, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
With ancient traditions and a rich history, Mayan society is a fascinating, integral part of Mexican culture and history. While immersed in the Museo Maya de Cancun you'll forget all about the resorts outside and instead find yourself transported...
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Isla Contoy, Quintana Roo, Mexico
The most remote and least visited of Cancun's outlying islands is Isla Contoy, a nature preserve where the number of visitors is strictly limited to no more than 200 per day. Typically, though, fewer than 100 people make the excursion to this...
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Coba, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Cobá holds what remains of a large pre-Colombian Maya civilization located on the Riviera Maya. Lesser known than Tulum, the name Cobá means turbid (cloudy) waters—probably having to do with the five cenotes (underground...
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Carretera Federal Cancún-Tulum, km 1266.8, Puerto Aventuras, 77734 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico
Swim in a mystical cenote believed to be the gateway to the Underworld by the ancients. These subterranean rivers, formed by the last Ice Age, are said to be sacred and are guarded by aluxes, or elves whose permission is needed to enter their...
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Carretera Xul-Ha - Bacalar,, La Adelita-Santa Rosa, 77930 Bacalar, Q.R., Mexico
The river rapids known as the Rápidos de Bacalar lie between a town of the same name and Quintana Roo’s state capital, Chetumal. Here, crystal waters and infinite shades of blue attract happy travelers from all over the world. Chill...