There's no doubt that Cancun is one of the best spots in Mexico to enjoy the never-ending hospitality of an all-inclusive hotel or the lavish delights of a five-star resort, but even when you're on a two-week vacation along Mexico's Caribbean coast, it's always good to get away for a day trip or two!
Don't sweat, because Cancun's hotel zone is not only close to white sand beaches and epic snorkeling spots but also within easy reach of ancient Mayan ruins (including the iconic Chichen Itza), crystal-clear cenotes, and adventurous biosphere reserves.
Chichen Itza. If it's your first time in Cancun, then Chichen Itza has to be at the top of your day-trip bucket list. This sprawling archeological site was once one of the most powerful Mayan cities on the Yucatan Peninsula, and today it's one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico. Home to the towering Temple of Kukulcan (or El Castillo), Chichen Itza is perhaps the best-preserved Mayan site in the region - but it's also the busiest. However, it's well worth braving the crowds to see the ancient ball court, the restored pyramids, and the sacred cenotes, as well as the countless homes, marketplaces, and temples that have all been painstakingly excavated from the surrounding jungle.
Playa del Carmen. Head south along the Riviera Maya coastline, and within an hour you'll be in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo's second city. Playa, as it's known, is just as touristy as Cancun but has a very different vibe. Rather than being home to all-inclusive resorts (although there are some), Playa is where the backpackers and digital nomads congregate. There are bars, beaches, and more bars, but there's also the local flare that the hotel zone in Cancun lacks. You can spend your day strolling along the long sandy beach, stopping off for a few cold Coronas, then hunting down the best fish tacos in the local restaurants.
Tulum. Travelers have a love-hate relationship with Tulum. Once a sleepy fishing village far from the reach of developers, Tulum became a haven for those travelers looking to escape the rest of the world. In recent years, the rest of the world has caught up, though, with influencers having turned Tulum into their playground. While travelers love the beaches and many enjoy the opportunities for alternative living that Tulum has traditionally offered (saying they find their "tribe" in Tulum), others are put off by the outrageously inflated prices, the hedonistic nature of Tulum-ites, and the increasing cartel activity.
Coba. Hidden inland from Tulum, around 40 minutes into the jungle, is one of the best Mayan archaeological sites in the area. Coba can be visited on the same day trip to Tulum. On its own, it’s a two-and-a-half hour drive from Cancun. Coba is nowhere near as well excavated or as popular as Chichen Itza, but that’s just fine if you’re looking to get away from the crowds. In many places, the surrounding jungle appears to be winning against the excavators, as temples and ruins are still covered in vines. The ruins are located between two small lagoons, but the highlight of Coba is the main central temple, which you can still climb to the top of.