Top 10 Activities in Cancun: Looking for the eco-friendly ones!
Although sometimes it doesn’t seem so, it is possible to engage in eco-friendly tourism activities in Cancun and on the Riviera Maya!
From responsible aquatic activities to exciting land excursions in Mayan territories.
You will find something to occupy your vacation in Cancun and the Riviera Maya! But why choose between leisure activities and the environment if you can have both? 💚
Faced with the disaster of mass tourism, more and more visitors want to act differently.
A more responsible tourism means:
- Facing local communities. 👪 👲 👳
- Being respectful of the environment. 🌴 🌵 🍀
- Being conscious of animal welfare . 🐢 🐍 🐊
What environmentally friendly activities can you find in Cancun?
What is their “degree” of commitment to the environment?
From the most invasive to the least impacting on the environment, we have analyzed the TOP 10 eco-friendly activities in Cancun!
- 🚫 🌿 Not eco-responsible
- 🌿 Little eco-responsible
- 🌿 🌿 Moderately eco-responsible
- 🌿 🌿 🌿 Really eco-responsible!
Find valuable advice from your winged servant, indicated by the presence of a little
Table of contents
- The beaches in Cancun: ecology at the beach is possible!
- Nautical activities around Cancun and the Riviera Maya
- Water activities around Cancun and the Riviera Maya
- Swimming with animals in the sea and in lagoons
- Nature reserves around Cancun: unstouched places
- The jungle and land activities: go on an adventure while respecting nature.
- The islands in the Mexican Caribbean
- The archeaological sites: discover the ancient Mayan world
- The theme parks in the Riviera Maya
- Los cenotes: an encounter with a sacred and preserved nature
- Bonus: special ecotourism activities in the Riviera Maya
N°1 The beaches in Cancun
Among the main activities making Cancun and the Riviera Maya famous, there are obviously those linked to the seaside.
Bordered by several tens of kilometers of beaches and a sea of azure colors, the seaside towns of Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Puerto Morelos invite to rest, relaxation, and idleness.
To enjoy the seaside, here are some of the simple actions that will make your beach days more eco-friendly:
- Always consider using public transportation and soft mobility! Going to the beach by bus 🚍, bike 🚴 or on foot 🚶 = more responsible travel.
1 more reason! Traffic around Cancun's beaches is difficult, there are few parking spaces. Coming by public transport also gives you peace of mind and fewer constraints!
- Bring your trash bag and collect all your waste!
- 🌞 Opt for biodegradable sun protection. Sunscreens are partly responsible for the death of corals and the poisoning of marine life.💀 🐠
- Avoid plastic bottles, instead, bring a recyclable water bottle.
- 🐚 🚫 Do not pick up seashells, they may be inhabited by a mollusk.
- 🤚 ⛔ 🐋 Do not touch sea animals. Turtles, dolphins, whale sharks, wild animals must be admired from afar! We must also avoid feeding them.
- Consume local products = support local communities + short circuit consumption (fruit, fish, street food).
You see, spending a day at the beach and adopting a responsible behavior is not that complicated, it only takes a few good practices to change everything! 😉
To know everything about the beaches of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, don't miss our special article on the subject: Best beaches in Cancun.
N°2 Nautical activities around Cancun
The maritime zone around Cancun allows you to enjoy a wide variety of offers related to the aquatic world and boating activities.
Here are some of the flagship water activities in Cancun:
🌿 🌿 🌿Kayaking and Paddle
The Caribbean Sea which borders the area of Cancun, especially the part located in front of Isla Mujeres, is ideal for practicing certain water activities.
Thanks to the natural barrier formed by Isla Mujeres, estas tranquilas aguas recuerdan la superficie de un lago o de un mar cerrado.
They are perfect for kayaking and paddle boarding!
100% ecological, these activities are recommended for all nature lovers who wish to discover the coast from the sea.
Paddling and kayaking also have the advantage of not being motorized and of not disturbing wildlife.
Kayaks and paddles can be provided by some hotels in the hotel area located by the beach.
Do not hesitate to ask for them to take advantage of this alternative view which will allow you to enjoy the sea and the fresh air.
🌿 🌿 🌿 Surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing
Here are other water activities that are very popular with tourists and sports lovers, who come to stay in Cancun.
Cancun and the Riviera Maya are known for their turquoise waters.
It is often forgotten that the Caribbean Sea is powerful, often rough and the shoreline can get quite windy.
These conditions attract windsurfers from all over the world! 🏄
Isla Blanca, north of Cancun, is known for its shallow waters and vast windswept virgin areas. The place is popular for trying out kitesurfing.
