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33 EPIC things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

33 EPIC things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

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The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and most popular tourist regions in the world. Not only is it full to the brim of white-sand beaches, Mayan ruins, and historic cities with cobbled-stoned streets it’s also home to some of the most in-demand resort destinations in North America – I’m sure you’ve heard of Cancun and Tulum!

I’ve been lucky enough to visit this region plenty of times, and so, today, I will share with you 33 of the most epic things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. It does, of course, include well-known spots like Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and Chichen Itza, but I’ve also made sure to add some lesser-known gems to keep things interesting.

So with that in mind, let’s dive in, and hopefully, my travels in the Yucatan Peninsula can inspire yours!

About Visiting the Yucatan Peninsula

Bailey snorkeling in Cenote Dos Ojos near Tulum, Mexico
Snorkeling in cenotes in a must-do in the Yucatan!

The Yucatan Peninsula stretches 320 km (200 miles) between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Ocean; it includes three states (Quintana Roo, Campeche, and Yucatan). On the Caribbean side are three major tourist resorts that I’m sure you’re familiar with – Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. There are also several cities on the Yucatan Peninsula, including Merida, Valladolid, and Campeche, all of which are pretty and historic.

And of course, there are Mayan Ruins a-plenty in this region, including the famous Chichen Itza, as well as lesser-known sites like Uxmal.

Getting to the Yucatan Peninsula is easy with a large international airport located on the outskirts of Cancun as well as that both public and tourist buses operate into the region from other major cities around Mexico like Mexico City, Oaxaca, and more!

The BEST Things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

1. Visit Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza temple taken from Great Ball Court
El Castillo temple taken from Great Ball Court

I’m sure you’ve heard of the famous Chichen Itza; this archeological site has been granted UNESCO world heritage status and is one of the seven wonders of the world! It’s no surprise then that this Mayan city which dates back to the year 550, is one of the best things to do on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula! And at its peak, this city is believed to have been home to over 35,000 people!

Chichen Itza is most well known as the home of El Castillo – the main temple at the site, which rises 79 feet (24 meters) above the Main Plaza and is in a pyramid shape with four sides, each with 91 stairs, combining for a total of 365 steps (the number of days in a year). It’s said El Castillo acted as a calendar of sorts for the Mayan people. It’s a true show of the Mayan peoples’ knowledge of the earth and planets. 

It’s El Castillo you’ll recognize from photos of Chichen Itza! However, Chichen Itza is also home to The Great Ball Court, which is the largest in Mesoamerica and is 168 by 70 meters (551 by 230 feet.) The game played here was called Pitz.

Getting to Chichen Itza is best done either with a rental car or on an organized tour. If you can drive yourself, it’s around a 2.5-hour drive each way from Cancun, 2 hours and 20 minutes from Playa del Carmen, and 2 hours from Tulum, so be prepared for a long day no matter your starting point! The entrance to Chichen Itza is 533 MXN for adults, and the site is open from 8 am to 5 pm. Right now, it’s best to book your tickets in advance as they have a cap on visitors of 3,000 per day.

Consider booking an organized tour for those without a rental car or who don’t want the hassle of driving so far. This specific tour from Cancun is what I did, and I booked it because of all the fantastic reviews. The full-day tour departs very early in the morning before dawn; this way, you can make the most of the day while in Chichen Itza.

Visiting the Chichen Itza pyramids is the highlight. However, you also visit one of the cenotes in the Yucatan – Cenote Sagrado. Booking the deluxe tour costs $105 USD but includes a buffet lunch and your entrance fees ($31 USD.) From Playa del Carmen, consider this tour, which also visits the city of Valladolid and Saamal cenote, while from Tulum, this specific tour is a great option and also includes a stop at Ik-Kil cenote! 

Our top tip for visiting Chichen Itza is to make sure you bring comfortable shoes, your camera, sunscreen, and some cash.

Related Read: Did you know you can visit Chichen Itza at night?!

2. Spend time on Isla Mujeres

Playa Centro Isla Mujeres
Playa Centro Isla Mujeres!

Isla Mujeres is one of the most beautiful islands in the Yucatan. The island is a 15-minute ferry ride away from Cancun (from Playa del Carmen, you will need to drive 1.5 hours to Cancun to catch the ferry and two hours drive from Tulum). But in our opinion, no matter the distance, it makes for a fantastic day or overnight trip from any of those places. 

There are a few ferry ports near Cancun with trips departing to the island, such as Playa Tortugas and Playa Caracol. However, I got there with a company called Ultramar from the Puerto Juarez ferry terminal, only minutes from the hotel zone. For a round trip, ferry tickets to Isla Mujeres are only around 450 MXN ($22 USD), and departures run every 30 minutes from 5:30 am to 11 pm. The schedule is similar on the way back. 

Isla Mujeres is famous for its white-sand beaches with quiet, transparent waters. And even without snorkeling equipment, you will see beautiful colorful fishes swimming around you on most beaches on the island. Playa Centro is the most accessible beach and is just a few meters from the ferry port. Here, you can rent a deckchair by the beach for only 250 pesos and enjoy a fresh coconut under the palm trees.  

It’s definitely worth renting a golf cart to explore the island, especially to reach the remote beaches there, like Na Balan beach. There’s a great restaurant on this beach where you can try typical Yucatan dishes, like a tasty lime soup. 

If you feel like spending the night in Isla Mujeres, there are various accommodations you can check out here. Most are small, family-owned businesses, each with a unique aesthetic. Be sure to make reservations in advance since availability is limited.

3. Explore Tulum

The Tulum sign in Tulum, Mexico
Don’t leave without a photo of the Tulum sign!

Tulum is about 3 hours from Cancun and 1 hour from Playa del Carmen in the Yucatan. It is the least touristic of the three but is still in the thick of all of the “must-see” attractions of the Yucatan. 

