There are so many great Cancun day trips to take on your trip to this Mexican slice of paradise.
On the agenda, I hope you have planned to hit the beach, work on your tan, enjoy all of the best things to do in Cancun, and of course, enjoy those ice-cold Margaritas.
Throw in some sightseeing, salsa dancing, and a few Cancun day trips – and you will have yourself the perfect Mexican vacation. Don’t miss our guide to what to pack for Cancun.
Known for its grande all-inclusive resorts, white sand beaches, blue ocean waters, party nightlife, fabulous shopping, and decadent restaurant scene, Cancun has become a hot spot for many travelers.
Some tourists choose to unplug from their busy lives and spend their entire time at the resort, but escaping for a day trip in Cancun is absolutely worth it. This allows you to dive deeper to experience the true culture of Mexico and explore some of the natural beauty this region has to offer.
There are so many fun and exciting Cancun day trips to explore the decision on which one to choose might be difficult. From extreme excursions to chill beach days, day trips from Cancun offer a wide range of activities that every traveler will love.
This is a list of my favorite and most popular Cancun day trips.
Map of the Best Cancun Day Trips
1. Isla Mujeres
Without a doubt, a day trip from Cancun to Isla Mujeres must be on your to-do list. Anyone can tell you about how incredibly blue and clear the waters between Cancun and Isla Mujeres are – but it is something you must witness for yourself.
Isla Mujeres is small, trendy, and a divine place to spend a day lounging on the beach or touring around.
Cancun to Isla Mujeres is just a short distance of 13 kilometers or 8 miles from Cancun. You can cross over to the island via public ferry or private water taxi.
Mexico’s own ferry company “Ultramar” provides the passenger ferry service.
Due to its popularity, Ultramar has three different locations of ferry terminals for your convenience. The main terminal, Puerto Juarez has service starting at 5:30 am with the last boat returning to Cancun at midnight.
The boats run every half hour and the ride only takes 30 minutes. Round-trip tickets cost 540 pesos (about $30 USD).
Take full advantage of the sun and sit on the top deck of the boat where you can also witness the incredible colors of the water. If you are lucky you might even spot some marine wildlife.
Tip: Plan ahead and purchase your ticket online so you can skip the ticketing line. Book your tickets online here.
Private water taxis offer service out of Punta Sam and the journey takes approximately 15 minutes. For this type of service ask your hotel concierge for booking information.
Once you are on the Island the day is at your disposal. I love to recommend renting a golf cart and doing a self-guided tour of the island. The island is small and drives in a circular lap so don’t worry, you won’t get lost. Just be sure to have a driver’s license on hand to acquire a rental.
If you want to plan in advance, check and prebook your car rental on Discover Cars. This is especially important if you are visiting during the peak spring break or Christmas vacation times.
Make stops along the way at the famous Ice Bar, Lighthouse, and Mayan Ruins. Return back to the center in time for sunset and make your way over to Playa Norte. Cozy up at a beach bar and enjoy the evening while the sun lights up the sky with oranges, purple and pink.
Isla Mujeres also offers a fun variety of water activities. Snorkeling at protected and vibrant coral reefs, scuba diving tours featuring an underwater museum, jet ski rentals, and more!
Or you can just spend the day totally relaxed on the beautiful beach of Playa Norte. Expect white powdery sand, palm trees, and clear blue waters. There are many beach clubs and restaurants along the beach offering refreshing cocktails and many different types of cuisines.
Do you want to explore Isla Mujeres on a planned day trip from Cancun? Check out all of these awesome boat tours that start and finish in Cancun, include a day of sailing and snorkeling, and take you over to Isla Mujeres for the day. Book one of them here.
2. Contoy Island
Contoy Island is a hidden gem that calls for adventure but offers a tranquil escape.
If you are looking for untouched beaches in the Mayan Riviera Contoy Island is the place for you.
Pristine white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, vibrant marine life, and lush mangrove forests are all things you can expect at Contoy Island.
Because the island is a protected National Park it is the perfect home for many rare and endangered species including tropical birds and sea turtles.
You will also find ancient Mayan Ruins on Contoy Island. Legend has it that the island was the birthplace of the Mayan God of fertility and medicine. Guided tours are available to explore archaeological sites and learn about the island’s history.
Contoy Island only allows a small number of visitors each day working to preserve the nature of the Island. The best way to visit is to take a boat tour like this one from Cancun which stops at the island and allows you to explore the best parts. Book a tour here.
