Uncovering The Hidden Gems Of Cancun: 10 Must-See Places To Visit

    Entrance to Playa Marlin

    Cancun Mexico is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world, which is the reason for this article”Uncovering The Hidden Gems Of Cancun: 10 Must-See Places To Visit.”  But beyond just the beaches and resorts, there are lots of hidden gems that often get overlooked by visitors. Check out this blog article for 10 must-see places to visit in Cancun – no matter how long your stay may be!

    Introduction to Cancun

    Cancun is a world-renowned vacation destination for its beautiful beaches, turquoise waters, and lively nightlife. But there is so much more to this Mexican city than meets the eye. From ancient ruins to natural wonders, Cancun has something for everyone. Here are some of the best-hidden gems in Cancun that you must see on your next visit:

    1. Tulum Archaeological Zone — also referred to as the Tulum ruins. It is located just off the beach, and worth the effort if you’re in that southern part of Cancun (about 130 km south of the city of Cancun).  It is a walled Mayan archaeological site located in Tulum National Park.  Entry costs about 500 pesos (approx US$10), and you can tour it alone, with a guide, or with a group. I went it alone, stopping briefly at each area, and walked it all in about 30-40 minutes. I would guess with a group or guide that would linger at each spot. it could take up to 2 hours.  Some of the sites include the clifftop Castillo, built as a watchtower and overlooks the sea.   Note: leave time and as you enter the road toward the National Park Zone, on the right stop at Mezzanine Hotel Tulum for a nice breakfast on the sea.

    2. El Meco Archaeological Site – This lesser-known archaeological site is located just north of Cancun’s Hotel Zone. El Meco was once a major port for the Maya civilization and contains some well-preserved ruins.

    3. Isla Contoy – This small island off the coast of Cancun is home to an incredible variety of bird life, making it a paradise for birdwatchers. Isla Contoy is also home to pristine white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, making it a perfect day trip from Cancun.

    4. Xcaret Park – Xcaret Park is an eco-archaeological park that offers visitors a chance to experience the best of Mexico’s culture and nature all in

    Chichen Itza – One of the most famous archaeological sites in Mexico –, we do not delve into it since it is northwest of Chancun in the Yucatan. Stay tuned for our following article on the Best Places to Visit in the Yucatan. 

    Best Beaches in Cancun

    1. Close to the city of Cancun: if you’re not staying in the Cancun Hotel Zone, fear not, there are quite a few public beaches. Playa Marlin is expansive. tranquil and one of the nicest public beaches in Cancun (located close to Ritz Carton). You can rent two lounge chairs and an umbrella for about 250 pesos (approx US$12). Even closer to town is Playa Tortugas. It is smaller and less tranquil as there is a pier with Bungee jumping, restaurants, the ferry to Islan Mujeres, and water sports. There are two restaurants with bars that will serve you right there on the beach. They also have lounge chairs and umbrellas to rent, or 4 chairs and a table.


    2. Puerto Morelos: This beach is located just south of Cancun and is known for its quaint fishing village atmosphere. It’s a great place to snorkel or scuba dive and see the amazing marine life that inhabits the coral reef just offshore. You’ll bump into foreigners there, and it has a bohemian vibe.

    3. Akumal: This beach is located on the Riviera Maya and is well known for its turtles. Here you can snorkel or scuba dive with these gentle creatures as they feed on the sea grass that grows in the shallows.

    4. Isla Mujeres: This small island off the coast of Cancun is a popular day trip destination for its beautiful beaches (including Playa Norte, some call it the best), crystal clear water, and laid-back vibe. There are also some great restaurants and bars on the island if you want to take a break from soaking up the sun.

    5. Puerto Aventuras: This beach town is located just south of Playa del Carmen and is known for its calm waters which make it perfect for swimming, sailing, or windsurfing. There are also some great restaurants and bars here if you need to take a break from all the activity.

    6. Cozumel: If you love snorkeling or scuba diving, this might be for you. If you stay in town you walk to pretty much anything and catch a taxi to anything, not near town: or rent a scooter for US$25 a day. In town, Cozi Coffee of Cafe Antoinette is both good for breakfast. Wet Wendys for a casual dinner if you want to see I’ve entertainment, and for a more upscale causal (even romantic) check out Hemingway Lounge. If you want a beach life vibe, on the other side of the island, are Abertsons, Rasta Bar, and others.

    Uncovering The Hidden Gems Of Cancun: 10 Must-See Places To Visit

    Best Restaurants in Cancun

    Cancun is known for its beautiful beaches, turquoise waters, and vibrant nightlife. However, Cancun also has some really good restaurants, ranging from local cuisine, great fish, French bistros, Japanese, Indian, Italian, and of course, Mexican. But note that Mexico is a big place, so each area of the country cooks differently.

