Wondering what are the common animals in Cancun that you may encounter? Read on, as I will tell you all about Cancun wildlife.
I lived in Cancun for 7 years and this city is still my home base where I go to when I am back from my travels.
You probably know Cancun as a metropolitan paradise with endless white-sand beaches, all-inclusive resorts, and vibrant nightlife.
Still, it also has a wide range of animals that you can see. The city is a popular destination for many kinds of travelers, and it offers its visitors the chance to experience Mexico wildlife.
From lizards sunning themselves on rocks to dolphins frolicking in the Caribbean Sea, there are many animals in Mexico that can be seen while vacationing in Cancun.
So, if you’re coming here for a trip, you should take advantage of this unique opportunity and explore Cancun’s diverse array of animal species.
In this post, I will tell you about the wildlife in Cancun and the places you can go to see it. So, without any delays, let’s get started!
Animals in Cancun: what animals can you see while vacationing in Cancun?
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to a wide variety of creatures, including reptiles such as iguanas and turtles, fish such as barracuda and mahi-mahi, birds like flamingos and toucans, mammals like monkeys and bats, amphibians such as frogs and salamanders, insects like butterflies and the Africanized bee, sea life like manatees and sharks — and countless other Mexican animals!
A trip to Cancun will offer plenty of chances to see some of the animals found in this region of Mexico. Below, I’m listing a few of the animals that you may see during your vacation in Cancun. Some of them are probably less desirable than others, but it’s still good to know what you may find during your vacation in Cancun.
Coatis are just one of the many animals that can be seen while vacationing in Cancun, the cutest ones in my opinion.
These omnivorous mammals belong to the raccoon family and have long, bushy tails and white noses. They are native to Mexico and Central and South America, where they inhabit forests and grasslands.
In Cancun, it is not uncommon to see coatis roaming around tourist spots such as the Xel-ha and Xcarat parks, and sometimes even the hotel area.
I kept seeing a family of coatis in the archeological site of El Meco, among others.
They tend to forage for food in small groups during the daytime, searching for things like fruits, worms, or insects, so you will definitely spot some and even get to feed them.
I would discourage you from doing that though, although it’s very tempting because their teeth are long and sharp and they can easily snap a finger of your hand. No joke!
A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR – Also, feeding wild animals is a practice that we don’t encourage anywhere in the world, whether it is on land or in the water. The reason is a no-brainer. In feeding wild animals, you will create the habit of finding the food ready and they will unlearn how to use their natural instinct to hunt and provide for their own food. Also, they would start expecting food from humans and may develop aggressive behavior.
I mentioned Cancun lizards sunning on rocks earlier, but I didn’t mention that you get to see one of North America’s largest lizard species in Cancun — iguanas! They’re a genus of herbivorous lizards native to tropical areas of Mexico and Central America.
Reaching up to 5 feet long, these distinctive lizards have a row of spines running from head to tail. These fascinating creatures can be seen basking on rocks, scampering across roads, or weaving through tree branches.
The black iguana is one of the most common types of iguanas that can be seen in Cancun, especially the El Rey Ruins, but basically in almost all the archeological sites.
Although iguanas may seem intimidating due to their size, they are actually quite harmless and tame.
Just don’t touch them, as they can bite and hurt you if you bother them.
An iconic sight in Mexico are the pink flamingos. These exotic creatures are a beloved part of Mexican culture and spotting them makes for an unforgettable experience. Fortunately, there are plenty of places where you can catch a glimpse of these magnificent birds while visiting Cancun.
Where to see flamingos in Mexico
One of the most popular places to spot flamingos is at Rio Lagartos, on the Yucatan Coast.
Here visitors can find large flocks of pink flamingos wading in shallow waters and feasting on crustaceans and small fish with their long curved beaks, especially during their nesting season between March and June.
Many boat tours are offered in Rio Lagartos that take you from the feeding spots of these flamingos to their breeding and nesting locations. And the place is also the habitat of many other incredible animals like jaguars, crocodiles, ocelots, and deer.
If you are planning to include a tour to Rio Lagartos, in your Itinerary, I recommend contacting William Canto, who is a local guide, biologist, and an amazing self-thought photographer, very passionate about its own backyard, which is Rio Lagartos. He will organize the best tour for you and your party. And if you are traveling alone, worry not, as his rates are not outrageously expensive.
Celestun is another great place to visit if you want to spot flamingos. It’s a fishing village located just northwest of Merida and features the Celestun Biosphere Reserve where thousands of flamingos show up during the winter and spring months to make it their breeding ground.
