Throwing back one tequila shot too many might be the most adventurous thing to do in Cancun. But when travelers venture into other parts of Quintana Roo state, they'll find a different wild side, one that will simultaneously spark a sense of wonder and get their adrenaline pumping.
When I first heard about the opportunity to swim with whale sharks near Isla Mujeres, I expected to face jaws full of razor-sharp teeth while dangling from a protective cage off the back of a boat, "Shark Week" style. But the largest fish on Earth are actually gentle giants that pose a threat only to plankton, their primary food source.
Travelers can hop on seven-hour expeditions with EcoColors Tours and float next to the 30-foot-long creatures in the sea. Equal parts humbling and exhilarating, getting up close to these endangered beauties sticks with travelers long after they've returned home. The tours, which run daily from May 15 through Sept. 15, start at $165 and include a 7 a.m. pickup from Cancun hotels.
Floating in the dark
Adventure in Quintana Roo continues underground at Rio Secreto, a 2.5 million-year-old river system that opened to the public a decade ago. Travelers feel like Indiana Jones as they venture into the depths and wade through waist-high, crystal-clear water. The obligatory hard hat becomes essential when navigating tight spaces made maze-like by gnarly rock formations jutting from the ground and the ceiling.
Throughout the three-and-a-half-hour tour, engaging guides explain the spiritual significance these caves held for the Mayans before encouraging guests to participate in a sacred tradition: switching off their headlamps, holding hands and floating in a circle for a few minutes. The absence of sound and light offers a welcome escape from the information overload of modern life — a natural version of the sensory deprivation tanks at urban spas. It's impossible not to be swept up in awe of this otherworldly environment.
Tours start at $79 for adults and $39.50 for children and are offered hourly from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day.
Guests on Alltournative’s Emotions Jungle Night tour cruise the canopy on all-terrain vehicles.
Ways to work up a sweat
Adrenaline junkies can get their fix in more ways than one at Alltournative's Emotions Jungle Night. The tour kicks off with three ziplines that send travelers soaring above the treetops. A short hike then leads to the cultural part of the experience: a session in a temazcal (a traditional Mesoamerican sweat lodge). There, a shaman performs a cleansing ritual to ready visitors for a dip in a chilly subterranean pond where bats fly overhead and tiny fish nibble at guests' feet.
The real rush culminates with an after-dark ride through the jungle on all-terrain vehicles. Riders unleash their inner speed demons as they zip around tight turns and zoom over suspension bridges. After the three-and-a-half-hour tour, they wind down by the bonfire before heading back to the hotel to rest up for the next big adventure.
Tours begin at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays, with tickets from $87.20.