Mexico Caribbean Coast: 21 Crazy Fun Activities!

March 1, 2023

mexico caribbean coast

You’re familiar with it. That glorious slice of land where the Yucatan Peninsula meets the Caribbean Sea. With impossibly iridescent turquoise water lapping onto soft, white-sand, palm-lined beaches, the Mexico Caribbean coast is the very definition of “tropical paradise.”

Stretching north from Cancun down to Chetumal on the border of Belize, the Mexican Caribbean has much to offer from fascinating ancient ruins,  mystical cenotes, underground rivers, and charming villages.  Whether you’re after history, culture, adrenaline-filled activities, beaches, or watersports, the Mexican Caribbean has something for everyone. Whether you choose fun-filled things to do in Playa del Carmen or a smaller fishing village like Puerto Morales, you can’t go wrong.

Is there a bad time to visit? Probably not. But when temperatures begin their frigid decline and images of a sultry retreat invade, unbidden, into your consciousness, that’s probably the most desirable time. But there’s also the shoulder season just before or after the September rains. And even though summer heat can be steamily humid on the Yucatan Peninsula, many people must take their vacation due to company holiday shut-downs or children out of school. All things considered, there really is no bad time to pack your swimsuit and head south to the land of sun and sea.

Mexico’s Caribbean coast can be a cost-effective retreat from many locations in the U.S. And from Cancun in the north, down through Playa del Carman, to Tulum in the south, the number of things to do is endless, fitting every pocketbook from budget to luxury.

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Here are the best things to do on the Mexico Caribbean coast, in no particular order — they are all fabulous!

1. Private lagoon.

mexico caribbean coast

The secret gem Laguna Kaan Luum was our favorite spot in Tulum! Frequented mostly only by locals, this slice of heaven was a much-needed respite from the crowds that seemed to be everywhere in Tulum.

laguna kaan luum

In the middle of a lush green jungle, the open cenote is surrounded by a shallow lake of clear turquoise-green, bathwater warm water.

It’s imperative to stay away from the dark cobalt-blue cenote near the middle of the lagoon because of the strong currents that can drag you down to the bottom, which is said to be 262 feet deep.

laguna kaan Luum

The charming site is mostly rustic, with a few thatched huts for shade, a tower to climb for views, two piers, overwater hammocks and swings.

laguna kaan luum

We loved just chilling out in the shallow water – so much warmer than all the other cenotes and much to my liking. I didn’t want to leave!

2. Explore Mayan Ruins

mexico caribbean coast

It may not be the most expansive or highly excavated of the Mayan ruins, but Tulum is arguably the most unique and stunning. The Mayan’s only seaside archeological site, Tulum was built in the 13th century. The iconic Castillo structure is perched on a cliff, standing sentry over the brilliant turquoise of the Caribbean Sea. Guided tours are available, but it is also possible to walk through the ruins at your own pace.

mexico caribbean coast

If you love exploring ancient Mayan sites, you can visit the nearby Coba ruins.

oxtankah

Further south, near Chetumal, the Oxtankah ruins are smaller but hardly ever visited.

3. Learn about Mayan culture.

mayan culture

There cannot be a more fun way to experience Mayan culture than at Xcaret Park. The numerous live shows enact various scenarios from the Mayan and Mexican way of life, such as the Mayan ball court, Papantla flying men, Viva Mexico show, and an open-air theater with performances several times a day. There are caves, a Mayan village, a butterfly pavilion, aquarium, bat cave, beaches, and pools. Try swimming with dolphins, sharks, and stingrays, float along the underground river, or make chocolate from cocoa beans. If you are fortunate enough to be in the park on November 2nd for the Day of the Dead celebration, be prepared for a broad spectrum of amazing special events and traditional food-tasting.

4. Swim with whale sharks.

whale shark

This is one of the most incredible and memorable experiences in all of Mexico, perhaps in the entire world. Migrating just off the coast of Isle Mujeres near Cancun, these behemoth creatures are gentle and don’t seem to mind humans snorkeling close to them. Whale sharks are filter feeders and eat only plankton and can grow to 40 feet long. Their visits are seasonal, though, so make sure to check with a tour and see if they will be in the Yucatan area before visiting.

Click here to read about my mind-blowing whale shark snorkeling encounter!

5. Get a fish pedicure.

fish pedicure

Garra rufa fish, also known as “doctor fish” are becoming increasingly more popular as a means to remove dead skin from the feet. The tiny fish are added to a sterilized communal footbath for each customer. Having no teeth, they literally suck the dead skin off, making the surface of your feet smoother. Disclosure: if your feet are ticklish, the fish pedicure is literally torture!