This trendy town offers you a wide array of options when visiting. It’s no secret Tulum has transformed from the sleepy beach town it once was into a busy tourist destination, and it is now filled with small boutiques selling high-quality clothing and accessories from designers from all around the world. Some of my favorites include Pulga Boutique Tulum, Pura Vida Tulum and Kaahal Home Tulum

Some other awesome things to do in Tulum include drinking craft beer at Cervecería Tulum, exploring Laguna Kaan Luum, and doing a Temazcal tour (which is similar to a sauna). There are also plenty of great restaurants in Tulum for any foodies to enjoy.  

It’s important to note that the center of Tulum town isn’t right on the beach. However, there are lots of beaches close by! One of the closest beaches to Tulum is Paradise Beach. You can easily get to Paradise Beach by taxi, bike, or walking. It takes about one hour to walk to the beach from central Tulum, 20 minutes to bike, or a taxi costs less than $10 USD.

When visiting Tulum, you cannot miss the chance to visit some nearby cenotes. Cenotes are a system of underground rivers, caves, and sinkholes that flow through the Yucatan Peninsula, and this system is unique since the rivers are connected to the sea. Some of the best cenotes in Tulum are Dos Ojos, Cenote Calavera, and Cenote Zacil-Ha. 

There are loads of hotels, hostels, and resorts to choose from in Tulum. The best places book up months in advance (especially during peak season) so check out your options online in advance here.

4. Visit cenotes

Cenote Dos Ojos in Tulum, Mexico
Cenote Dos Ojos!

On the topic of cenotes, one of the biggest attractions on the Yucatan Peninsula is these unique underground rivers and pools of fresh water. Around the Yucatan, there are thousands of cenotes. But, a few are very special and popular to visit.

Il-Kil is one of the most famous and beautiful, and it’s located near Chichen Itza. In fact, it is almost always visited on a Chichen Itza day tour. This cenote was actually used for sacrifices by the Mayan people who lived in Chichen Itza, and bones and pottery were found on the floor of the cenote.

Many of the other cenotes are located in the Tulum area and are also dotted around Chichen Itza. If you’re staying in Cancun or Playa del Carmen, join a cenote tour so you can also check out the best cenotes.

The best cenotes you should check out in the Yucatan include:

Dos Ojos – Beautiful cenote great for swimming, situated 30 minutes from Tulum. 

Cenote Calavera – is located near Tulum and is literally a hole in the ground; great for swimming, interesting to visit and fun for scuba diving.

Suytun Cenote – This is the famous cenote near Cancun, with a pathway to the middle where the light shines through.

Sac Actun The most beautiful cenote and most popular in Mexico! It is located a 35-minute drive from Tulum. 

Tak Be Ha – Easily the best cenote for snorkeling; the caves here are simply stunning. This cenote is located a 10-minute drive from Tulum. 

5. Go swimming with whale sharks 

Swimming with Whale sharks in Mexico
Just beautiful!

Want to have an animal encounter like no other? In Mexico, you can swim with the largest fish in the ocean, whale sharks. These beautiful creatures may have a scary name, but they eat tiny plankton, not humans, so it’s very safe.

On whale shark encounter tours, you’ll get to swim beside them as they majestically move through the water. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Mexico!

There are a few different places you can do this in Mexico. On the Yucatan Peninsula, there are tours from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Isla Holbox, Puerto Morelos, and Isla Mujeres between June 15 and September 15.

Tours cost between $100 and $175 USD, depending on where you leave from and inclusions.

6. Experience the epic nightlife in Cancun

A Moulin Rouge dance at Coco Bongo Cancun, Mexico
Moulin Rouge was such a fantastic show! Photo credit: Coco Bongo

Cancun is known for its nightlife and amazing clubs! In fact, you may already know that it is considered one of the best party destinations in the world, especially between February and March when thousands of spring breakers descend upon the city! It’s worth noting that the best nightclubs are not located in the downtown area but in the hotel zone. 

The hottest nightclub in the Cancun Hotel Zone is Coco Bongo. I’m sure you’ve heard of it! This popular club features live music, acrobats, and a party atmosphere that will keep you dancing all night long! Plus, they regularly change their shows, so although I have been multiple times, I continue to visit every year and am treated to something new every time!

Coco Bongo is insanely popular, and lines can get pretty long, so be sure to arrive early and book your tickets in advance. If you’re not keen on waiting in line, you can purchase a gold member ticket that includes VIP access and 15 free drinks. I think it’s great value-for-money as it includes pick up and drop off at your hotel.

Coco Bongo is open every day from 8:00 pm until 3:00 am. Admission starts at $90 USD per person for the most basic entry. Guests must be 18 years or older to enter the club.

Other great nightclubs in Cancun include The City Nightclub, Amma Club, and H Roof

7. Shopping in Playa del Carmen

Bailey poses for a photo at a gift shop in Playa del Carmen
Taking a photo in one of the store displays.

I love shopping when I’m traveling because I always pick up some awesome and unique clothing and gifts. On the Yucatan Peninsula, the best place to go shopping is the stylish town of Playa del Carmen. Fifth Avenue here is lined with shops, boutiques, and markets, where you can find everything from souvenirs to designer clothes. There are also plenty of places to eat, drink, and people-watch.

For some budget shopping, head to the Playa del Carmen Flea Market, where you can find everything from handcrafted jewelry to vintage clothing – it’s the perfect place to pick up cheap gifts and typical local crafts.

If you’d prefer to spoil yourself, head to Quinta Alegría Shopping Mall for some supermarket shopping. You can find a huge range of stores here, including Pandora and American Eagle Outfitters.

The truth is, you can’t really make a turn in Playa del Carmen without there being an opportunity to shop. It’s a shopper’s paradise, and I guarantee you won’t leave empty-handed!

8. Do a Mexican cooking class

Making Guacamole on a cooking class in Acapulco, Mexico
Making fresh guacamole was a highlight!

In my opinion, Mexican food outside of Mexico just isn’t the same. The solution to this problem is to learn how to cook it yourself!

