Welcome to MetroGuide Networks' overview of Cancun-area attractions. The Greater Cancun
area is full of attractions for all ages.
Cancun, on the tip of the Yucatan peninsula, sizzles as Mexico's top tourist destination with expansive white sand shoreline, clear blue-green waters, and a line-up of gleaming hotels. Exciting night life, an overall tropical atmosphere, and the nearby mystique of ancient civilization draw more than two million visitors a year, making it difficult to fathom that a half century ago, Cancun was only a blueprint. Launched in 1974 as a “planned resort” built from scratch, Cancun has 200-plus days of yearly sunshine accompanied by temperatures averaging 80F (25C) that can seem much warmer. The "Hotel Zone" is a 14-mile stretch on an island shaped like a "7." To the North is the Caribbean, with waters to the west sheltered by Isla Mujeres (Isle of Women) creating more gentle wave action. To the south, between island and mainland is the Nichupte Lagoon, ideal for water sports. From fresh seafood and traditional Mayan cuisine with dishes including Cochinita Pibil (suckling pig baked in banana leaves with a rich annatto sauce) or Papadzules (tortillas stuffed with boiled eggs in a pumpkin seed sauce), to fine continental fare, Cancun also dazzles with dining alternatives at more than 300 restaurants in the vicinity. American fast food outlets are plentiful, priced higher than Stateside. Overall, meals downtown (in El Centro) tend to be easier on the wallet than in the Hotel Zone, and for anyone inclined to explore beyond the beaches, this is where a greater sense of native Mexico will be encountered. Catering to Cancun's 500,000 permanent residents, El Centro – with little Hotel Zone glitz – charms with street vendors, stalls and outdoor cafes rather than air-conditioned commerce. For a few pesos, taxis or buses shuttle between the two worlds of Cancun.
Below is a list of some suggested things to do in the Cancun Area,
with links to more details when available.
- Actun Chen
About an hour from Cancun on the road to the ruins of Tulum is Actun Chen, a cave embellished by an underground river. The main cave with a magnificent vault, has been illuminated and supplied with paths for easy walking and viewing of stalactites, stalagmites and natural sculptures. Trained guides provide historical and geological narrative. Outside the cave, trails through tropical jungle vegetation reveal local wildlife from white-tailed deer and iguana to spider monkeys and wild turkeys. A restaurant and rest rooms are on site.
Wednesdays bring the classic struggle between man and bull (toro) to the downtown Plaza de Toros Cancun. Also on the agenda on occasion are dances and cockfights.
- Cancun Arts & Crafts
El Tesoro de Kukulcán, which accepts credit cards, has handicrafts, jewelry, and talavera. Plaza La Fiesta, also with handicrafts and jewelry, has tablewear and souvenirs.
El Tesoro de Kukulcán, Boulevard Kukulcán. (98) 83-2100
- Cancun Celebrations
April is the anniversary of the founding of Cancun, with cultural activities and dancing all over town. Oct. 31 is All Soul's Day, celebrated throughout the Yucatan with candles and floral offerings placed on graves. A festive atmosphere pervades cemeteries, and symbolic family meals eaten at graveside.
- Cancun Golf
For golfers, Cancun yields a treasure-trove of opportunities to tee-up. Among the possibilities are Hilton Park Golf Club's 18-hole (par 72) Robert Trent Jones course at the Hilton Cancun Beach and Golf Resort, which incorporates one of Cancun's ruins – Ruinas Del Ray – within its challenge. Pok Ta Pok Club de Golf in the Hotel Zone, also by Robert Trent Jones, is an 18-hole (par 73) course with a practice tee and putting green. Melia Cancun Golf Club at the Melia Hotel in the Hotel Zone is an 18 hole, par 54 course.
