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What Is Cancun & Tulum Known for & Famous For
Cancun and Tulum have established themselves as some of the most popular vacation destinations worldwide. These paradises are located on the Yucatán Peninsula, which rises out of the Caribbean Sea. On this mass of land, there’s no shortage of sights and activities that make it an absolute must-visit destination.
Cancun and Tulum are primarily famous for their gorgeous beaches and landscapes. Moreover, they’re known for their different historical sites and culturally rich events that take place every year. Various resorts also keep tourists exhilaratingly engaged.
If you’re fortunate enough to be planning a trip to Cancun or Tulum, it’s my greatest pleasure to outline the sites, events, and activities for which these destinations are famous. You wouldn’t want to miss out on a single one of these, so be sure to keep reading.
1. White Sand Beaches
Some of the world’s most gorgeous white sand beaches can be found along the coastline of Cancun and Tulum.
Holiday trips to this part of the globe typically include stops at one or more of these beaches in the itinerary.
Among the most visited of these are the Playa Forum, Playa Delfines, Playa Paraiso, and the Playa Norte.
The sands, waters, and scenic views of these beaches stand above all the others that are majestic in their own right.
2. Turquoise Water
The refreshing clear waters of the Caribbean are a striking turquoise contrast to the white sands they roll onto.
No plankton or other suspended particles exist in these tropical waters, which is why they are pleasantly clear.
And on top of that, the interaction of sunlight with this relatively shallow sea ensures the reflection of most of the light, thus resulting in this refreshing hue.
Images of these waters beckon tourists from all over the world for a time in this paradise with plenty of activities to choose from.
The turquoise waters of the Caribbean offer a refreshing invitation to tourists on a hot day in Cancun.
A dip in these waters is always a delightful experience. Their clarity and beauty are certainly some things to marvel at as you cool down.
And if the beach was never your scene, you have plenty of exciting alternatives such as cenotes and lagoon systems where you can practice your backstrokes.
The clear waters of the Caribbean make the ideal setting for snorkeling. You can book a guided tour beyond the beach where some areas are perfect for this activity.
The eco-park Xcaret, Garrafon Natural Reef Park, Isla Mujeres, and Puerto Morelos have some of the best reefs for snorkeling.
5. Scuba Diving
If you prefer to get more up close and personal with the reefs in the Caribbean, you can trade in your snorkeling equipment and gear up for a scuba dive instead.
Different scuba diving tours will also take you to interesting sites, including the Museo Subacuático de Arte or underwater museum, the C-58 Wreck, and the Ultrafreeze Wreck or El Frio.
6. Underwater Museum
The Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA) or underwater museum lies in the waters between the Zona Hotelera and Isla Mujeres.
More than 500 sculptures of pH-neutral marine concrete were submerged in the Caribbean to provide an alternative dive destination for tourists as part of the effort to protect the coral reefs.
The concept was a successful one and the site is visited by some 200,000 divers annually. You can explore it for yourself by scuba diving, snorkeling, or aboard a glass-bottom boat.
7. Archaeological Site
The Yucatán gave birth to the Maya civilization, and to this day, remnants of great cities with their imposing monuments still stand on the peninsula.
After the collapse of the Maya civilization, the cities were abandoned and claimed by the jungles.
Years of archaeological efforts have seen the overgrowths cleared and the remnants of these sites reclaimed.
But to this day, the work isn’t 100% completed on some of the sites. There are still sections of cities left to recover and restore.
And as archaeologists carry on with their work, tourists flock to marvel at what they have accomplished so far.
8. Urbano Kabah Park
The Urbano Kabah Park is an 89-acre (36 hectares) nature reserve in Cancun that offers something different from the waterfront views and ancient ruins the city is well known for.
This protected reserve does not bring in as many visitors as other spots around, but runners are drawn to these jungle trails and the outdoor gym.
But those who do come here get so much more than just a workout. They also get to explore the region’s rich and beautiful fauna and flora.
9. Isla Mujeres
The charming island of Isla Mujeres lies in the Caribbean, 8 miles (13 km) from the sands of Cancun, with ferry services available throughout the day to take you from the mainland and back.
Aside from lounging on the white sands, snorkeling and scuba diving in the turquoise waters are the most common pastimes, while others fancy a visit to the turtle farm.