Yucatan North Coast
Only a few people know that you can easily see flamingos while driving along the north coast of Yucatan North of Merida, from Progreso to Telchac Puerto. I suggest you rent a car and drive all the way along the coast.
It’s a beautiful drive flanked by the protected area of mangroves and wetlands on one side and the beach on the other. You will be likely to find lots and lots of flamingoes in small and large groups in the wetland, sometimes they are very close to the road.
While visiting Cancun you will have the opportunity to observe a variety of colorful insects; including beautiful butterflies! Their vibrant colors, delicate wings, and graceful flight make them an incredible sight to behold.
If you’re in Cancun during spring, you may spot these colorful creatures along the local streets, gardens, and in nature reserves throughout the region; so don’t pass up this unique opportunity to admire these magical creatures while on vacation in Cancun.
Sometimes they become a big distraction while you are driving in the countryside and find yourself in a yellow cloud of butterflies smashing against your windshield. Just make sure you slow down if that happens.
Tarantulas are a type of spider that may be seen while vacationing in Cancun. These arachnids are some of the oldest animals on the planet, existing for about 300 million years. Usually harmless to humans, tarantulas can be found in many ecological niches throughout Mexico and Central America.
While these large spiders may seem intimidating to some tourists, they provide an important service to their environment by helping maintain a balance between insect populations and vegetation growth. You can spot these exotic animals in Cancun’s jungle areas, particularly near the cenotes along Ruta de Los Cenotes near Puerto Morelos.
While the name Cancun means “nest of snakes”, worry not! They aren’t a common sight in the city.
For sure there are a lot of snakes in the jungle area surrounding the cenotes, but to be honest, I haven never seen one. Just one time while visiting the archeological site o Calakmul in Campeche I saw one sneaking away as soon as he felt human steps, and another one in the middle of the highway crossing. The poor guy didn’t have a long life, I am afraid.
One of the most unique places that you can visit to spot some snakes is the Cave of the Hanging Snakes near the small village of Kantemo.
This cave is where you will see the unique site of snakes hanging from cracks and crevices in the cave’s ceiling, waiting for the swarm of bats that inhabit this cave to fly in or out so that they can catch some of them.
The cave has become a popular tourist spot now, so a visit there is pretty safe despite the large number of bats, snakes, and other animals living inside it. The snakes are used to people visiting the cave and go about their business as usual.
The Cave of the Hanging Snake in Kantemo – On a side note, I am not very fond of snakes, I am actually terrified, and I am not sure where I found the courage to take this tour, but I did. It’s completely safe and two guides came with me and helped me moving around. If you are claustrophopic it’s not ideal because the cave is not large and you have to crawl most of the time. The snakes are not big and you will see them peak out from the limestone rocks holes to snatch one of the flying bats, as their dinner.
Note: While not all snakes in Cancun are venomous, some species like the Cantil and Neotropical Rattlesnake can deliver a deadly bite if provoked or threatened. That is why it’s important to be aware of your surroundings while out exploring and take caution when encountering one of these fascinating but potentially dangerous animals.
However, it’s also worth mentioning that snakes of the Yucatan don’t generally bother you and are an important part of the ecosystem, so you won’t have to worry about a bite from these creatures unless you’re trekking deep in the jungle where they have their nesting locations and might feel threatened by you.
7. Whale sharks
Whale sharks are one of the most popular Cancun animals to see, but it is only possible in the summer. In fact, they’re one of the most impressive marine species that can be seen while vacationing here.
These gentle giants inhabit the waters off the coast in Cancun from June through August; so if you’re visiting this time of year, don’t miss the chance to see them up close.
Swimming with whale sharks is a truly once-in-a-lifetime activity when visiting Cancun. Not only is it an incredible experience due to their sheer size and grace, but it’s also educational as you get to learn more about these incredible creatures from knowledgeable guides.
Swimming with whalesharks+ Isla Mujeres Beach
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In this 5 to 6 hours long tour you will be taken to an area where whale sharks usually hang out. They are completely free but the chance to see them are very high. Swimmimg with these gentle giants of the see is completely safe both for you and the animals. After the swim you will be taken to Isla Mujeres beach to enjoy a delicious ceviche and relax.
Moths are an often overlooked but fascinating insect found in every corner of the world, including Cancun and other parts of the Yucatan.
Though these animals may not be the first that come to mind when vacationing in Mexico, their presence can enhance any wildlife experience.
Nicknamed “Mariposa de la Muerte” or Butterfly of Death, these insects are a curious part of the local culture.
Many believe their appearance is a bad omen and some also believe it foreshadows death.
Nevertheless, spotting them is a nice experience, as moths can range in size from a few millimeters to almost 12 inches and come in a wide variety of colors and patterns.