All over the Yucatan, you can enjoy an authentic Mexican cooking class that’ll show you how to make amazing tacos, salsas, tortillas, and even more traditional dishes such as tamales and mole sauce. You can even learn to create Cochinita Pibil”, a traditional Mayan slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatan Peninsula, with meat marinated in a blend of spices and lime juice and prepared in a special clay oven. Yum!

Cooking classes in the Yucatan usually include making salsa or guacamole, a starter, a main course, and dessert. It is important to pick the right class for you because they are all quite different.

Some include mezcal or tequila tastings, and others include trips to the market to buy fresh food. It all depends on the experience you want! Some best-rated tours from the Yucatan are:

If you plan to base yourself in Tulum, this Authentic Mexican Cooking Class with a mezcal tasting is a must-do. On this 3-hour tour, you will prepare a 3-course meal of soup, a main, and a dessert with homemade salsa and tortillas.

While from Meridathis particular cooking class and market tour is perfect because not only will you get guided around one of the best food markets in Merida in search of the freshest produce, but you will also get to cook with it after. It’s two activities in one that come highly rated!

If you’re looking for a unique and authentic Cozumel experience, we highly recommend checking out a 3-hour farm-to-table cooking experience. This particular tour takes place in the heart of the island’s agricultural region. It offers stunning views of the surrounding jungle and mountains while learning about the local cuisine and farming techniques.

9. Visit Uxmal

The Uxmal pyramid in Mexico
This is the most underrated Mayan site on the Yucatan Peninsula!

Uxmal is a Mayan archaeological site located about 163 km (100 miles) from the city of Mérida. It is considered one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites in the world and is a designated world heritage site. It is believed to have been built in 600 AD and is one of the largest Mayan sites worldwide.

There are several ways to get to Uxmal from Merida; you can either take a bus, taxi, or car to Uxmal, all of which will take you around 2.5 hours.

Because of the distance, we recommend joining this guided tour from Merida. This particular tour is ideal for first-timers who just want to enjoy their day trip to Uxmal and not have to worry about the logistics of everything. On the tour, you will learn tons of interesting facts about Uxmal and the history and culture of the Mayans.

On this 8-hour tour, you will also visit the Choco-Story Museum in Uxmal. It’s a huge chocolate museum and one of the best attractions in the city. It’s both a store and museum, so visitors can learn about the history and process of making chocolate, as well as buy and taste different types of Mexican chocolate. So good! 

10. See the Pink Lagoons (Las Coloradas)

Las Coloradas pink lake, Mexico
How cool is the color?!

One of the most popular attractions on the Yucatan Peninsula is the Pink Lagoons (also called Las Coloradas). These lagoons are unique because they have a beautiful pink coloration due to a specific type of algae that lives in the water. It’s a special sight and one of the more unique things to do on the Yucatan Peninsula. 

Although really neat, you should know that Las Coloradas has become quite the tourist trap lately, with busloads of tourists visiting from many different cities around the Yucatan. There are many security guards, and you cannot enter the water. It is also quite commercialized, and a 75 peso entrance fee is also charged. 

With that said, they are still special and worth visiting as long as you don’t mind any other tourists around. If you’re lucky, you might even see flamingos!

Las Coloradas is 233 km (145 miles) from Merida, and the drive takes about three hours. It is a bit further of a day trip from Cancun at 3.5 hours and is 3 hours and 20 minutes from Playa del Carmen. You can either rent a car, drive to the lakes, and pay the entrance fee when you get there or join an organized tour.

We recommend going on a tour since it takes care of all the logistics for you! Book a combination tour, such as this one from Merida, that combines a visit to Las Coloradas with other popular attractions, including Chichen Itza and cenotes! You’ll even visit the flamingo lakes nearby to see these birds too! This full-day tour from Cancun is also a good option!

11. Explore Izamal

A yellow building in Izamal, Mexico
The arcutecture is impressive!

Izamal is known as the “Yellow City” due to the many brightly-colored yellow buildings dotted throughout the town. As a result, this small city is “Instagram-famous,” with many tourists visiting just to take photos in a sea of yellow. This bright city is located an hour’s drive from Merida (72 km), 3 hours and 15 minutes from Cancun (254 km), and 2 hours and 50 minutes from Tulum (209 km). 

But there is more to the city of Izamal than yellow buildings. It is a magical town where you can find a mixture of Mayan and Yucatecan cultures and many historical sites. In fact, the largest pyramid (by surface area) in the Yucatan is actually located in Izamal, Piramide de Kinich Kak Moo, so you should ensure you climb it while you’re in town for an epic panoramic view!

To get to Izamal you can drive yourself, navigate the public bus system, or take a guided tour. This particular tour from Merida would be my top choice because it is a private tour that stops at many of the best attractions in and around Izamal. In addition to exploring the yellow streets with your guide, you’ll also climb Piramide de Kinich Kak Moo, visit Convento de San Antonio de Padua, and even go to a handicraft workshop! It’s a full-day private tour at 8 hours long for just under $200 USD.

12. Spend some time in the city of Merida

A cute street in Merida on a free walking tour
The walking tour takes you to explore with a guide. It’s the best way to get to know the city!

Mérida is a vibrant city and one of the largest cities on the Yucatán Peninsula – with a population of 900,000. This pretty city is known for its hot, sunny weather and traditional Mexican culture.

The city of Merida has a wide variety of activities for all visitors. With beautiful beaches, amazing restaurants, cultural experiences, and music, Merida is the type of Mexican city that makes you feel welcome – with help from the friendly and cheerful locals.

One of the first things to do in Merida that you should not miss is to visit a local market. Merida is known for crafting many ceramic items and its folkloric clothing – and you can find plenty of these items at one of the many markets held in the city. One of the best is Bazar Garcia Rejon; it is pretty big and has existed since 1862. It is open from 8 am to 9 pm every day. Some other great markets include Mercado Lucas de Galvez and Mercado Miguel Alemán.

free walking tour is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to learn some history about Merida and its people. On the tour, a local guide will show you around the “White City” (as Merida is commonly referred to) on foot. You’ll also get time to explore on your own too. We liked The Great Museum of the Mayan World, a huge museum showing the Mayan culture’s history and art. We got to see Paseo de Montejo, a famous avenue in Mérida with lots of shops and restaurants, the main square of Plaza Grande, and Uxmal, an ancient archaeological area. 