Here you can truly escape the crowds of busy Cancun and immerse yourself in the island’s calm serenity.
Enjoy pure solitude as you stroll along the deserted beaches, listen to the gentle rustling of the palm trees, and watch the amber sun set below the horizon.
This is probably the most peaceful Cancun day trip that should be on your list.
Take a trip back in time and visit the Mystical Ancient Mayan Ruins of Coba.
Located 42 kilometers outside Tulum in the middle of the Mayan jungle, this Cancun day trip will leave you fascinated by all its history, culture, and natural beauty.
The Coba ruins are pyramid shape similar but much smaller than Chichen Itza.
In Mayan language, the word Coba means “cloudy waters”. That’s how the Ruins got its name. The murky watered lagoons surrounding the site play a big importance in the different religious and ceremonial rituals practiced in the ancient Mayan Village.
To take full advantage of the day it’s best to get there early. The gates open at 8 am and they only allow 1500 visitors per day. The entrance fee is 90 pesos and parking your vehicle also costs 90 pesos.
Hiring a tour guide might enhance your experience as they will tell you all of the Mayan secrets and stories of the ruins. Coba can be explored by foot or by bicycle and rentals are available inside the grounds at an extra cost.
Lush jungles and towering trees provide shade over the pathways throughout the ruins but do bring lots of water and even electrolyte drinks because the heat is still very intense.
Wear good walking shoes. Pack your bag with some snacks, bug spray, sunscreen, and of course local Mexican currency pesos and you are set for your trip to Coba.
If you want to take a tour directly from Cancun to explore Coba and the surrounding region, check availability and book here.
See what all the hype is about with Cancun day trips to Tulum. Check out our comparison of Cancun vs Tulum to see which town is best for your beach vacation. Maybe you’ll even change your mind altogether and choose the beach clubs of Tulum for your trip.
Tulum is located 131 kilometers from Cancun and takes about 2 hours driving time to reach. It is a rapidly growing town on the south coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, that offers a unique trendy vibe capturing the essence of relaxation, spirituality, and bohemian charm.
The municipality of Tulum has 3 main areas, the downtown, the hotel zone, and the archeology zone. Each offers a different experience.
Downtown Tulum also known as the “Puebla” has an abundance of fabulous restaurants and cafes of all cuisine, bars, hotels, hostels, scooter rentals, and shopping.
The hotel zone of Tulum is where the city gets its popularity. Known for chic boutique hotels, mega parties at boushie beach clubs, tranquil yoga retreats, 5-star dining experiences, boutique shopping, wide white powdery beaches, and breathtaking colors of the sunset skies. The hotel zone of Tulum is where to be and be seen!
Tulum also holds ancient Mayan Ruins. These ruins are a very popular tourist destination. Don’t skip on a visit to the Tulum ruins while you are in the area.
Check out more of our content about Tulum.
- What to wear in Tulum
- Best breakfast in Tulum
- Best cenotes in Tulum
- Best bars in Tulum
- Yoga retreats in Tulum
5. Chichen Itza
Pay a visit to one of the new 7 wonders of the world with a Cancun day trip to Chichen Itza. Read our full guide to Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza is centuries-old and mysterious with Mayan history and is one of the top visited Archaeological sites and tourist attractions in Mexico. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site Chichen Itza is home to grand temples, towering lookout zones, sacred cenotes, and intriguing Mayan ball courts.
The journey from Cancun to Chichen Itza takes roughly 2 and a half hours. It is best to arrive in the morning as early as you can to avoid long lineups and high temperatures.
The heat of the afternoon can become extreme, so remember to bring lots of water, a hat, sunscreen, and anything else necessary to protect yourself from the sun.
Admission to Chichen Itza costs 533 Pesos (about $30 USD). I like to recommend hiring a tour guide (at an extra cost). You can do a self-guided tour but I feel as though the tour guide is worth it as they will tell you all the history and special stories that make the ruins so famous.
After your time at Chichen Itza, you will want to take a dip and cool off in Cenote Ik Kil. Jump into the refreshing water of this open-air cenote, admiring the vines, and surrounding foliage.
Pack some drinks and snacks, or make your way over to one of the restaurants in the area.
6. Playa del Carmen
A lively little beach town 68 kilometers (42 miles) south of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a fun place to spend the day on the beach, and wandering the famous 5th avenue.
