You have arrived in sunny Cancun! Once you have had your share of tacos, margaritas, and other mouth-watering street food, explored the beautiful coastline, and started working on your tan lines, you may be wondering, what’s next? Below I will go over some of the best day trips from Cancun to make the most of your vacation.
The Mexico travel guides on this website have been written by people who actually live in the Yucatan peninsula and know the area really well. Rest assured, you are in good hands here.
17 Best Day Trips from Cancun in 2023
Cancun makes a great jump-off point for a wider exploration of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. The sunbleached remnants of impressive Mayan cities, pristine white-sand beaches, nature reserves, and tropical island paradises all await just a couple of hours away from the Quintana Roo capital.
There is something for everyone here, and since Cancun is such a popular tourist destination, the tourism infrastructure and the public transport in the region are excellent, making it very easy and affordable to get from A to B.
No vacation in Cancun would be complete without a day trip to the spectacular Mayan city of Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza is one of the Wonders of the World and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988.
It is believed that the construction of Chichen Itza began in the early 400s A.D. At one point, more than 50,000 people called the city their home, until it eventually fell into abandon around 1200 A.D.
The most famous landmark in Chichen Itza is the large limestone pyramid, known as Kukulkan, that sits in the center of the approximately 4 square mile site. While you can no longer climb the steps of the pyramid, you can still clearly see the engravings around its four sides.
The pyramid’s 365 steps represent each day of the year, and it is synchronized with both the Mayan calendar and the movement of the stars. When planning a day trip to Chichen Itza, it is best to plan a trip for the morning or early afternoon to avoid the crowds and the heat, as most of the archeological sites are in an unshaded area.
New discoveries at Chichen Itza are still being found today. The key to a great day trip to Chichen Itza is having a knowledgeable guide who can tell you what we already know of the area’s history and about the mysteries still to be unearthed.
Getting to Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza awaits approximately two and a half hours away from Cancun. It is perhaps the most popular day trip from Cancun, with an estimated 2 million visitors per year. It simply cannot be missed.
You will have no difficulty finding an organized day tour with a reputable company. Many local tour companies offer excursions that combine visiting Chichen Itza with a trip to the nearby ruins of Ek Balam, the yellow city of Izamal, or the Ik Kil Cenote.
If you are feeling more independent, you can also visit by hiring a car or taking an ADO bus from the central Cancun bus station.
The buses generally leave at 8:00 or 9:00 am, so if you plan to arrive early, an organized tour would be the best and safest way. Alternatively, you can take the bus in the afternoon and spend a night at one of the hotels near Chichen Itza, before setting out for the ruins early the following morning.
Bus tickets can be purchased in person at the ADO bus station ticket office or online. (There are a couple of ADO bus stations in Cancun – both downtown and in the hotel zone)
Don’t know where to start? Ask your hotel’s front desk staff! They will be able to point you in the right direction
Recommended Chichen Itza tours
- Chichen Itza, cenote, and Valladolid all-inclusive tour
- Chichen Itza early access and lunch tour from Cancun
- Tour of Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and cenote from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen
- Coba and Chichen Itza tour with cenote and lunch
Another excellent day trip from Cancun is the gorgeous island of Cozumel. Cozumel sits in the warm, translucent aquamarine waters of the Mexican Caribbean and is one of the most popular travel destinations in the Riviera Maya.
Once you have made it to Cozumel, you can make the most out of your day trip in countless ways. Consider getting a beach pass at one of the island’s all-inclusive hotels, where you can relax on their private beaches, swing on a hammock and make use of the resort’s pool bars.
Another option for your day trip to Cozumel is to go on a snorkeling excursion. Cozumel is known to be one of the most beautiful places in the Mexican Caribbean and has some of the best snorkeling in the region.
The island is part of the Mesoamerican barrier reef system – the second largest barrier reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Consider spending your sunny afternoon snorkeling the Palancar Reef, Columbia Reef, or Playa el Cielo.
