Cancun is most known for its ultimate party scene where beach parties, packed with young crowds, rock till the early hours of the morning. While its peak season, from mid February to early April, can get pretty crowded, Cancun turns into a completely different pristine retreat if your timing is correct.
We visited Cancun in early December and it was simply perfect! The crowds hadn’t begun to come in just yet and we had almost the entire resort to ourselves! This meant no more racing for a spot in the jacuzzi, no more rushing for the last empty beach lounger, no more scrambling in search of a secluded spot at the beach. Trust us, we’ve done it all!
Now, Cancun isn’t like most other beach destinations; yes, there are pristine white sand beaches everywhere and you’d just want to soak up in the sun and relax, but it has so much more to offer. And you won’t want to miss out on them at any cost.
To help you plan your ultimate trip to Cancun, Mexico, we bring you our 6-Day guide of the best things to do in Cancun.
But first, let’s get into some important details.
How to Get There
Cancun being a very popular tourist destination, is very well connected by flights, both internationally and domestically, with regular flights running from most major airports. We took our flight from New York LaGuardia Airport to Cancun International Airport and it cost us only around $200 per person, which could also be since we were traveling during off-peak season. But even during peak season, you can find really good deals on flights, if you keep a lookout!
Where To Stay
Even though it may be termed as a touristy area, Hotel Zone is the place to stay in Cancun. It is one of the safest areas in Cancun, lined up with numerous beautiful yet fairly budget friendly resorts along the strip of pristine white sand beaches. There are multiple bars and restaurants in and around Hotel Zone to keep you entertained as well.
Since Cancun is quite a large city, it is extensively connected by local transportation, with multiple buses & shuttle services running throughout the day.
In order to reach your hotel, you will find multiple shuttle services at the airport but make sure to book one in advance, since they tend to get booked quite fast.
Local R1 & R2 buses run every few minutes between Hotel Zone and downtown throughout the night, which makes getting to many cool clubs and restaurants in downtown fairly convenient and inexpensive!
The only thing that you will not find in Cancun, is Uber, but you won’t miss it much since the cheapest and easiest way to visit many attractions in and around Cancun is either by public transport, on foot or through local group tours.
Best Time to Visit
Summers can be pretty harsh in Mexico with maximum temperatures going as high as 100 F (38 C), hence that is one season to avoid. Even though you might get really good deals on hotels and flights then, the intense heat is just not worth it.
You will find great weather in Cancun between December and April, with January to March being the peak season and hence the most crowded too. But let us tell you a secret, travel during early December when the deals are still great and the places aren’t as packed either.
Now, let’s finally get into some incredibly fun and amazing things to do in Cancun.
Best Things to Do in Cancun
We usually plan our trips in such a way that we reach our destination early in the morning so that we don’t waste a day on travel and are able to make the most of our day. You’ve got to explore the place to the fullest, right, so this is the trick!
1. Relax at the Beaches in Hotel Zone
Cancun is home to some of the most beautiful white sand beaches and the bluest of waters. Be it Playa Delfines, Playa Caracol, or Isla Mujeres, no beach in Cancun will ever disappoint you; just be sure to find yourself a secluded spot and it will be a happy day!
Since our flight landed quite early in the morning and we were able to get an early check-in at our hotel, Hotel NYX Cancun, we decided to spend our first day by relaxing at the hotel beach and unwinding at the hotel spa, preparing ourselves for the excursions we had planned for the following days.
2. Shop & Eat at the La Isla Shopping Village
La Isla Shopping Village is a bustling area in Hotel Zone full of amazing restaurants, bars, street performers and shopping brands. From Coach to Louis Vuitton, you will find almost everything here.
Treat yourself to some scrumptious Mexican food from any of the restaurants you like; they ought to be good. We really enjoyed having some fresh fish tacos at Taco Y Tequila Cancun, which is right by the water so it makes for some amazing sunset view as well.
The Village also has an Interactive Aquarium, which is not that big of an aquarium and we’ve definitely seen better but what it does offer is a fun activity of swimming with the dolphins. Now, you can surely find this at other places like Orlando, Key West and many more, so if you’ve done it before you can skip this. We hadn’t so we decided to go for it and we can tell you one thing, it was really a wonderful experience and you should try it at least once in your lifetime!
After having a relaxing first day, we were ready to take on the adventures planned for Day 2. Keep in mind that most of the excursions take about an hour and a half to two hours of travel from Hotel Zone, so you will have to wake up early and have an early start, no matter if you’re driving or taking a group tour.
For our Day 2 excursions, we had booked a group tour with Cancun Discounts through their website. This company not only offers convenient services like pick up and drop off at the hotel, clean air conditioned buses, free bottled water throughout the day, knowledgeable English speaking guides, but also offers some of the cheapest tours in Cancun compared to its competitors.
