14 Cancun Landmarks & Historical Sites to Visit

7 min read

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Aerial of blue water and a stunning white sandy beach with nipa hut umbrellas
Cancun is famous for its Mayan temples and amazing sandy beaches

There's no shortage of Cancun landmarks to explore. The Yucatan Peninsula was once home to the Mayans, whose temples still dot the region. It's also known for its resorts and merry-making for singles, families, and honeymooners alike.

Whether you're looking for adventure, culture, relaxation, or romance, you'll find it in Cancun and the surrounding area, and this list of landmarks will help you sort out where to begin and end your journey.

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☂️ Top tours and experiences in Cancún

14 Landmarks in Cancun, Mexico

Cancún Landmarks Video

Check out our highlights video of Cancún landmarks.

Cancún Landmarks Map

A map of Cancún landmarks. Use the map to explore all of the points of interest.

Cancún Landmarks Map

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Tourists in life jackets swim in a lazy river that runs through a natural wall
In Xcaret Park, nature lovers can swim in the famous underground rivers

Cancun Scenic Tower

The Scenic Tower in Xcaret Park, also known as Torre Escenica in Spanish, gives breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea and the Riviera Maya coastline. At 260 feet high (80 meters), you can see the natural surroundings and gain a panorama of the park that the colorful, rotating tower is found in.

The sprawling Xcaret is one of the famous landmarks in Cancun, Mexico, and it aims to be a one-stop shop for tourists. For nature lovers, there are snorkeling locations and underground rivers to explore.

"Xcaret Mexico Espectacular" offers dinner and a show celebrating the country's history from pre-Columbian Mayan culture to modern times. It is one of the best things to do in Cancun at night.

☂️ Visit the Torre Escénica del Embarcadero de Cancún with an experience

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Human sculptures standing underwater
Over 500 underwater sculptures can be found in the Cancun Underwater Museum

Cancun Underwater Museum

The floor of the Caribbean Sea has been transformed into a canvas at the fascinating Underwater Museum of Art, or MUSA for short. The installations combine human sculptures with the otherworldly silence beneath the water to produce powerful and haunting tableaus.

There are two exhibits that you can see, depending on your interests and experience. The first is the Punta Nizuc at the edge of the hotel zone (zona hotelera). These thirty-three sculptures are easily viewed by snorkelers and are more easily accessible to visitors.

The more expansive Manchones exhibit at Isla Mujeres has 473 sculptures, but at over twenty-five feet deep, you'll need to go scuba diving to see them properly.

El Meco Archaeological Site

The El Meco ruins just outside the Hotel Zone contain the tallest temple in this region of the Yucatan peninsula. This is one of the historical landmarks in Cancun, Mexico, that was an important city for trade before the arrival of Europeans.

El Meco was opened to the public in the early 2000s after decades of excavation and restoration efforts. There are now three plazas where you can explore the centuries-old structures, making it an excellent way to spend a morning.

El Rey Archaeological Zone is one of the famous Cancun landmarks to visit

El Rey Archaeological Zone

Head to El Rey Archaeological Zone if you're looking for historical sites in Cancun to visit without leaving the Hotel Zone. Most of its forty-seven surviving structures date back over five hundred years, and beneath the Cancun ruins are the burial sites of at least five hundred ancient Mayans.

El Rey means "The King" in Spanish, and the site received this name from travelers in 1909 who thought that a sculpture they saw here represented royalty. Today, the sculpture is protected in the Archaeological Museum of Cancun.

Iglesia de Cristo Rey

Constructed in 1971, Christ the King Church in Cancun was the first Catholic Church built in the city. Two gardens surround the simple but beautiful church, and often, open-air masses are held here.

This church is a popular option among people who want to make Cancun the site of a destination wedding or for travelers who want to catch a mass on vacation.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen

The Church of Our Lady of Carmen is in Playa del Carmen, about an hour away from the Hotel Zone in Cancun by bus or car. The church manages to be small yet grand with its unique design, and the tall, white outer walls make it picture-perfect for a wedding location. This is one of the historical sites near Cancun that must be on your Playa del Carmen itinerary!

They also hold an English service at a.m. a.m. on Sundays for travelers still struggling with the local language. Playa del Carmen itself is a metropolitan beach town with a lot to offer, so you may consider sticking around for the rest of the day to enjoy a different kind of vibe from the Hotel Zone in Cancun.

Foamy waves break on a green rocky coast under a blue sky with a few clouds
Punta Sur, the southernmost point of Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres

Just across Bahia de Mujeres (Bay of Women) from Cancun lies Isla Mujeres (Island of Women). Both the bay and island get their names by being sacred to Ixchel, the Mayan goddesses of the moon and fertility.

Here, you'll find a more laid-back getaway from the steady hum and busier attractions, and its Playa Norte is considered one of the best beaches in Mexico. Isla Mujeres offers more than relaxation, though, and visitors can enjoy water sports, marketplaces, and swimming with whale sharks.