On the rest of the Riviera Maya, from Cancun to Tulum, you will find surf and windsurf rentals on many coastal beaches.
kitesfur and surf schools offer introductory and advanced courses that are suitable for all audiences and all levels.
🌿 A catamaran tour
A catamaran tour around Cancun is a relaxing and entertaining activity to enjoy moments with family or friends.
It is also a good opportunity to create new bonds with people from different backgrounds by choosing to share this experience with another group.
A recreational and fun activity, the catamaran tour can also include the consumption of drinks and food.
Depending on your needs, your wisheds and your budget, the experience can last all day. Depending on the type of tour you choose, you can also approach and visit Isla Mujeres.
Did you know that...
Once the catamaran has salied it usually works with just the force of the wind.
This is why we reward this activity with a 🌿
However, the consumption of fossil fuels, the production of plastic and other waste do not allow this activity to be considered as 100% "eco-friendly".
Some tourism companies who offer catamaran tours around Cancun practice "greenwashing" by participating in marine ecosystem conservation programs.
N°3 Water activities around Cancun
The calm Caribbean waters that surround the beaches in Cancun are famous for the rich flora and fauna they harbor.
Snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea is a memorable experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.
No need for special skills to do some snorkeling.
This activity, which consists in admiring the seabed using a mask and a snorkel, sometimes with flippers, is availabe for all audiences and all ages.
This activity can be done in Cancun and any of the surrounding towns.
To find out which beaches in Cancun and the Riviera Maya are the best to snorkel on, you can check our article on the subject: beaches in Cancun.
You can also go to any of the islans in the Mexican Caribbean, Isla Mujeres or Cozumel, from where sea trips are carried out.
Sunscreen = danger for the marine world.
🚿 Remember to shower before going snorkeling to get rid of the sunscreen, responsible for the destruction of corals.
👕 A T-shirt protects you from the sun just as well!
🌿 🌿 🌿 Scuba diving
Snorkeling is not enough for you?
Do you want to fully immerse yourself in the enchanting world of the Caribbean Sea?
Give yourself the opportunity to explore it through scuba diving to discover one of the richest ecosystems on the planet.
The coral reef of Cancun is the second largest barrier reef in the world after the Australian reef.
In Cancun and the rest of the Riviera Maya, many diving schools will offer you first scuba diving and introductory courses, advanced dives and certifications such as PADI.
If you are a scuba diving enthusiast and the idea of discovering a treasure at the bottom of a wreck secretly appeals to you, then the MUSA underwater art museum is for you!
This activity can also be done snorkeling.
N°4 Swimming with marine animals
Getting to know dolphins, turtles and sharks is a real dream for many of us.
Swimming alongside them is quite possible in the heart of the theme parks and nature reserves that surround Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
From May to September, swimming with whale sharks is one of the top attractions around Cancun. They come every year to feed around Isla Mujeres and Holbox.
In Akumal, the turtles are the queens of the beach. A few meters from the beach, grassy areas (seaweed pastures) attract turtles that feast on them. Turtles are therefore still visible in this area.
In the Sian Ka'an reserve, south of Tulum, it is also possible to come across turtles, as well as other marine animals that live in the lagoons such as manatees and dolphins.
Dolphins can also be admired in the nature reserves of the Riviera Maya as well as the large theme parks near Playa del Carmen like Xcaret and Xel-Ha which have a big aquarium called Delphinus.
🌿 🚫 Swimming with marine animals.
Swimming with marine animals goes against ecotourism, which wants us to observe nature, and in particular wildlife, without disturbing it.
In the Cancun region and the Riviera Maya, several measures have been put in place to protect animals.
- Marine animal conservation programs.
- Interactions with animals monitored by guides and coast guards.
- Regulation of the number of boats and people alongside the animals.
However, these measures are still insufficient. This activity is by no means eco-friendly.
- ✋ ❌ 🐋 Marine animals are sometimes disturbed by unscrupulous tourists who try to touch them. They can also be jostled and injured by boats.
- 💀 🐢 Marine animals are poisoned by oil from boats and visitors' sunscreens, which pollute their ecosystem.
- 🐬 🚫 Marine animals such as dolphins live in captivity in water parks, so their freedom is hindered for the enjoyment of visitors.
- 🍗 🐊 ⛔ Some tour operators do not hesitate to feed marine animals to attract them and ensure their presence for tourists. However, feed fishing is prohibited because it makes animals dependent on humans.
We cannot forget this activity which is part of the Top 10 of the tourist offer of Cancun and the Riviera Maya. However, now you can make your choice with good conscience.
