Last updated: 02:30 PM ET, Tue August 23 2016

Off the Beaten Path in Cancun

Hotel & Resort | Oasis Hotels & Resorts | Kristina Rundquist | August 23, 2016

Off the Beaten Path in Cancun

PHOTO: Where else can you find a museum that is completely underwater? (Courtesy Museo Subacuatico de Arte)

Cancun is known for its stunning beaches, fast-paced nightlife and all-around party atmosphere, but there’s more than meets the eye.

Visitors who want to learn a bit more about the real Mexico owe it to themselves to explore some of the area’s best (and unique) attractions, and the great folks at Oasis Hotels & Resorts will certainly help you find these great places.

Not only will visitors return home with a deeper understanding of Mexico, its culture and its people, but they are guaranteed to have some great stories to share as well. After all, where else can you visit a museum in fins and a dive mask or walk with the crocodiles?

Here are five must-see, off-the-beaten path destinations that will delight first-time and repeat visitors alike:

MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte). This museum is not for landlubbers; but for those who dare to don the snorkeling gear, magic awaits you. Cancun’s first underwater museum was created to pull visitors away from the area’s natural coral reef toward what will someday be a man-made reef. In the meantime, however, it’s an exhibit — “The Silent Evolution" — of more than 500 life-size sculptures made of pH-neutral clay, which over time will convert into a coral reef, attracting fish and other sea life. The installation is divided into two sections, one four meters deep and only accessible by snorkelers, and a second, which at eight meters can be visited by both divers and snorkelers.

Puerto Morelos. Located 20 miles from Cancun, this fishing village is everything you think of when you think about the “real” Mexico, or at least the Mexico that’s relatively untouched by tourists. A laid-back vibe, a picturesque village and pristine white beaches make this worth the drive. Be sure to visit the nearby Croco Cun Zoo, where you can get up close (dare to walk with the crocs) and personal with such local wildlife as crocodiles, white-tailed deer, parrots and more.

READ MORE: Living The Mayan Culture

Mercado 23. This large, open-air flea market is among one of Cancun’s oldest markets and where locals go to do their shopping. With everything on offer from household goods to fresh veggies and fruit, it’s a great place to while away an afternoon. Be sure to bring your appetite, as food vendors abound.

Isla Contoy. Birders will rejoice as this island is home to more than 150 species of birds, including flamingoes, white egrets, the brown pelican and the roseate spoonbill. It’s been a protected area since 1961 and today is one of the area’s most important shelters for sea birds. There’s more to this island than birds, however. Its mangrove forests provide shelter to numerous species, including three species of sea turtles which come ashore each summer to lay their eggs. It’s also an ideal snorkeling destination thanks to the world’s second largest barrier reef—the Ixlache coral reef.

Cenotes Dos Ojos. Meaning “two eyes” in Spanish, these two cenotes are connected by an underwater cavern and have consistently been counted as one of the world’s 10 longest underwater cave systems since the late '80s. Just south of Tulum, it’s an easy day trip and offers something for the whole family. Be sure to bring your own snorkeling gear to avoid rental fees.

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