If you are lucky, you may see brightly colored fish, turtles, and starfish. If you don’t mind getting little dirty, other options for your day trip in Cozumel are ATV or Jeep off-roading adventures. Don’t forget your sunscreen and bug spray as you drive through Cozumel’s wilderness on the eastern side of the island.
You should also consider checking out a swimming hole (called a Cenote) or taking an ATV through a coral cave. Compared to Cancun, which is full of nightlife, restaurants, and shopping, Cozumel has a much more relaxed, island vibe.
How to get to Cozumel from Cancun
To visit Cozumel, you can simply take a bus from Cancun to Playa del Carmen and then it is just a short 40-minute ferry ride to the island.
Ferries run every two hours between 9:00 am and 9:00 pm seven days a week. You can easily spend a full day in Cozumel and then be back in Cancun in time for dinner and evening drinks.
Perhaps one of the most popular beach destinations in Mexico, besides Cancun, is Tulum. It’s hard to open social media these days without seeing someone riding a bicycle toward its white sand beaches, enjoying an iced coffee at one of its Insta-famous cafes, or enjoying the nightlife.
On your day trip to Tulum, make sure you also stop at the 13th-century Mayan archeological site of Tulum, which gives the area its name. The site sits along the coastline and is built on a natural outcrop that faces the rising sun.
It is one of the most picturesque places in the world and would certainly make a great photo. There are also some spectacular beaches at the foot of the ruins where you can swim against the backdrop of centuries-old temples and shrines.
If you are looking for some more adventure on your day trip to Tulum, you will be delighted that you also have the chance to go zip-lining, horseback riding, or riding through the jungle on a Buggy or ATV here.
Like Cozumel, Tulum is another great spot for snorkeling. Here, you can take a journey into the subtropical rainforest of the Yucatan and visit the crystal-clear waters of a massive cenote.
There are approximately 226 cenotes in Tulum to choose from.
How to get from Cancun to Tulum
Tulum is located about two hours south of Cancun (131km) and can easily be reached by hired car, bus, or organized group trip. The bus is the most cost-effective option and services run frequently throughout the day.
You should expect to pay around 136 pesos for a one-way ticket from Cancun to Tulum. (Circa $8 USD). ADO buses are clean and comfortable with plenty of legroom, air conditioning, and bathrooms on board.
Once you have taken a day trip to Tulum, you will surely be planning your return.
Often overshadowed by its nearby neighbor, Chichen Itza, Ek Balam is an excellent day trip from Cancun for you to consider and is likely to be much less crowded so you will have more time to explore.
Ek Balam, which means Dark Jaguar or Black Jaguar in Yucatec Mayan, was built around 770 to 840 A.D. and consists of a low stone wall, several large temples, and pyramids.
In its prime, historians also believe that the city may have been home to about 20,000 residents. The indigenous population of Ek Balam started to dwindle after the settlement was attacked by invaders around 840 AD.
The Spanish conquistadors would continue to live here until the 16th century when it was eventually abandoned. It was the French traveler and archeologist Désiré Charnay that first rediscovered the ancient city again in the late 18th century.
Unlike Chichen Itza, visitors to Ek Balam are still able to climb the steps of the pyramids and get a more hands-on experience with the ruins.
One of the most impressive structures within the complex is the 95-foot pyramid of El Torre which towers above the jungle canopy. On a clear day, you can see the pyramids of Coba and El Castillo at Chichen Itza peeping out above the trees from here.
You should also look out for the elaborate tomb of the former Ek Balam leader Ukil-Kan-Lek-Tok which is adorned with intricately designed stucco masks and friezes. It is remarkable to see how they have withstood the test of time.
How to get to Ek Balam
Ek Balam is about a two-hour drive west of Cancun. It is open every day from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and the entrance fee is $25 USD.
You can often find organized tours online that will take you to Ek Balam, Valladolid, and Rio Lagartos or Ek Balam and Chichen Itza. A selection of reputable options to consider is detailed below.
