Plan The Perfect Vacation To Cancun with These Mayan Riviera Excursions
Have you ever seen sites listing just a few excursions and day trips, claiming them to be the best of the best? And how many times have you actually gone somewhere and found out, that you could have planned to totally different and maybe even better vacation if you knew about all the greatest excursions in the area.
Planning a family vacation to Mexico can be daunting and like most people, you probably have no idea how to get started either. Let me be honest with you right here… YES – There are so many things to think about, and figuring out which excursions or day trips to do is just another task on the never-ending to-do list.
We have put together a list of the absolute best Riviera Maya excursions and day trips you need to consider when planning a vacation to Cancun or Playa del Carmen. The Mayan Riviera is, without a doubt, the most visited among the many vacation destinations in Mexico.
The spectacular Mayan pyramids and ruins of Chichen Itza is a day trip in Riviera Maya you wouldn’t want to miss. It is one of the most visited attractions in Mexico let alone the Mayan Riviera. Here you will discover the most popular and best preserved Mayan ruins in Mexico. The most iconic building in Chichen Itza is El Castillo, known as the Pyramid of Kukulkán. Everything here is of interest, and the best thing you can do is hire a local guide. They know exactly where to take you and will make sure you get all the important facts and stories of Chichen Itza. It is a truly impressive place to visit, and an absolute must if you have never been.
Nothing beats Chichen Itza in popularity when it comes to excursions in or around the Mayan Riviera, but Tulum is the hot spot to be if you really want to get that postcard-perfect picture. The ruins here are situated on a cliff. From here you can look at the most spectacular Caribbean blue waters and white sandy beaches. Thousands of pictures are taken here daily, and photographers have long had the ruins as a favorite spot with the amazing backdrop. Tulum is one of the extremely popular excursions from either Cancun or Playa del Carmen, as you can enjoy the historic ruins and minutes later be snorkeling in the crystal clear water.
Visit the archeological ruins and pyramids of Coba. Here you can climb to the top of Nohoch Mul and enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the Yucatan Peninsula. While Yucatan has many Mayan sites, the ruins of the Coba pyramid is more popular than ever. Some speculate that the popularity is due to the fact that you can climb the ancient structures, unlike other Mayan ruins. It’s a very good idea to take this day trip with a guide if you really want to know more about the pyramids and ruins around this area.
The Cenote Route is one of the most popular excursions in the Riviera Maya comes highly recommended as well. There are hundreds of cenotes in the Riviera Maya so it will be impossible to see them all. Take the cenote route tour and explore the large underground lakes that are perfect for diving and snorkeling. It’s an experience to remember for many years to come. The most popular cenotes are Sacred Cenote near Chichén Itzá and the Cenote Azul. Every cenote is unique in its own way. Some are large open air while others are very small and narrow. The open air cenotes are free to explore. Book a tour/guide to make sure you get the best and safest experience.
Rio Secreto is a sunken cave system reaching almost 12 km in total. The underground rivers provide a different way to explore cenotes, and ultimately a whole different experience. Three-hour tours are done where visitors to Rio Secreto can swim through the amazing underground caverns. It is a magical feeling swimming under the extreme low hanging ceilings or at times in total darkness with nothing but headlamps. Keep in mind thought that this is not for those that have problems with closed spaces.
Cozumel is a diving and snorkeling paradise and as such a very popular destination. It is home to the second largest coral reef in the world making it truly amazing to explore the pristine crystal water and rich marine life around this small island. The island has more to offer such as local markets and several archeological sites but in all honesty, people come for the miles of sandy beaches and the excellent dive spots.
Take one of the regular ferries from Playa del Carmen for a great day trip the whole family will remember years from now.
Nature lovers will really enjoy the nature and eco-park that is Xel-Ha. It is regarded as one of the world’s natural wonders and is one of the best experiences you can have in Mexico. Xel-Ha is located just a short drive from Playa del Carmen and an absolute must-try experience in the heart of the Riviera Maya. Swim and snorkel among tropical fish that have made the inlet of Xel-Há their home. Discover the jungle trails of this paradise by foot, bicycle or mini train. Bring snorkeling gear as you can spend the entire day immersed in one of the cenotes, lagoons or caves, and enjoy the aquatic zip-lines you’ll only find at Xel-Ha. Set aside 2 days to explore and enjoy Xel-Ha if you can. The park, which is All Inclusive, is immense and have more than enough activities for the family to enjoy. Check out the Xel-Ha website for the full list of activities available.
Located on the seashore near Cancun in the Riviera Maya, Xcaret has attractions for everyone. A day at Xcaret is an unforgettable experience, as the beautiful settings around the theme park take you through both Mexican tradition and the nature in the Mayan jungle. Get a feel for the culture, heritage, and everything Mayan where the day culminates in the “Xcaret Mexico Espectacular” show at night. More than 300 artists take you through the history of Mexico in a celebration of light and color. Make sure you don’t miss the evening show, as it is simply incredible and something you remember forever. Spending a day in Xcaret with the family is arguably one the best choices of day trips you could make.
