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4 Cool and Unique Things to Do In Cancun Off the Beaten Path

Updated: Apr 1

Headed to Cancun? Some adventure-seekers may want to leave their all-inclusive resorts in the Cancun hotel zone to check out Cancun from under the water. Swim with whale sharks in Cancun, or snorkel curiously with giant sea turtles in Akumal. Explore the underwater world up close with fantastic creatures, then above ground, don't miss the party boat of your dreams at Xochimilco or a National Park with an incredible "dry cenote" cave system. Whatever playground you like to play in, there are many unique things to do in Cancun for everyone. Here's four to start planning for, and my experiences to drive it home!

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1) Whale Shark Tour

Please don't pay an arm and a leg to swim with dolphins or tube through a lazy river. XCaret, XPlor Adventure Park and all the other XPand your wallets options are tourist traps. Don't waste your money. Instead, try nature's swimming pool - the ocean!

Whale shark

The activity:

Are you into diving or snorkeling and tired of just seeing reef fish? This activity is one of the most stimulating underwater experiences I have ever had. This may not be the Cancun underwater museum, but let's call it a living history museum. The whale shark is the largest living fish in the sea, discovered back in 1828 off of the South African coast.

These things are simply, massive.

My Experience:

Whale shark

Starting on a 15 foot open top out-board cruiser, me, my dad and about half a dozen other thrill-seeking tourists set out in the morning for a long multi-mile journey off the coast of northern Cancun. The waves were several feet high and we pounded them wave after wave, battering our tiny vessel.

Exhaust fumes engulfed us after multiple mid-journey engine checks. Wobbling, bouncing with the waves, we needed to reach our destination soon or I was going to hurl. And hurl I did.

Never have I been sea sick before, but as I watched the man in the rear of the boat look on in horror, all my chilaquiles breakfast came surging at him at 15 knots. My only option for reprieve from the sickness was to jump in the water upon arrival where the pod of whale sharks was waiting.

whale shark

Three or four of these massive bus-sized creatures swam between our boat and a few others out for the same adventure.

The waves were unrelenting but the excitement was enduring. I jumped into the water.

As I caught my bearings and determined which end was up after getting knocked about, the only thing I could do was squeal and jump as if I was a cartoon hopping out of my skin.

A 30 foot whale shark was approaching me directly, FAST. His mouth was agape to ingest whatever snacks surrounded him and I didn't want to be in his way. The gentle beast slid past me without pause, without worry or care that I was flopping about in the water beside him.

Whale shark

We swam together for about 20 minutes. The colossal creature never leaving my memory. I snapped a couple pics with an underwater camera but he moved too fast to get anything good!

Need to know:

You need to be a strong (or at least decent) swimmer for this activity. This is for snorkeling only, not diving, since they swim towards the tops of the water. Check the right time of year to see them. I went for the 4th of July!


After your swim, the boat takes you over to Isla Mujeres where they whip up fresh ceviche served on a boogie board table in crystal clear waters. Wash it down with a beer and you're on top of the world!

Where To Book A Whale Shark Tour:

The top two rated tours on Viator include:

I highly recommend making a booking in advance for these tours.

2) Snorkeling with Turtles at Akumal

Akumal isn't well advertised to tourists, but somehow in my searches I stumbled across this gem of a day trip, between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. You can rent a car, take a shared shuttle, a taxi, or arrange for a private driver to get there. This likely to sell out tour gives you a trifecta of fun in one day - featuring a tour of Tulum ruins, snorkeling with the turtles at Akumal, and a swim in a cenote. Including lunch and transportation, this is a huge deal for a fun day exploring away from Cancun.

Once at Akumal, you'll be greeted by the typical overcrowded beach scene, so get there early. There is a little dive shop on site where you can arrange to rent snorkel gear, if you haven't opted into a formal tour. From there, all you do is wade into the clear turquoise waters and bend over.

About waist deep you can stick your face in and see the sublime sea turtles swim harmoniously by while tourists with GoPros and underwater disposable camera can snap a pic or two. It's great fun and something a little off the beaten path.

Snorkel guide offers help to blog owner in getting her fins on
Getting geared up for seeing the turtles at Akumal

When you are done swimming, take a 20 minute walk down the road to