Discover Cancun off the Beaten Path
Cancun might be a new city, but it sits on a region filled with rich history and awe-inspiring natural wonders. If you want to skip the beach, bypass the tourist lines, and explore a whole new side of the Yucatan Peninsula, drive right passed the neon signs for a true taste of the Mayan culture still ever-present in this magnificently diverse land.
Located off the northeastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Isla Contoy (Bird Island) is a sanctuary to over 90 species of marine birds from brown pelican and double-crested cormorant to frigatebirds. Seventy percent of the island is covered by thick mangrove forests that open up to pristine white sand beaches and palms. The island is 5 miles long and tours are limited to 200 visitors a day, so it’ll feel like you practically have this entire place to yourself.
Explore the Cenotes
Cenote means sacred well and it’s derived from the Mayan word “Dzonot.” These naturally formed sinkholes were a spiritual place of worship in the Mayan culture. Created from fallen bedrock, there are over 6,000 cenotes found across the Yucatan Peninsula. There are different types of cenotes: some are open or semi open usually found in the middle of jungles, while others are mostly covered and found in underwater caves.
While you’re visiting Cancun, make sure to stop by Dos Ojos located right outside of Tulum. This cenote gets its name--two eyes--from the two separate water areas: one is clear, making it fun for snorkeling; while the other is dark and perfect for diving. Dos Ojos is one of the world’s longest underwater cave systems, so even though you can snorkel, it’s best to bring your scuba gear to explore more of this incredible place.
Although less visited, the Zaci cenote, found near the town of Valladolid is one of the most secluded. Its crystal clear blue waters, colorful marine life, and scenic backdrop make it the perfect place to get away and relax, while taking in the magnificent beauty of the land around you. Regardless of which cenotes you choose to visit, bring your snorkeling and scuba gear and get ready for an experience of a lifetime.
Discover Natural Wonders
Sian Ka’an, dubbed “Origin of the Sky” by the Mayans, is the largest ecological reserve in the Caribbean. The biosphere reserve consists of tropical forests, marine life, mangroves, and rich flora creating an intricate habitat for Jaguars, Pumas, West Indian Manatee, turtles, and hundreds of bird and fish species.
Las Cuevas de Kantemo de los Serpientes Colgantes
If you’re feeling adventures, head over to Las Cuevas de Kantemo de los Serpientes Colgantes. The cave is known for the hanging serpents that come out of hiding to feed on nocturnal bats. The snakes aren’t venomous, but watching them slither around dark cave walls and jump out of the ceiling is not for the faint of heart.
The Las Coloradas is another natural wonder you have to see to believe. These pink lakes are found in the Ría Lagartos Reserve, which is home to a plethora of species including flamingos, sea turtles, jaguars, and much more. Although the entire reserve is a site worth checking out, it’s these pink lakes that really steal the show. The lakes get their color from the algae, plankton, and brine shrimp that thrive in these waters.
Visit the Museums
Casa de los Venados
Take a short day trip to “Casa de los Venados” in the colonial city of Valladolid. This art gallery was started by two passionate art collectors, John and Dorianne, who wanted to share their love for Mexican folk art with the world. In 2010, they opened the doors of their private collection (and home) to the public. Filled with fascinating mexican folk art including painting, sculptures, and decor this is an odd place, but one well worth the visit.
Tequila Herradura Sensory Museum
Once you’ve had your fill of art, sip tequila at the Tequila Herradura Sensory Museum. Tequila has helped shape and define Mexican culture throughout the decades. Learn about the traditional methods of making tequila from blue agave plants, discover different aging techniques, and soak in the rich flavors of this signature Mexican liquor.
Explore Untouched Territories
Located 20 minutes from the Cancun Airport, but what feels like a world away--Puerto Morelos is a quiet fishing village with friendly locals and a laid back atmosphere. This undeveloped town features quaint hotels, small homes, and a casual restaurants. But what really makes this small village stand out is Jardín Botánico, one of the largest botanical garden’s in Mexico. Enjoy walking across mangrove swamps and tropical forests. The lush landscape attracts many animals; if you’re lucky, you might see agouti, a rodent like mammal commonly found in tropical habitats.
Isla Holbox is another quiet fishing town that’s located in the upper Yucatan Peninsula. This sleepy village is relatively undiscovered by tourists, making it the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for an authentic taste of Mexico. Watch fishermen walk through unpaved streets carrying their catch of the day, lay on beachside hammock as the warm island breeze lulls you to sleep, or dive underwater and swim amongst colorfully vibrant coral reefs and fish.
Mingle with the Locals
Want to see Cancun through the local’s eyes? Skip the busy Hotel Zone and hang out with the locals at Yaxchilan Avenue. This busy strip of bars and restaurants has something for everyone. Enjoy live music, sip local tequila, and eat freshly made tacos or other signature dishes as you unwind and relax.
No day is complete without a healthy dose of shopping. And Mercado 28 is just the place if you’re looking for something locally made and handcrafted. You’ll find great gifts for friends and family including paintings, pottery, clothes, and even jewelry.
Before You Go
Cancun’s majestic landscape and rich history make it one of the top destinations worldwide. If you want to experience the Yucatan beyond the Hotel Zone, dirve outside the busy city center and explore natural wonders, relax in sleepy villages, and hang with the locals.