It should also be mentioned that Isla Mujeres is home to the most beautiful beach in the region, the Playa Norte. If that doesn’t demand a visit to this island, I don’t know what does.
10. Extreme Tours Zipline
These destinations offer exciting opportunities to explore the jungles from the canopy. These often come in packages that include ATV drives through the jungle and exploration of caves and cenotes.
This is a perfect option for those looking to trade relaxation by the blue for an adrenaline-pumping ride.
11. Hotel Zone
The Zona Hotelera or Hotel Zone lies along the coastline of Cancun and draws in the most tourists.
Large numbers of people spend their days on this stretch of land, with the Playa Delfines, Playa Forum, Playa Chac Mool, and Tortuga Beach being the most popular spots.
High-rise hotels and beach clubs overlook the white sands and turquoise waters. And around these famous beaches are tourist sites and attractions.
The nearby El Rey Ruins and Maya Cancun Museum give visitors a deeper appreciation of this peninsula’s history and culture. At the same time, a trip to Aquaworld can be enjoyed by families with kids.
12. Downtown Cancun
More and more tourists have been pulling themselves away from the beach and venturing into downtown Cancun to get a taste of local life.
The Parque Las Palapas is the main plaza and an excellent site for a stroll, while the food carts lining the paths provide a journey through the city’s street food.
For an even more Mexican experience, you could go shopping for souvenirs in Market 28 and haggle over the prices of items with the vendors.
For a quieter evening, you could take a walk down the Avenida Tulum, the main street in downtown Cancun, and pop into some of the little shops and bars that line the pedestrian paths.
13. Swimming in Cenotes
You’ll find several cenotes on the Riviera Maya to the south of Cancun, the most famous of these being the Gran Cenote itself. But every other cenote is a beautiful escape in its own right.
Tucked away with their caves and fauna and flora under filtered sunlight, cenotes offer a very different tempo from beach life.
Whether you’re just taking a dip deckside or snorkeling and exploring the caves, swimming in cenotes is an excellent way to cool down while on holiday in this region.
14. Temazcal Ceremony
Temazcal ceremonies are ancient mindfulness rituals that take place in a Temāzcalli or “house of heat” — a sweat lodge made of volcanic stone and wood.
Hot volcanic rocks are positioned at the center of these sweat lodges where water is then poured over them to create steam, and herbs are mingled in for a cleansing effect.
The ceremony, which can last well over an hour, may feature a shaman who leads out in the thanksgiving chants.
Medical studies point toward several physical and mental health benefits that can be obtained from a Temazcal ceremony.
15. Scenic Tower
The Torre Escénica or Scenic Tower in Xcaret Park stands 260 feet (80 meters) tall. The observation deck climbs up to 250 feet (76 meters).
You’ll be treated to a spectacular 360-degree view of the Caribbean and the Zona Hotelera below at this elevation.
The observation deck is air-conditioned and an audio commentary on the region’s history and the landmarks visible from above plays during the ascent, making you better informed when you take in the sights from the tallest viewpoint around.
From flea markets to high-end malls, Cancun and Tulum offer something for every shopper and their wide-ranging needs.
Puerto Cancun Marina Town Center and La Isla Shopping Village are among the more luxurious shopping locations in the Zona Hotelera.
You could also opt for a walk through the Boulevard Kukulcan and visit the shops and restaurants along this thoroughfare.
But if it’s a local experience you seek, Mercado 23 and Plaza la Fiesta are the places you want to visit.
The splendor of a Tulum sunset always gives way to an incredible nightlife scene, with clubs such as Santino Bar and Gitano being nearly as famous as the white sands and turquoise waters.
Large crowds always gather in these popular clubs to party the night away. And it’s definitely worth mentioning that Tulum is one of the top spring break destinations in the world for its nightlife.
The fantastic drinks and awesome beats contribute to a truly incredible party atmosphere you’ll want to experience for yourself.
18. Water Sports
The turquoise of the Caribbean Sea is a picture-perfect scene for some water sports. In Cancun, you can thrill yourself with the following:
- Flyboard. Water-propelled boots lift you 30 feet (9.14 meters) above the surface of the water.
- Hoverboard. Similar to a flyboard but with snowboard-like gear.
- Flowrider. Surf-like water sport with wave-forming generators.
These activities are exhilarating ways to pass the time in Cancun and can certainly get your adrenaline pumping.