13. Relax on Playa Publica

The northern end of Playa Publica Puerto Morelos  
The northern end of Playa Publica Puerto Morelos !

Trying to find the best beach on the Yucatan Peninsula to soak up the sun, eat lunch, or take an afternoon walk? Playa Publica, or the ‘public beach of Puerto Morelos,’ is one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico. Here, you can bank on finding space for any beach activities you’re hoping for, and the water is calm – perfect for swimming!  

If you’re like me and enjoy seeing the more authentic side of a place you’re exploring, maybe you’ll choose to walk to the beach and stop at some local food stands.

The beach is open to everyone for free, unlike some of the beaches in the Cancun Hotel Zone, unless you decide to opt for a beach club or restaurant. In my opinion, one of the best beach clubs in the region is located in Playa Publica; My Paradise Beach Club combines the beach with A-class service. It is a relaxing, laid-back area that focuses on the experience more than the drinks. It’s all about comfort here!

While there, we rented two large beach chairs with an umbrella and also got access to the other amenities. This did cost us 500 pesos or around $25 USD. However, we got to use most of the fee (400 pesos) for our drinks, which were fantastic! My Paradise Beach Club is open from 10 am until 6 pm every day (hours can change) except Wednesday.

14. Visit Puerto Morelos

Arial view of Puerto Morelos, Mexico
Aerial view of Puerto Morelos!

Puerto Morelos is a low-key destination, a quiet, quaint, and eccentric little town of about 9,000 residents. It has that ‘small fishing village’ vibe I love to explore! In fact, it originated as a fishing village and you can see evidence of this in some of the buildings in town. Plus, it is conveniently situated between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, so as you can imagine this destination has gained in popularity in recent times!

Strolling around Puerto Morelos will make you feel as if you stepped back into simpler times. Life down here in Puerto Morelos is simple in the best way possible. The only downside of a less touristy location such as this is that fewer recommendations can be found. No worries, though, because you have a better shot at being the only person visiting some of these spectacular spots! 

The most popular activity in Puerto Morelos is their famous snorkeling; yep, this tiny town is home to a world-class barrier reef, which is about 400 meters from shore. Closest to the shore, you will find seagrass beds where you can view green sea turtles and several species of rays. You can spot eels, large fish, and colorful coral in the middle of the reef. It’s really one of the best snorkeling experiences in Mexico, and I was very surprised at how much marine life I saw!

Due to the reef’s protected status, snorkelers must be accompanied by an accredited guide to protect the reef from over-tourism. 

The tour we did was fantastic value at only $35 USD. It didn’t include much except your snorkeling gear and a life jacket, but we visited two separate snorkeling sites. The company offers both morning and afternoon tours, but I recommend going at 8 am or 4 pm because these are the best times to see marine life.

Some other great things to do in Puerto Morelos include scuba diving, drinking craft beer at a local brewery, and an epic catamaran tour.

15. Spend some time in Bacalar 

A boat dock on the beautiful Lake Bacalar, Mexico
Can you believe this water is a lake, not the ocean!?

If you’re looking for a magical destination that will take you far away from the hordes of tourists in the Yucatan, look no further than Bacalar, Mexico. A truly enchanting and off-the-beaten-path adventure awaits at this town which is located on the sparkling crystal waters of La Laguna de Los Siete Colores or The Lagoon of 7 Colors.

The bright blue waters of the natural lagoon will take your breath away, and the lovely and culturally rich town makes Bacalar one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets. In fact, tourism to the area only really started over the past few years. You’ll undoubtedly see this destination pop up on your Instagram feed before too long.

Even though the town is low-key, there are still plenty of things to do in Bacalar to keep you busy. It is a perfect place for those looking to immerse themselves in Mexican culture and try out adventurous activities like kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding.

A magical spot in Bacalar that’s well worth a visit is Cenote Cocalitos. Here you can share the waters with one of the most ancient organisms on the planet! Stromatolites are round stone-like organisms that grow from bacteria. Each one takes hundreds of years to grow, and they can only be found in a few special places worldwide. 

And if you’re visiting Bacalar lake, kayaking is a must. The sparkling crystal clear water is best enjoyed during a sunshine-soaked day, paddling wherever your heart desires. You can jump in, swim as you please, and admire the gorgeous scenery. The price for a full-day kayak rental costs only $22USD, and you should book it in advance to secure your rental. There’s no guide, so you can head off in any direction, letting curiosity lead the way. 

Bacalar is about a 5-hour drive from Cancun, 2.5 hours from Tulum, and 4 hours from Playa del Carmen.

16. Visit the island of Cozumel

A birds eye view of the port in Cozumel, Mexico
The port in Cozumel!

Cozumel is a small island located just 16 km (10 miles) off the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, and it’s an easy ferry ride from Playa del Carmen. The island packs a big punch when it comes to natural beauty, culture, and things to do! And it is famous for its clear turquoise waters, coral reefs, and white sand beaches.

It is also one of the world’s top diving destinations due to its clear water and abundant marine life. The reef system here is the second largest in the world, only after the Great Barrier Reef. Once you’re done exploring in the water, there are Mayan ruins and tiny villages to explore in Cozumel, as well as stunning beaches and, of course, amazing food!

There are so many incredible things to do in Cozumel; it’s a great place to add to your Yucatan itinerary. 

San Miguel de Cozumel is the main city on the island, and it’s a great place to explore, do some shopping, and grab a bite to eat. The heart of this area is its downtown, which locally is called “Centro.” The streets here are lined with restaurants, shops, and art galleries; there’s even a beautiful church, Iglesia de San Miguel, that you can visit.

