The Riviera Maya and the vibrant tourist city of Cancún have been top summertime destinations for American travelers for years, not surprising given the region's spectacular history, landscapes, cuisine, and nightlife. And while the Riviera Maya is often considered an inexpensive hub for those seeking boozy fun in the sun, there has been a growing trend in travelers who are opting to leave the cushy confines of all-inclusive resorts and explore the more authentic, enriching, and unique areas of the region.
We've combed through the real-life experiences of thousands of travelers on minube to find their recommendations about the best day trips and short excursions from Cancun. From ancient ruins to virgin beaches and over-water ziplines, here's their list of the top nine day trips and excursions near Cancún.
1.) Sian Ka'an - Aside from being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve is one of the Riviera Maya's most enchanting destinations. The reserve boasts a variety of ecosystems like dunes, jungles, and mangroves, and is a popular nesting area for sea turtles and other marine life. One of the most popular excursions, though, is taking a short boat ride to one of the the coast's natural swimming pools, shallow crystal-clear areas of ocean perfect for a refreshing swim. (Photo by Roberto Romero)
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2.) Chichen Itza - No trip to the Yucatan Peninsula would be complete without a visit to Chichen Itza, the most popular and best-preserved Mayan ruins in all of Mexico. The highlights are undoubtedly the massive Temple of Kukulkan and the observatory, although archaeologists are constantly uncovering previously-unknown parts of the city. Your best (and, surprisingly, most affordable) bet for visiting Chichen Itza is booking a driver and guide directly through your local hotel. (Photo by Lannic)
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3.) Isla Holbox - There are few places as roundly described as "paradise" as Isla Holbox, a peaceful haven of mangroves and white-sand beaches far from the bustling tourist centers on the mainland. One of the island's top activities, aside from relaxing on the tranquil beaches, is taking boat trips to see the majestic whale sharks in the surrounding waters. Boats regularly leave from the port-village of Chiquilá located a few hours northwest of Cancún. (Photo by Raúl C. Cortazar)
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4.) Diving in Cozumel - Not many visitors know that the waters around the island of Cozumel are home to the world's second-largest coral reef and, unsurprisingly, some of the best diving to be had in the Western Hemisphere. You can get there via regular ferries from Playa del Carmen and spend the day exploring the reefs whose rich marine life has attracted illustrious visitors like Jacques Cousteau. (Photo by Reysar Davila)
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5.) Garrafón Natural Reef Park - Located at the southern tip of Isla Mujeres, Garrafón Natural Park is one of those rare places that honestly has something for everyone, from hammocks and piña coladas to adventure sports like cliff-diving, kayaking, zip-lines, and scuba-diving. Tip: while Isla Mujeres is small enough to be explored on foot, rent a golf cart or bicycle on the island to get around quicker and make the most of your time. (Photo by Arianna Bañuelos)
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6.) Isla Contoy - Only 15 miles north of the popular Isla Mujeres, travelers will find Contoy, a quiet, natural island where wildlife reigns supreme. The island is a popular destination for bird-watchers, but is also home to a wide variety of sea life, including a famously people-friendly manta ray in the bay. Excursions to the island are easily found in Cancún, and travelers recommend spending a whole day diving, enjoying the nature walks in the island's interior, and trying one of the island's casual restaurants. (Photo by Ramón Toril)
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9.) Cenote Route - One of the most interesting and otherworldly day-trips from Cancún is a route to visit the region's legendary cenotes, large underground caverns housing subterranean lakes that are perfect for diving and exploring. There are literally hundreds of these caverns scattered throughout the Yucatan peninsula, but some of the most popular are the Sacred Cenote near Chichén Itzá and the Cenote Azul, a snorkeler's dream. (Photo by Reysar Davila)
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8.) Bacalar Lagoon - Near the Cenote Azul, travelers can find one of Mexico's most magical marine landscapes: Lago Bacalar, otherwise known as "The Lake of the Seven Colors." This lagoon is the result of various cenotes that overflowed over the years, resulting in a peaceful lagoon which, as the name suggests, offers visitors seven distinct shades of blue. While a bit farther away than some of the other excursions, the chance to swim, relax, and dine alongside the lagoon's shimmering waters is certainly worth the trip. (Photo by Rodrimm)
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9.) Tulum - While Chichen Itza is the region's most popular Mayan ruins, the most picturesque are definitely those of Tulum, a popular set of ruins perched atop a cliff over the turquoise Caribbean. Aside from visiting the sprawling and well-preserved ruins, travelers can also relax on the area's scenic beaches, delight at the iguanas that call the ruins home, and explore the local wetlands full of pelicans and flamingos. (Photo by Arianna Bañuelos)
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Have a favorite day trip spot in Cancún, or anywhere in Mexico for that matter? You can share your experiences and tips with thousands of other travelers from around the world at minube.