19. Chichén Itzá
The Chichén Itzá, with its magnificent pyramids, temples, and other skillfully constructed stone structures, is easily the most notable of the archaeological sites on the Yucatán Peninsula.
The Temple of Kukulkan, especially, leaves the beholder awestruck. This majestic monument and all others throughout the city collectively represent the marriage of the Maya and Toltec vision.
20. Maya Ruins
The Yucatán Peninsula is steeped in history. This land was the stage for the rise and fall of one of the world’s greatest civilizations.
Today, the remnants of these once-majestic Mesoamerican cities draw in tourists from all over the world. And for some, a visit to these archaeological sites even takes precedence over a dip in the Caribbean.
The ruins that still stand on the peninsula vary in their size, with those such as at Chichén Itzá and the ruins at Tulum and Coba being the more monumental sites.
However, the less sizable cities will still have you marvel at the ingenious Mayan architecture and engineering.
Sailing is a given for any tropical getaway and the waters of Cancun and Tulum invitingly encourage this pastime.
Whether you want to take a catamaran or a yacht out to the bay of Isla Mujeres, there are dozens of sailing tours to choose from.
You can either relax or party on board your vessel of choice or sail out to certain parts of the waters where you can go snorkeling or fishing.
22. Las Coloradas
Las Coloradas is a fishing village in Rio Lagartos that is a center for salt production.
The Pink Lagoon of Las Coloradas is world-famous for its striking and unusual color. This hue is actually a concentration of pink-tinged microorganisms, including algae, plankton, and even shrimps.
The intense coloration they give makes the lagoon stand in stark contrast to the cool blue of other nearby bodies of water and demand a visit from you if you’re ever in the region.
23. Lucha Libre Show
A traditional Mexican sport, far more people today know of the Lucha Libre from western films and TV shows.
There’s no mistaking the vibrant colors and distinctive masks of the high-flying luchadores. And when you’re in Cancun, you’ll have the opportunity to witness a Lucha Libre show live.
The Arena Cancun is the venue for this exciting event. While you can find your way there yourself, there are group tours for this activity. They provide transportation and refreshments.
However, regardless of how you arrive at the arena, the Lucha Libre show is guaranteed to get your adrenaline pumping.
24. Street Food
Dishes served in those world-class restaurants in the Hotel Zone are always worth it, but if you want to immerse yourself in the culture while treating your taste buds, street food is the way to go.
The food carts and stalls of Parque las Palapas in downtown Cancun have endless offerings.
You might recognize some of the food they serve, such as empanadas, tortas, and churros. But those are merely the tip of a huge iceberg.
These folk have countless recipes, sweet and savory, with so many ingredient variations in each one.
Whatever you’re in the mood for, there’ll be something in a food cart on the streets of Cancun that you’ll want more of.
Tacos make a case for being the poster food for Mexican cuisine. This dish has made its way into food establishments and home kitchens across all continents.
However, some may argue that the people who invented them are probably still the best at preparing them. Well, you can put that to the test in Cancun.
There are several taco joints and restaurants serving the dish throughout the city, but here are some of my personal recommendations:
- Taqueria Coapeñitos
- Tacos Rigo
- El Polilla
- Carnitas Michoacan
- Dons Tacos & Burritos
26. Nichupte Lagoon
The Nichupte Lagoon System encompasses an area of 7,413 acres (3,000 hectares) that is connected to the Caribbean by the Nizuc and Sigfrido canals. This system is comprised 7 lagoons which are named:
- Cuenca del Norte
- Cuenca Central
- Cuenca del Sur
- Río Inglés
- Bojórquez Lagoon
- Laguna Mediterránea
- Laguna de Amor
The heart-shaped Laguna de Amor or “Love Lagoon” attracts the most tourists.
The activities on these excursions include:
- Speed boating
The tour is also a chance to catch a glimpse of the region’s wildlife. Turtles, crocodiles, and leopards are the main attraction. Bird watchers will be dazzled by the species in the area too.
27. Sea Turtles
Swimming in the refreshing turquoise waters of the Caribbean can only be made more exciting by the presence of sea creatures, turtles among them.
There are 8 species of sea turtles in existence today. Four of these can be found in the waters of Cancun. They are:
- The Loggerhead sea turtle
- The Hawksbill turtle
- The Mesoamerican river turtle
- The Leatherback turtle
Any of these can pop up while you’re snorkeling in Cancun, but the best way to spot them is night diving in the coral reefs.