Hilton Park Golf Club, Boulevard Kukulcán. (9) 881-8016
Pok Ta Pok Club de Golf, Hotel Zone. (011) 52-98-83-1230
Melia Cancun Golf Club, Melia Hotel, Hotel Zone. (011) 52-98-85-1114
- Cancun Kayaking and Windsurfing
Cancun's waters are ideal for kayak and windsurfing enjoyment. For calmer waters, the Nichupté Lagoon, or the northern end of Cancun Island provide protection. Jet skiing, parasailing and regular sailing are also popular.
- Cancun Nightlife
By night, Cancun wakes up to the beat of discos, cantinas, bars and nightclubs. The Ballet Folklorico with lavish costumes and traditional dances performs in various locations. Laser-lighted dance clubs cover everything from rock and reggae to salsa, typically opening at around 10 p.m. and pulsating until dawn. Historically, Mexican cantinas owe their heritage to a liquor store owner who installed a rudimentary bar with tables and chairs in an empty space next to his store. It provided a refuge for men to drink tequila, gamble and socialize -- away from spouses and other constraints. The liquor store owner subsequently married the two by creating an opening in the common wall, with the architectural term, in Spanish, for the opening being “cantina.” Somehow cantinas became linked to bull fighting, with matadors seeking refuge after every week's spectacle to mingle with admirers. In the ‘80s, cantina doors finally swung open to women. Cancun's modern-day cantinas mostly are bar/restaurants heavy on
atmospheric ambiance. Champions Sports Bar has 40 TV monitors and a pool table. Roots Jazz Club serves dinner, and Señor Frog's (Home to the Only Slide in Town) has a hot dance floor.
Champions, inside the Marriott Casa Magna Resort. (98) 81-2000
Roots Jazz Club, Calle Tulipanes #26. (98) 84-2437
Señor Frog's, Boulevard Kukulcán. (98) 83-1092
- Cancun Shopping Malls
Mall aficionados won't suffer withdrawal pangs along Cancun's Boulevard Kukulcán. Flamingo Plaza has a variety of international restaurants and boutiques, along with Pat O' Brien's, Outback Steakhouse and Planet Hollywood. Plaza Kukulcán, Cancun's largest shopping mall, has more than 300 shops with movie theaters, restaurants and a bowling alley. Forum by the Sea, with exclusive international shops, has dining and dancing including the Hard Rock Café.
Plaza Flamingo, Boulevard Kukulcán. (98) 83-2855
Plaza Kukulcán, Boulevard Kukulcán. (98) 85-2200
Forum by the Sea, Boulevard Kukulcán. (98) 83-4425
- Chichen Itza and Tulum
The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum, among Mexico's most photographed attractions, mesmerize as silent temples to one of the world's oldest, most mysterious cultures. Chichen Itza, among Mexico's largest ruins, dates to 600 AD, and is anchored by the dramatic Kulkulkan pyramid. Two cenotes (wells) within the city are Xtoloc, where first inhabitants settled, and the Sacred or Sacrificial Well, honoring the god Chac, where children, young girls, and warriors were thrown into deep waters after being purified at the temazcal (steam bath). Sacred Well exploration has yielded human skulls and bones, along with jade beads, rings and sandals of gilded copper, gold bells, and embossed gold disks. Other notable Chichen Itza monuments are the Chichanchob (Red House) with a red border around its portico; the two-room Akab Dzib (meaning “obscure writing”); the Nunnery and Nunnery Annex (for female priests); the Caracol (observatory); the Temple of the Phalluses; the Temple of the Warriors, and the Group of the Thousand Columns plaza. At the Ball Court (tlachtli), solid rubber balls were propelled using the hip, where anyone shooting a ball through one of the stone hoops was considered a winner, worthy of sacrifice. Walls decorated in low relief depict elegantly dressed ball players witnessing the beheading of a teammate. Tulum, a much smaller walled city nearer Cancun to the south, is the only major Mexican ruin next to the sea, with a spectacular drop-off overlooking azure waters.
Cozumel – diving capital of Mexico – is an island some 40 miles south of Cancun's Hotel Zone and can be accessed by frequent shuttles or by ferry from Playa del Carmen. Check AttractionGuide Cozumel for its delights.