N°5 Excursions in nature reserves
Around Cancun and the rest of the Riviera Maya there are many jungle excursions available.
The exploration of the “selva” is one of the most popular attractions for its adventurous side and observation of natural ecosystems.
Very popular with visitors, these excursions are among the Top 10 activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
🌿 🌿 🌿 The Sian Ka'an reserve
A visit to Sian Ka'an is a must for all nature lovers who want to discover a unique ecosystem in Quintana Roo.
Sian Ka'an is a territory between lagoons, jungle and mangroves which extends to the sea.
The fresh waters of the lagoon mingle with the salty waters creating a rich and diverse ecosystem.
This biosphere reserve is home to fauna (birds, crocodiles, dolphins, turtles, manatees, etc.) and flora that can be observed alongside members of the Mayan communities of Sian Ka'an who watch over this priceless natural site.
Choosing to take a tour of the reserve with them means offering yourself a certified eco-responsible activity in harmony with nature.
It also means supporting local communities and their initiatives to preserve their natural heritage.
Choose a wildlife observation tour by Kayak! An unforgettable and 100% eco-friendly experience!
To discover other outdoor tourism activities: Nature tourism in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
🌿 🌿 🌿 Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas reserve
Another popular excursion around Cancun is the discovery of the Rio Lagartos reserve located north of Cancun.
About 3 hours drive from Cancun, a preserved land invites you to discover a rich lake ecosystem.
Land of pink flamingos, the Rio Lagartos reserve offers splendid semi-submerged landscapes.
The reserve can be visited from Cancun by day trips (groups / private tours).
You will also have the chance to discover the village of Las Coloradas, famous for its pastel-colored salt flats ranging from orange to pale pink.
This natural discovery combines the natural heritage of the north of the Yucatan Peninsula with the support of local communities by visiting an authentic fishing village.
N°6 Land activities, discovering the jungle
🌿 🌿 Adventure parks: tree climbing and zip lines
Adventure parks that offer tree climbing and zip lines activities are ideal for spending a day with the family without harming nature.
Their infrastructure is very energy efficient and blends in with the vegetation, allowing you to observe the wildlife.
It would be wrong to deny it!
Adventure parks offer the opportunity to explore the jungle with the family in a fun and sporting way.
Climbing, monkey bridges, abseiling, Tarzan jumps… There are many variations of these activities which can sometimes be combined with the discovery of caves or cenotes.
They are suitable for the whole family from 7 years old.
🌿 🚫 Exploration of the jungle by ATV
Trips by jeep, quad and other motor vehicles that make up the fleet of ATVs, all-terrain vehicles, are one of the favorite activities of tourists.
This is why it appears in our TOP 10 activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
This is a great activity for friends, but it is also accessible to families with children from 12 years old.
ATV's rides through the jungle are a good time to discover the region of Quintana Roo by mixing the adventurous side with the fun side of ATV.
For thrill seekers, these are moments of guaranteed pleasure.
However, this activity does not meet the criteria for eco-responsible activities.
Noisy, polluting, ATV's disturb the local fauna. If you want to observe animals this is certainly not the means of transport to choose.
Prefer hiking or mountain biking to explore the selva. A much better way to enjoy this beautiful ecosystem and have the chance to observe its inhabitants!
N°7 Islands around Cancun
🌿 🌿 🌿 Isla Contoy
The Isla Contoy tour is a half-day excursion from Cancun.
This activity is acclaimed as one of the ecotourism practices most appreciated by visitors.
Isla Contoy is a true wildlife sanctuary.
The place is perfect for all those who wish to get as close as possible to the flora and fauna in a totally protected and strictly controlled natural space.
Indeed, the discovery of Isla Contoy is subject to strict regulation.
Only 200 people are allowed to disembark on Isla Contoy each day in order to preserve its integrity and its natural environment.
A certain anticipation will therefore be necessary for nature lovers who want to have the chance to set foot on this jealously guarded paradise.
🌿 🌿 Isla Mujeres and soft mobility
Isla Mujeres is located just in front of Cancun.
This small island of a few kilometers long is accessible by ferry from Puerto Juarez, Puerto Cancun as well as from several beaches in the hotel zone.
To discover this small island, several modes of transport are available:
- - The electric golf cart for rent on site.
- - Cycling (mountain bike tours are also organized on the island).
- - The pedibus also known as ... hiking!
Three eco-friendly ways to discover Isla Mujeres!
Want to know more about “what to do in Isla Mujeres”? Check this post out: Islands close to Cancun and Riviera Maya.
🌿 🌿 Cozumel
The third must-see island around Cancun, although it is closer to Playa de Carmen, is Cozumel.