You’ll be treated to a view of dozens or hundreds of these creatures preparing to turn in for the night.
28. Playa Delfines
As you may have picked up from the name, Playa Delfines means “Dolphin Beach.” Dolphins were once regulars in these waters. Today, sightings are few and far between, but this beach still has a lot more to offer.
The Playa Delfines lies along the Zona Hotelera and is easily distinguishable from the rest of the beaches in the zone.
No high-rise hotels or other buildings fringe the sands on this beach. Here, the horizon seems to open up even more.
While this is still a public beach, it’s a quieter and more laid-back alternative to the high-spirited and social atmosphere on the other beaches in the zone.
29. Playa Norte
The Playa Norte sits on the northernmost tip of the Isla Mujeres. You’ll have to take a ferry from mainland Cancun to get there, but it’s well worth the trip.
This idyllic strip of sand is consistently voted the most beautiful beach in Mexico. Here, the sand seems whiter and softer, and the waters clearer and bluer.
You can lounge underneath one of the palm trees that line the beach, sail, or scuba dive in these rich waters.
And if you want to be well and truly awed, stay for the sunset.
30. Playa Lagarto & Playa Forum
Playa Forum lies on the Zona Hotelera of Cancun. Many looking to lounge on white sands while taking in views of strikingly blue waters make this their destination.
It draws in large numbers of people, including couples, groups of friends, and families with children.
Tourists and locals alike mingle and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of this public beach that sits in close proximity to several hotels and restaurants.
31. San Miguelito Archeological Site
The Yucatán Peninsula is dotted with archeological sites and ancient ruins. San Miguelito is among the smaller of these, but don’t take it for granted.
This ancient city was once a thriving and vital trade center. Unfortunately, all that’s left of it now are stone ruins you can explore, from residential homes to a three-story pyramid.
Archaeological work and excavation still continue to this day. There may be even more of this city left to uncover.
In the meantime, you can enjoy what has been restored of these ancient Maya ruins lurking in the jungle.
32. Playa Paraíso
The Playa Paraiso beach is a gorgeous lip of sand kissed by the Caribbean’s inviting turquoise waters.
This beautiful stretch of white was always a favorite among vacationers and often found itself as a destination on bucket lists.
Playa Paraiso can be a great spot for a romantic getaway or a family vacation. The days at this beach are guaranteed to be relaxing and fun.
And if that does not content you, there are a myriad of archaeological sites and charming communities around for you to explore.
33. Relaxation & Yoga
Yoga may have Asian roots, but perhaps one of the most relaxing places to practice is along the coast of the Caribbean.
Indeed, yoga has found a place in this region of the world, albeit mostly for westerners who holiday on these shores.
There are a few yoga and meditation retreats in Cancun and Tulum to choose from, so you don’t have to skip a beat while on vacation. And if you don’t do yoga at all, this would be a great place to start.
34. Laguna de Kaan Luum
Kaan Luum is a picturesque lagoon southwest of downtown Tulum. Its scenic beauty is made even more interesting by the presence of a 279-foot (85 meters) deep cenote in its waters.
Such a depth requires diver certification to explore. If you aren’t certified, you can still enjoy the other areas of this beautiful lagoon and swim safely in depths of 6.5 feet (2 meters).
However, if you’re looking for something more exciting, you could book a paddleboarding tour and take in the lagoon from a different view afloat.
35. Amazing Wildlife (Whale Sharks)
Swimming with whale sharks is a whole other level of enjoying nature, and you can do this in the refreshing waters of the Caribbean Sea.
There are several whale shark tour operators and agencies to choose from. One of these will take you off the coast of Cancun for a swim with the gentle giants.
Whale sharks are magnificent docile creatures that are completely harmless to humans. So diving in with them will be an exhilarating yet safe adventure, unlike the Jaws film.
Depending on your budget, you could go with a group of other tourists or book a private tour. Either way, it’s certainly an opportunity you can’t pass up.
36. Gran Cenote
There are a number of cenotes on the Riviera Maya, but the Gran Cenote is arguably the most popular and beautiful of them all.
If you tire of the beach, a dip in the Gran Cenote comes highly recommended. Fishes and turtles will swim with you in these clear, blue waters that are perfect for snorkeling.
