Cancun boasts some of the most beautiful natural scenery and man-made structures on earth, which draws travelers from all over the world each year to visit. The coastline around Cancun is characterized by white sand beaches and brilliant blue waters, while numerous historical Mayan sites stand as reminders of its history. To see why there is such a buzz around this incredible destination, take a look at these 10 stunning photos of Cancun’s best beaches and architecture.
The beaches around Cancun are picturesque, and the water in most areas is warm, shallow and calm, in contrast to the waters of the Pacific on the west side of Mexico. Next time you plan to visit Cancun, add these spots to your bucket list!
- Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte (also known as North Beach) is located on the island of Isla Mujeres, 13 kilometers off the coast of Cancun. If you are looking for a lively beach with white sands, coconut palms and the brilliant turquoise waters that are typical of Cancun, this is the place to find it! Playa Norte has beach restaurants and bars, so you can relax in a beach chair, order a cocktail, and chill. This beach has calm, shallow water and very little seaweed, because the ocean currents come from the other side of the island. This beach faces west, towards Cancun, which also makes it a good place to watch sunsets. You’ll usually be able to see some luxury yachts anchored off the shore, as this beach is a mecca for daytrippers. Playa Norte has been ranked one of the best beaches in the world.
- Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an is a large biosphere reserve south of Tulum. The reserve includes an area of land, beaches, and part of the Caribbean Sea with a coral reef. The beaches are located along the coastline from Tulum to Punta Allen. You can find different kinds of beaches throughout this area, but since it’s a nature reserve, the beaches are in their natural state. You can also find many animal species throughout the reserve, including monkeys, birds, crocodiles, iguanas, small mammals and wildcats. Additionally, there are 23 known Mayan archaeological sites throughout the reserve, so make sure to check them out while you’re there!
Akumal is located about an hour and a half south of Cancun, in between Puerto Aventuras and Tulum. Akumal Beach has powdery sand, swaying palms, and shady palapas to sit under. The water is warm and rich in marine life, including sea turtles and a coral reef. You can swim and snorkel at the beach. Bring your own snorkel and life vest, or rent one at the beach. (You can also swim without those items.) Or, head to the sea turtle refuge, where you can swim with the turtles!
- X’Cacel Beach
X’Cacel Beach is a remote beach, off the beaten path. Not many tourists go there, because it is a little bit difficult to find. It is located between Chemuyil and Xel-Ha water park, off highway 307. There is a sign on the highway pointing toward the turnoff, but keep your eyes open because it’s easy to miss. This beach is in its natural state, without restaurants, bars or services. This beach is also known as the number one place to find sea turtles. You may actually see turtle nests on this beach, which look like mounds of sand. Remember, turtles are protected, so be careful not to trample any turtle nests, and give them plenty of space if you do see turtles. You can snorkel here from the shore, and there is also a small freshwater cenote.
The stunning architecture of the ancient Mayan cities in Mexico is fascinating, and curious travelers flock to Quintana Roo and Yucatan each year to experience firsthand the history and culture of the ancient Mayans. This was a sophisticated culture that left behind many clues about itself, and even more mysteries. When you visit Cancun, make sure to visit some of these sites.
- Chichén Itzá Archaeological Site
Chichen Itza is probably the most well-known archaeological site of the region, with its iconic step pyramid. When you want to visit Chichen Itza, it’s a good idea to hire a driver for the day and make a day trip out of it. The driver will take you to Chichen Itza and wait for you while you take a tour of the site. You can hire a guide right at the site, which is well worth it. The guides are deeply versed in the history of the site, and they will be able to point out numerous details that you would miss on your own. There are several main attractions within the site, including the step pyramid, known as El Castillo or Temple of Kukulcan, the Ball Court, the Temple of the Warriors, the Observatory (El Caracol), and Sacred Cenote. Be prepared for a full day of walking and being in the sun. Even if you go in wintertime, the site will likely be very hot and sunny. It’s best to bring a hat and a long-sleeved shirt for sun protection. You will also need lots of water and snacks. You can spend as much or as little time at the ruins as you’d like, but most people spend between 2 and 4 hours there. After you’re done, your driver can take you to nearby cenotes for swimming!
- Ek’ Balam
Ekʼ Balam is a Yucatec-Maya archaeological site about two hours west of Cancun. This site is perhaps less known than Chichen Itza, but it is an interesting site from a historical perspective. From the Preclassic until the Postclassic period, Ek’ Balam was the seat of the Mayan kingdom. The site has 45 structures, including defensive walls, an entry arch, an oval palace, a ball court, a steam bath structure, and a temple.
- Tulum Ruins
Tulum is also one of the most famous Mayan ruins sites in the area. The great thing about Tulum is it is right on the ocean, and you can actually walk down a set of stairs from the ruins sites to the beach and go swimming there! Tulum is absolutely gorgeous and definitely a must-visit site.
Xaman-Ha is a very small archaeological ruins site inside the city of Playa del Carmen, an hour south of Cancun. The site is in a park, in a neighborhood by the beach. It’s a good spot to visit if you want to take a day trip down to Playa del Carmen, hit the beach, and check out this park while you’re there.
Dzibanché is an ancient Mayan site 6 hours south of Cancun, at the southern end of the state of Quintana Roo. Dzibanche was a major Mayan city, and it is important for archaeologists because some of the particular hieroglyphics found there helped archaeologists understand more about the history of the ancient Mayan world. The site has several temples, including the Temple of the Captives, the Temple of the Lintels, the Temple of the Owl, and the Cormoranes Pyramid, which is the largest pyramid at Dzibanche.
Muyil is located 15 kilometres south of Tulum, and about two hours south of Cancun. This site was one of the earliest ancient Mayan sites, with artifacts dating back to the year 350 BC. It was also one of the sites where the Maya people lived for the longest amount of time. The construction here is in the Peten style, with tall, steep pyramids similar to what you would find in Guatemala. This site is close to the Sian Ka’an Reserve, so you can visit both places in the same day.
The state of Quintana Roo truly is paradise, with everything from bustling cities to postcard perfect beaches to ancient history, so make sure you plan to visit some of these places during your trip to Cancun!
Need help planning your excursions? The concierge at Villa del Palmar Cancun can take care of everything for you!