Water Activities

Last Updated Sep 7, 2023

The best nautical and aquatic activities in Cancún and the Riviera Maya

A superb coastline.
A vast network of underground rivers. No wonder Cancun and the Riviera Maya offer a wide array of nautical and aquatic activities! Located between the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and a jungle studded with cenotes, the State of Quintana Roo enjoys an ideal geographical position. It offers its visitors all kinds of outdoor activities, water sports, and experiences related to the marine world. In this article, we offer you an overview of the best nautical and aquatic activities available in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

On the program: navigation, underwater exploration, the discovery of natural ecosystems, family activities, and extreme sports!

Are you excited? Good, it's over here! 👇
Get ready to jump on the crytal clear water in the Mexican Caribbean! As always, Odigoo, your winged friend, will get you through your reading with his opinions and advice.

🌿 Eco-friendly activities are marked with a plant symbol.

Table of contents

Let's start without further delay our presentation of the best nautical and aquatic activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

Navigation at any time: sailing, rowing, or motorboats!

A catamaran trip from Cancun

The Catamaran tour is one of the most popular water activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. It offers a varied experience that combines sailing, swimming, and exploring the Islands in the Mexican Caribbean in a festive atmosphere. Catamaran tours include several highlights:

  • Navigation at sea at any time of the day or night. You may have the chance to see marine animals (turtles, dolphins and others)
  • Stopping at different snorkeling spots to discover Cancun’s coral reef (the equipment rental is included in the tour).
  • Tours to Isla Mujeres or Cozumel,, true gems of the Caribbean Sea.
  • A stopover of a few hours on one of the islands to take advantage of their many things to do and places to visit.

Different formulas, as well as many additional services, are offered by the yachting companies that offer these catamaran tours.

  • Private tours or group bookings tours
  • Half-day or full-day
  • Catering service and open bar
  • Musical entertainment (DJ's)

Where to take a catamaran tour?
It is possible to book a catamaran tour along the entire coastline of Quintana Roo: from Cancun to Tulum including Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos. If you go further south, this activity is also available on the shore of the Bacalar Lagoon. To find out more about Bacalar and other must-do excursions in the Riviera Maya, click here.

A kayak or paddle tour 🌿

Among the best water activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, it is impossible not to mention kayaking or paddleboarding. These two activities can be done at sea or in freshwater. On the coastal areas, paddleboard and kayak are ideal to enjoy a different perspective on the beaches in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. On the lagoon side, these activities are recommended if you want to explore the wild ecosystems and observe the nature discreetly. Do you want to observe the wildlife of Cancun and the Riviera Maya? Go on a bird watching tour through the jungle and the mangroves.

The 5 most frequently asked questions about kayaking and paddle boarding:

  • Who? These activities are accessible to everyone. No contraindications of age or previous experience. A good paddle stroke is enough! 😉
  • Where? Very widespread, kayaking and paddleboarding are carried out on all the coastline of Cancun and Riviera Maya.
  • When? Kayaking and paddleboarding can be practiced all year round.
  • How much? Inexpensive rentals are offered by the hour, half a day or by the whole day.
  • How? By yourself or in a group. Take a private tour with an expert guide!
Odigoo Eco Tip:

Choose solidarity tourism! Speak directly to the local communities that offer these guided tours in nature reserves for fairer prices and better redistribution of wealth.

These eco-tourism experiences generally include a discovery of the fauna and flora.

👉 Eco-friendly ? Are you concerned about the environmental impact of your activities? Do not hesitate to consult our article on the issue by clicking here!

Boat trips throughout the Riviera

Here are some of the boat excursions that are among the best water activities in the Riviera Maya.

🚤 The Nichupté lagoon, tourist boat, or speedboat?

Both offer tours to discover the lagoon where the mangroves reign supreme. For a more luxurious ride, other boat models are also available for charter (offshore).

Be careful, keep your hands and feet in the boat! Swimming not recommended

The Sian Ka'an reserve, a guided lancha tour.

There are several ways to enjoy the Sian Ka'an reserve and travel the canals dug by the Mayans. You will sit down, alongside other visitors, in a lancha, a small traditional flat-bottomed boat, for a discovery tour. On the program: meeting wildlife

Sian Ka'an Reserve Infographic
The ruins of Tulum, seen from the sea.

An original way to discover the ruins of Tulum, the only major archeological site in the Riviera Maya located by the sea. Perched on a cliff, the site can be visited but can also be admired from the sea. Service providers offer short excursions including a snorkeling stop.

Other Cancun and Riviera Maya boat tours include sailings to the islands of the Caribbean: Isla Mujeres and Isla Cozumel and the beautiful trip to Isla Contoy.

