the most beautiful places to visit in Cancun Mexico

15 of the most beautiful places to visit in Cancun

The idyllic slice of paradise is one of the most popular places to take a vacation in the world. Cancún is one of the best cities to visit in Mexico located on the Yucatán Peninsula bordering the Caribbean Sea and is home to gorgeous beaches, a number of hotel resorts and lively nightlife. Many independent travelers looking to eschew packages holidays may think this region isn’t for them, but Cancún is actually home to some truly incredible sites. Forget all the awful amusement parks and cruel swimming with captive dolphin experiences and head out to one of these beautiful places in Cancún instead…

Tulum Beach – a popular beautiful white beach overlooked by Mayan Ruins

Tulum Beach

Tulum is a beach lover’s paradise and easily one of the most stunning locations in Cancun. Located on the Caribbean side of the Yucatan Peninsula, it is home to several beaches with crystal clear turquoise water, silky-smooth sand, and tranquil conditions. Tulum Beach is located about 2 hours south of Cancún if you drive straight down the coast, or 2.5 hours if you take the scenic inland route.

It’s  long stretch of white sandy beach with dozens of hotels, cafes, restaurants, and bars dotted along it. The water has a beautiful turquoise colour that the Caribbean is famous for and there are plenty of activities on offer.

There are many beaches to explore near Tulum, all of which offer slightly different experiences. Playa Paraíso is located directly east of the town of Tulum and is one of the more popular beaches in the area. The facilities are excellent here, with several bars, cafes, and restaurants. You can rent a table and chairs for about 200 pesos and spend your day people-watching, swimming and sun-baking.

Playa Ruinas is slightly to the north of Playa Paraíso. This beach is located adjacent to steep cliffs, upon which sits the Ancient Mayan Ruins of Tulum. It is typically less crowded than Playa Paraíso and a must-see if you are interested in archaeology or Mayan history.

Further north again is Akumal Beach. About 30 minutes from the town of Tulum, this beach is a family-friendly location with excellent amenities and plenty of activities for the kids. Turtles are common in this area and it is an excellent spot for snorkelling.

But if you really want to get away from it all, you can head to Secret Beach. Located about 45 minutes south of Tulum, along the Boca Paila, this beautiful beach is really off the beaten track. It is an area of pristine natural beauty with plenty of wildlife about, fine powdery sand, and crystal clear water.

Isla Mujeres – a beautiful vacation destination known for its gorgeous beaches and snorkelling

Isla Mujeres Mexico

Situated just 13 kilometres off the coast of Cancún is the island of Isla Mujeres. It a peaceful paradise with a more laidback vibe than Cancún. However, despite being a more relaxing environment than Cancún, there are still plenty of activities on offer, including shopping, hiking, watersports, and much more.

The community that lives on Isla Mujeres are very friendly and happy to greet the visitors that come to their island. They are a diverse group that includes artists, musicians, restauranteurs, and fishermen. You will plenty of opportunities to see the art and enjoy the food that they create, thanks to the galleries, restaurants, cafes, and entertainment venues on Isla Mujeres.

Some of the highlights of Isla Mujeres include the MUSA underwater sculpture museum, Playa Norte (North Beach), and Hacienda Mundaca (Mayan ruins and parks). Garrafon Park is a must-see location on the island, as it is the first point the rising sun touches Mexican soil.

Dos Ojos Cenote – a stunning sinkhole located between Tulum and Playa del Carmen

Dos Ojos Cenote

Swimming at Dos Ojos Cenote should feature on everyone’s bucket list. This beautiful cenote in Cancun has appeared in countless documentaries and is widely considered to be the most beautiful cenote in Mexico.

The name Dos Ojos is a reference to the fact that it consists of two sinkholes (70-metres in diameter each). These sinkholes are connected by a 400-metre long passageway.

There is plenty of natural light flowing through the large openings above Dos Ojos Cenote. This which improve the appearance of the crystal clear water and makes it easier to marvel at the magnificent limestone features.

The water temperature is stable at about 25 degrees celsius all year-round. This makes it a wonderful location for swimming, snorkelling, and diving at any time of the year. The Dos Ojos Cenote is situated between Tulum and Playa del Carmen, about an hour from Cancún.

Isla Contoy – a gorgeous unhabituated island perfect for exploring

Isla Contoy

This picturesque island is the perfect destination for any traveller looking to escape the hustle-and-bustle of Cancún. It is one of the most beautiful locations in Mexico, with turquoise waves gently lapping at the shores of white sandy beaches and thick native vegetation in the centre of the island.

Because Isla Contoy is a nature reserve, there is plenty of wildlife, including loggerhead turtles, manta rays, hawksbill sea turtles, brown pelicans, and double-crested cormorants. It is a particularly good spot for bird watching, as it is home to over 150 migrating and resident bird species.

