SPRING BREAK BABY! If that’s what comes to mind when you think of Cancun then well, you’re not wrong. Cancun is a world renowned party destination with the hottest bars, beaches and people. It is one of the most easterly points of Mexico and sits on the Caribbean Sea. This makes it the ideal location to sit back and sun bake with a pina colada, before really getting the fiesta started by checking out it’s bustling night life.
That is a fantastic way to spend a vacation, sure. But there is actually much more to Cancun than cocktails and hangovers. The entire Yucatan Peninsula is rich in culture and history. The area was once inhabited by the Maya people up until the 15th century. There are signs of their civilization all around this region, in the form of ruins and pyramids. It is estimated that 1 million people in this region currently speak Mayan (Yucatec) and three times that are of Mayan descent or hold Mayan names.
So before you book your next trip to the Yucatan Peninsula and travel to Cancun, check out the ultimate Cancun travel itinerary for you to make the most of your stay.
Where to Stay in Cancun
Budget: Mayan Monkey Hostel – One of the top rated hostels in Cancun, this budget option is perfect if you’re looking for some fun! They have everything from 12 bed dorm rooms to beautiful suites with a balcony! This stylish hostel has air-conditioned rooms, swimming pool, an on-site restaurant and bar.
Mid range: Renaissance Cancun Resort & Marina – At $100 for a double room, this is a great option for a mid-range budget that doesn’t want to sacrifice luxury. With a modern decor and stunning swimming pool, what more could you ask for?
Splurge: Haven Riviera – If you’re planning a honeymoon, special birthday trip or just want to treat yo’self, you want to book a luxury all inclusive in Cancun. The Haven Riviera is a gorgeous beach-front property with all the amenities to make sure you’re living large. With over 14 bar and restaurants to choose from, you’ll be in absolute heaven!
Cancun Travel Itinerary: 2 Days
With just a short stay in Cancun, you’ll first want to check out the most popular beach of the area: Playa Delfines. This absolutely picture perfect stretch of beach is sure to kick start your vacation vibes. White sands and more shades of blue and turquoise water than you’ve likely seen before. It’s one of the largest public beaches and is situated on a very interesting thin stretch of land. Just a road running down the middle, the open ocean to the east and a lagoon to the west, with not much distance between them.
Playa Delfines is really close to the airport and to the hotel zone, so getting there is super simple. Hop off your plane, jump onto one of the many convenient Cancun transfers from the airport and you’ll be checked into your hotel and off to the beach in no time! Now it’s time for the beach vacation to really sink in.
After a sufficient tan top up and dip in the Caribbean sea, a trip to La Isla Shopping Village is next on the cards. It’s an outdoor mall of sorts with every item you can think of. Fancy restaurants, chocolate parlors, ice cream, Mexican and international food – it’s got it all. A great place to relax and people watch.
Now chances are you’re in Cancun because you’d like to experience the legendary nightlife. Where better to experience this than at Coco Bongo‘s live show. Performers, theatrics, bubbles, foam cannons, live bands and DJs. Featured in MTV, Rolling Stone and Billboard Magazine, amongst others.
Following a night on the tiles, Day 2 calls for more relaxation and some Caribbean snorkeling. A really breathtaking and unique experience to Cancun is the Underwater Museum. The Museum consists of a number of different sculptures that are designed to help coral growth. This attracts marine life and in turn becomes and excellent snorkeling spot. Scuba can also be done here.
Cancun Itinerary: 3 Days
How about checking out one of the new 7 wonders of the world? Mexicos most visited archaeological site and UNESCO World Heritage site, Chichen Itza. A glimpse into an ancient world, built by the Mayan people around 600AD, it is one of the largest known Mayan cities. The most famous temple is known as El Castillo. It’s the main image associated with this city. However, Chichen Itza is much more than that. There are sacred cenotes, intricate stone carvings and designs, as well as a multitude of crumbling ruins.
The Mayan people built incredibly well designed cities, with special focus being on acoustics of large speaking areas to help project ones voice. There is also a ball court where the infamous Mayan ball game was played, with some matches thought to end in beheading.
Check out this highly rated Chichen Itza tour.
Cancun Itinerary: 4 Days
This region of the world boasts an incredible network of fresh water cenotes. The word ‘cenote’ means sinkhole. The reason for the hole is usually due to the rock being limestone. The limestone bedrock at some stage has collapsed, allowing ground water to sprout up. These cenotes are very sacred to the Mayan people as they believed it was a gateway to the Gods and the underworld.
One of the most spectacular cenotes to check out near Cancun is Dos Ojos. The cenote is part of one of the longest underwater cave systems, with an all year water temp of approximately 25c. Insanely clear waters and the sounds of birds chirping make for a magical experience.
Cenote Dos Ojos is a fairly straight forward drive from Cancun. You can pick up a car rental from Cancun airport and get yourself over here. It will come in handy for a few of the other recommended spots also.
As well as swimming, there are a few tour agencies that offer scuba diving. It is known as one of the must-do dive sites by locals and tourists alike.
Cancun Itinerary: 5 Days
If I’ve some how not managed to stress the rich culture and history of the Yucatan Peninsula enough just yet, then maybe a trip to Tulum will help you see! There really aren’t that many places in the world with so many archaeological sites, so well preserved in such a close vicinity. It really is the best opportunity you’ll have to dive deeper into a world long gone, so I’d recommend visiting as many of these areas as you can.
Tulum was one of the last cities built by the Mayan people and was used as a port. It held strong for 70 years following the arrival of the Spanish, but unfortunately the new settlers brought with them previously unknown diseases. This is thought to be one of the leading factors of Tulum’s demise.
The ancient city is situated on 40ft cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Once you have toured the ruins you can head to the stunning nearby beach. There are coral reefs just off-shore, making it an ideal location for some snorkeling or scuba diving.
Want to check out Tulum, cenotes and the Coba ruins in one day? Check out this affordable full day tour.
Cancun Itinerary: One Week
With some more time to explore the area slightly outside of Cancun, I would wholeheartedly recommend a quick trip to Merida. Merida has been twice voted the American Capital of Culture. It is centrally located within the Yucatan Peninsula, making it an idea satellite base to explore some of the more inland sites and attractions.
Merida’s cultural blend comes from the Mayan heritage, dating back as far as 2,600 BC, and the influence of the Spanish conquistadors. The concoction of cultures has produced a truly unique city, with its own characteristics found no place else. Rituals and beliefs from the old world and the new have created a vibrant identity within the city, where locals can be heard speaking Mayan whilst drinking coffee in front of colonial haciendas.
The food in Merida is like no other. My favorite restaurant is La Chaya Maya – serving a traditional Mayan menu with ancient ingredients. They even make their own tortillas in house. There is a large weekend market in Plaza Grande, outside of the Cathedral in Merida’s historical district. The best of the best in local street food is available here, as well as an assortment of souvenirs and other craft-shops.
There is a bustling art scene, numerous museums and some of the finest dining in Yucatan. Hope on a walking tour of the local cantinas and learn about Merída through your belly! Or take a Yucatan style cooking class that includes a visit to the local market.
Once you have spent some time sponging up as much culture as you can handle, the attractions beyond the city limits will easily fill the remainder of your days in this area.
Uxmal is touted as one of the most impressive Maya sites in Yucatan. The city is vast and considerably less busy than Chechen Itza. There is also a temple that you can climb up to take in the sights. The views from the top are astonishing as you can see the scale of Uxmal. You can also see other pyramids standing proud above the tree line.