Contoy Island Infographic

👉 To learn more about the islands in the Mexican Caribbean, read our article! 🌴

Diving under the sea and in "the center" of the Earth

One of the best aquatic activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya is of course diving! This activity includes both scuba diving and snorkeling. The two activities are strongly related and often offered by the same service providers. Scuba diving and snorkeling can be done both in the sea and in the freshwater of cenotes. Snorkeling is an activity that consists of swimming with flippers, mask, and a shaped breathing tube.

In terms of price, snorkeling is quite affordable. Equipment rental is available on beaches and during cenote visits.

Scuba diving is more expensive but also much more technical and sometimes requires specific certificates. Your diving experience level will always be required before going on a diving tour. You must show proof a previous experience with a certification. Without it, you will have to go back to the basic level and redo what is called the "diving baptism".

Good to know!

You do not have proof of your diving level with you? Do not panic! If it is an globl certification such as PADI or SSI, the diving school on site can find you in their database.

Diving in the sea to explore the coral reef

The Caribbean Sea is not only breathtakingly beautiful, but it is also extremely rich! And for good reason. Cancun is located close to the second-largest coral reef in the world. Scuba diving and snorkeling are the best water activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya to enjoy this unique coral reef. 👉 Are you interested inCancun’s coral reef? Learn more about it here.

Cenote diving in the sacred Mayan cave

Diving and snorkeling in cenotes are very different from the same activities that you do in the sea. The cenotes form a vast system of underground rivers and water holes forming natural open-air pools. The cenotes are the only source of freshwater in the Riviera Maya. By diving into the cenote you will discover exceptional natural ecosystems, but also spaces impregnated with the millenary beliefs of the Mayan civilization.

Where to do cenote diving in Cancun and the Riviera Maya? There are several hundred cenotes all over the Yucatan Peninsula, but not all of them are suitable for diving.

The cenote route near Cancun and Puerto Morelos, the famous cenote Ik kil near Chichen Itza Grand Cenote, “Carwash” near Tulum, Dos Ojos, Cenote Sagrado…

Scuba diving to discover a treasure: the MUSA

Another must-do among the best nautical and aquatic activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya: the discovery of the MUSA, the underwater museum of Cancun. The maing objective of this ​​underwater museum is to offer an attraction for the enjoyment of divers as well as to help to develop new coral reef formations. Snorkeling and scuba diving are the two emblematic activities of MUSA, but it is also possible to go on a glass-bottom boat tour to discver the museum without getting wet. The MUSA is made up of several sites where completely submerged statues are grouped together. It can be visited from Cancun or Isla Mujeres.

👉 Prices, duration of dives, packages, certifications… Do you have any questions about diving? We have answers! See you right away in our article dedicated to outdoor activities.

Discover the aquatic fauna of the Riviera Maya

  • The Reserve of Sian Ka'an south of Tulum
  • The Reserve of Rio Lagartos further north in Yucatan
  • The Punta Laguna reserve in the heart of the Peninsula
  • The Nichupté lagoon which borders Cancun

What all these preserved areas have in common is that they are semi-submerged spaces that offer an ideal natural habitat for a large number of aquatic species living in brackish waters or near the Caribbean coasts.

🌿 Aquatic ObservationTour

Wildlife observation tours to discover the natural fauna and flora are one of the best activities to enjoy the exceptional natural environments of Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

These eco-tourism activities can be done in big or small groups in the company of a specialized guide. During your excursions, you will surely have the chance to see many animals. On the lagoon side of the Riviera Maya, crocodiles and manatees reign over the water. On the Caribbean Seaside, and depending on the season, dolphins, turtles, whale sharks, and rays can be observed, to name only the most emblematic species.

Swimming with marine animals

If the observation of aquatic animals is not enough, you can also try swimming with them. 🐢 Swimming with turtles. On Akumal beach located south of Playa del Carmen, you will find the turtles’ “meeting point”. It is possible to swim with them almost all year round, except during the laying period. 🐋 Swimming with whale sharks. The other event that has become emblematic of aquatic activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya is the arrival of the gentle giant of the seas: the whale shark.

From May to September, whale sharks stay in groups of several hundred individuals off the coast of Cancun to eat before continuing their migration.

Swimming with captive animals, such as dolphins, is a well-known attraction. In the Riviera Maya dolphinariums, you can swim alongside tame dolphins. They perform tricks with visitors. Swimming with marine animals, a responsible activity? Learn more abut what we think regarding this activity sought by tourists but not necessarily eco-responsible 🌿 ☀️ in Top activities in Cancun: eco-friendly?

Aquatic activities for the whole family!