Most of the island remains in its natural state. However, there are some facilities including a museum, visitor centre, souvenir store, BBQ grill, rest area, watchtower, and toilets. Strict crowd control rules are in place, limiting the number of visitors to 200 per day. To visit Isla Contoy, you will need to make a booking with one of the few tour companies permitted to travel there.

Puerto Morelos Beach – a little-known Caribbean gem every savvy traveler should know more about

Puerto Morelos Beach

Beautiful Puerto Morelos has become one of the most popular holiday destinations on the Riviera Maya. Once a small fishing village, Puerto Morelos is now the destination of choice for many travellers wanting to experience authentic Mexican culture and incredible beaches.

Puerto Morelos Beach lies right on the edge of the town square, a short walk from a variety of accommodation options. It is one of the longest stretches of pristine beach in the Riviera Maya and doesn’t suffer from overcrowding like many Cancún beaches.

There are several excellent restaurants, cafes, and bars situated beachside. However, despite the many amenities in place, gorgeous Puerto Morelos still has the vibe of a small port town. It isn’t over-developed and there are many opportunities for experiencing authentic Mexican culture.

There are numerous activities on offer at this stunning location including snorkelling, boating, swimming, and surfing. Several cenotes, Mayan ruins, eco-parks, and museums are also within a short drive of this area. Puerto Morelos is a great option if you want to get away from the hustle-and-bustle Cancún but you still want to have access to plenty of amenities.

Cancún Underwater Museum – a surreally beautiful diving favorite and the largest underwater museum in the world

Cancún Underwater Museum

Diving is one of the most popular activities amongst visitors to Cancún. There are dozens of fantastic diving locations dotted along the coast, with a diverse range of coral reef fish on display. Visitors can also take trips in glass-bottomed boats to view Cancún’s spectacular ecosystem without even getting wet.

The Cancún Underwater Museum takes these activities to the next level. It is a submerged museum located in the Cancún National Marine Park which consists of three sculpture galleries are between three and six metres underwater. These galleries contain more than 500 pieces from several talented artists.

The unique museum was designed to act as an artificial coral reef, attracting fish and plant life. It limits the amount of human activity on the natural surrounding reefs in Cancún, reducing the amount of damage they sustain.

Visitors have three ways to enjoy the gallery — diving, snorkelling, or riding in a glass-bottomed boat dive. It is a wonderful experience that you won’t easily forget!

Isla Blanca – a gorgeous peninsula in Cancun where mostly only locals go

Isla Blanca

Isla Blanca is an idyllic location situated just to the northeast of Cancún. Although most people assume it is an island, it is actually a narrow peninsula which separates the Caribbean sea from Chacmuchuc Lagoon.

Isla Blanca is somewhat of a secret for many locals and tourists. They usually assume that the peninsula is accessible or that it is not worth visiting. It is actually an extraordinarily beautiful region with plenty of wildlife, sandy beaches, and locations for swimming.

The lagoon to the west of the Isla Blanca is shallow and tranquil, which makes it a wonderful spot for a family outing. Activities like snorkelling, kitesurfing and jet skiing are all very popular in this area. The lagoon becomes busier on the weekends as locals visit the area, but even then, it isn’t overcrowded.

The eastern side of the peninsula features long stretches of sandy beaches with a few rocky outcrops. It is easy to find a secluded location where you can relax without being disturbed.

There are three local restaurants serving up delicious fresh fish. However, other amenities are limited, so you will should bring some water, shade, and bags to carry out your rubbish.

Xcacel Beach – a beautiful and remote haven for turtles

Xcacel Beach

Situated 40 minutes south of Playa del Carmen is Xcacel Beach, a large beach and sea turtle sanctuary. Just like most of the beaches on the eastern coast of Quintana Roo, it’s a gorgeous paradise blessed with pure white sand and easy access to the crystal clear water of the Caribbean.

But what really attracts visitors to this area is the sea turtle sanctuary. Between the months of April and October, hundreds of loggerhead turtles and green sea turtles use the beach to lay eggs. The area where the eggs are laid is then cordoned off by Flora Fauna Y Cultura.

When the eggs hatch, thousands of baby turtles make their way to the see. If you want to see the entire process firsthand, it is possible to volunteer for a day with Flora Fauna Y Cultura to look after the turtle nests or guide the hatchlings to safety.

There is also a large cenote near Xcacel Beach. Cenotes are huge sinkholes that are created from the collapse of limestone bedrock which exposes the groundwater underneath. The cenote near Xcacel Beach is one of the largest in the Yucatán Peninsula and was considered a sacred site by the Mayan people.

Maroma Beach – one of the most pristine and famous beaches in Mexico

Maroma Beach

Maroma Beach is a private Riviera Maya Beach which can be accessed by staying at one of the local beachfront hotels or eating at a local restaurant. Slightly hidden from other popular Riviera Maya destinations, it is a beautiful and tranquil beach which is not inundated with visitors.