Punta Sur Eco Beach Park is a great day-trip destination in Cozumel. It’s located on the island’s southern edge, about a 50-minute drive from San Miguel de Cozumel. The park is a nature reserve – home to various birds, plants, and even crocodiles! There’s a special observation tower where you can watch the crocodiles and not worry about getting too close. There are also trails to walk on and a beach to visit.

While if you simply want to relax with a cold drink, then check out Mr. Sanchos Beach Club, a mini all-inclusive resort you can visit for the day! Not only will you have access to a private beach area, but there’s also food and an open bar included with your day pass, which is about $60 USD.

17. Go scuba diving!

Scuba Diving in Cozumel, Mexico
Bailey is such a good scuba diver!

The clear turquoise waters around the Yucatan are perfect for scuba diving! There are many dive sites to choose from, with something to suit all experience levels.

Scuba Diving in Playa del Carmen:

If you’re staying in Playa del Carmen and are a beginner diver, I highly recommend this discovery dive with an experienced instructor. Discovery dives include two dives in two different locations, where you’ll learn the basics of diving and try out your skills in a pool before heading out to the open water. The best part is that no certification is required.

For those who want to get PADI certified in Playa del Carmen, there are plenty of options for that too! You can choose to do a 3-day certification course or an intensive 5-day course. This 3-day PADI certification course includes two days of diving and one day of academics and has all the necessary equipment and a certification card upon completion. 

Scuba Diving in Cancun:

You may not know this, but you need to be certified to dive in most places worldwide. Well, in Cancun, you don’t need to worry about that. Instead, book this beginner scuba diving tour, admire the beauty of the colorful sea fishes and visit the most popular diving spots accompanied by a pro diver. Or try this tour which visits the underwater reefs of Manchones as well as the Cancun Underwater Museum – one of the top attractions in Cancun!

Scuba Diving in Cozumel:

As I mentioned earlier, Cozumel offers some of the best diving in the world (that is, if you’re a certified diver). With crystal clear water and visibility up to 100 feet, it’s easy to see why Cozumel is a top destination for scuba diving.

There are tons of different dive sites to choose from, so you can find one that suits your level of experience. For beginners, we recommend the Columbia shallow reef, which has a depth of 30-50 feet. For those who are more experienced, the Palancar Caves dive site is a must-see – just be sure to bring a flashlight so you can see all the way into the caves!

If you’ve never been scuba diving before, Cozumel is also a great place to learn! The calm, clear waters of the island make it a top destination for scuba diving lessons. There are tons of different shops on the island that offer beginner’s courses. This Private 3-Hour Introductory Scuba Course for $85 USD is perfect for beginners to the scuba scene. Experienced divers can enjoy a more advanced day of diving on this 4-Hour Two Tank Scuba Tour. You’ll get to explore two different Cozumel dive sites and see tons of amazing marine life.

Scuba Driving in Tulum:

You can try scuba diving in cenotes in Tulum – which is such a cool experience! I will note that diving in cenotes is best done with a guide, even if you’re certified. With the added danger of caverns and caves, this type of diving can be very dangerous without a knowledgeable guide. If you’re a certified diver, check out this awesome cenote dive experience! It includes two 40-minute dives, one in Casa Cenote and the other in Dos Ojos. It includes all your equipment, go-pro photos, video, an expert divemaster, and transport.

If you’re new to scuba, you can still dive in a cenote – it just won’t be in a cave. I recommend booking this Discovery Dive in Casa Cenote, which gives you a nice introduction to diving in an open cenote.

Whatever option you choose and whether you’re a beginner or an experienced diver, you’re sure to have an awesome experience on the Yucatan!

18. Participate in a turtle release

A turtle walks to the ocean during a Cancun turtle release
This guy really struggled but he eventually made it to the ocean!

Another fun thing to do in the Yucatan is participating in a turtle release. In this event, baby turtles hatch and then make their way to the sea. The event occurs during full moon nights around midnight, but you can also see them during the day.

Just admire their little legs moving with bravery heading to the sea under the moonlight.

Some hotels, such as Omni Hotels, offer this experience along the hotel zone and Rivera Maya. Another popular place is out front of the Sun Palace on Playa Delfines.

The best season for this activity is from May to September; just ask your hotels for details on nearby releases if you visit the Yucatan during these months.

19. Spend the day at Akumal Beach

Akumal Beach, Mexico on beautiful day
Akumal Beach, Mexico is one of my favorites!

Akumal Beach is home to some of the best cenotes in Mexico, and it’s world-famous for its turtles! That’s because if you go snorkeling here, you are almost guaranteed to see turtles! But there’s not only snorkeling to keep you busy at Akumal; there are also plenty of beach activities, like stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking.

It’s one of the safest beaches in Mexico for swimming and snorkeling, as there are lifeguards on duty, and the water is very shallow. The waters of Akumal are calm and clear, making it perfect for young children and first-time snorkelers!

Located 100 km (62 mi) south of Cancún, between the towns of Playa del Carmen and Tulum, it’s an easy drive from either of the nearby cities.

Spend a day at Akumal swimming in the Akumal Bay on a private snorkeling tour with sea turtles, where you’ll get an up-close view of these amazing creatures in their natural habitat! This particular tour is $45 USD per person and includes transportation and all entrance fees to Akumal Bay, as well as the once-in-a-lifetime chance to snorkel and swim alongside sea turtles in their natural habitat!

And after you’ve worked up an appetite from swimming and are ready for a break, there are plenty of beach bars and restaurants to choose from! If you fancy staying the night in the area, you should note that there aren’t a ton of hotels to choose from here, but Hotel Club Akumal Caribe is a great choice! In fact, this gorgeous property is located only a 2-minute walk from the beach! There is also an onsite pool and restaurant.

In my opinion, Akumal beach is one of the best beaches near Cancun!

20. Drink craft beer

The craft beer taps at Fábrica Casa Cervecera Pescadores 
Photo credit: Fábrica Casa Cervecera Pescadores 

I’ve been visiting Mexico for over 20 years (13 at the legal drinking age), and I was just waiting for craft beer to take off here. It took a while longer than in other countries, but craft beer is here and is here to stay! I’m delighted to say that you can now visit local craft breweries all over the Yucatan. 

