There’s no doubt that Cancun is one of the best spots in Mexico to enjoy the never-ending hospitality of an all-inclusive hotel or the lavish delights of a five-star resort, but even when you’re on a two-week vacation along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, it’s always good to get away for a day trip or two!
Don’t sweat, because Cancun’s hotel zone is not only close to white sand beaches and epic snorkeling spots but also within easy reach of ancient Mayan ruins (including the iconic Chichen Itza), crystal-clear cenotes, and adventurous biosphere reserves.
Keep reading while we count down the best day trips from Cancun.
How to Get Around
Although you can make many of these day trips with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. With your own four wheels, you control your time and schedule. Depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out to be cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the lowest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies, helping you find the best possible car for your budget.
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries! We’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
1. Chichen Itza
If it’s your first time in Cancun, then Chichen Itza has to be at the top of your day-trip bucket list. This sprawling archeological site was once one of the most powerful Mayan cities on the Yucatan Peninsula, and today it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico.
Home to the towering Temple of Kukulcan (or El Castillo), Chichen Itza is perhaps the best-preserved Mayan site in the region – but it’s also the busiest. However, it’s well worth braving the crowds to see the ancient ball court, the restored pyramids, and the sacred cenotes, as well as the countless homes, marketplaces, and temples that have all been painstakingly excavated from the surrounding jungle.
Further reading: The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Chichen Itza
Getting there: Tour buses depart daily from the hotel zone (and usually include hotel pick-up) for day tours from Cancun to Chichen Itza. ADO buses depart from the bus terminal in Cancun. Alternatively, you can beat the crowds by hiring a car and getting there earlier than everyone else (It takes between two and three hours to reach the site by either bus or car.)
Book Tour to Chichen Itza Buy Bus or Minivan Tickets to Chichen Itza
2. Playa del Carmen
Head south along the Riviera Maya coastline, and within an hour you’ll be in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo’s second city. Playa, as it’s known, is just as touristy as Cancun but has a very different vibe. Rather than being home to all-inclusive resorts (although there are some), Playa is where the backpackers and digital nomads congregate.
There are bars, beaches, and more bars, but there’s also the local flare that the hotel zone in Cancun lacks. You can spend your day strolling along the long sandy beach, stopping off for a few cold Coronas, then hunting down the best fish tacos in the local restaurants.
There are also upmarket beach clubs to visit (with advance reservation), watersports opportunities abound, and culture-lovers can visit the Frida Kahlo Museum.
Getting there: You can take the ADO buses from the Cancun bus terminal to Playa del Carmen or the cheaper colectivos. Buses running throughout the day and most of the night take just one hour.
Book Tour to Playa del Carmen Buy Bus or Minivan Tickets to Playa del Carmen
Travelers have a love-hate relationship with Tulum. Once a sleepy fishing village far from the reach of developers, Tulum became a haven for those travelers looking to escape the rest of the world. In recent years, the rest of the world has caught up, though, with influencers having turned Tulum into their playground.
While travelers love the beaches and many enjoy the opportunities for alternative living that Tulum has traditionally offered (saying they find their “tribe” in Tulum), others are put off by the outrageously inflated prices, the hedonistic nature of Tulum-ites, and the increasing cartel activity.
Love or hate it, you won’t know where you stand unless you give Tulum a visit. Spend a day at a beach club, enjoy a few smoothie bowls, and don’t forget to visit the Mayan ruins that overlook the coastline.
Getting there: Tulum is just under a two-hour drive from Cancun. Hire a car, take the ADO bus, or jump on a colectivo.
Hidden inland from Tulum, around 40 minutes into the jungle, is one of the best Mayan archaeological sites in the area. Coba can be visited on the same day trip to Tulum. On its own, it’s a two-and-a-half hour drive from Cancun.
Coba is nowhere near as well excavated or as popular as Chichen Itza, but that’s just fine if you’re looking to get away from the crowds. In many places, the surrounding jungle appears to be winning against the excavators, as temples and ruins are still covered in vines.
The ruins are located between two small lagoons, but the highlight of Coba is the main central temple, which you can still climb to the top of.
Getting there: Driving to Coba from Cancun is the easiest option, but there are also a few irregular ADO buses from Cancun that go directly to the ruins. There are more transport links from Tulum (buses and colectivos), which is why it’s a good idea to combine a day trip to Coba with a visit to Tulum.
Escape the mainland with a trip to Cozumel, one of the best day trips from Cancun. Cozumel is located off the coast, and it’s one of Mexico’s best snorkeling and diving destinations.
Surrounded by the warm, clear waters of the Caribbean, Cozumel is an offshore haven for marine life and relatively undeveloped in comparison to the mainland. Here you can decide whether to spend the day relaxing under a parasol on the beach or get active and snorkel the reefs – or both!
Mayan ruins, lagoons, nature reserves, and much more all await you on Cozumel.
Getting there: Ferries to Cozumel depart from Playa del Carmen, taking 45 minutes to make the crossing. Time it right and it will take around two hours to reach the island by public transport from Cancun. Alternatively, hire a boat or join a private dive or snorkeling tour.
6. Isla Mujeres
Just north of the hotel zone is one of the best places for a short trip from Cancun. Isla Mujeres (the Women’s Island) is small, calm, quiet, and relaxed – everything that Cancun isn’t!
It’s easy to reach, but once you get there, the only way to get around Isla Mujeres is by golf cart, bicycle, or on foot. The north side of the island has the best beaches, but Isla Mujeres is surrounded by coral reefs, so there’s plenty of opportunity for snorkeling everywhere.