Maroma Beach has been rated as one of the world’s best beaches by several travel magazines. The fine white sand and light turquoise water was obviously a major factor in winning those awards. However, its tranquillity is what really sets it apart.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve – one of Mexico’s most impressive natural wonders

Sian Ka'an Bioreserve

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a must-see location for nature lovers who enjoy visiting areas of pristine natural beauty. It is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed nature reserve located just to the south of Tulum (about 3 hours drive south of Cancún).

Established in 1986, the biosphere is home to an extraordinary range of flora and fauna, including 379 species of birds and 115 species of mammals. Animals often seen in the park include spider monkeys, tapirs, manatees, cougars, toucans, the white ibis, and various turtles.

There are many tours of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on offer, including Birdwatching at Sunset Tour, Sian Ka’an Nature Encounter, Ancient Mayan Route, and Sian Ka’an Reef Snorkel & Mayan Canal. It is a spectacular location in Mexico that offers unique experiences which you will not have elsewhere. 

San Miguelito Archeological site – Mayan ruins that are accessed through a museum with shaded trails

San Miguelito Archeological site

Located close to the center of Cancún, the San Miguelito Archeological site is a must-visit location for anyone interested in the Mayan history. It is a fascinating look into the Mayan civilisation that really gives you a sense of how they might have lived thousands of years ago.

It is a large and awe-inducing archaeological site that showcases many types of Mayan structures, including a large temple, walls, homes, and burial sites. As you walk around, it is easy to imagine how the Mayan’s lived their daily lives. You can see the paths and stairways upon which they walked to fetch water, the temple where they assembled, and much more.

One of the things that makes this archaeological site unique is the evidence of protective dunes. Researchers suspect they were used to protect the inhabitants from hurricanes and soil erosion. The dunes would have also functioned as a location to raise crops and animals.

The lengthy walking paths are mostly covered by trees, which will keep you cool and comfortable environment as you enjoy the site. There are also some large termite nests worth checking out!

Chac Mool Beach – a popular beach with turquoise waters, a white-sand shoreline and big ocean waves

Chac Mool Beach

Chac Mool Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Cancún. Situated next to the city, it is mostly frequented by tourists who wish to enjoy the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean.

It is the perfect destination for a relaxing day on a well-kept sandy beach. The fine white sand and turquoise-blue water are absolutely stunning and the many nearby amenities ensure that you will remain comfortable throughout the day. If you don’t feel like driving, this is the perfect option.

Cenotes Hidden Treasures – a great combination of nature, fun and adrenaline

Cenotes Hidden Treasures

Cenotes Hidden Treasures is a nature reserve and activity centre located just outside Tulum (an hour south of Cancún). It features a variety of activities and sites to visit including multiple cenotes, an ATV track, caverns with marine fossils, and jungle hiking paths.

There is a restaurant on site which offers delicious Mexican cuisine and some excellent amenities available. The millenarian stalactites and stalagmites found in the extensive cave systems are particularly impressive. Definitely a fun day out for nature lovers.

Coba – an ancient Mayan city on the Yucatán Peninsula

Coba Cancun

Situated about two hours from Cancún is one of the largest Mayan archaeological sites in Yucatan. It is a unique site for several reasons. The first is the presence of four beautiful lakes surrounding the ruins. These lakes are responsible for giving the city its name (Coba means “Waters stirred by wind”).

Another unique aspect of the Coba is that it is not excavated or reconstructed to the same extent as other archaeological sites. There are still many structures covered in vines and trees. This gives visitors the feeling of discovering an ancient city for the first time.

As an added bonus, it is less visited than many other sites. If you go to Coba early in the morning, you may be the only person present. Listening to the sounds of the birds and monkeys as you venture through the ruins alone is a truly spectacular feeling.

Researchers are just starting to understand the value of Coba, with over 5,000 mounds yet to be explored. It is an exciting site that is a must-see for any anyone interesting in Mayan civilisation or history.

Great resources for travel in Cancún

Here are some great travel resources that I used on my trip to Cancun which made my life a little easier and my trip more fun!

Enjoy your beautiful Cancun stay!

Michael Anderson

Ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper Michael has always been a sucker for an adventure. As a kid he was lucky enough to live for many years in some exotic far-flung locations and since then he’s developed a taste for new cultures. So much in fact he now travels the world as a trading digital nomad, exploring the sizzling street markets of Bangkok to yoga retreat dotted Sri Lanka and everything in between! He also has a special fondness for exotic cuisine and fine wine and definitely knows his clarets from his chiantis. He counts Cuba, Tanzania, Amsterdam, Laos and Cambodia as his favourite destinations.

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