6. Jump into a cenote.

mexico caribbean coast

Pronounced “say-NO-tay,” a cenote is a natural sinkhole created when the ceiling of a cave collapses, partially exposing an underground river or waterhole. Cenotes were considered sacred by the ancient Mayans. The water is fresh and cool and provides various heights for jumping from platforms or cliffs.

I’ve swam in a dozen or so cenotes in Mexico. I love them all, but Cenote Calavera might be the most fun!

Calvara means “skull” in Spanish and is named because of the shape of this cenote, which has two small holes in the ground that represent eyes and one large hole that represents the mouth. The deepest part is 54 feet deep.

The unique things about this cenote are the holes you can jump in and the swing (Yay! Photo op!) As you can guess, Kary did the jumping and I posed for the photo op. J

Cenote Calavera is a “Cántaro” or jug type of cenote which has an opening in the roof which is smaller than the water-filled cave cenote below. Most people jump into the largest “mouth” hole; the eye holes are smaller but you can jump one person at a time doing a “pencil” jump (although people have gotten injured).

I would recommend that you arrive early. We got there about 10 minutes before it opened in the morning and there was hardly anyone there. I assume it gets more crowded as the day goes on…

cenote calvara

You can find more about Mexico’s incredible cenotes here.

7. Enjoy the local cuisine.

Mexico Caribbean coast

Regional Yucatan food is delicious and inexpensive. Salbutes, empanadas, tamales, churros, nachos, tacos, quesadillas and chimichangas may be familiar to most travelers and certainly worthy of consuming. But do try the fresh local street food. Or a Mayan traditional dish like Filete de Yucatán, a pork fillet marinated in tamarind seeds, chile peppers and sour orange then sautéed and served with pickled onions and black beans.

8. Dive the underwater museum.

mexico caribbean coast

It’s surreal. 500 magnificent life-sized underwater sculptures created by British sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor and submerged 30 feet below the ocean surface in the Museo Subacuático de Arte, or MUSA, off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. The collection, entitled “The Silent Evolution” was generated as an alternate dive site focused on the creation of a new artificial reef. The relatively shallow depth also makes MUSA a good option for a first-time scuba dive.

Click here to read about my scuba diving the underwater museum.

9. Party hearty.

mexico caribbean coast

There’s plenty of partying to be had, particularly in Cancun around the convention area known as the “Party Zone.” The nightlife can get pretty raucous, as night turns into morning. Some hot spots are Coco Bongo, Carlos ‘n Charlies, Senor Frogs, Congo Bar, and Palazzo.

10. Speed through mangroves.

Mexico Caribbean coast

Drive your own 2-person speed boat through the mangrove-lined channel. It’s fun to catch some air as you accelerate along the 45-minute ride in Cancun’s lagoon. As part of this tour, you’ll go out to Punta Nizuc, part of the world’s second-largest coral reef for a snorkeling opportunity with vibrant marine life.

11. Fly high in a jetpack.

mexico caribbean coast

If you’ve ever dreamed of flying, here’s where technology will let you live out that fantasy. This is a pure adrenaline rush.   Strap on a water-propelled jetpack and begin the process of soaring up to 40 feet above sea level. Disclosure: getting up over the water is actually very, very difficult, although the instructors (one talking to you via a microphone in your helmet and one in the water with you) are quite patient.

Full transparency: this is probably the worst experience I’ve ever had while traveling (aside from my car accident in South Africa, that is). I have very little upper body strength and it was nearly impossible to hold the heavy equipment up. I kept crashing down, head-first, into the water and it was hard to get my head out of the water. It was really scary and panicky. I barely got out of the water one time, and luckily they got the photo above. My brother loved it though, and he got really high. So…be aware.

12. Visit an eco-park.

Mexico Caribbean coast

For a fun-filled day of water-based fun, head straight to Xel-Há, an ecology, and aquatic-themed park. The name comes from the Mayan words “Xel” meaning “birth” and “Ha” meaning “water.” The scenery, flowers, and fauna are gorgeous, and there are tons of things to do in this great natural wonder. Swim or snorkel in the cove, cenotes, lagoon or caves. Try a traditional zip line or perhaps the new “flying bicycles” where you are strapped into a bike-like contraption in which you can peddle around in the air attached to a zip line. Interact with dolphins, test your balance on the floating bridge, get a fish pedicure, hike along the many lush paths, or hurl yourself into the water from various height cliffs. Or – my personal favorite – grab an inner tube and take a one-hour float down the lazy river. Xel-Há is that sort of soul-refreshing place frequently sought after.