Some of the best craft breweries that you must try in the Yucatan include:

Cervecería Tulum is located on the outskirts of Tulum, around 10 minutes from town. You’ll know when you’re there because there is a huge Tulum sign out front. Once inside, grab yourself a table and let the beers flow. They have a huge range of craft beer on tap and also serve delicious food.

Playa del Carmen is also home to a growing craft beer scene, and Chela de Playa is one of the best places to try it! This small brewery is located on 5th Avenue in the town and offers over 36 different beers, from IPAs to lagers and everything in between. In addition to beer, Chela de Playa also has a small food menu with items like tacos and quesadillas.

If you’re in the Puerto Morelos area then head to Fábrica Casa Cervecera Pescadores a short drive from downtown. The beer selection here is limited. However, they have a fantastic IPA and Habanero Ale. Although they were not serving food while I was there, you can often find a food truck out the front! This hangout is free to enter but offers tours and, of course, beer for purchase. They have two daily tours, one at 12 pm and the other at 3 pm.

21. Go on a sailing tour

A catamaran cruise off the coast on Isla Mujeres, Mexico
This was easily one of the best tours we did in Mexico!

One of my favorite activities in the Yucatan is to join a sailing tour. I mean, what better way to enjoy the bright blue ocean here than on board a luxury yacht. Thankfully, there are heaps of sailing tours to choose from in this part of the world!

Sailing tours from Cancun are a very common thing for tourists to do and usually involve unlimited drinks, snorkeling, lunch, and fantastic views. This specific half-day sailing tour offers you the chance to sail out to Isla Mujeres and snorkel with turtles at the same time. Isla Mujeres has breathtaking azure waters, full of colorful fishes and lots of turtles. Swimming there is like swimming in a pool!

While from Playa del Carmen, you can choose a cruise that lasts a few hours or opt for an all-day or overnight cruise. There are even cruises that include stops at nearby islands, such as Cozumel. I recommend this luxury sailing and snorkeling cruise because not only is it great value, but it includes transport. This cruise is the perfect way to spend a day in Playa del Carmen, and you’ll get to sail on a beautiful French-made catamaran, relax on the deck, and enjoy stunning views of the coast.

There’s also a highly recommended catamaran sailing tour from Puerto Morelos and this luxury sailing experience from Tulum, which visits Isla Mujeres, is great too!

22. Try snorkeling

A man snorkeling on Isla Mujeres, Mexico
The snorkeling off the coast of Isla Mujeres is really good!

If you want to see whale sharks, coral reefs, or just plenty of colorful fish and don’t fancy scuba diving, then a snorkeling tour is a great option. Luckily on the Yucatan Peninsula, you don’t have to go too deep to see epic marine life. There are heaps of snorkeling tours available throughout the region, with some of the best and most popular taking place from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Isla Mujeres.

From Cancun, this full-day whale shark snorkeling tour picks you up at your hotel and includes an expert biologist guide who speaks both English and Spanish – it’s the perfect way to interact with whale sharks and learn about them! The best part is that the lunch is served off the coast of Isla Mujeres. This way, you can have two amazing experiences in one day. This particular tour can also pick you up from other major towns on the peninsula like Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

This snorkeling tour from Tulum is unique because it involves snorkeling in Cenotes, namely Cenote Cristal and Cenote Escondido.

One of the best things to do in Isla Mujeres is go snorkeling. The water is crystal-clear around the whole island, and the reef here is filled with wildlife. You can explore this incredible underwater world on this Isla Mujeres Snorkeling Tour that includes stops at three amazing locations. You’ll get to see the largest coral reef in the area, the Manchones, and an underwater museum where you can see over 500 sculptures on the ocean floor!

23. Visit Playa Delfines

Playa Delfines, Cancun
Playa Delfines, Cancun

The bright turquoise water, white sand, and incredible view make Playa Delfines a gem for beachgoers and one of the best spots to visit in Cancun. This beach is about a 15-minute drive from the Cancun Hotel Zone and 30 minutes from downtown Cancun. You won’t believe the color of the water here until you see it in person!  

This beach is a favorite among locals and tourists for the soft sand, gorgeous views, and no hotels near this stretch of beach. It’s a little piece of paradise in Cancun! The name translates to “Dolphin Beach,” If you’re lucky, the best place to spot a pod of dolphins is from the platform overlooking the beach called El Mirador. That spot also has a huge Cancun sign that’s a fun place to pose for photos.  

Getting here is relatively simple as Playa Delfines is right off the main road with a large, free parking lot and nearby bus stops. There’s a staircase leading down to the beach once you arrive.  

I recommend getting here early in the morning to grab one of the free palapas (thatch-roof umbrellas) set up on the beach. This is the only way to get shade on the beach; you’ll want it if you’re planning to be here for a few hours! If you come later and all the free umbrellas are occupied, you can rent an umbrella and chairs for around 200 pesos ($10 USD).  

24. Explore the Tulum Ruins

A view of the Tulum Ruins above Playa Ruinas, Tulum
The Tulum Ruins!

One of the best things to do in the Yucatan is to visit the Tulum ruins. Aside from the stunning location overlooking a beautiful white sand beach, they’re a reminder of the Mayan people’s wariness of outsiders and the strength of the civilization’s trading routes. You see, Tulum was once a huge trading hub for the Mayan people, and its steep limestone cliffs provided the perfect fortress to protect its port. These ruins are what’s left of this old fortress.

There’s lots to learn about the Tulum Ruins, including how they used a pyramid as a lighthouse, but you’re sure to find out more about this on your visit.

It only costs 80 pesos to visit the ruins and another 45 pesos if you want to use your camera there. You can visit the ruins on your own, which makes it very cheap. But, if you want to know more about the ruins, you can join this early access private tour with an archeologist. It’s a great tour for those wanting to know more about the history of the Mayan culture and the ruins. Plus, it is early access, meaning you get to visit before the place gets VERY busy!