- Day Cruises
Providing for expanded adventure, day cruises to Cozumel and elsewhere from the docks at Playa del Carmen near Cancun are plentiful. A Caribbean Funday cruise goes to Isla Mujeres, from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tropical Cruiser sails to Isla Mujeres and El Garrafon Beach. The Treasure Island Cruise leaves at 8 a.m. for swimming, snorkeling or shopping and includes lunch. Sunshine Cruise, incuding a buffet lunch, goes to Isla Mujeres through the lagoon, allowing snorkeling and swimming amid giant sea turtles.
- Diving and Fishing
Waters surrounding Cancun are legendary for clarity and submerged diversity, with snorkeling right off the beach or scuba dive/snorkeling over the "Mayan Reef" on Mexico's Caribbean. Famed dive spots such as Palancar, El Bajito, Manchones and Chitales are all nearby. At the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks, divers can sometimes "pet" these little charmers. Isla Mujeres may well be the area's most scenic place for diving and snorkeling. Deep sea fishing for marlin, sailfish, tuna and dorado is popular during the respective seasons.
- Folkloric Ballet
Since 1985, El Mexicano has billed itself as the first and only restaurant with a Folkloric Ballet and Mariachis Show every night. The 320-seat restaurant, with decor bringing to mind all those houses of the feudal lords, is open from 4 p.m. to midnight daily offering views of live performances from nine levels.
Centro Commercio Mayfair, Boulevard Kukulcán.
- Isla Contoy
This small uninhabited island, 25 miles north of Cancun and just under 20 miles north of Isla Mujeres (from where day trips depart), is a refuge for birds, marine and animal life.
- Isla Mujeres
This charming isle about six miles from Cancun has three excellent beaches, the most popular being Playa de los Cocos in the north end, with calm waters and assorted water sports. Secluded Playa Lancheros, at the southern end, has live turtle pens and a separate swimming area. Playa Garrafon, a national underwater park, is ideal for snorkeling. Banderas, Cuervones and Manchones are reefs for experienced divers.
- Ruinas del Rey
This small archaeological site is notable for the unusual architecture of its two main plazas bounded by two streets. The majority of Mayan cities had one plaza and few streets. This site may have been a royal burial ground.
Paseo Kukulcán Km 17.
- Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
This reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site with more than a million acres, divides almost equally among wetlands, tropical forest and marine systems. Friends of Sian Ka'an is a non-profit organization operating biologist-escorted tours from Cancun that help the biosphere concept support itself via low-impact tourism.
- Tres Rios
About 25 miles from Cancun, Tres Rios stretches inland from a pristine white sand beach, encompassing subtropical jungle and mangroves, covering 370 acres and offering a prime selection of pools where the area's underground rivers come to the surface. Only in Tres Rios are these “cenotes” at ground level, found in the shallow rivers heading to the sea. Visitors can walk or bicycle through the jungle, canoe down the river, kayak in the sea, ride horseback along the beach, snorkel in the river or on the park's outstanding section of the Great Mayan Reef. Also awaiting are hammocks and space to build sandcastles.
This 250-acre ecological theme park along the coastline, Xcaret features an underground river for swimming and a Dolphinarium where visitors can swim with the dolphins.
On Paseo Kukulcán across from Plaza Caracol. (98) 83-0654
Billed as the world's largest natural aquarium, Xel-Ha is a collage of inlets, lagoons, sinkholes and caves where visitors can snorkel, swim, sunbathe, take a stroll or discover other charms of what was once a playground for the ancients.
- Xpu-Ha Eco-Park
This 90-plus acre private park has only 3 percent of its land developed for access roads, baths and showers, two snack bars, and a seaside restaurant, La Palapa. Ranked among the most diverse environments in North America, Xpu-Ha is a sanctuary for rare birds and for protected species such as crocodiles, sea turtles, native deer and snakes. Walks along nature trails are led by expert guides, providing insights on vegetation, fauna and geological features. Sunbathing areas, space for soccer and volleyball, and rental shops for snorkel or scuba are also provided.