Cancun: Top Attractions

Snorkeling at Xcaret Eco-Park, Cancun  (Bruce Herman/courtesy, Mexico Tourism)

Cancun's business district, Cancun City, is situated on the mainland, but the bustling resort area—or Hotel Zone—stretches out across Cancun Island, a thin strip shaped like the number "7." The calm waters of the Nichupte Lagoon separate the Hotel Zone from the mainland.

Most all of the Hotel Zone properties face soft, sandy beaches. For waters safe for swimming, pick a beach on the eastern side of the island. Since these face Mujeres Bay, they have calmer surf than the beaches on the north, which get pounded by the rougher Caribbean. Public beaches include Playa Tortuga, Playa Langosta, Playa Linda, and Playa Las Perlas.

Nichupte Lagoon
With the AquaWorld Jungle Tour, you zip through the Nichupte Lagoon's mangroves on a sport boat similar to a Waverunner. The destination: Punta Nizuc, a shallow reef (depth about ten feet) ideal for snorkeling. Along with schools of fish, you may encounter the turtles that frequent the area. AquaWorld also offers trips to Isla Mujeres.
AquaWorld Tours: +52.998.848.8327,

At this eco-adventure theme park, you can swim with dolphins; walk through a bat cave and a butterfly aviary; see jaguars, flamingos, and toucans; float down a river in an inner tube; and enjoy a Mexican folk-music performance prefaced by a demo of the ancient Mesoamerican ball game, Pok-Ta-Pok. The players, wearing feathered headresses and fierce body paint, use their hips, not hands, to send a ball sailing through a hoop.
Xcaret: +52.998.883.3144,

Isla Mujeres and Garrafon National Park
It's a 30-minue ferry ride to Isla Mujeres off Cancun's coast where the attitude is laid-back and the hotels are refreshingly modest. Spend the day at Garrafon National Park snorkeling, kayaking, helmet diving, swimming, and lazing in a hammock. Go on your own or buy a package that includes transportation and lunch.
Additional Info: 800.446.3942,
Garrafon National Park: +52.998.883.31.43,

Tulum—a stellar example of Mexican and Mayan history and culture—is a compelling site, a sizeable excavation, and a manageable hour-long drive from Playa del Carmen. And in the unlikely event that boredom sets, this Mayan city is less than eight miles from the waterpark Xel-Há.. An impressive stairway leads to the castillo (castle). Tulum once served as a major center for maritime trade, and amid the crashing waves and the calls of the sea birds, you can sense the rhythms of this once-vital sea port.
Additional Info: 877.746.6292,

Cavern Snorkeling at Nohoch Nah Chich
The Jungle Crossings tour offered by Alltournative Tours takes its guests in Mercedes-Benz Unimogs through the Mexican rainforest to Rancho San Felipe. Here, in this small Mayan community, lies the entrance to Nohoch Nan Chich—believed to be the second-longest underground river system in the world. Snorkel in the clear water past thick strands of stalactites and stalagmites. Afterward, enjoy a traditional Mayan lunch at the ranch. Alltournative Tours specializes in trips blending eco-adventure with local culture.
Alltournative Tours: +52.984.873.2603,

It's worth the three-hour van trip each way from Cancun to explore Chichén-Itzá, where strolls among the plazas, pyramids, ball court, and the other 40 structures reclaimed from the rainforest immerses you into the ancient Mayan culture. Best Day Tours offers the best tour, as their guides point out houses, tombs, and temples, the details the significance of the carved masks of rain gods and other deities, and the details of the stone vaulted arch. The kids can always sleep in the car on the way back.
Best Day Tours: +52.998.991.13.29,

Parque Nizuc Water Park and Dolphin Swim
Let's face fact. Despite the wonderful adventure tours, cultural magnificence and historical buildings, sometimes kids just want to play. Parque Nizuc gives them that option, combining a Wet'n'Wild water park with Atlantida the dolphin encounter. The kids' swim park has bubbling fountains and a splash pool. 'Tweens (minimum height five feet) can swirl down six stories in a raft down Bubba's Tub. Atlantida offers dolphin swims, shallow water encounters, and trainer-for-a-day programs.
Parque Nizuc Water Park and Dolphin Swim: 998.881.3000,

Cancun is vacation shopping heaven for teens and their shopping-loving parents. Stores and vendors along the hotel strip sell T-shirts, hammocks, brightly painted pottery, and lots of silver bracelets, pendants, cuff links, and earrings. Know what you're buying and be sure to bargain. La Isla, an open-air shopping and entertainment complex, mixes some high-end shops with souvenir stops.
Mexico Tourism Board: 800.44.MEXICO,

Mayan Encounter
Mayan Encounter, another popular Alltournative Tour, combines several mini-adventures with a guided walk through the ancient Mayan city of Cobá that boasts the tallest temple in the Yucatan. Nohoch Muul is a must-see. The tour leads guests on a hike into the rain forest to a zip line where you harness up and fly across a cenote, rappel into another cenote, and then canoe on a lagoon. Afterwards, lunch is prepared by a local Mayan family.
Alltournative Tours: +52.984.873.2603,

Published: 8 Apr 2005 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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