While Cancun is mostly famous for its idyllic beaches and fancy resorts, the Yucatan peninsula offers plenty of activities that have nothing to do with sunbathing and relaxing by the pool.
Because of its swiss cheese-like limestone landscape, the Yucatan peninsula has virtually no overland lakes or rivers; instead, bodies of water are located underground in collapsed caves called cenotes, which are spectacular and mysterious formations filled with stalagmites and stalactites and illuminated by sun-filled holes. The most famous and touristy ones in the region are located near Tulum and Valladolid, but visitors on the lookout for a more authentic experience should head to Ch’oo Jaaj, X’Keken and Samula.
One does not go to Cancun and skip these historic landmarks! With some formations dating back to 2,500 years ago, the Mayan Ruins are understandably one of the most popular attractions in the area. Between watching the sun rise at seaside and intimate Tulum, photographing iconic and sought-after Chichen Itza, admiring the thick jungle from atop Coba’s complex network of causeways or ascending the formidable 115 feet high Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal, the options are vast and varied for visitors on the lookout for a good calf workout and a closeup experience with Mexican history.
Speaking of Mexican history – it would be fair to say that the moat, canons and ramparts and the many ancient trinkets of the San Felipe Fort have seen their fair share of tragedy over the course of 270 years! Initially built as a haven against pirates and later on used as a Maya stronghold during the Caste War, San Felipe Fort boasts a strategic location on the Caribbean Sea which gave its soldiers unobstructed views of the incoming attacks. Today the monolithic fort houses the Museum of Piracy and makes for an informative, inexpensive activity in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Just 20 miles from the Belize border stands the colloquially-called Lake of Seven Colours, a breathtakingly clear 40-mile water lagoon that will certainly please water sport enthusiasts and is a fantastic bird-watching spot according to locals.
Xcaret is not to be skipped either as far as natural wonders are concerned; the ecological theme park offers an original and oh-so-fun mix of water activities and archaeological sites, as well as a re-created Mayan village and several jungle trails.
Xel-Ha’s natural aquarium is also nearby and well worth visiting; the park is one of the few in the world to host this type of rich ecosystem, which is formed by the presence of salt water streams in freshwater lagoons – making it one of the planet’s top snorkeling spots. Tropical fish and underwater life abound!
Last but not least, Mexico’s largest protected areas! The 1.3 million acres of unspoiled natural beauty of the Sian Ka’an Ecological Reserve, which was established in 1986 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many tours companies offer guided day trips into the reserve for swimming, kayaking, bird watching and hiking.
Cancun is a tropical paradise on its own but there is a simple way to make this Caribbean escapade even more enjoyable: hop on a boat and set to sea! Cozumel and Isla Mujeres are the two most popular and closest islands to the mainland, and both offer plenty of laid-back, fun activities for visitors in desperate need of tranquility. Deserted beaches and world-class coral reefs are just some of the islands’ biggest selling points, as is the fact that Isla Mujeres is virtually car-free and that Cozumel hosts several endemic species!