By Rachael Funk
You deserve to see more of Cancun than what you’ll find in a guidebook (or ahem on Instagram). If you want to come home with a few stories about the Mexican paradise you found during your trip, check out some of our favorite hidden gems.
About an hour south of Cancun, a fantastical sculpture garden hides in the Mexican rainforest. Created in the late 1940s by eccentric English poet Edward James, the surrealist sculptures sprawl over 80 acres of mountain, waterfalls, and pools.
Playa de Akumal
A day trip that's more than worth the Drive, Akumal is known as the jewel of the coastline. Aptly named ("Akumal" means "place of turtles"), these sugary white sand beaches and warm, shallow waters are a haven for nesting sea turtles and manta rays. If snorkeling is on your agenda, this is exactly where you want to be.
Xoximilco, affectionately called a “floating fiesta,” is one of Mexico’s ultimate party experiences. Your party starts at a traditional Mexican carnival then moves to a gondola where you’ll cruise through the jungle scenery while enjoying an open bar, music, and games.
Puerto Morelos is a small seaside town known for its leaning lighthouse. A symbol of resilience for its locals, the lighthouse has withstood decades of hurricanes and attempted removal. The town itself is ideal for travelers who would like to take a break from the commercial side of the Yucatan Peninsula and connect with Cancun's often-overlooked neighbor.
El Rey Archaeological Area
One of Cancun’s under-the-radar historic attractions, the El Rey Archaeological Area is one of the best places to climb ancient ruins, learn the history of the area, and - most importantly - avoid the biggest crowds.
Punta Cancun Lighthouse
A favorite hideaway for those hoping to catch the most romantic sunrises and sunsets in the area, the Punta Cancun Lighthouse never disappoints. Isolated from the big hotels, the lighthouse is easy to get to from your resort. Few tourists visit, so you can look forward to gorgeous scenery and maybe even a little privacy!
Many travelers already know about Isla Mujeres. Fewer travelers know of Isla Contoy, and fewer still have visited. This 5-mile long island is a highly protected nesting site for sea birds, so despite its stunning white sand beaches and secluded feel, only 200 visitors are allowed onto the island per day.
Dolphin Beach (also nicknamed El Mirador - "The Lookout"), is one of the most noteworthy beaches in Cancun. Blessedly unspoiled, there are no hotels, restaurants, or other structures built on the beach. On-site parking is free, lifeguards are on-duty during the day, and you can count on clean restrooms here! Plus, if you're looking for the perfect photo op, you can visit the wooden lookout to snap a few photos with the colorful "Cancun" sign.