13. Get pampered at an all-inclusive.

Mexico Caribbean coast

The Caribbean coast of Mexico is awash in all-inclusive resorts. While the initial cost can look high, these can actually be a good value, especially for those who are inclined to have higher food and alcohol bills. They also tend to be the more upscale resorts. But don’t fret if you’re not a big drinker – many resorts also offer a rate that doesn’t include meals or drinks. My favorite luxury resort is the Grand Velas Resort in Riviera Maya.  There’s also the El Dorado Royale. For a tight budget, try the Mia Cancun – oceanfront with gorgeous views from the turret room…if you don’t mind climbing five flights of stairs.

INSIDER TIP: What to pack for Mexico

14. Bargain hunt.

mexico caribbean coast

Some people do not like haggling for bargains at the markets, but it can actually be a lot of fun and a win/win for both parties if you adhere to the unstated rules. First of all, many of the products are already selling for much lower than similar products in the US markets (if you can even find them in the US), so you’re already ahead of the game. Second, the shopkeepers expect you to counter with a lower price, so have fun. Negotiation is part of the process. Keep in mind, they need to make a living too, so don’t make an insulting, ridiculous offer and expect it to be taken.

16. Instagram Tulum.

IG tulum

Love them or hate them, Tulum has an unequaled plethora of Instagram ops. So I set out to find as many as I could, with some restrictions.

ig tulum

tulum instagram

  • I never waited in the ubiquitous lines to get a photo, which is often an hour or more. This was easy to avoid because we left the Tulum hotel zone early every morning to escape the hordes, when the partiers were still asleep. We’d stop at a couple each day along the way to where we were going.

tulum instagram

tulum instagram spots

  • We did NOT stop traffic or do any other “annoying tourist behaviors” to get the shots. Same as #1 above.

famous instagram tulum

Note, the famous Ven a la Ruz wooden sculpture was closed for repairs the whole time we were there.

17. Go kayaking.

kayaking in mexico

The Mexico Caribbean coast has the perfect conditions for kayaking. There are many places to give it a try. Our favorite was out in the calm lagoon of Los Rapidos. The water color was surreal and passing the fossilized stromatolites was beyond fascinating.

18. Go glamping.

glamping tulum

glamp· ing (noun) the activity of camping with some of the comforts and luxuries of home

Have you tried it? My first (and only) time was on my Kenya safari with Elewana Group. It was uber high end and that trip was probably my most memorable – which is really saying something as I’ve been all over the world.

glamping

While our glamping in Tulum was nowhere near that level of luxury, I actually did enjoy it a lot. I never camp and don’t like roughing it, but we had a huge tent (probably more like a yurt, with soaring ceiling) with a comfy king-sized bed and sitting area with 2 chairs, a table, and lamp. Kary’s favorite part was the outdoor bathroom surrounded by jungle, with a toilet at one end, shower at the other, and large vanity and round hanging mirror in the middle.

No air conditioning, of course, but we had two large fans which was fine because it was on the Mexico Caribbean coast, it  cooled down substantially at night.

Oh, and did I mention we had our own private cenote?

We were all the way down the hotel zone, almost at the entrance to Sian Ka’an Bio Reserve, so no hordes of people.  However, we were also just across the street from the beach, but as previously mentioned, all access to (and views of) the beach were walled off so we were never able to walk to it, which really sucked.

19. Fossilized stromatolites.

cocolitos

Bacalar Lagoon is often called “the Maldives of Mexico.” Having now been to both, I’d concur that’s an accurate description. The local Mayans call Bacalar the Lagoon of Seven Colors, because they say you can see seven shades of blue in the water. I counted them, you can…from the lightest aqua that shimmers in the sunlight to deep indigo blue on the horizon. Seriously, this lake is arguably prettier than any Caribbean Beach.

One of the BEST places to spend a day is at Cocalitos, a peaceful, swimmable lagoon with fossilized stromatolites, a cenote, and hammocks. There’s a festive restaurant on site that overlooks the water, playing fun contemporary Latin pop music, and serving the best French Fries in Mexico (Mexicans suck at making fries – soggy, limp, and tasteless).

Bacalar is about 30 minutes from the Belize-Mexico border.  Once a secret gem, the stunning turquoise lake and laidback town is becoming more and more discovered.

20. Float a rushing river.

los rapidos

Talk about WOW Factor! The second must-do experience in Bacalar is Los Rápidos. Aka “The Narrows,” Los Rápidos is the narrow channel that connects the lagoon of Bacalar with the lagoon of Xul-Ha, creating a strong current down the channel where you can float. Because of the limestone bottom, the crazy turquoise color of the channel is surreal!

The channel is lined on both sides with stromatolites (sedimentary formations created by colonies of microorganisms.) These fossils are the oldest forms of life, allegedly appearing between 2.5 and 1 billion years ago and are found in very few places on earth. They are fragile and you should not walk on them.