This tourist spot is a sizable area with places on deck to relax when you’re not in the water, and the filtered sunlight and vegetation create a beautiful ambiance.
And when you’ve caught your breath, you could challenge yourself with a swim through the cave.
37. The Ruins of Coba
Once an ancient Maya city, the Zona Arqueológica de Cobá, or Coba ruins as they are known, are one of the most tantalizing sites on the peninsula.
Following the collapse of the Maya civilization, Coba was swallowed up by the jungle. While archaeologists have only cleared a fraction of this city, what they have restored thus far is truly astounding.
Coba’s magnificent temple pyramids are a sight to behold. And the more intrepid tourists can scale some of them. The tallest of these structures towers at 138 feet (42 meters) high.
Aside from these, there are several engraved and sculpted stelae to marvel at. They give a peek into the ceremonial life and important events of this great civilization.
38. Tulum Ruins
Roughly 81 miles (130 km) to the south of Cancun, one of the most beautiful Maya Ruins stands against the backdrop of a turquoise Caribbean Sea.
This ancient seaport holds the distinction of being the only city the Maya founded on the coastline and one of the only ones that were walled in.
The ancient structures of varying sizes that dot the territory hint at what must have once been a vibrant city. But the Castillo or castle steals the show.
It crowns the top of a 39-foot (12 meters) limestone cliff overlooking the Caribbean and once functioned as a lighthouse guiding sailors past the treacherous reefs and safely to shore.
Without taking away from the other remnants, this edifice will surely be the highlight of your tour of these ruins.
39. Tulum Pueblo (El Centro)
Tulum marries history and nature with modern recreations and boasts the distinction of Pueblo Mágico.
Downtown Tulum or El Centro is 2.5 miles (4 km) away from the coastline and ancient ruins. It’s perfect if you want to slow down your Yucatán adventure.
There are several bars you can step into for a drink, or you could visit the small art galleries in town and check out places that offer pre-Hispanic rituals for a more historically tinged diversion.
No matter what you’re looking for in your next vacation, Cancun and Tulum are bound to deliver. The list of sights and activities to choose from is as long as the legs of the horses the Spanish brought to the region in the 1500s. So if you’re looking for a tropical getaway destination, look no further than sunny Mexico.
- Hotels: 10 Best Beaches in Cancún
- Oceanic Research Group: Beneath the Caribbean
- USA Today: Snorkeling in Cancun, Mexico
- Deeper Blue: Scuba Diving Cancun: The Best 5 Sites Not To Miss Out On
- Trip: 5 Things to Know About the Cancun Underwater Museum
- Lonely Planet: Parque Kabah
- Lonely Planet: Isla Mujeres
- Hotels: Find out more about Zona Hotelera
- Travel + Leisure: 5 Things to Do in Downtown Cancun
- Hotels: 10 Best Cenotes near Cancún
- Journey Mexico: Temazcal: What Is It And What Are The Benefits?
- Viator: Cancun Scenic Tower (Torre Escénica)
- Hotels: 10 Best Places to Go Shopping in Cancun
- Hotels: Nightlife in Cancun
- AQUAWORLD: Top Cancun water sports you don’t want to miss out on!
- Lonely Planet: Chichén Itzá
- UNESCO: Pre-Hispanic City of Chichen-Itza
- Viator: Top Cancun Sailing
- World Atlas: The Stunning Pink Lagoon Of Las Coloradas
- Visit Mexico: Nichupté Lagoon
- AQUAWORLD: Best Places to Spot Sea Turtles in Cancun and Riviera Maya
- Omni Resorts: Cancun’s Turtle Program
- Lonely Planet: Playa Delfines
- Hotels: Playa Norte in Cancun
- Playa Norte: Play Norte & Isla Mujeres
- Life Globe: The beaches of Gaviota Azul and the Forum in Cancun (Playa Gaviota Azul, Playa Forum)
- Hotels: Forum Beach in Cancun
- Lonely Planet: San Miguelito
- U.S. News Travel: Playa Paraiso
- Hotels: Laguna de Kaan Luum in Tulum
- Visit Mexico: Kaan Luum Lagoon
- Cenote: Gran Cenote in Tulum
- Trip Advisor: Zona Arqueológica de Cobá
- Tulum Ruins: Tulum
- Visit Mexico: Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns)