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Best Attractions in CancúnIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

It's somewhat ironic that Cancún gives off such a decided here-and-now vibe—there always seems to be a new hotel or condo on the drawing board or under construction—when the Yucatán Peninsula is so rich in archeological ruins that exude a timeless sense of antiquity. The legacies in stone left behind by the Maya people are some of the region's most compelling and mysterious sights.

Around the same time Europe was floundering in the Dark Ages, the Maya had developed a hieroglyphic writing system and mapped out the heavens with a calendar that served as a prototype for those used today. They also were skilled at clearing thick jungle to plant crops, building underground reservoirs to store seasonal rainwater and constructing limestone road networks to facilitate trade and travel.

Historical Ruins to Visit

Chichen Itza, Yucatán is the most famous of all Maya ruins and one of the top things to do near Cancún. This archeological zone is about 125 miles west of Cancún but easily reached by car via toll highway Mex. 180-D. If you arrange to spend the night at one of the hotels just outside the ruins, you'll free yourself from the tight schedule of a guided tour. And this AAA GEM place is well worth the extra time for its amazing pyramids and temples, which are monumental in scope and architecturally fascinating.

Chichén Itzá's focal point is The Castle (El Castillo). Perfectly symmetrical, this 100-foot-high pyramid has 91 steps on each of its four sides. Nearby is another impressive building, the Temple of the Warriors , which is embellished with decorative carvings. Note the preponderance of skulls, serpent heads and jaguars incorporated into Maya structures, all images underscoring the warlike nature of the people.

What to Do on a Rainy Day

Get up close and personal with marine creatures with a trip to the Interactive Aquarium Cancún in La Isla Shopping Village. Manta rays and sea turtles can be touched, and display tanks house sea horses, groupers, barracudas, bull sharks and many other species. Interacting or swimming with dolphins and feeding sharks also can be experienced for an additional fee. This is a good activity when you're looking for things to do in Cancún on a rainy day.

Beaches and Outdoor Activities

Cancún's beaches, of course, are its most valuable natural asset. The water is absolutely beautiful, the sand is soft and it's warm enough to swim year-round. If you're staying at a beachfront property it's easy and convenient to use the stretch associated with your hotel. Keep in mind, however, that all beaches in Mexico are federally owned and therefore accessible to anyone.

Playa Langosta (beginning at Km marker 5 on Boulevard Kukulcán) and Playa Tortugas (roughly between Km markers 6 and 8) front the calm, shallow waters of Mujeres Bay, which makes them good for wading, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and such water toys as wave runners. Restaurants are within easy walking distance, and Playa Tortugas has public restrooms and changing areas. Tortugas is especially popular with local families on Sundays, when most people have the day off.

Playa Marlín, between the La Isla and Plaza Kukulcán malls (around Km marker 13 on Boulevard Kukulcán), offers nice views and is good for surfing. Playa Delfines is in the vicinity of Km marker 18 on Boulevard Kukulcán. This beach is known as “El Mirador” (the Vantage Point) for its panoramic lookout over the water. There also is a small public parking lot right off the boulevard. Keep in mind that the Caribbean beaches can have strong undertows and large waves that make swimming potentially hazardous. Heed the posted warning flags; green means conditions are safe.

Isla Mujeres is an easy day trip by boat from Cancún; via public ferry the ride takes about 45 minutes. Explore the narrow cobblestone streets and do some shopping on waterfront Avenida Rueda Medina or pedestrian-only Avenida Hidalgo (two blocks inland). The big tourist attraction is Garrafón Park . The easiest way to enjoy all the activities this marine park offers is to spring for a round-trip cruise ship package; your hotel or a local travel agency can provide details about vacation packages.

Day Trips from Cancún

Xcaret (pronounced ISH-car-et) is about an hour south of Cancún. You name it and this AAA GEM attraction has it—snorkeling, floating along an underground river, exploring subterranean caverns, wildlife viewing (deer, tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, flamingos, butterflies), a living coral reef aquarium, a re-created Mayan village, even a granja de hongos (mushroom farm). The park is great fun for kids while also emphasizing conservation and preserving Mayan history and culture in the form of a dazzling evening show. Organized all-day excursions depart regularly from Cancún's Hotel Zone.

See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.

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Top AAA Diamond Hotels

AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.

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Travel Information

City Population

661,176

Elevation

7 meters (23 feet)

Police (emergency)

To contact the local police, dial 911.

Hospitals

Most major local hotels have their own in-house or on-call doctor. A list of physicians can also be obtained from the U.S. Consular Agency, in the Torre la Europea building, Boulevard Kukulcán Km marker 13; phone (999) 316-7168 in Mexico or (844) 528-6611 in the U.S. Local clinics do not accept U.S. health insurance, often charge fees well above U.S. rates and have been known to charge for services not rendered. The Red Cross (Cruz Roja) is in Ciudad Cancún on Avenida Yaxchilán, between avenidas Xcaret and Labná. It is open 24 hours; phone (998) 884-1616. In an emergency, dial 911 and request an English-speaking operator.

Newspapers

The Miami Herald and USA Today are available in the bigger local hotels.

Publications

Cancún Tips magazine has easy-to-read maps and information about local restaurants, shopping, entertainment and other things to do in Cancún. Pick up free tourist-oriented brochures at the airport, hotel lobbies, shopping centers and sidewalk booths.

Currency Exchange

Casas de cambio (currency exchange houses) and banks are along Avenida Tulum in downtown Ciudad Cancún. Most banks are open Mon.-Fri. 9-5; currency exchange normally is confined to the morning hours. Currency exchange houses also are at the airport and in the Hotel Zone shopping areas around Cancún Point.

Staying Safe

Crime directed at tourists is not prevalent, but do use common sense. Keep jewelry and other valuables in the hotel safe, or don't bring them at all. Guard against petty theft or purse-snatching incidents in crowded public places or when using public transportation. If leaving a vehicle in Hotel Zone shopping areas, don't invite a break-in by leaving valuables in plain view.

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