Journey to pirate times aboard the Jolly Roger

Departing from Cancun, board the Jolly Roger, an authentic replica of a pirate ship. Step back in time to discover a life-sized spectacle that traces the well-known era of piracy. The most famous theatrical maritime show in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. The Jolly Roger pirate ship offers you a colorful performance, accompanied by dances and music while enjoying food and drinks. An ideal activity to share with all the members of the family.

For lovers, the Jolly Roger offers secluded tables, in a more intimate setting for more romance while enjoying the show!

The water parks in the Riviera Maya

Cancun and Riviera Maya are an ideal multi-destination for an unforgettable family vacation.

One of the great qualities of the destination is that it offers many activities to do with children. Among them, the water parks!

They are some of the best water activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. There are all kinds of fun that will fulfill the dreams of young and old.

Cancun is the ideal place for this type of leisure, there are several water parks or places where family activities related to the marine world can be enjoyed:

  • Cancun's interactive aquarium. An ideal place to spend a fun and educational time with your children during your tour of La Isla.
  • The Cancun Dolphinarium is located in Punta Cancun in the hotel zone of the city.
  • The floating park is located between Playa Langosta and Cancun’s hotel zone.
  • Ventura Park a real aquatic adventure park located south of Punta Nizuc to spend a day of fun for the whole family.
  • The turtle farm is to be discovered not far from Cancun, just a stone's throw away from the big city, on Isla Mujeres.

On Playa del Carmen, it is impossible not to mention the great theme parks in the Riviera Maya. Most of them offer many aquatic activities to their visitors.

For more details on the great theme parks in the Riviera Maya click here!

Surface or depths, extreme sports!

For the adventurous and the hotheads, Cancun and the Riviera Maya also have something to satisfy you. If you're looking for extreme sports and thrills, here's the last part of our article on the best aquatic and nautical activities in Cancun and Riviera Maya. Sensitive souls refrain!

At full speed on the surface of the waves:

Do you want to pick up speed? Or even a little height to fully enjoy the Caribbean Sea? The Cancun coastline is perfect for indulging in extreme sports. Le Jet Ski, l’un des loisirs les plus prisés en bord de mer. En autonomie (si vous êtes détenteur du permis bateau) ou accompagné d’un moniteur, prenez la mer sur le dos de ces scooters de mer et foncez sur les vagues à toute allure !

Pas trop vite quand même, il faut rentrer en un seul morceau 😉 Jet Skiing is one of the most popular leisure activities by the sea. Independently (if you have a boating license), or accompanied by an instructor, take to the sea on the back of these sea scooters and rush on the waves at full speed!

Not too fast though, you have to go back in one piece 😉 The Jet Pack is the new gadget that everyone wants to test. With its propulsion system, the Jet Pack literally lifts you out above the water. With a little practice, you can practice doing tricks in the air!
Truly sensational activity!

Parasailing is for those who want to breathe in the sea air. Nothing better to take a little height and admire the coast from the sea than parasailing! Towed by a speedboat, rise over the waves to enjoy an exceptional view.

Be careful not to hit a seagull! 😂

Underwater caving

If you're not an experienced diver, there's no need to go any further!

Diving is a technical and sometimes dangerous activity that requires practice and experience. Add to that the exploration of flooded caves and you immediately understand that this is an extreme sport just for the ones that know how to do it.

The Yucatan subsoil is like Swiss cheese! Yes, Dear Readers and what is more, a calcareous Gruyère!

It is thanks to this geological peculiarity that the cenotes were formed in the basement of the peninsula. Some are open while others are completely submerged cavities.

Cenote Diving trips will lead you into the depths of the Peninsula underground rivers, to explore the tunnels that are several kilometers long.

A total immersion in the sacred lair of the Mayans, at the gates of the underworld.
Claustrophobes go your way!

Feeding the bull sharks

We can't end this article on the best water and aquatic activities in Cancun and the Riviera Maya without mentioning this special diving trip that will send shivers down your spine.

Admit it, you sometimes hear the music of Jaws while swimming in the ocean. No? Never..? Ah ok, then it's just me 😅

It is often wrong that we consider sharks as dangerous and aggressive creatures.

On the outskirts of Cancun, there are several species of sharks near the coral reef and it is possible to swim with them!

The bull shark is a rather quiet shark with which it is possible to dive. Some diving schools offer diving tours to swim with these sharks and feed them.

Shark diving is an extreme activity that obviously involves risks. The greatest caution is required as well as the respect of the instructions.

👉 Price? Duration of the activity? Age? Restrictions? Do you want more information about these extreme activities? Everything is here! Adventure tourism in the Riviera Maya

Did you like this article? We do our best to provide you with clear information to help you better prepare for your stay in Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

If you want more information on the activities available in the destination, here is other content that may be of interest to you: