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How to Get Off the Beaten Path in Cancun

Make the most of your time in Cancun at these under-the-radar spots.

A woman goes snorkeling in Cancun on Mexico's Caribbean coast
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Michele Laufik is a writer and editor, covering topics such as travel, beauty and wellness, and the events industry for various print and digital outlets. She recently moved from New York City and now calls Lexington her new Kentucky home. Michele has written for Glamour, NBCUniversal, Martha Stewart Living, PureWow, BizBash, among others.

Cancun may still conjure images of late-night parties, but there’s much more to the Mexican beach destination than spring break and frozen margaritas. Here’s how to get off the beaten path in Cancun.

Explore the beauty of Valladolid

Valladolid San Gervasio church arcs in sunny downtown.
Valladolid San Gervasio church arcs.Photo Credit: lunamarina / Shutterstock

Discover the colonial architecture of Valladolid.

Located two hours west of Cancun, the town of Valladolid boasts historic architecture and a colonial center that’s dominated by San Servacio church. Plus, just a few blocks from the main square, you’ll find the Zaci cenote, perfect for a refreshing dip.

Try scuba diving on Isla Contoy

Turtles swimming round Isla Contoy in Mexico.
Look out for sea turtles on Isla Contoy.Photo Credit: Enessa Varnaeva / Shutterstock

Explore the rich Caribbean sealife.

In addition to its white-sand beaches and palm trees, Isla Contoy is home to sea turtles and more than 150 migrating and resident bird species, including frigates, brown pelicans, and double-crested cormorants. There’s a cap on the number of visitors allowed on the island per day, so arrange a tour from Cancun ahead of time and be sure to bring biodegradable sunscreen.

Take a tour of El Rey Ruins

El Rey Ruins in Cancun under a cloudy Mexican sky.
El Rey Ruins in Cancun.Photo Credit: e X p o s e / Shutterstock

Escape the crowds of Chichen Itza tourists and head to El Rey.

As the most popular Mayan site near Cancun, Chichen Itza is also the most crowded. To avoid the crowds, head to El Rey instead; the archaeological site is home to a small temple and ceremonial platforms. Plus, it’s conveniently located in Cancun’s Hotel Zone.

Have fun at the Garrafon Natural Reef Park

A view of the swimmers in Garrafon Natural Reef Park on Isla Mujeres in Mexico.
An aerial view of Isla Mujeres.Photo Credit: Darren Tierney / Shutterstock

Spend your time snorkeling and ziplining.

Located 25 minutes away from Cancun by boat, the family-friendly Garrafon Natural Reef Park offers snorkeling in a coral reef, kayaking, and ziplining. Alternatively, relax in a hammock with a fruity cocktail. 

Relax on Isla Holbox

A woman relaxing in a hammock on Holbox beach on the island off the coast of Cancun.
A woman relaxing in a hammock on Holbox beach.Photo Credit: Julien132a / Shutterstock

Take it easy on this laid-back island.

Some travelers consider Isla Holbox to be Cancun’s best-kept secret, thanks to its lack of cars and paved roads. The quiet spot, located northwest of Cancun, boasts pink flamingos, pelicans, manta rays, and whale sharks, which make it a prime destination for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Visit the Mayan Museum of Cancun

The entrance to the famous Mayan Museum of Cancun in Mexico.
Entrance to the Mayan Museum of Cancun.Photo Credit: Fabio Imhoff / Shutterstock

Delve deep into Mayan culture at this museum.

In addition to visiting local archaeological sites, delve deeper into ancient Mayan civilization at this museum in Cancun’s Hotel Zone. Inside, permanent and temporary exhibits explore Mayan culture within Quintana Roo, as well as its reach through the rest of Mexico and Central America. Plus, there’s the archaeological site of San Miguelito on the museum’s grounds.

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