25. Go off-the-beaten-track on Isla Holbox 

The hammocks at Playa Punta Cocos, Isla Holbox
Playa Punta Cocos is a fantastic beach to swim!

Isla Holbox is a beautiful tropical paradise located north of the Yucatán Peninsula. Holbox is a fishing village where you’ll find wooden houses and streets made of sand. While it’s still a bit of a hidden gem, the word is starting to get out about this special place.

Unlike most destinations in the area, Holbox is a car-free island. It’s a great way to get away from the fumes and noise of the mainland and sip on a margarita quietly. With almost no cars on the island, most residents and tourists get around by golf cart, bicycle, or moped.  

One of the main attractions bringing more people to the island is the incredible whale sharks who hang around this area, and you can see them or even swim with them! I swam with these amazing creatures as part of this whale shark adventure tour. Over 7 hours, I was able to snorkel with whale sharks, giant manta rays, sea turtles, and even an octopus! It was such a fantastic experience that I will remember forever. 

You can’t visit this beachy paradise without planning for at least one beach day (and hopefully quite a few!) Isla Holbox has a pristine coastline stretching as far as the eye can see, just calling for you to grab your beach towel and find a spot to relax. Playa Punta Cocos is a cute local beach hidden away in a beautiful area. There’s lots of shallow water to wade in, hammocks for relaxing, or you can rent a sunbed. If you don’t have an umbrella, there are some trees and bushes at the beach’s edge for shade, but the beauty of this beach is how wide open it is. It’s a 30-minute walk from the town center to get to this beach.

I definitely advise renting a bike to get around Isla Holbox. There are no cars here, remember! Plus, it’s cheap – usually around 200-300 pesos a day ($10-15 USD). It’s a great way to get around the small town, and it’s fun too.

26. Investigate the Cancun Underwater Museum

Cancun Underwater Museum
The most unique museum in the world!

One of the more quirky things to do in the Yucatan is to head underwater and explore the Museo Subacuatico de Art, aka the Underwater Museum. 

The museum began taking shape in 2009 to help save some of the reef life near Cancun. Since the project started, over 500 sculptures have been placed under the water to create this unique reef. 

You can do lots of different tours to the museum including this snorkeling tour, or this scuba diving tour to the reef from Cancun, and over 100,000 people visit every year. Thankfully, this has led to a reduction of visitors to natural reefs, helping them survive. 

This is the largest underwater museum in Mexico and easily one of the best things to do in Cancun, in my opinion! 

27. Explore the caves at Rio Secreto

Rio Secreto Underground River, Mexico
Rio Secreto Underground River, Mexico

Rio Secreto is a protected natural reservoir of caves and underground rivers in Playa del Carmen. The caves and passages are extensive, and there are still unexplored areas of the caves. They have lots of unique fauna, like interesting-shaped spiders!

Walking in the dark is indeed a bit intimidating. Don’t be afraid, though; it’s all safe. You will just walk inside the shallow, flowing caves enjoying the beautiful rock formations and crystal clear water. This is an activity especially fun for people traveling with kids as they will love it. 

You can choose to drive to Rio Secreto yourself and book only your tour to save money or book a tour with transport. This specific tour from Cancun offers both options, with the ticket-only tour costing $86 USD and with transport costing $109 USD. Or this 3-4 hour tour from Tulum is ideal if you’re staying in that area. I personally drove myself in my rental car as it worked out cheaper for our group of four.

If you choose the transport option, this tour starts early in the morning at 8 am and includes an airconditioned vehicle and refreshments.

28. Spend the day at Xcaret

Xcaret, Mexico
Xcaret is such a fun place to visit!

Xcaret waterpark is the best option in the Yucatan if you want to enjoy a fun day away from your resort while still feeling like you’re at a resort. And don’t worry if a waterpark isn’t you’re thing; this place is more than that. Xcaret is billed as an archeological eco-water amusement park. And even if you don’t feel like spending all day long doing water activities – you can visit the Mayan Pyramids located inside the park or enjoy one of the performances available all day long.  

This eco-water park is near Playa del Carmen. It offers you a wide array of activities like snorkeling, swimming at the Caleta, visiting Mayan pyramids, enjoying live performances, an aquarium, and an aquatic park. You can even swim with dolphins, manta rays, or sharks for a surcharge. 

There are many ways to get to Xcaret – the easiest way is on this full-day tour that offers transportation from your hotel to the park with all the amenities included. From Playa del Carmen, it’s a 15-minute drive to the park, while from Tulum, it’s a little further at 45 minutes!

I recommend booking the Xcaret Plus service since it includes access to the lunch buffet and other amenities like lockers, dressing rooms, and snorkeling equipment. You’ll need to eat while you’re there, and you save money booking it together online in advance. 

29. Learn some interesting facts at Museo Maya

The Museo Maya is an archeological museum conveniently located in Cancun’s hotel zone. The museum is home to lots of ancient artifacts from the Mayan civilization, and there are even artifacts from Chichen Itza housed here. It’s a very interesting place to visit in the Yucatan – especially for history lovers.

The San Miguelito Ruins located next to the museum span over 80 hectares and are home to ancient buildings now well preserved for visitors to see. You can visit both places at once and spend your day getting to know the Mayan Culture and its interesting history.

The entrance fee to the museum is only 85 pesos (USD not excepted) and includes access to San Miguelito archeological zone. The museum is open from 9 am to 6 pm, and the archeological zone is open from 9 am to 4 pm.

29. Go deep Sea Fishing

Daniel on a deep sea fishing tour in Cozumel, Mexico
I caught lots of fish!

The fishing off the coast of Mexico is excellent, and the Yucatan provides the perfect opportunity to go deep-sea fishing. This type of fishing is also known as big game or offshore fishing and is usually done in very deep waters (100 feet or more!) The type of fish you can expect to catch on a deep sea fishing excursion on the Yucatan include sharks (which you can catch year-round) as well as Marlin and Tuna, which can be caught from March to June.

