By Rick & Sandi Griffin & McKenna, on March 4, 2014

Offbeat day trips from Cancun

The moment we touched down and saw the giant Corona beer bottle adorning the tower of the Cancun International Airport, we knew we were in for a good time. Though Cancun is one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations, we wanted the opportunity to explore some of the lesser-known surrounding areas. After breezing through customs, we headed out for adventure. 

Our agenda included taking day trips, so we might have made a mistake by staying at a “Gourmet Inclusive” resort, as we didn’t want to leave. The Azul Sensatori Hotel by Karisma, located just a few minutes south of the airport, was an incredible experience in and of itself. The lushly landscaped property offered world-class food, a spectacular spa menu, and postcard sunrises. We couldn’t have asked for a better base for our journeys. 



Playa del Carmen

This spot is a festive seaside town located about 35 minutes south of the resort. There’s plenty to do, see and eat there, so you may want to do a little research and plan your activities before you head out. Here are a few of our suggestions for making the most of your day trip.

1. Hit the beach! Powdery white sand, tall palm trees, and the clear Caribbean Sea provide a picturesque backdrop for sunbathing and a variety of water sports. Of course our favorite water sport is simply walking down the beach while drinking from a coconut, but there are plenty of opportunities for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, parasailing, fishing, or boating if you are so inclined.

2. Eat, Drink & Shop! Fifth Avenue is the hub of Playa del Carmen. It is a pedestrian-only brick street lined with restaurants, shops, boutiques, and bars. The combination of live music pouring out into the street and colorful merchandise from local artisans gives the feeling that you’re at a perpetual party. If you are fond of tequila, you will love strolling down Fifth Avenue as it has tequila bars, tequila shops, tequila sculptures, and even a Tequila Museum.

3. Check something off your culinary bucket list! Experiencing local cuisine is one of our favorite things to do when we travel. While in Playa del Carmen, we were able to check off “eating tacos and drinking margaritas in Mexico” from our bucket list. We also had a fantastic roof-top lunch at The Palm at Playa Hotel, where we enjoyed some of the best ceviche we’ve ever eaten.



This spot is the only Mayan settlement that overlooks the Caribbean, and is located about 80 minutes south of the resort. With the sea as a backdrop, the ruins are a playground for photographers. 

Unfortunately the Mayan engineers who designed the walled city did not plan for tourist parking, so we had to park a few blocks away at a colorful flea market. Outside the flea market you are likely to be approached by fully costumed Mayans or people with exotic birds and reptiles. These people were eager to pose with us for a unique photo opportunity …and a couple of bucks. 

Viewfinder Tip: Bring bottled water or purchase some at the flea market outside of the walled city. You’ll want to stay hydrated while exploring the ruins. 

We always prefer to take guided tours when visiting places we’ve never been. Our tour began on an old tractor, pimped out to look like a train. It picked us up at the flea marked and dropped us off just outside the walls of the old city. Though our tour guide was very informative, it was difficult to hear him at times as other groups and tours walked past us. 

Fortunately, once we got inside the walls and groups could spread out, hearing wasn’t as much of a problem. We were able to ask as many questions as we liked as our guide described the purposes of the structures. He showed us one picture of Mayan jeweled teeth. These proved that the practice of oral bedazzlement was in vogue long before rappers even existed.

The guided tour lasted for about one hour, then we were free to explore the ruins on our own. As we walked around, it seemed as though the ruins were guarded by iguanas, as the critters were everywhere! Fortunately they let us take their pictures without demanding cash.

The beach below the ruins is one of the most gorgeous we’ve ever seen. We immediately regretted not bringing our bathing suits once we saw that it was accessible to tourists. 

After taking so many pictures that our digital cameras actually gained weight, we caught the tractor/train back to the flea market, where we saw a performance of what we jokingly called Mexican pole dancers. We later learned that we were watching “La Danza de los Voladores”, the Dance of the Flyers, a tradition aimed at ending drought. Of course we had to tip the flyers a few dollars if we intended to photograph their ritual, but the show was worth it. 

What are some of your favorite day trips from Cancun?