- From Cancun: Ek Balam and cenote tour with lunch and pick-up
- Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, cenote and lunch
- Cancun to Ek Balam self-guided tour
If you simply cannot get enough of ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico, another option for a day trip from Cancun is the Coba ruins. The Coba ruins are one of the most popular pre-Hispanic Mayan sites near Playa del Carmen and Tulum and are just a two-hour drive from Cancun.
Although the ruins are popular, the crowds will pale in comparison to those you will find in Chichen Itza. The ruins are nestled in the heart of the dense Mexican jungle with temples scattered throughout the grounds and amongst the trees.
You can easily spend an entire day here as the site is so vast and is spread across an area of almost 80 square kilometers. You can rent a bike at the main desk when you purchase your entry ticket to help make getting around more manageable.
The most popular attraction at the Coba ruins is the main pyramid, called Nohoch Mul, which is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula.
Visitors are still able to climb the pyramid at their own risk. There is a rope along the stairs to assist climbers to the top.
Nohoch Mul is about 137 feet tall and is the tallest monument within the ruins.
The structures at Coba are divided into four main building groups. The Macanoc group of buildings is particularly interesting as their walls and facades are decorated with hieroglyphics and wall carvings depicting local life in Coba and in particular, depicting women as nobles and leaders.
How to get to Coba ruins
There are a couple of different options available for getting from Cancun to Coba on one of your day trips from Cancun. You can opt to take the ADO bus which departs a couple of times per day and gets you to the site in just two hours.
You may also want to consider renting a car and driving independently, or participating in an organized tour. Many local tour companies offer pick-up and drop-off from your hotel in Cancun and often combine an exploration of Coba with a trip to Playa Del Carmen and Tulum.
Both small group tours and private tours are available, depending on your preference.
When you take your day trip to the Coba ruins, make sure to bring your water bottle, bug spray, good walking shoes, and sunscreen. The grounds are also covered in shade from the thick jungle, so you will be protected from the hot afternoon sun.
Recommended Coba tours
A number of reputable Coba tours are detailed below for your consideration. Reserve your place online in advance to avoid disappointment!
- From Cancun: Coba, cenote, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen tour
- Coba and Chichen Itza tour with cenote and lunch
- Chichen Itza, Coba, and Tulum private tour with lunch
Valladolid is a small, charming city located in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula that is often visited on the same day trip as a tour to Chichen Itza or Ek Balam. It is easily walkable, but if you prefer you can rent a scooter or bicycle easily from one of the city’s numerous vendors for about $5 USD per hour.
Until the start of the 20th Century, Valladolid was the most important city in the Yucatan Peninsula. It was named after the city of Valladolid in Spain which was the Spanish capital when the conquistadors first arrived in Mexico and hailed it as ¨new Spain¨.
This popular city is home to colonial-era sites, such as the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena and the Cathedral of San Servacio, located in the heart of the city.
On your day trip to Valladolid, be sure to make a stop at one of the area’s popular cenotes. Cenote Zaci is within walking distance from the center of Valladolid and is a great spot to beat the heat. About 5 miles east of Valladolid is Cenote Suytun, which you have no doubt seen photos of on social media.
Another popular activity in Valladolid is to participate in a tequila tasting or take of the city’s free walking tours.
If you decide to visit Valladolid, you must try the regional dish of lomitos de Valladolid, (pork with a fresh tomato sauce) or cochinita pibil, which is meat marinated with achiote and orange rind, wrapped in a banana leaf and slow-cooked in an underground oven known as a pib. You will also find traditional candies made from corn, coconut, and honey.
El Cuyo is a gorgeous little village that sits at the northeastern tip of the Yucatan state, some 3.5 hours away from Cancun. The settlement is little more than a pristine stretch of coastline that resembles what Tulum once looked like some 10-15 years ago.
The beach at El Cuyo is one of the best beaches in the Yucatan peninsula, and if you are traveling here outside of weekends and Mexican public holidays, you will often find that you have the entire coast to yourself. Waking up in time to see every sunrise and sunset is a must.
If your Yucatan itinerary allows you the time to stay overnight, there are plenty of gorgeous boutique hotels here where you can wake up with the beach right on your doorstep.
