The allure of relaxing on pristine beaches with a margarita, swimming in sinkholes, and exploring the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere make the Yucatán Peninsula a popular vacation spot. Many people use Cancun as their Yucatán Peninsula base. However, the Yucatán offers excellent transportation options, so in this guide, I’ll cover routes you can take outside of Cancun too.
Take the ferry to Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres comes with bragging rights—it’s the first place the sunrise touches Mexico each morning. The ferry ride from Cancun to Isla Mujeres is a quick 20 minutes. Although the earliest ferry will have you arriving at the island a little after sunrise, the landscape is arguably prettier during the day when the water takes on a turquoise color.
A day trip to Isla Mujeres isn’t complete without renting a golf cart and driving it to Playa Norte, a beach with sand so white and water so blue that it makes Isla one of the best islands in Mexico. Make sure to grab a bite to eat at one of the beachside restaurants for sunset.
There are ferry departures throughout the evening, so you can maximize your visit before heading back to Cancun.
Party it up in Playa del Carmen
Although Cancun is notorious for its parties, Playa del Carmen is a lesser-known party destination popular among backpackers and digital nomads. High-rises are refreshingly next to none in Playa, and life revolves around 5th Avenue, a 5-mile pedestrian walkway.
Of the many Cancun day trips you can choose from, Playa del Carmen is one of the easiest since it’s only about a one-hour drive. Taking a shared minivan is among the most popular ways to travel there—they offer 162 daily departures. Yes, you read that right! You can also opt to take a larger ADO bus or hire a private car.
Explore the ruins in Tulum
A Yucatán road trip isn’t complete without a visit to Tulum. Located about two hours from Cancun, Tulum is refreshingly tranquil. Tulum is also one of the easiest day trips to take from Playa del Carmen since it’s only an hour’s drive.
Tulum’s most popular attraction is its ruins, which are perched on a cliff with stunning views over the Caribbean Sea. Once you’ve explored the archaeological complex, grab a bike or taxi and head down to the Zona Hotelera, where beaches framed with palm trees and restaurants await you. Before you leave, make sure to join the hundreds of yoga enthusiasts in the area and take a beachside meditation class.
Go snorkeling in Cozumel
While we’re on the theme of Playa del Carmen day trips, Cozumel is a must-see. This island is one of the most famous places in Mexico for diving, thanks to the Mesoamerican Reef. If submerging yourself underwater isn’t your thing, you can rent a car and drive around the approximately 30-mile-long island. Make sure to stop at the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, where you can visit a museum, two lighthouses, and observe marine life in natural tidal pools.
Taking a day trip to Cozumel involves a 30-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen. The ferry is spacious, and along the way, you might see some of Cozumel’s famous flying fish. Your ferry ticket will be valid for any return time, leaving you free to squeeze in some extra hours at the last minute if you want.
Reconnect with nature in Holbox
Holbox isn’t a destination on the standard Yucatán itinerary, in part because it makes for a long day trip from Cancun. However, the island’s seclusion is unmatched with the other destinations on this list, so if you don’t mind a full day of travel, it’s an excellent option.
You’ll start your day trip to Holbox by taking a shared minivan or private car to Chiquila, a small town about two hours northwest of Cancun. From there, you’ll catch a 20-minute ferry that’ll drop you off in Holbox. Ferries depart nine times a day at two-hour intervals, so I recommend coordinating your arrival in Chiquila with your ferry departure to maximize your time on the island.
Swim with sea turtles in Akumal
Nestled between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Akumal is a beachside destination off the average tourist’s radar. It’s one of the best day trips to take from Tulum, as you can arrive there by minivan in just 30 minutes.
Once you’re in Akumal, do as the locals do and spend the day sprawled out on the beach. Speaking of locals, if you’re not a Mexican resident, you’ll need to pay a small fee to access the beach. Trust me, it’s worth it—that money goes towards keeping the beach clean and preventing it from getting too packed. Aside from being a beach bum, consider signing up for a sea turtle snorkeling tour. That said, you might not even need a tour since the sea turtles sometimes meander close to the shore.
Play in a natural park in Xcaret
Xcaret defies the phrase “less is more” in the best ways possible—it’s an ecological park, a water park, a cultural park, and an amusement park all wrapped into one. Located just south of Playa del Carmen, Xcaret offers guests the chance to explore underground rivers, take a 90-mph boat ride, swim in sinkholes, and watch cultural shows. And that’s just a few of the activities!
Cancun transfers to Xcaret are frequent, with shared minivans offering 23 daily departures and private car transfers getting you to the park in just one hour. You can opt to visit Xcaret as a day guest or book an all-inclusive package at their resort.
From laid-back island life in Holbox to a lively bar scene in Playa del Carmen, there are Yucatán day trips to suit nearly every interest. Thanks to how easy it is to connect between Yucatán destinations, even if you plan a short trip to Mexico, you’ll still get to enjoy fabulous sightseeing.