Adventure Ideas Mexico

Cancun Adventure Ideas for Families

Adventure Ideas Cancun
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Cancun Adventure Ideas for Families

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Do you have a family of budding explorers? Fancy taking them back to the beginnings of civilization or giving them an eco-adventure, but all within easy reach of the beach? Then consider an independent trip to Cancun and the Riviera Maya, a resort well known for its beaches but that offers SO much more. We’ve done the research to help you plan a trip. In this post (brought to you in a collaboration with Thomas Cook who offer flights from Thomas Cook Airlines to Cancun) we map out great ideas for cultural, eco-tourism and adrenaline powered experience that will help keep the whole family happy. 

El Castillo. Image by Denis Jarvis

El Castillo (Pyramid of Kulkulkan). Indiana Jones territory near Cancun.
Image by Denis Jarvis (Flickr CCL)

Have an Indiana Jones Adventure

OK your kids might not be old enough to know who Indiana Jones is, but you can still be Harrison Ford to your heart’s content if you head for some of the amazing archaeological sites that you can reach from Cancun. There are spectacular sites where you can explore historic ruins and learn about Mayan culture at Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tulum.

The ruins at Chichen Itza are known for the great variety of architectural styles, said to be a reflection of the diverse population that inhabited what was one of the largest Mayan cities. The stepped pyramid at Chichen Itza, El Castillo (see photo above), also known as the Pyramid of Kukulkan was voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and is believed to have been used as a kind of calendar. Figure that out.

There are ancient roads that connect Uxmal to Chichen Itza and Tulum.  Uxmal rises up from the surrounding forest and is famous for buildings like the five levelled Pyramid of the Magician and the Governor’s Palace. It’s also quite famous for a quirky light and sound show that takes place every night. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, one of those love it or hate it things, but which ever way it goes for you it will create a fun family memory.

You have to head to the Caribbean coast to find Tulum, an ancient city by the sea, a magical combo of fine beaches and the ruins of an ancient civilisation. Where else in the world can you find that? This was one of the last Mayan cities to be built and inhabited and has dozens of Mayan structures you can explore. And then, when you tire of that, you can go swim at the beach. My kind of history lesson.

Tulum, Quintana Roo, México by Diorama Sky

Step right into an ancient world at Tulum, Quintana Roo. Image by Diorama Sky (Flickr, CCL)

Have a Cancun Ecotourism Adventure

Cancun has a well developed menu of adventure and ecotourism offers for visitors. Many of them are suited to the diverse needs of a family with children of various ages. The Yucatan peninsula is an amazing area to explore, either in a DIY independent style, with a group tour or your own private hire professional guide.  You can go mountain biking through the jungle, swimming in cenotes (swim holes) or fly through the canopy on some of the longest zip lines in South America. There are also National Parks and reserves you can visit, perhaps on a jeep safari. The level of environmental awareness and commitment to ecotourism principles can vary from one supplier to another with some very committed to protecting natural resources and educating visitors while others are more driven by commercial drivers and may have less concern for environmental impact, something you may wish to explore when booking. Here we highlight a handful of options….

Go eco touring in Sian Ka’an Reserve of the Biosphere

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a 1.3 million acre stretch of land south of Tulum, an important coastal ecosystem and an official UNESCO World Heritage Property. It consists of wetland, tropical forest, mangrove, savannah and coastal marine habitats. Most of it is off limits to people but Amigos, the small non profit that helps manage the reserve does lead eco- tours for small groups interested in visiting and learning about the reserve.

Go snapping and snorkelling on Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is famous for beautiful beaches and incredible snorkelling and is a short hop from Cancun. The beach in the natural park of El Garrafón has clear warm waters, coral reefs and more multi-coloured fish than you could count. It’s a a diver’s dream. Don’t forget your waterproof camera.

Explore the silent caves of Rio Secreto

Below Quintana Roo lies the underground cave and river system known as Rio Secreto, a protected natural reserve. Within its deep, dark depths you can swim and hike through geological time, discovering incredible formations of thousands of stalactites and stalagmites growing imperceptibly amidst the deep silence of the caverns.

Try swimming with whale sharks on Isla Holbox

The shallow lagoon that separates Isla Holbox from mainland Mexico is a sanctuary for pelicans, flamingos and other exotic birds. This fishing island, with its white sandy streets and very few cars is largely untouched by mass tourism. Except for one special bucket list activity; Lonely Planet rates Holbox as number one in a list of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks in the world. Try

Go birding on Isla Contoy

Isla Contoy is a small island about 30km north of Isla Mujeres, and a world class, government protected bird watching spot. It’s considered one of the most important nesting place for sea birds in the Mexican Caribbean. Access is strictly controlled and supervised, making the National Park a true reserve for the myriad species of birds and the marine turtles. It is a quite exclusive experience as only a handful of tour companies are permitted to bring a strictly limited amount of visitors to the island each day. So you may want to book quite a bit in advance.

Caribbean near Tulum Image by Mindaugas Danys

Beyond the historic, the natural attractions around Tulum are outstanding.
Image by Mindaugas Danys (Flickr CCL)

Explore the ‘Eco-Parks’ of Riviera Maya

There are many ‘eco’ parks within easy reach of Cancun. Just to be clear, the terms ‘eco-park’ and ‘ecological’ park are often used here to mean a resort, attraction or park with a nature theme or connection. This does not necessarily mean the operation is particularly sustainable, environmentally sensitive or has low environmental impact. You should do your research before you visit and check you are happy with some of their practices and ethics.

The oceanic world of Xel-Ha

Xel-Há has an oceanic theme and is one of the world’s largest natural aquariums. The park is made up of a series of inlets and lagoons where the ocean combines with freshwater currents, underground springs and rivers to form an explorable eco-system. It is home to thousands of multi-coloured fish just waiting for you to come and swim, snorkel and befriend them.

Underground overground at Xplor

Xplor is definitely one for active Indiana Jones wannabes. (Dad.) The 59 hectar Xplor Cancun Park is next door to Xcaret Park. The best parts of Xplor are underground; you can dive in a sea of stalactites and stalagmites in water filled caverns. You can also go underground rafting, fly through the jungle on zip wires or drive amphibious vehicles through water and jungle.

The ‘archaeological park’ – Xcaret

The most popular eco-themed park near Cancun is Xcaret (what’s with all the x’s?), just 2.5 miles (or about 45 minutes) out of town. It’s massive and you could easy to spend a day or more there. It’s described as an archaeological park and is part nature park, part archaeological site, part cultural attraction with a healthy dose of activities thrown in, Imagine the natural beauty of the Caribbean sea, butterfly pavilions, underground rivers you can swim in, safe snorkelling in quiet inlets and a cultural show in which you go on a musical journey through a 1000 years of history. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, (and you may balk at swimming with dolphins in captivity – we would!) then probably best to steer well clear.

The Adventure Kingdom of Selvatica

Selvatica is set in over 330 acres of jungle midway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. This self-proclaimed ‘adventure kingdom’ is the choice of outdoor adrenaline junkies and offers adventure packages to suit everyone from 6 to 96 at all levels of adrenaline rush. Think skywalks, parachuting, off road truck driving, fast zip-lines, aerial challenges and the more sedate chance to relax in cooling cenotes.

For more information on these attractions and the many other environmental, architectural and cultural gems that make up this Mexican region, visit Cancun Travel or Visit Mexico

Xel-Ha Image by Fumi Yamazaki

Xel-Ha. Image by Fumi Yamazaki (Flickr CCL)

Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you in a collaboration with Thomas Cook Airlines. All the research, ideas and suggestions are editorially independent and entirely our own. 

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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