    If you’re looking for a truly unique dining experience, head to one of Cancun’s many underground restaurants. These hidden gems are often found in basements or other inconspicuous locations, and they serve up some of the most inventive and delicious cuisines in the city.

    Some of our favorite underground restaurants in Cancun include:
    In Playa Del Carmen

    • La Cueva del Chango –  A cozy cave-like restaurant serving traditional Mexican fare with a twist.

    • El Pirata – A popular spot for seafood lovers, serving up fresh catch from the nearby waters.

    • Antojitos La Chiapaneca – A must-visit for lovers of authentic Mexican street food.

    If you’re in the city of Cancun, there are some great spots littered in town and in the Hotel Zone. In town is better for those on a budget, and the Hotel Zone is for those that want what they want, the price be damned. From French bistros to Italian trattorias, you’ll find something to suit every taste and budget. Just be sure if you’re in the Hotel Zone that you make a reservation in advance (especially for dinner), as these restaurants can get pretty busy!

    In Cancun City:

    • La Troje – a casual lunch spot with a vast menu, and terrific salads.

    Ninfa’s Cafe – for breakfast lovers, you can’t go wrong here. They serve cocktails as well.

    Marakami – you’ll feel like you’re dining in a treehouse, so it is as much the experience as anything else, But the food is good as well, and they have an excellent Sunday brunch (next door is Cafe Antoinette, another good breakfast or sandwich spot).

    Tuch Cantina — this laid-back semi-outdoor restaurant has a bar and is really nice for a casual good vibe dinner with Yucatan-styled tacos and other dishes. Very good!

    El Oasis – a place for mariscos (shellfish)

    Los Aguachiles Cancun — for fish, shellfish, and more. They close early, open from 12 noon until 7PM

    In the Hotel Zone

    The moment you cross into the hotel zone the prices begin going up. But there are some really wonderful restaurants there, and most have q fabulous sunset view of the Lagoon.

    • Crabhouse – Oysters & seafood plates, plus steaks & cocktails, at a stylish eatery with a huge beachfront deck.

    • Lorenzillos – the place for lobster. Upscale on the water.

    • Puerto Madero de Buenos Aires  — upscale but you can go there casually. Check out the seafood stew.

    In Tulum

    • Mezzanine Hotel (on the water)

    • in the city itself, Kay Nah is my recommendation. Semi outdoors, live music, good food, nice vibe. If you don’t like it there are several ore restaurants on the same block.

    Kay  Nah Restaurant
    Kay Nah Restaurant Tulum Mexico


    Uncovering The Hidden Gems Of Cancun: 10 Must-See Places To Visit

    Shopping Destinations in Cancun

    From high-end designer boutiques to local markets, there is something for everyone. Here are some of the best shopping destinations in Cancun:

    The Grand Bazaar: This open-air market is a great place to find souvenirs and handmade goods. There are hundreds of vendors selling everything from jewelry to clothes to art.

    La Isla Shopping Village: This outdoor mall is one of the most popular shopping destinations in Cancun, located in the Hotel Zone. It features over 200 stores, including international brands like Gucci, Fendi, H&M, and Gap. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes if you need a break from shopping. See the video footage here.

    Paseo de los Artesans: This pedestrian street is lined with shops selling arts and crafts. It’s a great place to find unique gifts or souvenirs.

    Mercado 28: This market is located minutes from where the Hotel Zone meets (Va. Bonampak and Kukulcan Blvd which turns into Coba) the downtown section of the city. It is a vast scattering of vendor stands under a roof, a must-visit for anyone who loves bargain hunting. You’ll find everything from clothes. liquor and cigars, to electronics to food. Just be sure to bargain!

    Plaza de Las Americas: this is a typical mall, with restaurants. shopping, a supermarket, a pharmacy, and a cinema.

    Uncovering The Hidden Gems Of Cancun: 10 Must-See Places To Visit

    Cultural Attractions in Cancun

    Cancun is home to a plethora of cultural attractions that are sure to delight visitors of all ages. From ancient ruins to contemporary art galleries to the famous cenotes, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Cancun.

    One of the most popular cultural attractions in Cancun is the El Rey Archaeological Zone (located in the Hotel Zone of Cancun). This site is home to a collection of Mayan ruins, including a temple, residential buildings, and an observatory. Visitors can explore the ruins at their own pace or take a guided tour led by a knowledgeable local guide.

    For those interested in contemporary art, the Cancun Center for Contemporary Art is a must-see. This gallery showcases the work of local and international artists and hosts regular exhibitions and events. The center also has a cafe and gift shop, making it the perfect place to spend an afternoon exploring Cancun’s vibrant arts scene.

    Other cultural attractions in Cancun include the Museo de Arte Popular Mexicano, which features traditional Mexican folk art, and the Casa de Cultura Maya, which offers classes and workshops on Mayan culture and history. With so much to see and do, Cancun is sure to satisfy even the most discerning cultural traveler.

