Plan for Fun: 5 Fabulous Group Activities in Cancun
If you’re an American planner in the market for something a little different but not too far from home, Cancun, Mexico, is one destination to put high on the list. With great weather, favorable exchange rates, excellent hotel stock, and a unique mix of Mayan and Spanish cultures, Cancun is the land of event opportunities. For those charged with booking group outings that won’t subtract more than a few hours from a packed meetings schedule, Cancun has plenty of those, too. Most activities are conveniently located just minutes from the central, beachfront Hotel Zone, so guests can spend less time schlepping and more time enjoying. That said, planners may find that the biggest challenge is deciding which outings to offer. Here are five options that we test-drove during our recent visit, with help from local destination management company 4Worlds Expeditions.
1. Giving Spirits
Throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, there are a number of Mayan ruins, with many of the larger ones at least one to two hours out of town. The good news, however, is that Cancun has its own modestly sized sites, which gives groups a great way to connect with the ancient culture without a lot of transit time. Stay local and start at the ruins at El Rey (pictured above), a sprawling Mayan complex in the Hotel Zone. Next, head to the north end of town to visit the more compact and more intact ruins at El Meco, which was once a key religious and ceremonial site.
From there, shift gears and make time to give back. Take a donation of essentials such as school supplies, non-perishables, and educational equipment to La Escuelita de Sonia, a tiny DIY school that educates and feeds 130 local, underprivileged children each day. Supported entirely by donations, staffed by volunteers, and operating in the home of Sonia Cejas Martinez since 2005, the school is a moving testament to one woman’s commitment to education for all, regardless of income.
Close out the afternoon and celebrate the sunset with a beach-side Mayan Purification Ceremony and blessing by Shaman Samia, a lovely and soulful local spiritual guide.
2. Retail Therapy
For many people, shopping for mementos and gifts is essential, and for groups, it’s also an opportunity to make memories and connect with the people, crafts, and culture of Mexico. In Cancun, there are several world-class designer malls, but a trip to the mercados, or markets, is a more rewarding experience. Stroll the packed stalls at Mercado 28 to hunt for brightly colored crafts and textiles, or sit down to generous plates of fresh seafood at the market’s outdoor eatery, El Cejas, a favorite with locals and tourists alike.
3. Adrenaline Inducers
Adventure is the name of the game at Selvatica, which is about 30 minutes south of town and among the best adventure parks in Latin America. Adrenaline junkies can choose from multiple treetop activities that allow them to soar, swing, and move through the jungle canopy on wires strung between towers reaching over 100 feet high. For more ground-based guests, Selvatica also offers on-site ATV adventures through jungle terrain or swimming in the crystal-clear waters of their private cenote, a freshwater swimming hole.
4. Sea of Calm
To truly savor Cancun’s spectacular turquoise sea, you have to get in it, ideally with mask and fins. Snorkeling the reefs of Cancun is a must-do, and you’ll get a truly unique experience at the MUSA — the Museo Subacuático de Arte — a monumental underwater museum featuring over 500 sculptures that were strategically placed to help grow the reef and support and protect aquatic life. While snorkeling or scuba diving through the museum is an awe-inspiring way to see the sculptures, guests don’t necessarily have to get wet — they can also tour MUSA via glass-bottom boat.
5. Swimming with (Whale) Sharks
Get your group on a boat with a certified instructor and plunge into the Caribbean to snorkel or dive alongside a couple of 40,000-pound, 45-foot-long whale sharks, the oversized teddy bears of the sea who, thankfully, eat plankton, not people. Planning tip: Whale-shark season runs from roughly June to September, but 4Worlds Expeditions likes early to mid-August for the best chance to spot the animals. Its guides will also take your guests out during the earliest part of the day so they can commune with more whale sharks and fewer humans.
BONUS: Half-Day Island Getaway
Time permitting, take your group on a half- or full-day island getaway via a private catamaran or Ultramar ferry to Isla Mujeres, the laid-back bohemian paradise less than half an hour off the coast of Cancun. The 5-mile-long island offers pristine waters, soft white-sand beaches, and one of the most exciting one-stop attractions: Garrafon Natural Reef Park, which offers a dizzying array of activities, including snorkeling, kayaking, zip-lining over the ocean, touring the island, and relaxing in the saunas, pools, lounge chairs, and hammocks. There’s also a restaurant and bar on-site.