Getting from Cancun to El Cuyo
Getting to El Cuyo can be a little awkward if you do not have access to a car. Several tour and taxi companies in Cancun may offer private transfers but that option is on the pricier side.
There is no direct bus from Cancun to El Cuyo so if you are looking to reach the village via public transport, you need to take the bus bound for Tizimin from downtown Cancun and then get off at Colonia Yucatan. You can take a bus or colectivo for as little as 40 pesos from there.
If you miss the last bus that leaves at around 18.30 pm, you can take a taxi to El Cuyo for around 200 pesos. It takes around 2.5 hours (traffic dependent) to get from Cancun to Colonia. From Colonia to El Cuyo, it is another 40 minutes or so.
Chacchoben (Cha cho ben) is a Mayan city unlike any other that sits in the southernmost part of Quintana Roo state. The name Chacchoben means ¨place of the red corn¨ in Mayan and the settlement is believed to have been inhabited as early as 200 BC.
Chacchobens setting makes it one of the most unique Mayan cities in Mexico. Located in the heart of the dense Yucatan jungle, the city is massively overgrown.
The moss-covered tops of pyramids peek out above the ground, and giant palm trees, tens of feet tall tower overhead making it impossible to see the sky. Howler monkeys, peccaries, armadillos, and grey foxes call the site their home and if you stop by early enough before most of the tour buses arrive, you may be lucky enough to see them frolicking and playing amongst the pyramids.
Even if you have already visited numerous other ancient ruins and Mayan cities during your time in Latin America, there is something special about Chacchoben. Numerous tour companies offer excursions from Cancun to Mahahual and include hotel pick-up and drop-off.
You may also want to tie in a trip to nearby Lake Bacalar or the sleepy Caribbean fishing village of Mahahual during your visit to Chacchoben.
Izamal, the ¨yellow city¨ is one of four pueblo magicos in the Yucatan state and a settlement that awaits just under 3.5 hours away from Cancun. You might want to consider paying Izamal a visit after seeing the ruins at Chichen Itza and many local tour companies offer excursions that stop by both places.
All of the buildings, churches, and homes in Izamal have been painted in the same uniform shade of bright yellow, in honor of the Mayan Sun God Kinich Kakmo. A giant pyramid dedicated to this deity still sits in the center of the town, and it is possible to climb to the top of it for free, to witness a spectacular sunset.
Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve
If you are looking for a peaceful, relaxing day trip from Cancun, look no further than the Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve. The Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. Sian Ka’an means “origin of the sky” in Mayan.
The Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve is considered a biosphere reserve and contains tropical forests, wetlands, marshes, and a very well-conserved coastline. The reserve also forms part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.
It is home to a variety of wildlife, such as ocelots, pumas, jaguars, and tapirs, as well as about 300 species of birds. You don’t have to be an avid bird-watcher or nature lover to appreciate the natural beauty of the region; the gorgeous beaches here offer the perfect place to relax.
Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve is about two hours south of Cancun and there are two different ways to visit the reserve. Each way will give you a totally different experience. You can travel through the Punta Allen or the Muyil access point.
The Punta Allen access point will provide you with a chance to explore the reserve’s marine life, beaches, and coral reef.
If you decide to visit through the Muyil access point, you will experience the reserve’s canals, marshes, and freshwater lagoons. You will also have a chance to see ancient Mayan ruins.
The Muyil access point is much easier to reach and much more popular among tourists.
It is also possible to take an organized group day trip to Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve. Many of these trips specialize in bird watching.
Playa Del Carmen
If you cannot get enough of Cancun’s white sand beaches and palm-lined shores, take a day trip from Cancun to the beautiful Playa del Carmen for a more laid-back, bohemian vibe. Years ago, Playa del Carmen was nothing more than a tranquil little fishing village, but now it is one of the top beach destinations in all of Mexico.
Playa del Carmen is about one hour and fifteen minutes from the Cancun hotel zone and can easily be reached by bus or taxi.