    Excursions and Adventure Activities in Cancun

    When most people think of Cancun, they imagine a spring break hotspot full of beach parties and all-night clubs. However, there is so much more to this Mexican city than meets the eye. If you’re looking for excitement and adventure during your trip, check out some of these top excursions and activities:

    Take a ride on a glass bottom boat to see the underwater world without getting wet! You’ll get up close and personal with sea turtles, stingrays, and colorful fish as you cruise around the lagoon.

    If you’re feeling brave, sign up for a scuba diving or snorkeling tour. There are many reputable operators in Cancun that offer tours for all skill levels. Explore the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – the second-largest reef system in the world – and spot exotic marine life such as dolphins, eels, and sharks. In Cozumel, you can even rent a deep-sea diving suit with a built-in propulsion system.

    For something truly unique, try your hand at flyboarding. This extreme water sport involves strapping yourself to a board that propels you high into the air using jet power! It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

    Of course, no trip to Cancun would be complete without spending some time on the beach. lounge in the sun, play some beach volleyball or try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding. With so much to do, you’ll never be bored in Cancun!

    Note that there are cenotes all over Mexico, but some of the best are in the Yucatan, and we’ll them in the next article. 

    Accommodation Options in Cancun

    Cancun is home to some of the world’s most luxurious resorts, but there are also plenty of accommodation options for those on a budget.

    Hostels: There are a few hostels located in Cancun’s Hotel Zone, providing cheap and cheerful accommodations for backpackers and budget travelers. Some of these are Mayan Monkey, and Nomads Party Hostel.

    Airbnb: Airbnb is a great option for those looking for a little more space and privacy than a hostel can offer. There are plenty of apartments and houses available to rent in Cancun, often at very reasonable prices.

    Hotels: There is no shortage of hotels in Cancun, ranging from basic 3-star properties to extravagant 5-star resorts. No matter what your budget is, you’ll be able to find a hotel that suits your needs. So just search Booking.com

    All-inclusive resorts: If you want to completely relax on your vacation and not have to worry about planning or paying for meals and activities, then an all-inclusive resort might be the right choice for you. However, if you’re staying in Cancun proper, we’d suggest the Hotel Zone. These resorts include everything in the price of your stay, so you can just sit back and enjoy your vacation.

    Note that for “resort hotels” the area known as Riviera Maya, is located a bit more than halfway between the city of Cancun and Play Del Carmen.  But a few notes: once you any of these resorts you’re pretty much sequestered there, as there is nothing near them. If you want the local flavor to your trip, you’re better in Playa Del Carmen (anywhere close to 5th Ave) or the Cancun Hotel Zone. Tulum is another option and has some fabulous upscale resorts.  

    Nightlife and Entertainment Options in Cancun

    Cancun is best known for its lively nightlife and entertainment scene. The party never stops in this Mexican city (which is really three cities — Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum), which is why it’s a popular destination for travelers looking to let loose and have some fun. From nightclubs and bars to live music and shows, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Cancun.

    One of the most popular nightlife spots in Cancun is Coco Bongo, a nightclub that features live performances, acrobatics, and DJs spinning the latest hits. If you’re looking to dance the night away, head to one of Cancun’s many beach clubs like The City or Mandala Beach Club. For a more laid-back atmosphere, there are plenty of bars and pubs to choose from, such as Senor Frogs or Fat Tuesday.

    No matter what kind of nightlife you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Cancun. So grab a drink and enjoy the party!

    Festivals and Events In Cancun

    Cancun is also home to a number of festivals and events throughout the year that is worth checking out. Here are some of the best festivals and events in Cancun that you won’t want to miss:

    – Carnaval: This annual festival takes place in February and features a parade of floats, costumes, and music. It’s a great opportunity to experience traditional Mexican culture. February 17, 2023,  Playa Del Carmen has many events, with the Black Eyed Peas headlining one of them. From straight to gay, you can find an event to party at.

    – Día de los Muertos: This Day of the Dead festival takes place in October and November and celebrates the lives of those who have passed away. It’s a colorful and festive event with lots of food, music, and dancing.

    – Navidad en el Barrio: This Christmas festival takes place in December and is a great way to get into the holiday spirit. There is live music, food stalls, and plenty of festivities to enjoy.


    From ancient ruins and mysterious cenotes to secluded beaches and vibrant markets, this has been the uncovering the hidden gems Of Cancun: 10 must-see places to visit. Cancun offers plenty of hidden gems for travelers looking to explore beyond the touristy spots, and we hope some of the restaurant and beach recommendations you find useful.


    • Brie Austin


      An author, reporter and former NYC columist, now a New Theory contributor in Buenos Aires.

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