You float on your back in the cool water of the cenote, watching the sky through the huge circle of the well’s mouth. A thin waterfall pours over the edge and echoes off the walls of the cavern. A few wispy clouds drift across the otherwise clear sky. You take a deep, peaceful breath, then flip over and swim off to explore some other corner of this underground paradise.
Lush Jungles, Beautiful Waters
If you’re used to thinking of Cancun as nightclubs and hotspots, it’s time to think again. The surrounding Yucatan is one of the most captivating and unique places on the planet. Pristine beaches, dense jungles, expansive caverns, and amazing rivers, lakes, and streams all converge in one place. If you arrange your lodging in Cancun or other coastal cities, you'll be able to quickly and easily access the stunning and incredibly well-preserved natural gems inland, including cenotes, jungles, rivers, and caverns.
The Lay of the Land
The incredible geological formations you can explore throughout the Yucatan are due to the region's unique geology. A thick slab of limestone is the base for the entire peninsula. Over time, wind, water, and plant life have gradually eroded away the limestone, carving out everything from small sinkholes to enormous and winding underground caverns. These unusual landforms create the backdrop against which the natural wonders of the Yucatan abound.
Perhaps the signature geographic feature in a region filled with wonders, cenotes are freshwater wells formed millennia ago when soft surface limestone away, revealing underground rivers. There are over 6,000 cenotes dotting the Yucatan. They come in four varieties: completely underground, partially underground, land-level, and open. Of these, the open wells are the most accessible and the most famous, filled with cool, clean water and open to the sky. Once you see one in person (and maybe take a dip), you’ll understand why they were held as sacred to the Mayan people.
Some cenotes let you combine cave exploration, or spelunking, with snorkeling or scuba diving. Whether you choose to explore the underground river and see what wonders the water-filled cavern holds, or are content to just relax in the refreshing water and enjoy the natural beauty around you, no trip to the Yucatan is complete without paying a visit to a cenote.
A huge system of caves and tunnels laces beneath the surface of the Yucatan, drawing explorers from all over the world. You’ll find huge underground spaces filled with ancient stalactites and stalagmites and gigantic crystals, and you’ll see cave paintings and other signs of humanity’s long history in the Yucatan.
New and experienced cavers alike will find plenty to get excited about in the Yucatan. Wondrous rock formations and unique experiences await you in the caves at Lol Tún, Balankanché, Calcehtok, Tzabnah, and other spots around the peninsula.
The jungles surrounding Cancun are home to an incredible amount of wildlife. As humans continue to develop the area, it becomes increasingly important to reserve spaces where these animals can live free of human interference. As such, there are a number of nature reserves around Cancun that serve an important purpose, but also make incredible places to visit.
Admire the impressive flamingo colony and beautiful beaches at the Celestún estuary. Stare into the eyes of a jaguar at the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, which sits on the site of one of the Mayan Empire’s great cities. Whatever your passion for reconnecting with nature, you’ll find a way to do it at one of the area’s great reserves.
If your passion for natural wonders skews for the underwater variety, you’ll find Cancun quite ready to meet your needs. The waters off of cancun are home to a huge population of fish, turtles, and other marine life, including the vast Mesoamerican Reef.
Located just a few miles south of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, the Mesoamerican Reef is the second-largest coral reef on the planet, and it’s a magnet for divers and snorkelers the world over.
The Yucatan Peninsula has a long and incredible history, including the amazing accomplishments of the Mayan civilization. Many of their vast temples, iconic step-pyramids, and other architecture remain to this day, well over a thousand years later. They might not be naturally occurring, but these remains are every bit as important a piece of the fabric that makes up the modern Yucatan as any piece of the landscape.
Plus, many of these archaeological sites exist in conjunction with parks, nature reserves, or other protected areas. So while you may go to see the splendors of unspoiled jungle, you’ll also have the unique experience of travelling back in time as you walk amongst the remains of some once-mighty Mayan city.
Planning Your Trip
Now that you have an idea of what to look for outside of Cancun, it’s time to explore your tour options and find the one that fits you best.
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (Nature Reserve & Mayan Ruins)
Katun-Chi (Cenotes & Caverns)
Rio Secreto (Underground River & Caverns)
Before You Go
The natural landscape of the Yucatan is one of the major reasons Cancun has developed into the destination hotspot that it is. Even if you’re planning to spend most of your days on the beaches and your nights in the clubs and restaurants, a visit to one of the Yucatan’s natural wonders is guaranteed to provide a lifetime’s worth of memories for only a few short hours of your trip.
You Should Also Know…
Many of these destinations are popular with tourists, so be sure to book your accommodations well in advance.
Eco-friendly sunscreen is highly recommended, to protect yourself from the elements and to protect the environments you choose to visit.
Natural Wonders Tours
Tulum & Xel-Ha All Inclusive Tour. FREE$139
Xel-Ha All Inclusive Tour with Transport$119
Subsee Explorer Tour$47
Jungle Tour "Sunrise Marina"$69
Xcaret Tour. FREE CANCUN SCENIC TOWER
Coba - Mayan Encounter Tour
Xel-Ha All Inclusive Tour Admission Only$89
Xplor Tour. FREE CANCUN SCENIC TOWER
Hummer Jungle Tour$188
Rio Secreto Tour
Coba Sunset Tour
Jungle Maya Tour$118
Experiencias Xcaret Package Only Entranc$185
Aquafun Marine Jungle Tour$69
Aquafun Marina Mangrove Tour$69
Jetpack Cancun Tour$118
Snorkeling Tour at MUSA Underwater Museu$58
Tulum Xtreme Tour$129
Xplor Fuego Tour. FREE CANCUN SCENIC TOW
Xenotes. FREE CANCUN SCENIC TOWER$119