9. Pelican and seagulls
Pelicans and seagulls are prolific across Cancun’s stunning landscapes and can be seen along the coastlines as well as inland.
The American white pelican is a large seabird with an unmistakable long bill and pouched lower mandible.
Seagulls are smaller than pelicans but just as easy to recognize thanks to their white bodies and gray wings. They often congregate in flocks beyond the shoreline or nest on rooftops or cliffs close to the beach.
10. Many bird species
The Yucatan Peninsula is a paradise for bird-lovers, and many bird species can be seen in Cancun, offering visitors a fantastic opportunity to witness some of nature’s most beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.
From colorful parrots to majestic storksherons, there are over 700 species of birds living in the region, so all you bird-watching enthusiasts out there will be delighted at all the different birds you can spot while vacationing here.
Some of the bird species that you can spot here are keel-billed toucans, cormorants, frigates, and a wide variety of parrots. The bright plumage on these creatures makes them stand out from other birds and bring an extra sparkle to Cancun’s vibrant atmosphere.
You will spot many birds in Cancun itself, and the nearby jungle area as well as other parts of the Yucatan are great to spot the less-seen species of birds.
Also, the Isla Contoy National Park is known for having one of the best bird sanctuaries of the region, making it another great place to see some exotic birds.
If you’re interested in some folklore, make sure to look for the rare motmot bird of the region. The bird has multicolored feathers and a tail resembling a pendulum, and it was considered sacred by the Mayans.
These sublime birds nest in caves so it’s harder to spot them, but you should be able to find them in Chichen Itza, around the sacred Grand Cenote as well as by the cenotes around the Yucatan Peninsula.
11. Marine life
From majestic whale sharks to playful dolphins, there’s plenty of marine life that you can see when vacationing in Cancun.
The city is located on the Caribbean Sea and is home to numerous species of animals that live in the water, so you can enjoy a variety of activities including snorkeling, diving, and swimming with exotic creatures like manta rays, nurse sharks, and an array of brightly-colored fish that inhabit these waters.
These colorful creatures can be observed from glass-bottom boats or up close while snorkeling or scuba diving.
For those of you interested in even more underwater adventure, Cancun offers guided trips for whale sharks — the largest fish living in our oceans today!
Crocodiles have made a name for themselves in the beautiful destination of Cancun. While vacationing in this popular resort city, visitors can expect to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures.
Located at the east coast of Cancun city, Nichupte Lagoon is where you will find a large population of Morelet’s crocodiles.
The lagoon is a natural habitat for these crocodiles, so you will spot many of them inside the water or just outside it. They’re mostly harmless to humans, but it’s still recommended to keep your distance.
Then there are the Cenote Manatí (also called Casa Cenote) just an hour and half away from Cancun where you can go to meet the resident crocodile named Pancho (also called Panchito sometimes).
He’s a friendly crocodile used to divers exploring the cenotes, so you can even swim with him in these cenotes!I wouldn’t go much close, though.
13. Spider Monkeys
Spider monkeys are one of the most interesting and unique animals that can be found in the Yucatan. Native to Central and South America, these small primates are one of the New World monkeys, but they look quite different from the other four species.
With long, thin limbs and prehensile tails that they use as an extra hand while swinging through trees, this active creature is a joy to observe in its natural environment.
These social creatures usually live in groups of 20-30 monkeys and they travel together looking for food like fruits, nuts, flowers, and insects.
They never get tired of exploring, so it’s no surprise that tourists visiting Cancun often spot them in the lush jungles of the southern part of Yucatan.
The Punta Laguna Monkey Reserve is one of the most popular places to spot both spider and howler monkeys. The size of this reserve is huge, and it’s in the smack middle of a jungle with a thriving population of monkeys.
When here, you can take hikes throughout the jungle to spot spider monkeys in their natural habitat.
Additionally, there is the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary where you can go see rescued spider monkeys along with many other species.
Although I don’t usually support places where they keep animals in captivity, the Monkey Sanctuary is a rescue center where they rehabilitated the hurt monkey and other species that could not survive in the wild on their own.
They also have a souvenir shop featuring handmade local crafts and offer sanctuary tours that include a trip to the nearby cenote Ma’ax — named after the Mayan name for spider monkeys — and an ATV tour through the surrounding jungle.
Dolphins are one of the most popular and beloved animals in the world, and when vacationing in Cancun, you will have an opportunity to see them up close.
Whether you’re on a whale-watching tour or on a sailing cruise, there are plenty of opportunities to observe dolphins in their natural habitat.