If you are lucky enough to visit Playa de Carmen between June and September you can check off an item from your bucket list and swim with the whale sharks that visit the area every summer. During this time, you will be able to find small group tours that will take you out to see to swim with these gentle giants.
On your day trip to Playa del Carmen, you can also take a luxury sailing or snorkeling tour and see if you are lucky enough to spot a sea turtle.
Rio Secreto is an underground river that was discovered just off the main shores of Playa del Carmen in 2004 and is another interesting local highlight to add to your radar. Rio Secreto is a limestone cave system that stretches almost 23 miles.
Visitors can now take a tour to explore these caves with a certified guide. You can also combine your trip to Playa Del Carmen with a visit to Xcaret Park.
If you are traveling with a family, or just looking to have some fun, you should absolutely consider taking a day trip to Xcaret Park.
Xcaret Park is an amusement park, theme park, water park, and eco-archaeological site all wrapped up into one. The grounds are located within the Mexican jungle and are home to cenotes and underground rivers. The park also centers around Mexico’s rich culture, folklore, and traditions.
You can explore over fifty different attractions here and your ticket gives you access to the underground rivers, Jaguar Island (where jaguars and pumas live in a conservation area), pre-Hispanic performances, and the Coral Reef Aquarium. You can also enjoy the park’s private beach, pools, hammocks, and rest areas.
If you’re looking for more adrenaline-fueled fun, you can also ride through the ocean waters on Adrenalina, a high-speed boat. Alternatively, you can take an underwater sea trek, swim with dolphins, or even swim with sting rays and sharks!
For a more relaxing experience on your day trip from Cancun, you can also explore the park’s spa, do a wine tasting in the park’s wine cellar or participate in the ancestral ritual of temazcal. A Temazal ceremony is an ancient ritual that could be likened to a modern-day sauna experience, which was believed to purify the body and soul.
Participants are guided into a dome-shaped steam room where volcanic hot stones are placed in the center of the room and then infused with water and herbs to generate steam. The steamy environment opens up your pores, flushes toxins out of your body, and relaxes your muscles.
Getting to Xcaret Park
Xcaret Park is about one hour south of Cancun and can be reached by taxi, bus, or by contacting the park directly and scheduling a tour and transportation directly with Xcaret. You can reserve a full-day Xcaret ticket with the night show and transportation from Cancun here.
Crystal clear blue waters, white sand beaches, and a palm-lined shore. That’s what you can expect to find in the quiet beachside paradise of Akumal. Akumal is a small, charming town and is the perfect day trip from Cancun.
This is the perfect day trip for nature lovers. Here you can go diving, hiking, kayaking, or snorkeling. You can also visit the Yal-Ku Lagoon, which is a natural aquarium in Akaml that is full of bright fish.
If you are an animal lover, consider a visit to the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary. Here you can interact with their rescued monkeys and other wildlife. The sanctuary is ethically operated and has rescued over 200 animals from 55 different species.
If you prefer to stay on the beach during your day trip but are still hoping to spot some wildlife, Akumal is also an excellent place to spot sea turtles.
How to get to Akumal
Akumal is located about one hour and a half from Cancun and can easily be reached by car or bus.
Like Xcaret Park, Xplor Park is another adventure park and it is a fun-filled option for a day trip from Cancun. It is located about one hour and fifteen minutes south of Cancun and can be reached by bus, car, or by reserving a spot on an organized tour through the park.
Xplor Park is known for its zip lines, caves, and underground rivers.
If you have always wanted to explore a cave, you can take advantage of their Underground Expedition where you can swim in the crystal clear waters, admire the large caverns or slide down of the cave’s passage ways. You can also take a raft down an underground river.
Xplor Park is most famous for its zip lines. In fact, Xplor Park is the most visited zip line park in the world. The park has two circuits that take you high above the jungle canopy
Opening soon at Xplor Park is Toboganxote, a large water slide. The toboganxote combines four different types of water slides, starting from 41 meters high. There is no release date for the slide just yet, but once it opens, it is sure to be a popular attraction and a perfect addition to a day trip.