Merida, the state capital of Yucatan, is a beautiful and charming colonial city and. You will find that this gem of a city is a clear opposite to the modern top of the line resorts you find throughout the Riviera Maya. Spend a day in Merida taking in the charm of the beautiful colored buildings. Enjoy the city’s quaint small neighborhoods that have art galleries, local boutiques and of course countless cafés and restaurants sprinkled around the area. Merida is a great place to experience the colonial lifestyle Mexico has to offer.
The Caves of Balankanché
The caves of Balankanché is an ancient underground burial site in a limestone cave. The caves were discovered in 1959 and are located a mere 15 minutes drive from Chichén Itzá. The massive labyrinth of caverns have not yet been fully investigated, and only a part of it is open to the public. Exploring the caves makes a great day trip, maybe even combined with seeing Chichén Itzá. It’s a great opportunity to do something that is not beach and pool related.
Sian Ka’an is a large natural biosphere reserve focused on protecting the local area and the fragile ecosystem around this Unesco World Heritage Site. This beautiful reserve has become a very popular place for excursions, as visitors can enjoy the many species of marine life and birds throughout the wetlands.
There are several archaeological sites, such as Mayan ruins, to explore but one of the most popular excursions is swimming and snorkeling in crystal clear natural ocean pools. To get there you need to take a short boat ride.
Visit the Sian Ka’an website for more information.
Holbox Whale Shark Snorkeling
Treat yourself to a once-in-a-lifetime experience if you are in or around Cancun between the months of May and September. There are plenty of excursions available from Cancun where they take you along the Yucatan coast to see and swim with whale sharks. These magnificent creatures grow to lengths of over 12 meters (40 feet) and are considered the gentle giants of the sea. Bring your own snorkeling equipment or rent some as you don’t want to miss out on this amazing experience can tell grandkids about in the future.
Don’t be surprised if you see more than just whale sharks. More than often you will see dolphins, sea turtles, even manta rays and of course colorful tropical fish.
Isla Contoy is a small quiet island just 15 miles north of the well-known Isla Mujeres. Isla Contoy is especially known for its nature and wildlife, and have become a very popular place for bird watching enthusiast. Birds are not the only thing to find here as sea life is flourishing. It’s highly recommended for nature lovers to spend the entire day at Isla Contoy if you can accommodate that with your schedule. The island gives plenty of opportunities to enjoy walks through nature, relax at the small beaches, enjoy one of the local restaurants at Isla Contoy. The shallow waters of the bay also make it possible to get up close with the friendly manta rays.
Experience one of the most magical places in Mexico. Bacalar Lagoon (Lago Bacalar) is also known as “The Lake of Seven Colors”. The different shades of blue are due to several cenotes in the area overflowed and created a quiet peaceful lake. A day trip to the Bacalar Lagoon is indeed a full day trip. It’s further away than other popular excursions, but still well worth the time spent. You can swim, snorkel, eat, and relax by the beautiful colors of the lagoon. This trip is highly recommended for those wishing to unwind in beautiful and peaceful surroundings.
Isla Mujeres is a nice small island just 5 miles from Cancun. Going to Isla Mujeres keeps being one of the absolute most popular excursions from Cancun, and more so with tourists staying in the Cancun Hotel Zone. It’s a perfect place to really relax on the beach, go swimming or snorkeling in the crystal clear shallow waters. The small island has much more to offer than just relaxation. Go explore Isla Mujeres and discover Mayan ruins and the 19th-century Hacienda Mundaca which is said to have been built by a Caribbean pirate. The island is also home of the Turtle Farm which is both a sanctuary and a hatchery for endangered sea turtles.
Garrafon Natural Reef Park
At the southern tip of Isla Mujeres is the Garrafon Natural Reef Park located. The park packs more than 20 activities together in one place. There’s something for everyone in the family no matter if you just want to relax in a hammock or fly over the turquoise waters on a zip line. Activities range from kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, biking, and of course the option to relax in the lounge chairs if you just want to soak up the sun.
Check out all the things Garrafon Park has to offer.
Mexico is very popular as a vacation destination for many reasons and the Riviera Maya with Playa del Carmen and Cancun attracting millions of visitors from around the world. Here we listed the most visited and best attractions in the Mayan Riviera, in particular order, and maybe you have found inspiration for your next Riviera Maya vacation.
Many of the excursions and day trips above become even better with an experienced local guide. Tipping in Mexico is greatly appreciated – also from the very hard working guides.
As always – drop a comment below if we missed something, or simply let us know which day trip you think is a must to experience.