If you want to visit Isla Mujeres and the famous Chichén Itzá, you can book a two-day tour that takes you to both places. But reserve your spot quickly as this is one of the most popular Chichén Itzá excursions from Cancún.

☂️ Explore Isla Mujeres on a tour

Pelicans standing on a wooden pier with a hut over beautiful blue water on a nice day
Isla Contoy is an uninhabited island under Mexican government protection

Isla Contoy

Isla Contoy is uninhabited by humans and has been protected by the Mexican government since 1961. It's an important preserve for migrating bird and fish species, such as the brown pelican and double-crested cormorant.

While there are no lodging options on the island, you can reserve your spot as one of only two hundred visitors allowed here per day. On-site biologists lead tours to bird-nesting locations, and you can stop to snorkel in the Ixlache Reef on your way there or back.

Mayan Museum of Cancun

The Mayan Museum of Cancun, or Museo Maya de Cancun, opened its doors in 2012 to celebrate the once-powerful Mayan civilization. The first room in the museum is dedicated specifically to local archaeology in Quintana Roo, moved here from places like El Meco, El Rey, and Centro Ceremonial Kohunlich.

The second room shares a more general history of the Mayan civilization, and the third room hosts a rotation of temporary exhibits. For this reason, only about 400 of the museum's 3,500 artifacts are on display at any particular moment.

☂️ Visit Museo Maya de Cancún y Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito with a tour

The ancient San Miguelito Ruins are one of the famous Cancun landmarks to see
The San Miguelito Ruins are a 200-acre historical site named after a coconut ranch

San Miguelito Archeological Site

The San Miguelito Ruins are located right next to the Mayan Museum of Cancun. The Mayan name has been lost, but the modern name comes from the San Miguel coconut ranch that operated on the site between 1950 and 1970.

There are four main groupings of the ruins: the North Complex, the Dragon Complex, Chaak Palace, and the South Complex. A north-south path connects the two-hundred-acre zone. It typically takes about an hour to meander through its different sections and is one of the unique things to do in Cancun.

A red and white striped lighthouse standing on a rocky cliff by the blue sea
The Punta Cancun Lighthouse is the perfect spot to watch a sunset

Punta Cancun Lighthouse

Cancun, Mexico landmarks are famously photogenic, but this favorite of locals and tourists is especially beautiful and a great spot to catch a sunset.

The red-and-white striped Punta Cancun Lighthouse is found on a rocky outcrop and stands tall at the far northern end of the Hotel Zone. The external staircase spiraling its way to the top of the lighthouse does not reach the ground, however, and it's not accessible for tours.

Near the ferry landing in Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel

Cozumel Island is one of the most visited ports for Caribbean cruise ships. As a port of call, there are many ready-made adventures and tours to be found that are designed to last for a few hours before getting guests back to their ships.

These activities include snorkeling or scuba diving in the coral reef, taking jeep tours of the island, and swimming with dolphins. This lines up well for daytrippers, but if you're staying nearby and can spend a little more time on the island, you'll find no shortage of things to do.

On the island's eastern and southern coasts, you can visit secluded beaches, find lesser-known Mayan ruins, see nesting turtles, and marvel at ocean blowholes.

Distant view of old ruins on a rocky cliff, overlooking the blue ocean
The Tulum Mayan Ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Tulum Archaeological Zone

Perhaps the most famous of the historical landmarks in Cancun and Quintana Roo is the Tulum Mayan Ruins. A short road trip from Cancun, Tulum was a seaport specializing in jade and turquoise trade. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the top landmarks in North America. It is a must-visit for any first-timers to the area!

The limestone walls protecting the important Mayan city are about a half-mile in perimeter and conclude at the Castillo. The Castillo backs up to the sea and is one of the largest and best-preserved Mayan ruins in their once expansive territory.

☂️ Experience Tulum with a tour

Sun rays passing through an underwater cave with divers exploring the area
Xplor Park is famous for its underground rivers, ziplining circuits, and ATV tours

Xplor Park

Another attraction in nearby Playa del Carmen is Xplor Park. Xcaret runs Xplor, but the less developed surroundings allow visitors to more fully experience one of the unique features of the Yucatan peninsula: cenotes.

Cenotes (say-NO-tays) are sinkholes or caverns filled with water, like underground lakes connected to an intricate system of subterranean rivers. The whole system is found lining the perimeter of the impact crater Chicxulub, formed by the meteorite credited with knocking out the dinosaurs.

Xplor Park also has two ziplining circuits and ATV paths through the jungle, and its nearby sister-site of Xel-Ha has a huge natural water park.

☂️ See Xplor on a tour

Conclusion

Cancun is a popular destination for a good reason, with lots to see and do in and around the resort area. The all-inclusive resorts will let you sit back and not worry about a thing. When you're feeling refreshed enough to go adventuring, the Yucatan peninsula awaits with adventure, beaches, and ruins.

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Written by Andrew Sayles

atsayles FORMER WRITER A traveler, teacher, and blogger currently based in Oregon. Andrew has lived in 5 countries, traveled to 60, and crisscrossed the continental US an unhealthy number of times.

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