Cancun, the vibrant city in the famous Riviera Maya, is a popular year-round destination for many people thanks to its turquoise water beaches, its nightlife and its seemingly endless resort selection. While many travelers come to Cancun to be pampered and stay in the comfortable confines of the all-inclusive resorts, there are others who seek to explore the more authentic environment of the region.
Here are just a few things you can enjoy in Cancun and surrounding areas that will show you why Cancun deserves to be experienced outside the resorts too.
Whales sharks visit the nearby waters of the Yucatan Peninsula from June to September every year. This permits travelers to have a close encounter swimming with these huge sharks an experience that can only be had in very few parts of the world. They are the largest known extant fish species; whale sharks are harmless to humans, even though they're the size of cars!
This is an excellent day trip from Cancun since the whale sharks cluster and feed about an hour away from the coast by speedboat.
Holbox Island is located a few hours away from Cancun, and even though it can be done as a day trip, it is recommended to stay there longer to experience this peaceful haven to the fullest. This island is yet not heavily touristed, so take your time to relax and explore its white sand beaches, mangroves and amazing car-free streets. Holbox is also a popular spot to go swimming with the whale sharks.
To reach Holbox you have to take a ferry from the port village of Chiquila, a few hours north of Cancun. You can also fly from Cancun.
Named as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is a must-do when in Cancun. The ruins are three hours away from the city by car or bus and can be done as an easy, yet long day trip. These are the most popular ruins in all of Mexico thanks to structures like the Temple of Kukulkan and the observatory. The archeological park is quite large, so it will take you a few hours to explore. But know that this is just a tiny portion of what archeologists have uncovered so far.
If you want to practice or master your haggling skills, then this is the place to go. Market 28 is filled with traditional handicrafts, souvenirs, goods and more. It used to be a place where locals would buy their daily groceries and other common items, but in recent years it has converted to mostly, if not only, items for tourists. Still, there you'll find typical Mexican souvenirs at good prices, but if you want great prices, you must haggle. Tip: ask for a third of the price of what they are offering. Meet somewhere in the middle or below and everyone will walk away satisfied.
Another beautiful island, though more developed than Holbox. Still, it is much more peaceful than Cancun and a lot closer than Holbox, just a short boat ride away from Cancun. Isla Mujeres is small enough to be explored on foot, but you can make the most of your time by renting a bike or golf cart. Don't miss the beaches there, which in my opinion, are a lot better than the ones in Cancun.
Also worth doing is visiting the Garrafon Natural Reef Park on the southern tip of the island. There you'll find activities like kayaking, diving, zip lines, cliff diving and also some relaxing on the beach.
This region is full of cenotes natural sinkholes or underground caverns filled with clear fresh water and many of them are worth a visit. The cenotes found here are excellent for snorkeling, diving and exploring. If you head south towards Tulum, you'll go through the cenote route, where you'll see signs of dozens of cenotes open to visitors along the way. If you reach Tulum, don't miss visiting Cenote Dos Ojos, which offers two different cenotes partially open from above, and Cenote Sac'Actun, which is completely underground and enclosed. Both provide a different experience, and both are worth exploring.
Though Tulum is a small city two hours away from Cancun, it is well worth including in this list simply because it has some of the most picturesque ruins in all Mexico. I'm talking about the ruins also known as Tulum, which is an archeological site perched atop a cliff over turquoise Caribbean waters.
Tulum is also a good day trip, but it is even better experienced staying there overnight to have time to enjoy the cenotes in the area.
Now, do you think you'll spend a lot of time at your resort with all of these experiences available to you? I don't think so!
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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