There are also some Mayan ruins to visit, as well as the local turtle sanctuary, where injured turtles are nurtured back to health before being released again.
Further reading: Day Trip Guide to Isla Mujeres
Getting there: There’s a small ferry port just north of Cancun (reachable by taxi or private car) where ferries regularly depart for Isla Mujeres. The crossing takes just 15 minutes. From the hotel zone, you can be on the island in under an hour.
Book Catamaran Tour to Isla Mujeres Buy Bus and Ferry Tickets to Isla Mujeres
Turtle lovers won’t want to miss out on one of the best side trips from Cancun: a day out at the beach in Akumal.
Akumal is a coastal village halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, and it’s relaxed in a way that Cancun never can be. There’s little development here, and the beach and the marine world off the coast are protected because Akumal is home to a huge population of sea turtles throughout much of the year.
Akumal literally means the “Place of the Turtle”, and you can strap on a mask and snorkel, walk off the beach, and quickly be swimming amongst these magnificent ocean animals.
Getting there: Akumal is an hour and a half by car from Cancun. The easiest option is to take a taxi or to hire a car. Alternatively, you can jump on a bus or colectivo heading toward Tulumand ask to be let off at Akumal.
8. Puerto Morelos
Halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, the small coastal town of Puerto Morelos is a welcome escape from the city. It’s relatively undeveloped, and the beaches are wide, sandy, and often quite quiet.
But while you can spend the day hanging out at the beach, Puerto Morelos is one of the best Cancun day trips because of the snorkeling. Some beautiful stretches of the extensive Mesoamerican Reef are found just off the beach, and you can spend hours floating over the colorful coral and amongst the marine life!
There are several cenotes nearby, too, if you prefer freshwater to saltwater. Cenote Siete Bocas and Cenote Verde Lucero are both located inland, close to one another. You’ll need a car to visit them.
Getting there: At a half-hour drive from Cancun, Puerto Morelos is easy to reach by car or taxi. It’s also possible to take one of the buses or colectivos heading toward Playa del Carmen. Jump off on the highway next to Puerto Morelos, and walk a half hour down to the beaches.
Valladolid is located two hours inland from Cancun, just over the state border in Yucatan. It’s very different here compared to the coast, and the small city is easily one of the best things to see in Mexico beyond Cancun.
Valladolid is perhaps best known for being close to Chichen Itza, but there’s much more to the city. For starters, Valladolid still has a small-town feel that’s impossible to find in the hotel zone! There are local markets, bars, and taquerias where you can find authentic Mayan-inspired dishes such as cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) and sopa de lima (lime soup) rather than Tex-Mex burritos and fajitas.
There are several museums, a historic convent, and a cathedral, and there’s even a cenote in the middle of the city where you can cool off before heading back to the coast.
Getting there: It’s a two-hour drive from Cancun to Valladolid. There are regular ADO buses throughout the day, while many organized trips to Chichen Itza also call in at Valladolid as part of their itinerary.
Book Tour to Valladolid Buy Bus or Minivan Tickets to Valladolid
10. Ek Balam
If you’re intrigued by Mayan history, then one of the best places to visit in Mexico is Ek Balam. Located in the jungles north of Valladolid, this is one of the most intriguing archeological sites in the Yucatan.
This abandoned Mayan city was built around a central, tall acropolis erected to honor a Mayan ruler centuries ago. You can still climb to the top of the acropolis, from where you can see Chichen Itza many miles away if the conditions are right.
There are defensive walls, temples, and best of all, a freshwater cenote where you can take a dip after walking through the dusty ruins of Ek Balam.
Getting there: Ek Balam is two and a half hours from Cancun by car. There are no public buses here, but you can join an organized day tour, which will likely call into Valladolid on the way as well.
11. Xcaret Park
One of the most popular day trips from Cancun is a day out at Xcaret Park. This is a seriously unique tourist attraction, where nature meets the traditional concept of an amusement park head-on.
Xcaret is an area of cenotes, jungle, coastal scenery, and underground rivers. You can swim in the cenotes, laze along the rivers, and zipline through the trees. But there are also Mayan-themed dance shows, speed boat rides on the ocean, and much more at Xcaret Park.
Getting there: Xcaret is one hour from Cancun, just along the coast from Playa del Carmen. You can often book a ticket with a tour operator that includes transport.
12. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a spectacular area of natural beauty that’s located along the undeveloped coastline south of Tulum. It’s a bit of a drive from Cancun, but it’s well worth the early start to spend your day immersed in this natural paradise.
Sian Ka’an is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the focus here is on sustainable, eco-friendly tourism. This is a complex ecosystem of wetlands, coastline, reefs, and forest, and that’s just great for active travelers looking for outdoor activities.
There are boat tours, bird watching opportunities, sea turtles, snorkeling trips, and so much more in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Getting there: It’s a three-hour car drive south from Cancun to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Many tour operators run day tours from the hotel zone.
Cancun is more than its resorts and all-inclusive hotels. Perfectly situated in the heart of the Riviera Maya, it is one of the best (and most comfortable!) bases from which to explore the Quintana Roo coastline and the Mayan ruins of the interior.
Spend your mornings or afternoons enjoying the best places to visit from Cancun, then spend the rest of the day lazing around the pool at your beachside hotel with a corona or margarita in hand!
Xel-Ha is my fav, surprised it wasn’t mentioned.