21. Chill out on a hammock

beach hammock

When you tire of exploring Mexico Caribbean coast, seek out an empty hammock – preferably next to one of the beaches, which many consider being among the prettiest in the world – and let the tropical breeze and sound of the surf lull you to sleep. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

The Mexico Caribbean coast is a treasure trove of activities!

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pin mexico caribbean coast

Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Xcaret during her stay on the Mexico Caribbean coast, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer.

About the Author

Patti Morrow

Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.  She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

14 comments

  1. Comment by Suzanne Fluhr

    Suzanne Fluhr Reply January 12, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    The first international trip on which we took our sons was to Playa del Carmen. This was in about 1995 and Playa was still a pretty sleepy town with one main street. Our younger son was recently there and told me it is unrecognizable, having morphed into a small city. In addition to Tulum, one of the prettiest Mayan sites, you can easily do a day trip to Chichen Itza for a more in depth look at Mayan history and you can take a ferry ride to Cozumel for the day. But, these are just gravy. Your 15 things are more than enough to fill a week long holiday.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply January 12, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      Chichen Itza is definitely amazing. I’ve been there 3 times, as well as 7 or 8 other Mayan ruins throughout Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. It’s a 2.5 hr. drive from the coast, though, which is one reason why I wanted to recommend Tulum instead. The other reason is that Tulum’s setting on the turquoise water makes it stand out from all the other Mayan ruins. I just love it. I wanted to concentrate on things to do nearby, which is why I did not include the multitude of really great day trips, e.g. Cozumel, Merida, Valladolid, Izumal, Holbox, etc. No shortage of things to do in that area, which is why I keep going back every year!

  2. Comment by alison abbott

    alison abbott Reply January 12, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    You had me at Tulum. Have you ever seen the movie Against All Odds? I couldn’t get there fast enough after seeing it on screen! We visited Cozumel when it was just a little sleepy fishing village. I’d love to return to the Caribbean coast of Mexico and try some of the other things on your list. That jet pack however-not so sure. I’ve seen people attempt it on the Intercostal in Florida. The falling part doesn’t look fun!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply January 12, 2016 at 5:03 pm

      I loved Against All Odds! Mexico’s Caribbean coast has changed a lot since my first visit 35 years ago, but there’s still a lot of beauty and fun things to do to keep me going back. Plus I’m a sucker for beautiful beaches. As for the jet pack, I’m not gonna lie, it was on my bucket list and I was very excited and expected to do well…. but it was awful! Very difficult and I swallowed more water than all other water activites…combined!

  3. Comment by Vicki Winters

    Vicki Winters Reply January 12, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    This is a great post! I just came back from Isla Mujeres, where we swam with, and were almost swallowed by WHALE SHARKS! Tulúm was spectacular (for the 10 minutes we had to enjoy it), and the CENOTES were incredible. I’d love to go back and see the underwater museum in Mexico’s Caribbean! GRACIAS!!!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply January 12, 2016 at 6:35 pm

      I’m so glad you liked the post, Vicki! Mexico’s Caribbean coast really is a treasure-trove of fun. I’ve been going since my early twenties, and I still find new and fun things to do along with my established favorites.

  4. Comment by Charles

    Charles Reply January 13, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    15 wonderful reasons to visit Mexico’s Caribbean side. Looking at flight options now!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply January 13, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      Lol, Charles! You go, guy! I may not be far behind you — always something fun to do on Mexico’s Caribbean coast and it’s an inexpensive travel option!

  5. Comment by Irene S. Levine

    Irene S. Levine Reply January 17, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    I love this part of Mexico and it’s obvious you do, too. It’s very easy to get to from the East Coast of the U.S. We’ve stayed at a number of different resorts, one as nice as the other!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply January 17, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      I agree, Irene. The easy flight is one reason why I keep going back, year after year. Plus, there’s always something new to do/try!

  6. Comment by ruth

    ruth Reply May 24, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Lived in Yucatan 3 yrs, had been up/down Costa Maya to Belize border. Finally decided was time to check out Punta Allen, only 50 km from Tulum…but the normal hour long trip took 3 hrs driving our trusty Subaru Outback to get there! The sand road had giant pot-holes and of course, was rainy season! Arrived with tank on ‘E’ with no gas stations. Luckily found some fishermen to buy gas from for the 3 hour return drive. Water was over hood of car, had to get major mechanical overhaul back in Cancun, but we got to see the tip of the tiny peninsula!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply May 24, 2016 at 11:26 am

      Sounds like quite an adventure, Ruth! I’d love to live in the Yucatan for a while!

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