From Playa del Carmen, many deep sea fishing tours are available, including full-day private tours such as this one. These tours will take you out to catch a variety of fish. It’s a 4-hour tour, and you can also go snorkeling!

I will note that these private tours, which operate from Cancun and Playa del Carmen, are quite expensive, so if you’re staying in the Cancun area, I highly recommend this group fishing tour. I did it during my time in the region, and I guarantee you will have a fun day at sea. Beginners are welcome on this tour, and the experienced captain will ensure you have a good catch, like barracudas, tunas, snapper, and even the elusive blue marlin. Beer, soft drinks, and all the necessary equipment for this trip are also included.   

While if you’re staying on the island of Cozumel, a great way to spend your day is on the ocean reeling in a good catch. This Half-Day Deep Sea Fishing tour is a great choice as the 4-hour tour takes you to some of the best fishing spots around the island. You’ll get to try your hand at catching a variety of different fish species such as Blue Marlin, tuna, and mahi-mahi (dorado).

30. Visit the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary

A cute monkey at Akumal Monkey Sanctuary, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
How cute is he?

If you’re looking for something a little different in the Yucatan region, why not visit the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary? This sanctuary is home to a troop of howler monkeys and is just a short drive from Playa del Carmen.

At the sanctuary, you’ll learn about the monkeys and their habitat and get the chance to see them up close. The monkeys are very friendly and love interacting with visitors, so don’t be afraid to say hello!

There are also a variety of animals living at the sanctuary, including birds, snakes, ostriches, and even zebras! Many of these exotic animals were donated to the sanctuary by their previous owners after Mexico passed a law banning the use of animals in shows.

The sanctuary is a great place to learn about the animal kingdom and get up close and personal with some of its residents and a great activity for animal lovers of all ages!

31. Ruta de Los Cenotes

Did you know there’s a road near Puerto Morelos that is named ‘Ruta de Los Cenotes’ (Road of the Cenotes) because of the number of cenotes dotted along the route? Unfortunately, there is no public transport along this road so you will need to rent a car or book a tour. Depending on the season, there is a small fee to visit each cenote (between 200 to 400 Mexican pesos), and they are all open from 11 am to 4 pm.   

I’ve listed below some of the best cenotes along the Ruta de Los Cenotes, to help you decide which ones to stop at –

Cenote La Noria is partially open, so you would be swimming inside a cavern. You can see small birds and bats flying around you while enjoying its beautiful water. This is a hidden spot inside the jungle with no crowds, and it is a relaxing place with very few people. This cenote costs 250 pesos. 

Verde Lucero is a medium size open cenote. It is a beautiful place with hammocks, rope swings, and some small zip lines. It’s often busy, and they offer a unique chance to enjoy a Temazcal – a traditional Mexican sauna. For a surcharge, you can experience the pre-Hispanic way of the sauna. It costs 300 pesos to visit. 

Cenote Mojarras is a big open cenote with a long zipline over it. I think it’s the least beautiful but can be the most fun – especially for kids who love ziplining. They have hammocks and a picnic area, but the water can become murky because the cenote is so big.

Selvatica is a big eco-park located inside La Ruta de Los Cenotes. If you are up for a jungle adventure, this is your place. Cenote swimming is not the only activity you would find there. You can also enjoy camping, horse riding, zipline canopy, 4×4 ATV riding, and a bungee swing are just a few of the things to do over there.

32. 3D Museum of Wonders

3D Museum of Wonders Playa del Carmen
Photo credit: 3D Museum of Wonders Playa del Carmen

The 3D Museum of Wonders is a one-of-a-kind museum located in Playa del Carmen, on 5th Avenue. This museum features over 50 different optical illusions, each of which has been expertly painted to create a realistic 3D effect.

As you walk around the museum, you’ll be amazed at the detail in each painting and how realistic they appear. You can even take photos with the paintings to create a fun and unique souvenir! Play with interactive exhibits and enjoy optical illusions as you’ve never seen before on a trip to the 3D Museum of Wonders.

The 3D Museum is a great activity in the Yucatan for families, groups of friends, and anyone who loves to have fun and take photos. You can book your tickets in advance and they cost $32 USD.

33. Lucha Libre

Lucha Libre in Mexico
The photos aren’t good because you can’t take your camera to the event only mobile phones are allowed. Apparently, because people throw the batteries at the wrestlers!!

It’s fun and exciting, and the collective energy of the public cheering their favorite wrestler in the arena is something you must experience once in your lifetime. Although most commonly known as one of the best things to do in Mexico City, you can also see a Lucha Libre show in Cancun!

Las Luchas (that is what it’s called in Mexico) match takes place every Friday at 8:30 pm in Academia TWS, located in Cancun downtown.  

This is a very cheap and fun activity you can try for only 150 pesos. Seats closer to the arena are on the pricier side, but you won’t miss any detail of the match from over there.

Although everybody is welcome here, keep in mind this event is tailored to the locals. The language spoken will be Spanish. Don’t worry though, you won’t miss any of the fun, this is a show that doesn’t require too many words.  

Renting a car in Mexico

Bailey and Daniel in a rental car in Mexico
Bailey had to drive at first because Daniel is used to driving on the other side!

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car. 

I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Mexico in 2019, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically. 

I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend. 

The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too. 

Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit. 

Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your renal will be much cheaper! 

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey on the beach in Mexico
Thanks for reading!

It was definitely a difficult task narrowing down this list to just 33 of the most epic things to do on the Yucatan Peninsula. There are just so many awesome things to do here! Regardless, I hope this list has provided you with some inspiration for your trip to the Yucatan!

If you have any questions we would love to hear from you. So, please leave a comment below and we will get back to you!

Looking for more things to do in Mexico? Check out our other Mexico guides for some ideas on some of the best things to do, eat, see, and explore while in Mexico:

21 Things to do in Chiapas, Mexico

33 Best Things to do in Puerto Vallarta

Guide to Palenque (and the waterfalls!)

25 FUN Things to do in Fremantle, WA
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