11 Offbeat Experiences in Cancún
While many visitors to Cancún are there to celebrate spring break or load up on chilaquiles and tequila shots at all-inclusive resorts, there's more to this seaside town than hotels and buffets. The area has a rich Mayan history and plenty of art and culture. It's also home to incredible wildlife, which can be found in the form of iguanas sunning themselves on the ruins of ancient temples, turtles coming to shore to lay their eggs, or birds nesting on nearby islands. When you're finished drinking margaritas on the beach, consider these 11 alternative options.
A temazcal is a small, round structure or dome that turns into a steam house. Visitors sit around volcanic stones, first heated with fire, then placed in water and medicinal herbs in the center of the dome. The ensuing hot steam is sought out for its healing, purifying, and spiritual benefits. Temazcal Cancun is located within a forest, less than a half hour's drive from the hotel zone, and fits 12 people per session. Fresh fruit and a chilly cenote are available for nourishing and cooling down following your session.
Located on the nearby Isla Mujeres, the Women's Beading Co-Op offers the opportunity to purchase jewelry and gifts handcrafted by local artisans. Items for sale include bracelets, necklaces, earrings, bags, and more, with 80 percent of each sale going to the artist and the rest to purchase co-op supplies. A beading class is offered Monday through Saturday at 10 a.m. for 250 pesos ($12.53 U.S.) a person.
Also located on Isla Mujeres, this hatchery conserves endangered sea turtles. Volunteers will collect eggs laid on the beach, which are incubated at the hatchery, then released. For just $3, guests can come and see young turtles of various ages and, between May and October, witness the releases of the babies into the wild.
Lorenzillo's is a "live lobster house" in the hotel zone known for its seafood selection, patio dining, lagoon views, and pirate vibe. According to legend, the eponymous pirate Lorenzillo arrived to La Villa Rica de Veracruz on May 18, 1683, excited to experience the cooking of the area. When it did not meet their expectations, they killed the village's wealthy residents out of spite. In 1979, the vengeful pirate's name was selected as a "cautionary tale" to those who would serve mediocre food. Crocodiles are occasionally known to swim near the patio, but feeding them is no longer allowed.
If you really want to get up close and personal with a crocodile, then pay a visit to Croco Cun Zoo, where guests will receive a 60- to 75-minute guided tour with plenty of opportunities to interact with animals. A visit may include encounters snakes, monkeys, birds, deer, Xoloitzcuintli (also known as Mexican hairless dogs), and crocodiles — many of which may be fed or touched. The zoo is located less than an hour south of Cancun, near Puerto Morelos. Admission hovers around $22 for children, and $32 for adults.
Isla Contoy is an island not far from Isla Mujeres, best known as a nesting site for a variety of birds. Since the late '90s, it has operated as a national park. Visitors come for stunning, clear beaches, dense mangrove forests, and to observe the sea turtles and over 150 bird species found on the island. Only 200 visitors are allowed to visit the island each day, which can be reached by boat. On the island, guided tours, walking paths, a museum, and more can be enjoyed.
A cenote occurs when limestone bedrock collapses, thus exposing the cold groundwater beneath. The result is the most breathtaking sinkhole you've ever seen, and there are over 6,000 of them on the Yucatan Peninsula, including the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza, once used as a receptacle for human and material sacrifices by ancient Mayans. Ik Kil is one of the most popular for swimming and diving near Chichen Itza, while Pet Cemetery, near Tulum, is so named for the animal bones snorkelers will find.
The recently rebranded Panama Jack resort, formerly known as the Grand Caribe, is now the hotel arm of the Panama Jack lifestyle brand. Those who buy a day pass to the resort can enjoy select food and beverage options, the pool and beach, but the resort also prides itself on "surprises" that occur randomly throughout the properly. This may include a strolling mime magician, visits with exotic birds, spontaneous dance and theater performances, live music, and more. Costs are $65 a day for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or $95 a day for 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
For those less inclined to make the trek to Chichen Itza, this museum contains both an indoor gallery of Mayan artifacts and the archaeological site of San Miguelito, named for a coconut ranch that occupied the area in the 1950s. Guests can stroll at their own pace along a verdant walking path, teeming with birds and iguanas, and view Mayan ruins dating back to 1250 - 1550 A.D. It's notably serene, as it isn't as popular with tequila-drinking tourists as the all-inclusive resorts and beachside bars. Plus, this fascinating and beautiful museum will set you back only 70 pesos ($3.50), which is an absolute steal. Best of all, it's within the hotel zone and easily accessible by car, taxi, or bus.
Get a bird's eye view via the new Cancún Big Wheel, a giant ferris wheel located in front of the La Isla Shopping Village. Passengers pay $15 to be swept nearly 200 feet in the air, offering views of the Caribbean and the sprawling hotel zone daily from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Each air-conditioned car can fit up to six people at a time, and each ride typically takes about 25 minutes. Afterward, guests can enjoy the shopping plaza, which contains numerous shops, restaurants, and a wax museum.
Beneath the waters between Cancún and Isla Mujeres are some 500 sunken sculptures from English artist Jason deCaires Taylor and others, as commissioned by Museum of Underwater Art founders Roberto Díaz Abraham and Jaime González Cano. The end result is an otherworldly cultural experience for visitors who wind up exploring this artificial reef versus disturbing the natural reefs in the vicinity. Sculptures are positioned at varying depths, and, as such, can be viewed via scuba diving or snorkeling tours, or, for those reluctant to get wet, while riding on a glass-bottom boat. Prices vary based on tour type and operator.
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