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What to Do in Cancún

Whether it's your first trip or you've been here several times before, don't forget to include these sights and experiences on your list of things to do in Cancún.

By AAA Travel Editor

Location, location, location. The biggest Cancún attraction, besides year-round warm weather, is the beach—and better yet, you're never more than a few steps away from it. That contrast of white sand and intensely turquoise water is simply an unbeatable combination. Add an almost constant breeze and the soothing lullaby of breaking surf and you have the ideal recipe for letting go—of worries, routines back home and the 9-to-5 grind in general.

This resort city can put a pretty good bite in your vacation wallet, which makes hotel hopping all the more fun—and it's free. The glitzy Hotel Zone resorts span a range of architectural styles and decorative moods. You've got marble-walled luxury at the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancún All Inclusive Spa Resort and public areas filled with tropical plants and Mayan-style statues in the pyramid-shaped buildings at the Paradisus Cancun Resort . Stroll through lobbies and lush garden areas, or have lunch, dinner or a drink at one of the local hotel restaurants.

Cancún nightlife not only goes on most of the night but all year. The popularity of dance clubs tends to depend on the fickle tastes of spring breakers, but old reliables and newer upstarts keep the party going. If you don't feel like moving your hips on a packed dance floor with young partygoers, there are plenty of more sedate options, like the cool tropical elegance of The Lobby Lounge in The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun . Front desk staff at your hotel can tell you where the nightlife spots are and how to get to them.

Mall it. The big Hotel Zone malls—Plaza Caracol, Kukulcán Plaza, La Isla Shopping Village—are as shiny as their U.S. counterparts, and La Isla also has the Interactive Aquarium Cancún , which offers great things to do with kids. It does rain in paradise, so keep this option open for the occasional dreary day.

You'll probably be staying at a hotel with its own stretch of beachfront, but the beach is definitely where it's at here, so feel free to park your towel at one of the official public beaches. 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. Local 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.

The calm waters of Nichupté Lagoon may not have the striking hues of the Caribbean, but they're perfect for a dinner cruise. For a romantic getaway, one of the top things for couples to do is to sail off into the sunset aboard the Spanish-style galleon Columbus on a lobster dinner cruise complete with lovely sunset or nighttime views and live music.

Get your adventure travel on and go snorkeling or scuba diving. Offshore coral reefs teem with tropical fish and other marine creatures, and there are plenty of marinas and dive shops in the Hotel Zone that can set up a guided trip and provide all the necessary equipment and instruction. You can even explore cenotes, the limestone sinkholes deep in the Yucatán jungle that are filled with crystal-clear fresh water. Aquaworld Marina offers guided snorkeling and scuba diving excursions to various offshore reefs and submerged sites, including the collection of otherworldly sculptures that comprise the Underwater Museum of Art .

Take a ferry trip to Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo , a sliver of an island 4 miles off the coast. Wander narrow streets lined with souvenir shops, savor fresh seafood at a small sidewalk lonchería (open-air restaurant) or doze under the shade of a palm tree on the beach; you'll give in to Isla's laid-back rhythms immediately. Taking a trip to Isla Mujeres is one of the fun things to do with friends in Cancún.

Another fun way to spend a day at Isla is at Garrafón Park . The activities here include swimming, snorkeling, ziplining, kayaking—or just snoozing away the afternoon in a hammock.

Chichén Itzá, Yucatán is about 2 hours away, but tour operators like Gray Line Cancún make it easy to visit these Mayan ruins on an organized excursion—or rent a car and hit the road yourself. Do not, however, miss the chance to see this world-renowned archeological site. Once a large city, it offers breathtaking evidence that the Maya were not only accomplished architects; as you marvel at these stone structures consider the fact that they were built without benefit of metal tools, beasts of burden or the wheel.

If you can't make it to Chichén Itzá the Cancún Maya Museum is the next best thing. Built by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), it's a state-of-the-art showcase for an impressive collection of archeological artifacts, with special attention given to the Mayan people and their notable achievements. For the real thing, check out the El Rey Ruins . The ruins themselves are small, but some big iguanas provide cool photo ops.

Xcaret is like a big American-style theme park, albeit one with a focus on preserving the Yucatán's natural resources. At this all-day destination you can float down an underground river, swim with dolphins, go snorkeling, observe sea turtles and native wildlife or simply kick back on the beach. If you don't have a rental car—or don't feel like driving—organized excursions depart frequently from Cancún.

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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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