The tour we had booked for this day was called the Chichen Itza Classic Tour and cost us about $62 per person. There was also a buffet lunch included in the tour.
3. Dive in the Ik-Kil Cenote
Cenote Ik Kil is a large sinkhole located near Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. 26 meters in depth, this massive natural swimming pool is draped with vines and tree roots hanging down from the ceiling. It is absolutely stunning to see the sun rays falling on the water and creating a magical sparkle all around; it is truly nothing less than a deep tropical hidden paradise.
Entry fees to the cenote is 80 pesos (4 USD) but if you’re taking a group tour, like we did, it is usually included in your tour cost. But you still have to pay an additional 5 USD for lockers and life-jackets, if you want to dive in the cenote.
As diving into the crystal clear water of the sinkhole is the main attraction here, people usually line up at a stairs waiting for their turn. If you’re an adventure seeker like us, then diving into these beautiful waters is something you need to experience! Oh, and the water is freezing cold by the way.
There’s also a restaurant in the complex that only serves buffet lunch, which is included in your tour cost if you’re coming with a tour company, otherwise it costs around $10-$15 per person. Honestly, the food wasn’t that great, so if your hotel offers an option of packed lunches then I would suggest you get that.
4. Tick Off a Wonder of the World – Chichen Itza
One of the largest Mayan archaeological sites, Chichen Itza is a must see when visiting the Yucatan region. It is a complex of 17 structures featuring intricately designed pyramids and Mayan temples.
The most visited structure, and truly the most majestic one that stands tall in the center is called the Pyramid of Kukulcan. This pyramid was built in such a way that when the sun sets during the spring and fall solstices, it casts a shadow that resembles a large slithering snake along the building. It is utterly fascinating!
Like any other Wonder of the World, you will find this place to be extremely packed at most times, unless you plan to come around its opening time, 8 am. It is a captivating place and you should definitely plan to spend around 1 to 2 hours here to learn more about the Mayan history.
There is a large market around the complex selling unique souvenirs, but remember to haggle because they tend to charge exorbitant amounts.
5. Eat Mexican Street Food at Parque de Las Palapas and Mercado 28
Now, you’d not want to miss out on some authentic Mexican street food when in Mexico. And since Hotel Zone is all covered with resorts and fancy restaurants, most food you get there is adapted according to international taste buds. So if you want to have a taste of some real Mexican food, head out to Parque de Las Palapas.
Take the R2 bus from a bus stop near your hotel and get down at the Mercado 28 stop. Make sure to tell the driver where you need to get down so that you don’t miss your stop. The bus ride costs 8.5 pesos one way (or $1 if you’re paying in USD), so it’s a pretty cheap option to travel.
Few things you need to try from this market are machacado – Mexican version of shave ice (we are still finding this in the United States; it was so good), mole enchiladas and some street tacos!
After feeding your stomach to some delicious food, walk to Mercado 28 to do some street shopping. It’s a large colorful market with a wide variety of souvenirs and unique items that you’d love! Don’t forget to haggle in order to get the best price!
To head back to hotel zone, you’ll have to walk till Walmart (about 5 minutes) and catch the same bus from there.
6. Have a Night to Remember at Coco Bongo
Coco Bongo is nothing like your usual night club; with flying acrobats, elaborate musical performances and an ultimate party atmosphere, a night at Coco Bongo will surely be a night to remember!
It’s located right in the heart of Hotel Zone and you can get there by taking the R2 bus, it’s just a couple of stops away.
Remember to be there before their opening time because the lines tend to get pretty long, and yah this happens every single night. I’d suggest you buy the tickets online in advance because there were long lines at the ticket counter too and you wouldn’t want to waste even a second standing in line when so much fun awaits! The ticket prices might seem a bit much at first but your ticket also includes an open bar, so make the most of it!
Upon entering the club, you’ll be escorted to their main party area where you’ll see a pool of energetic people looking to have the time of their life just like you. You will need to make your way through them to even find a place to sit but hey it’s your time to party, who wants to sit, right.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and just in the blink of an eye the whole night had passed. But as a side note, we did want to sit down at some point and just enjoy the amazing performances, but there was no place for that.
7. Learn the Mayan History at Tulum Ruins
You cannot visit Cancun and not see the Mayan Ruins of Tulum! It is an ancient walled city sitting on the edge of a cliff in Quintana Roo overlooking the Caribbean ocean and is quite a sight to behold.
The old stone structures that make up this archaeological site are surrounded by palm trees, beautiful cactus flowers, steep rocky cliffs, and oh you’ll get to see a lot of iguanas here too.
To visit Tulum from Cancun, we booked the Tulum & Beach Combo Tour with Cancun Discounts since we were very satisfied with their service from the previous day. Again, since Tulum is also about 2 hours from the Hotel Zone, an early start is a must! The tour cost us around $55 and was around 12 hours long; we started at 7 am and were back by 7 pm.
