Get Outside in Cancun: 3 Best Nature Activities

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Cancun is Mexico’s largest tourist destination. And yet, so much of the Cancun area is overlooked by most travelers in favor of those gorgeous Caribbean beaches. If you’re headed to the state of Quintana Roo, consider nature tourism (including beaches!). It's ecotourism Cancun at its finest. 

Here are 3 of the best nature activities to do in and around Cancun:

Get Outside in Cancun: 3 Best Nature Activities

Musa Museum Underwater (MUSA)

We’ve long shared the work of our favorite sculptor, Jason deCaires Taylor, here on Wandering Educators. I’m entranced with his artistic and . The world’s first underwater sculpture park, the Museo Subaquático de Arte (MUSA), should be your first stop in exploring nature here. There are over 500 sculptures (cast from locals!) in this underwater museum, which is part of the National Marine Park of Cancun and Isla Mujeres. 

Jason deCaires Taylor - La Jardinera de la Esperanza
Jason deCaires Taylor diving next to La Jardinera

You can take a glass-bottomed boat, snorkel, or dive to see them. The non-profit museum’s mission is to preserve coral reefs and educate visitors about our oceans. 


Besides having the world’s second largest reef system, this area boasts more than 6,000 cenotes. 

Cenotes. From Get Outside in Cancun: 3 Best Nature Activities

These freshwater wells, part of underwater river systems, are So Much Fun to play in and explore. You might swim in open air cenotes, or head into ones that are in caves (stalactites!). The clear water and unique nature of cenotes will make visiting this an experience you will treasure.

Nature Reserves & Parks

The Sian Ka'an biosphere is a UNESCO World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve. Home to over 300 species of birds, this reserve includes a barrier reef, tropical forests, wetlands, lagoons, mangroves, and beaches. The animal life is quite diverse, and includes jaguars, the Central American tapir, marine life (manatees!), endangered monkeys, turtles, birds galore, and crocodiles. It is located 2 hours south of Cancun, near Tulum.

Parrots in the Sian Ka'an biosphere. From Get Outside in Cancun: 3 Best Nature Activities

Nichupté lagoon is large area in Cancun that includes seven lagoons in this mangrove ecosystem. Visitors can swim, dive, snorkel, kayak, or boat to see both birds and marine life.

Isla Contoy is an island that was declared a National Park by the Mexican government in 1998 (being a protected area since 1961). Only 200 visitors are allowed each day. The island is home to four endangered turtles and a bird sanctuary. You’ll need to book with an approved tour, and follow all guidelines (including reef-safe sunscreen).  Guided tours with a biologist are available; visitors can also swim, birdwatch, and explore.

Birds on Isla Contoy. From Get Outside in Cancun: 3 Best Nature Activities

Centro Ecológico Akumal is a Sea Turtle Sanctuary that protects marine species and coral reefs. This NGO was declared a turtle refuge in 2016, and a sanctuary in 1998. If you are able to stay a bit longer (4 weeks), you can volunteer with turtle nesting patrol. Can’t stay that long? Go on a guided turtle walk (limit 10 participants), or visit during the Sea Turtle Festival for more activities.  There is also a monkey sanctuary and rehabilitation/rescue facility on Akumal. 

Yum Balam Flora and Fauna Protection Area, northwest of Cancun, was created in 1994. This area is a Whale Shark Sanctuary and Nature Reserve, and is also home to over 400 bird species, many endangered species (jaguars, tapids, crocodiles, manatees, monkeys, and more). This is the largest nature reserve in the country. Isla Holbox, which is part of the nature reserve, is a car-free island. A lagoon on the island, Punta Cocos, has occasional visible bioluminescence. 

Get Outside in Cancun: 3 Best Nature Activities


Have you explored nature in and around Cancun and the Riviera Maya? What did you love most?