The Best Cancun Itinerary

See recent posts by Lara Grant

Travelers wanting a warm, sunny, and beach-filled escape often have Cancun at the top of their minds. The tourist-friendly destination can be reached via nonstop flights from many major cities, plus it has a plethora of hotel options ranging from affordable and kid-centric to luxe and adults-only. Whether you're heading to the beautiful city for a girls' weekend getaway or a seven-day honeymoon, we've outlined the best itinerary for Cancun. 

Day 1: Check-In and Head to the Beach

Beach at Hyatt Zilara Cancun/Oyster

Beach at Hyatt Zilara Cancun/Oyster

After flying into Cancun International Airport, take a taxi (or arrange for pickup from your hotel for more convenience) to your beachfront resort. There are tons of hotel options for every type of traveler, but we recommend splurging on an ocean-view room at a property with direct beach access. One of our favorites is the luxurious and adults-only Le Blanc Spa Resort. Located in the Hotel Zone, this resort has swim-up bars, rooms with two-person whirlpool tubs and TVs that can access Netflix, and impressive all-inclusive food. Couples wanting a smaller, more boutique experience may prefer Zoetry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun, a 35-room property in the Isla Mujeres area with three pools and an excellent restaurant. Meanwhile, families should look to the Iberostar Cancun, which has several all-inclusive eateries and bars, a kids’ club, and oceanfront pool.

The Beach Bar at Krystal Grand Punta Cancun/Oyster

The Beach Bar at Krystal Grand Punta Cancun/Oyster

If you check-in before dinner, head straight to the beach to sit on a lounger and take in the ocean breeze and warm sun. The large white-sand beaches and striking turquoise waters are Cancun’s crowning features, and the typically warm weather and clear skies allow travelers to take advantage of it throughout their stay. Most hotels have waiter service for beach loungers, so order some guacamole and your drink of choice (we recommend a margarita on the rocks or a mojito), sit back, and relax. 

Once it’s time for dinner, head to the hotel’s on-site Mexican eatery if they have one, or to a local spot nearby such as the well-regarded Flamingos Seafood Kitchen or Cancun Lighthouse. Fill up on ceviche, grilled mahi-mahi, and al pastor tacos. Wash it all down with some coconut ice cream. Before calling it a night, have a nightcap back on your room’s balcony while listening to the waves crash, or at one of the numerous bars likely on-site or in the area.

Day 2: Coba Ruins and Swim in a Cenote

Coba Ruins; Lara Grant

Coba Ruins; Lara Grant

Most travelers wanting to visit Mayan ruins in Cancun will go to Chichén Itzá, which is why you should explore Coba’s instead. They’re both a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cancun, but at Coba, travelers can actually still climb the ruins. The expansive ruins at Chichén Itzá are incredibly impressive and well-restored, but the site’s entire perimeter is lined with vendors, taking away from the overall experience. Coba has vendors, but they’re all situated outside of the archaeological site, and the actual ruins are more natural. If physically able, climb to the top of the ancient pyramid, which allows for beautiful canopy vistas. The best way to avoid the biggest crowds is to go as early as possible, so have an early breakfast, grab your coffee, and head out on an excursion with a group such as Alltournative or on a Viator-exclusive tour.

Within a 10-minute drive of Coba are three cenotes — deep natural wells that are popular swimming holes. They’re the perfect end to an active day touring ruins. Each of the cenotes throughout Mexico and the Riviera Maya offer a different feel and setting, but they’re all cool and beautiful. Tamcach-Ha, Choo-Ha, and Multum-Ha cenotes are the ones near the ruins, set in a natural jungle setting. Also within a 30-minute drive is the Mayan community of Tres Reyes and the Chimuch cenote. Although not as big as Ik Kil by Chichén Itzá, all of these cenotes are far less touristy.

Shop and Eat in Tulum

Chimuch Cenote Near Coba; Lara Grant

Chimuch Cenote Near Coba; Lara Grant

After working up an appetite, drive 45 minutes to Tulum, a bohemian town where woven hammocks line the roads and visitors ride bicycles shoeless. Tulum is known for its healthy eateries, so hit up Raw Love Cafe or Farm to Table for veggie-centric fare. Of course, there are plenty of Mexican and seafood joints as well. After a filling lunch, walk around town for some souvenir shopping. Ceramic pottery, dream catchers, and colorful woven goods are just some of the handicrafts on offer at this laid-back town. 

Day 3: Snorkeling and Poolside Lounging

If this is your last day in Cancun, get the most of the oceanfront setting with a snorkeling tour. Cancun’s Caribbean waters are breathtaking, and a snorkeling tour allows visitors to get up close and personal with colorful fish and big sea turtles. We especially love the Cancun Reef and Shipwreck Snorkeling Tour on Viator, an affordable, three-and-a-half-hour excursion to a coral reef where turtles, stingrays, lobsters, and crabs are often observable, followed by a swim over a shipwreck. Longer tours are also available. 

Once you’re back at your hotel, lounge by the ocean-view pool or along the fine white-sand beach. Most travelers heading to Cancun are looking for a relaxing getaway, so put your phone on airplane mode, order a Corona, and soak in those last rays of the day.

If You Have Two More Days

If you have two more days in Cancun, there are plenty of other activities for folks who get bored lazing the day away at the beach. If swimming with sharks is on your bucket list, several tour operators have whale shark excursions available. Five- and eight-hour tours generally include sailing on a small boat near Isla Mujeres, swimming with breathtaking 18- to 33-foot whale sharks, eating a tasty traditional Mexican lunch, and listening to biologists talk about the marine life. 

Those who would rather stay on the boat can book a sunset lobster dinner cruise off Cancun’s shores. A calm sailing coupled with an open bar and tasty lobster or steak is a romantic way to cap of a trip to Mexico for couples. Adults more interested in nightlife should look no further than Coco Bongo, a famous show that blends popular music with impressive dancing, impersonations, and acrobatics. Expect lots of streamers, colorful lights, and girls dancing atop a bar. 

Families, meanwhile, will have more than enough to keep busy at Xcaret Park, a theme park that feature Mayan shows, underground rivers, and a water park for kids, plus tons more. Archaeological sites and a Mayan village allow kids and adults to get a sense of the region’s history. Families particularly drawn to Cancun for the theme parks should consider staying at Hotel Xcaret, which offers free admission to Xcaret, Xenses, Xplor, and Xel-Ha parks.

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