While the ruins of Tulum can be flooded with tourists during most part of the day, it is sometimes possible to find a secluded corner to enjoy Mexico’s fascinating history.
While at Tulum, you should definitely plan to visit Playa Paraiso – a beautiful beach surrounded by rocky cliffs. And if you choose to do the same tour as us, it’s included in it. But one limitation of the tour is that even though you’d want to spend more time at the beach, they only give you 30 minutes, which is not a sufficient beach time at all.
8. Shop & Relax in Playa Del Carmen
A beautiful resort city, Playa Del Carmen, is perfect whether you’re looking to just sit by the beach and relax or shop your heart out at its famous 5th Avenue! Lined up with endless shops, restaurants and bars running throughout the town, 5th Avenue was the perfect place for us to people watch and stroll!
The ancient ruins of Coba, another Mayan archaeological site, is also a popular attraction that many people like to visit in Playa Del Carmen.
9. Scuba Dive in Cozumel
About a 30-minute ferry ride away from Playa Del Carmen is Cozumel, an island popular for its scuba diving. In the clear waters of Cozumel, you will find bright coral reefs, giant sea turtles, schools of fish and a wide variety of sea life.
We booked a scuba diving package with My Deep Life that included two 45 minute dives at two completely different sites. In our first dive we came across a variety of beautiful coral reefs, and our second dive covered endless species of sea life, including those we hadn’t even heard of before. I can tell you one thing for sure, it was an experience of a lifetime!
The package included pickup and drop off at the hotel, along with allowing some time to explore Playa Del Carmen’s 5th Avenue, which was simply perfect for us. Again like most other locations, Cozumel is also about two and a half hours away from Cancun, hence we needed to leave around 5 am and were able to get back to our hotel only by 6 pm.
This was our last day in Cancun and we wanted to make the most out of it.
10. Scuba Dive in the Cancun Underwater Museum
The Cancun Underwater Museum, also called the MUSA, is surely an eerie place with hundreds of immortalized statues of women and children just standing there underwater in silence. With such distinct expressions and features, each statue has a story to tell.
It is this spookiness that makes it one of the most unique dive sites in the world and we were looking forward to this throughout our trip.
There are multiple scuba tours available, most will pick you up at the Aquaworld Marina and after a short boat ride, you’ll reach the dive location. The dive usually lasts about 2 hours. And after the dive, you’ll be dropped back at the marina.
Note: We absolutely love diving, so going for a dive on simultaneous days was completely normal for us, but if it’s your first time then we’d recommend you go for a dive at MUSA because this is one experience you will not get anywhere else in the world. As for your Day 5 then, you can either spend your day at Playa Del Carmen and its beaches, or just chill at your hotel’s beach!
11. Chill at Isla Mujeres
After having a breathtaking dive at the MUSA, you’d want to relax and calm your breath down, and Isla Mujeres is the perfect place for that. An island that has quieter and more laid-back vibe than you’ll find anywhere else in Cancun is truly a peaceful paradise.
You can take the R2 bus from the Aquaworld Marina to Playa Tortugas, from where you’ll get a ferry for Isla Mujeres. Playa Norte is the most popular beach on the island; it is jaded with beach loungers that you can get for $15/hour or $50 per day.
Keep in mind that the ferry has a fixed schedule and operates between 5 am to 9:30 pm, therefore plan your travel accordingly so that you don’t miss the last return ferry.
Besides all these fun activities, we did manage to keep some time to ourselves too. We chilled at our hotel’s beach, relaxed in our hotel’s jacuzzi, and danced at the beach parties because what’s a tropical vacation without some relaxation and partying at the beach, right!
Budget: How Much Do You Need
The word budget and how much money you’ll need to vacation in Cancun is really subjective and depends on whether you’re the kind who splurges on a vacation or sticks to a plan. For the itinerary described above, we spent –
- $1300 on Hotel + Flights Package Deal
- $234 on Group Tours
- $134 on Public Transportation, including bus, ferry and airport shuttle
- $400 for Scuba Diving in Cozumel
- $190 for Scuba Diving in MUSA
- $320 on Food and Drinks
I hope this post shows you how unique Cancun is and breaks the typical beach destination stereotype. There’s so much more to do there. Make sure to include things from our list when planning a vacation to Cancun to have a holiday you won’t forget!
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Planning a trip to Cancun real soon? The following article on travel tips to Mexico might be useful.
10 Tips To Have A Fabulous Holiday in Cancun, Mexico
So, you’re planning to travel to Mexico huh? But, you’re not entirely sure how you’d manage in a new country, with a different language and a different culture? Then you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you some of the best tips and tricks to help you have a stress free vacation in Cancun, Mexico.