Accessible by ferry from Playa del Carmen, the island can be visited by bike for a smooth discovery!
This island, much larger than its neighbor Isla Mujeres, is known for its incredible diving spots.
Located near the coral reef of Cancun, it offers magnificent spaces to indulge in snorkeling and scuba diving, two eco-responsible activities.
In the far south of the island, Playa El Cielo is a paradise hidden on a sandbank.
Although it is forbidden to reach the beach because it is protected you can swim in shallow waters and observe a crowd of starfish.
Not far from Playa el Cielo, the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, will delight visitors and nature lovers (entrance fee.)
N°8 The archaeological zones of the Riviera Maya
Cancun, and more generally the state of Quintana Roo, as well as its neighbor, the state of Yucatan, were the cradle of Mayan civilization for centuries.
It is not without reason that this part of Mexico bears the name of Riviera Maya.
Their visit is obviously one of the Top 10 activities in Cancun.
🌿 Chichen Itza: center of the Mayan universe
One of the wonders of the modern world since 2007.
This site of impressive beauty, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, will fascinate you both by the conservation of its main buildings and by their number.
Among its most famous buildings, you’ll find the impressive ball court and the cenote, where ceremonies and sacrifices took place, located not far from the great pyramid.
The main building, the Kukulkan pyramid, impresses with its dimensions and its architecture which reflects the knowledge in astronomy and mathematical sciences developed by the Mayan civilization.
🚶 The site visit is done on foot.
⏳ Consider about 2h30 - 3h to have time to appreciate this majestic city which was undoubtedly the center of the Mayan universe in the Yucatan Peninsula.
🌿Tulum: maritime gateway to the Mayan world
One of the most beautiful fortified cities in the Mayan culture.
The main difference with the other Mayan cities of the State of Quintana Roo is its unique location; it stands facing the sea.
Its geographical location allows visitors to embrace at once the ancient city and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
🚶 The site visit is done on foot.
⏳ Consider about 1h30 for a guided tour.
👙 Do not forget your swimsuit and your towel! It is possible to enjoy a swim in the sea facing the ruins.
🌿 🌿 Coba: an ancient trade hub
Coba is undoubtedly the most mysterious Mayan city due to its location, nestled deep in the jungle.
Exploring this ancient city, dedicated to commerce, will give you the feeling of living an expedition alongside the famous Indiana Jones.
The Coba site has multiple buildings scattered around the “selva”, do not hesitate to take the different paths to discover all its secrets.
One of them will take you to the great pyramid of Coba.
You are allowed to climb it if you have the courage to climb the 110 steps that separate you from its summit. For the more adventurous among you, the breathtaking view at the top will reward all your efforts.
🚶 The visit is carried out on foot.
⏳ Consider about 2h -2h30 of visit to discover the site.
🚴 Discover Coba by bike! Bicycles are in fact available for hire at the entrance to the Coba site. It is also possible to hire a “rickshaw” with a driver! A fun and ecological way to discover the archaeological area!
We can't really say that visiting the archaeological sites of the Riviera Maya are ecological tourism practices.
However in certain aspects:
- Use the services of a local guide instead of going through an international agency.
- Buy souvenirs from Mayan or Toltec crafts.
- Buy local foods and products from the region.
Visiting the archaeological sites of the Riviera Maya can be associated with solidarity tourism practices aimed at supporting the development of local communities through the economic benefits of tourism.
N°9 Theme parks of the Riviera Maya
The theme parks of the Riviera Maya have become essential places to spend a day with family or friends on the coast of
Around Playa del Carmen, half a dozen theme parks share the seaside, offering a wide variety of activities.
It was therefore impossible for us not to include theme parks in our TOP 10 activities in the Riviera Maya!
The largest and most diverse theme park in the region, which prioritizes outdoor activities.
- Beaches overlooking the sea.
- Underground rivers carved into the limestone subsoil.
- Wide choice of shows based on Mexican traditions.
- Natural attractions such as viewing animals in captivity.
- Mayan ruins.
🌿 Xel - Ha
This other theme park, famous for its lighthouse-slide, gives priority to aquatic activities, the marine world and water games.
- Cenotes and underground rivers.
- Delphinus to swim with dolphins in captivity.
A theme park specially designed to awaken the instincts of all those who wish to reconnect with their adventurous dreams:
- Multiple zip lines.
- Descent of rivers in small boats, rafting type.
- Exploration of underground rivers.
- Caving in natural caves.
Inspired by the famous floating district of the same name in Mexico City. This theme park takes up the concept of the ride through a network of canals that made its namesake famous.