Playa del Carmen definitely offers more of a humble vibe than Cancun. Smaller-scale boutique hotels, trendy Playa del Carmen restaurants, relaxed beach clubs, shopping, and a poppin’ nightlife are all things you can expect in Playa del Carmen. Check out our full comparison of Cancun vs Playa del Carmen to learn more.
5th Avenue is a great place to spend the evening in Playa del Carmen. If you are a fan of live music this surely is the spot for you. You can find restaurants and bars on almost every block with a band playing live music of every genre.
In between the bars and restaurants, you will find souvenir shops, tequila tastings, cigar factories, salsa lessons, swimsuit shops, brand-name stores, hotels, pharmacies, markets, 7-11 stores, and even Starbucks! Whatever you may be looking for 5th Avenue is sure to have it.
During sunshine hours, lounge the day away at one of the many Playa del Carmen beach clubs.
7. Akumal Bay
Make your dreams of swimming with sea turtles come to life with a visit to Akumal Bay.
In the Mayan language, Akumal means place of the turtles and that’s exactly how this small bay got its name.
The reason you will find so many turtles in Akumal Bay is because of the abundance of sea grass that grows on the bottom of this sandy bay.
These peaceful turtles come to feed, create nests, and lay eggs in Akumal Bay. The bay is also a safe place for young turtles to grow and mature because of the shallow, calm, and protected waters.
Akumal Bay is located 104 km (65 miles) from Cancun and will take about an hour and a half to drive there. In my opinion, the best way to visit Akumal from Canun is to have a car rental. This will allow you to follow your own timeline. Check rental car prices in Cancun here.
Arriving by car there is a parking lot very near to the entrance of the bay and charges 50 pesos for the full day (about $3 USD). If you have your own snorkel gear bring that along as well for convenience, but leave your fins at home as they are prohibited for use in this area.
The best way to experience the turtles is to take a guided swimming tour which you can purchase directly on the beach or at any information desk once you reach Akumal.
Get there early (around 8 am) because that is when there are more turtles out feeding and the waters are calmer.
Tours start at 500 pesos (about $30 USD) with access to the protected area in the sea where the turtles mostly are, access to the coral reef, lifejacket, and snorkel gear.
You can prebook a tour from a local tour company here. This is recommended if you are planning to visit Akumal during the peak months and don’t want to miss out on the experience.
As I mentioned earlier this is a swimming tour. The guide will lead you from the shore out to the protected area where all the turtles are.
It is mandatory that you wear a life jacket and the tour normally lasts about 1 hour.
The tour guide will have a life ring for less experienced swimmers but I do recommend having swimming experience before embarking on the tour.
The facilities at Akumal Bay are great. There is a locker room on site with showers, change rooms, toilets, and lockers where you can keep your valuables during your swim. The entrance fee for use of the facility is included with the price of the tour, however, you will need to leave a 100 peso deposit for the rental of the lock and key.
If you don’t want to have a rental car, you can book tours directly from Cancun that also include stops at other parts of the Riviera Maya. These tours include transportation to and from Cancun. Book a tour here.
8. Whale Shark Tour
This is one of the best Cancun day trips you can take. It is seasonal adventure that I recommend any sea lover to experience.
Swimming with the Whale Sharks is one of those Mexico bucket list experiences. For this excursion, you will need to be in Cancun in July or August as that is when the Whale sharks migrate to the area to feed on the plankton in the water.
The beginning of whale shark season is in late May with the whale sharks leaving in September so it is possible to see them in these months but in July and August you have the best luck seeing more.
Tours normally depart from Punta Sam in Cancun, where you will then embark on a 45-minute boat ride out into the open sea.
Upon arrival in the specific ocean zone, you will begin to see all the sharks. With the instructions of your tour guide, you will get the chance to swim along the giants for as long as you can.
After the Whale Shark encounter, the tour will normally take a stop at Playa Norte of Isla Mujeres, serving up a fresh lunch of guacamole, ceviche, and soft drinks.
Be sure to choose a reputable tour company with good reviews (we recommend this one). This is a protected animal and tour companies have to abide by certain rules and regulations to keep these animals safe. Book a whale shark tour from Cancun here.
If you have more time, you can head to Isla Holbox where you can enjoy the beauty of this island for a few days and swim with whale sharks here as well.