There are even special tours to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve that allow visitors to see the dolphins up close from their boat.
They can be seen swimming alongside boats, surfing waves near shorelines, and playing with other marine life.
I haven’t mentioned places like Dolphin Discovery here due to ethical reasons.
Despite being inside Cancun and convenient to reach, I don’t recommend these places and suggest the above-mentioned ways to see dolphins; because, in addition to being able to watch them from a closer distance, those are a great way for animal lovers to interact with dolphins without disturbing their environment.
Please DO NOT support companies that keep wild animals away from their natural environment!
15. Sea turtles
Sea turtles are one of the most famous animals to see in Cancun and around the beautiful Mexican Caribbean. Being able to witness these incredible creatures up close is an experience that will stay with you for years to come, as you learn about their unique life cycle and struggles they face.
From green sea turtles to Loggerheads, Hawksbills, and more, there are several species of sea turtle that nest here.
Most nesting grounds can be found on protected beaches on the outskirts of town, where sea turtles start laying their eggs from May to October in nests dug by the females.
Turtles hatch at night after 50-65 days of incubation and head towards the ocean following starlight’s reflection off the water’s surface.
Apart from getting to swim with sea turtles, you can also watch these baby sea turtles hatch and take their first ever steps into the ocean, or even volunteer in baby sea turtles release programs to help with the preservation efforts!
Now, while we’re on the topic of sea turtles in Cancun, it’d be remiss not to mention the nearby town named “Place of Turtle” in Maya language.
I’m talking about Akumal, and this is where you will get to see hundreds of green sea turtles up close and snorkel with them.
You can get there on your own if you rented a car or by combi (colectivo) from Playa del Carmen direction Tulum.
Animals that live in the Yucatan Peninsula but are difficult to spot
The Yucatan Peninsula, home to the bustling Cancun, is filled with a diverse range of wildlife. While some animals can be easily spotted vacationing in Cancun, there are other species that are more elusive and difficult to find. Here are some that might want to keep an eye out for.
It is very rare to spot Jaguars in the Yucatan Peninsula as they hide in the jungle and come out at night to haunt.
Especially found deep within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, these majestic cats can be seen roaming freely and silently through the lush jungles of the region.
The reserve is a huge area of more than 7,000 square kilometers and is one of the best places to spot jaguars in their natural habitat.
Just keep in mind that jaguars have a beautiful spotted coat made up of black or brown patches which helps them blend into their environment while hunting prey, and as they mainly hunt at night, they are fairly elusive animals.
But with patience and luck you might just come across them while exploring Calakmul.
For reference you should know that the guide I hired in the Calakmul Biosphere told me that in his 7 years working in the jungle he only saw the jaguar 3 times. But who knows, maybe you are in luck and you will see it too!
INTERESTING FACT – In Mesoamerica, the jaguar was a highly respected and feared animal that held a prominent position at the top of the food chain. It was considered sacred by the ancient Maya and was linked to warrior and hunter symbols, as well as the power and authority of rulers. As a result, many Maya rulers adorned themselves with jaguar pelts, or used the image of the jaguar in their thrones, tombs and other objects associated with royalty. (source)
Tapirs are a large, dark-colored mammal that can be found in many parts of the world, including Cancun. Well, maybe not in the city, but in the surrounding green areas, meaning the jungle.
These animals have an interesting and distinct appearance with their round bodies and short, flexible snouts. With a weight of up to 700 pounds, tapirs are the largest land mammals native to Mexico.
The tapir is an endangered species due to habitat destruction and hunting.
They can be found in areas such as the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and the Yucatan jungles which provide them with plenty of food sources like fruit, leaves, grasses, and aquatic plants, but it’s very rare to spot them.
Pumas and ocelots
When visiting Cancun, you get to see several large cats native to the region. Two species of wild cats living in the Yucatan Peninsula are pumas and ocelots. Both of these beautiful animals make their home in the tropical forests that cover much of the peninsula.
Pumas, also known as mountain lions or cougars, are one of the largest cat species that can live up to 13 years. They are solitary hunters who prefer dense vegetation for stalking prey, and are usually shy creatures who will avoid being seen.
Ocelots are also an endangered species of wild cat found in Mexico’s tropical jungle areas near the Yucatan Peninsula.
These cats typically remain solitary and usually hunt at night, making them difficult to spot even when they are present in the area. Also difficult to spot.
18. Spotted skunk
Another one of the hard-to-spot animals inhabiting the region is the spotted skunk, which can be found in many different areas throughout Mexico and into Southwestern United States.
The skunk has a small, slender body with short legs as well as a short tail that is tipped with white fur. It is easily recognized by its distinctive black and white spotted coat.