- Stroll aboard “trajineras”, large flat-bottomed boats.
- Typical Mexican food and refreshments.
- Traditional music performed by the famous mariachis.
Another theme park proposal this time focused on playful activities and recreational experiences. Objective: physical and emotional surpassing. Attention thrill seekers!
- The corridor of dwarves and giants.
- Crossing caves to sharpen the senses and perceptions.
- Visiting sanctuaries where many species of free-birds live in freedom.
- Protected areas where fish can be observed.
Advice: To visit these theme parks in the best conditions, we recommend that you devote a whole day to each one of them because in addition to their large area and the multitude of activities that you will have the opportunity to do, you must add almost one hour drive from and back to Cancun.
The theme parks of the Riviera Maya are great places to spend a day of relaxation and activities with family and friends.
They bring together a large number of tourist attractions and are stepping up efforts to make their operation more in line with nature.
Some theme parks can be considered as nature reserves which participate in the preservation of the ecosystems of Quintana Roo.
They set up conservation programs for wild flora and fauna. That's why we reward them with 🌿 🌿.
However, they cannot be considered as true ecotourism activities of the Cancun region and the Riviera Maya.
- They are very energy intensive. 🔋
- They produce a lot of waste.
- They divert natural resources to their advantage. 💧
- They support the captivity of wild animals. 🐬
- Their employees are generally underpaid. 💸
N°10 Cenotes: natural pools 🏊
Another activity that makes Cancun and the Riviera Maya so successful is of course exploring and swimming in cenotes.
Cenotes are part of a vast network of underground rivers found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
Filtered by the basements, the waters of these cenotes, real open-air natural swimming pools, are as soft as they are crystalline.
There are many places to find cenotes in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
The closest to Cancun is without a doubt the Road of Cenotes. It is located near Puerto Morelos. You will find cenotes more or less wild or equipped with tourist infrastructures.
One of the most impressive places and entirely dedicated to the discovery of these natural cavities is the majestic Dos Ojos Park.
You can also go to Paraisos Park which combines aquatic activities and beaches, a paradisiacal setting surrounded by the jungle.
For lovers of diving, some cenotes offer experienced divers excursions to discover the underground rivers of the Yucatan Peninsula.
To find out more, check out our article « Adventure tourism: water activities in Cancun and Riviera Maya »
In addition to their exceptional geological characteristics, cenotes contribute to the local economy.
Indeed, most of them are in Mayan territory.
Their tourism therefore contributes to the development of communities.
Remember to shower before entering the cenote.
Sunscreen pollutes natural ecosystems and deteriorates the quality of the water in cenotes.
🎁 BONUS: 100% ecological and solidarity activities
🌿 🌿 🌿 Visit the Mayan communities.
Visiting the Mayan communities that live in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula is a unique experience
A chance to meet the descendants of the ancient Mayan people.
A thousand-year-old civilization that dominated this region of the globe for several centuries.
Their relationship with nature and the ancient gods, their language, their traditional medicine, their crafts, their gastronomy…
So many pearls of wisdom and knowledge that are keen to perpetuate.
They gladly share them with visitors who wish to learn more about their fascinating and ancestral culture.
🌿 🌿 🌿 Participate in a flora and fauna preservation program.
These are fairly confidential ecotourism practices that we are sharing with you here, dear readers.
It is possible, in various places of the Riviera Maya, to take part in voluntary programs for the protection and preservation of nature.
In Akumal, and on some beaches in Cancun, turtles come to lay their eggs after dark.
During this period (July to September), you can volunteer to help collect turtle eggs from the beaches.
They will then be protected in marine farms until they hatch and then released, another highlight for which volunteers are needed.
Inland, Mayan communities have implemented animal reintegration programs (deer, wild turkeys, honey bees).
You can lend them a hand and learn how they participate in the preservation of this natural heritage.
Another option, an agrarian initiation to the sowing of their land with ancestral agricultural practices.
Here you go, dear readers, one more page to add to your knowledge of the Yucatan Peninsula!
No more reason to have a guilty conscience to come and enjoy Cancun and the Riviera Maya. All you need to do is take the right actions to respect and preserve the environment. Each one at its scale.
As we have shown you, there are alternatives to mass tourism. From now on, you can opt for eco-friendly vacations in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
So enjoy it!
To learn more about a different kinds of tourism in Cancun :
- Ecotourism in Cancun: an alternative to discover the Mexican Caribbean
- Nature tourism in Cancun and Riviera Maya
- Adventure tourism in Cancun and Riviera Maya
- Adventure tourism water activities in Cancun