Xplor Park also has a nighttime option where you can experience all the park has to offer once the sun goes down. Book your all-inclusive ticket including transportation to and from Cancun here.
Proving that a visit to the Yucatan Peninsula is not just about the beaches, Xel-Ha is another option for a day trip from Cancun that is sure to get your adrenaline rushing. Xel-Ha Park is a part of the same company that runs both Xcaret and Xplor Parks and is the area’s number one all-inclusive water park.
Xel-Ha is located about one hour and twenty minutes south of Cancun and can be reached by car, bus, or organized transportation through the park with pick-up from your Cancun hotel.
On your day trip to Xel-Ha, you can snorkel in the coves, ride down the slides of the Mirador Lighthouse, do a zip line course straight into the water, or do a rope walk course. Best of all, the park is all-inclusive with great food and drink options.
Xel-Ha Park is home to the highest slide in the Cancun area. The slide starts at 40 meters high, giving you an unparalleled view of the jungle landscapes.
It twists and turns all the way around the Mirador Lighthouse and shoots you into a refreshing pool of cool, clear water.
You can also visit the Garden of the Chacahs where you can plant a tree to commemorate your visit and leave your thoughts engraved in stone by your tree. Many celebrities have immortalized their visit to Xel-Ha this way.
Located just a thirty-minute ferry ride away, Isla Mujeres is possibly the most convenient day trip from Cancun. Ferries run from Puerto Juarez up to thirty-five times per day between 5:30 in the morning to 9:00 in the evening.
Isla Mujeres is only about 4 miles long and 2,000 feet wide. Due to its size, the main method of transportation on the island is to get around by golf cart. Golf carts can be rented easily once you reach the island.
The south side of the island is known for its rocky coast. However, on the island’s famous Playa Norte, you will find white sand beaches, colorful shops, and restaurants.
Isla Mujeres is home to the incredible Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA). While you must book a tour to visit, taking a dive to the MUSA is one of the most popular activities on the island. MUSA is an underwater installation of statutes from many different contemporary artists from across the world.
Another popular activity on Isla Mujeres is swimming with whale sharks. Between June and September, the sharks migrate close to the island, making it a perfect opportunity to check this off of your bucket list.
While on your day trip to Isla Mujeres, you will of course want to spend as much time in the water as possible. There are many places to rent kayaks, paddle boards, or snorkel equipment on the island.
If you are looking for an authentic experience while on the island, check out the Mercado Municipal, where you can find local vendors selling a variety of authentic Mexican food and fresh juices.
Last, but certainly not least, is Las Coloradas. Las Coloradas is a small fishing village with about 1,000 residents located within the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. It is three and one-half hours from Cancun, but well worth the trip.
Las Coloradas is known for its mesmerizing cotton candy pink waters and soft white sand beaches. The lake is home to crocodiles, jaguars, flamingos, sea turtles, and many species of birds.
Although Las Coloradas is a little farther afield than the other day trips from Cancun on this list, you can easily arrange transportation to the lake by hired car, bus, or organized tour.
The lake gets its vibrant color from the high salt content, red-colored algae, and shrimp within the lake. Mixed with the Mexican sun, these things come together to form the bright pink color we see.
During your day trip to Las Coloradas, you can take a boat tour to observe the pink flamingos in their natural habitat, do some bird watching, and admire the incredible views. The price of the boat tour is included with most tour packages.
Please remember that there is no swimming in the lake, as the site is part of the protected UNESCO biosphere reserve. The boats get close enough to the flamingos and other birds that you can clearly see them in their natural habitats while maintaining a respectful distance.
Final thoughts on the best day trips to take from Cancun
When planning your trip to Cancun, do not just stay at your resort. While you can easily spend your vacation in Cancun sipping margaritas on the beach, there are dozens of possibilities for incredible day trips spread throughout the Yucatan Peninsula to make your trip absolutely unforgettable.
Are you visiting Mexico for the first time? You might also enjoy this post on safety in the Yucatan, or this article on the best time to visit the Yucatan.
Safe travels and enjoy Mexico! Buen Viaje! Melissa xo