As its name suggests, the Yucatan spotted skunk is native to this peninsula and can be seen throughout its jungles.
If you’re lucky enough, you might spot some and even see them doing their famous handstands. Just remember that the handstand precedes the nasty smell they release to deter predators, so be careful.
The Sereque, or Agouti, is a small rodent that can be found in many places around the Yucatan Peninsula. This cute and furry creature has an orange-brown color to its fur, which helps it blend in with the sandy landscapes and lush jungles of this tropical paradise.
While these animals are mostly nocturnal, it is still possible to spot them during the daytime hours as they roam about looking for food.
Sereques typically feed on fallen seeds from trees or plants nearby and can often be seen hunting for something tasty along the forest floor.
These critters may also take shelter under rocks or logs during the warmer parts of the day when shade becomes sparse. As such, you should keep your eyes peeled while exploring Cancun’s beautiful outdoors if you want to spot one of these!
Where you must not see animals
I mentioned not visiting places like Dolphin Discovery earlier. This is because such places are mostly for-profit and raise animals in captivity, and visiting there will only encourage people to do it more — ultimately harming and destroying the ecosystem and endangering the animals.
These places are not only cruel but also dangerous for the planet in the long run, so I suggest not visiting them. As a rule of thumb, avoid places that raise animals in captivity and stick to wildlife encounters offered in the animals’ natural habitat.
Dangerous animals in Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula
It’s true that Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula are one of the best destinations to see the diverse wildlife of Mexico. However, that also means that there are certain creatures that can be dangerous, and even downright fatal, so it’s good to keep them in mind and avoid them for a safe and enjoyable experience.
These include a variety of venomous snakes, certain insects, and a few species of marine creatures. I’m highlighting some of them below.
As a side note, you should not get scared as these animals are not hanging out in areas where humans live and it’s very rare to encounter these species. I have actually never seen any of them in my 13 years in Mexico.
20. Mexican beaded lizard
Among the Mexican wildlife, the Mexican beaded lizard is one of the most dangerous animals that can be found in Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula. This reptile, with its beautiful black and yellow coloration, can easily blend into its surrounding environment.
Though its appearance may seem harmless, this species is renowned for being aggressive and territorial when disturbed or threatened.
It has long, sharp claws and venomous teeth which it uses to protect itself from potential predators by lashing out at them.
Another one of the dangerous animals that can be found in Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula is the stonefish. This fish lives at depths of up to 40 feet and is camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings on the ocean floor.
It has venomous spines along its back, which are capable of delivering a potentially fatal sting if stepped on or touched by an unsuspecting person.
The stonefish is one of the many species of venomous fish in the world, making it a unique danger for beach-goers in this region. It has a rock-like body with a wide head and protruding eyes, allowing it to stay well hidden amongst rocks and coral reefs on the seafloor.
They are unlikely to be close to the beach, but stay aware of your surroundings while snorkeling or diving. They won’t attack you of course, but you may bump into them if you touch the rocks as they are easily camouflaging, hence the name.
22. Kissing bug
Kissing bugs are also found in Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula. These small, brown insects get their name from the habit of biting people when they are sleeping, near the face or lips.
They can also cause an array of illnesses such as Chagas disease, which is transmitted through their feces.
Again they are not so common and I have never had any encounter with these creatures while living in Cancun.
23. Black widow
One of the most feared creatures in this region is the black widow spider, which can be found in both urban and rural areas. Despite their small size, these spiders have a venomous bite that can lead to serious symptoms such as nausea, abdominal cramps, and pain and swelling around the bite area.
Fortunately, although black widows may inhabit both urban and rural areas on the peninsula, they generally keep away from humans so bites are rare — but still possible.
24. Box jellyfish
The box jellyfish can usually be found near coastal waters during certain times of the year. It has a cube-shaped bell and four sides with up to 15 tentacles on each side. These tentacles contain enough poison to kill an adult human within minutes.
While it’s uncommon for tourists to encounter this creature swimming in Cancun or near other resort cities of the region, it’s important to know what they look like and how to avoid them if they’re spotted nearby.
Animals in Cancun: final thoughts
For those looking to enjoy all the sights and sounds of nature while vacationing in Cancun, there are many animals worth seeing here. From colorful tropical birds to majestic whale sharks and adorable sea turtles, you can find an abundance of wildlife in the region.
Having talked about all that Cancun has to offer its visitors when it comes to spotting wildlife, I’d like to also mention here that, while you should take the opportunity to witness all of these Cancun fauna, you should also make sure to enjoy responsibly and respect their habitat.