Bordering the Caribbean Sean and known for its beaches, numerous resorts and nightlife, Cancun is no doubt high up on the list of vacation destinations. There are so many different things you can do in Cancun, from relaxing on the beautiful beaches, to exploring archeological runs, to ziplining through the jungle. If you are looking for a tropical destination with variety of things to do, Cancun is the place for you.
I am the type of traveler who isn’t so much into chilling on the beach but more into doing adventures and activities. If you are like me, this itinerary might be a great source of inspiration!
The Best Time to Visit Cancun
The best time to visit Cancun is in the months from December to April, where the weather is almost perfect and not too hot. If you want to avoid the crowds and the spikes in hotel prices, avoid booking your trip during the popular holiday weeks, such as Christmas or Spring Break. Otherwise, enjoy a warm getaway during those months that are extremely chilly elsewhere.
The 5 Day Itinerary for Cancun
As mentioned before, there are so many things to do in Cancun. For this itinerary, we are focusing on activities, adventures and tours for all 5 days. It has a good mix of archeological sites, cenotes & caves, jungle adventures, beach time and water sports. You can follow the exact same itinerary and do all 5 days of excursions, but you can also just book an all-inclusive resort and relax on the beach for 5 days, or mix and match it up to get a balance of beach time with adventures. It is your trip and enjoy it to the fullest in your way!
- Day 1: Chichen Itza, Cenote & Valladolid
- Day 2: Zipline, ATV and Jungle Adventures
- Day 3: Río Secreto Cave Exploration, Beaches, Shopping
- Day 4: Tulum, Paradise Beach, Coba Ruins
- Day 5: Water Sports, Underground Museum/Isla Mujeres
See below a map of the destinations for this trip:
Overall Travel Tips & Things to Know
- Prepare to carry cash with you. Most hotels, restaurants and shops have no problem taking credit card, but if you are doing tours, definitely consider having some cash for miscellaneous things (such as renting lockers, life jackets, bikes, or getting quick bites) and tip. Cancun is a tip heavy place and it’s helpful to always have some cash to tip the tour guides and drivers
- Consider booking airport shuttle services ahead of time. As soon as you land at the Cancun airport, you will be approached by a crazy number of shuttle services offering to take you to your hotel, which is a little bit of a stressful experience. Check with your hotel first to see if they offer any airport shuttle services, and if not, book one ahead of time. We used Happy Shuttle, which is an excellent service. It costs about 32 USD for a private, round trip private shuttle and they are very responsive and accommodating about flight cancellations and delays
- If you are staying in the hotel zone and want to explore the area, the easiest way to get around is the R1 and R2 buses. Those are very recognizable and frequent red busses that circle around the hotel zone and cost 1 USD or 12 pesos per ride
- On top of packing beachwear, consider also bringing a pair of aqua shoes, and a waterproof phone case. You can easily purchase those from Amazon before the trip, and they are the two best investments we made, especially for swimming in the cenotes, doing the jungle tour, and any activity involving water
- This itinerary involves tours on every day. The idea behind booking tours instead of self-planning is to relieve the stress of figuring out transportation, timing, pricing, and all the language barriers. As Cancun is a popular destination, there are plenty of well established tours that make the experience seamless
- Almost all of the tours offer transportation and it is to your advantage if your hotel is located closer to the attractions. We stayed at the Renaissance Cancun Resort & Marina which was absolutely amazing, but as it is located at the most northern tip, it’s the farthest away from all of the day trip attractions. We were always the first ones to get picked up and the last ones to get dropped off. To minimize the bus ride time, consider staying at a hotel more south or closer to the attraction sites
Day 1: Chichen Itza, Cenote & Valladolid
Start the trip by visiting the most famous landmark – Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza was a large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people of the Terminal Classic period. The impressive site is located in Yucatán State, 3 hours west to Cancun (and has a one hour time difference), so be prepared for a long day trip to account for the time on the road. Due to the long distance and crowds, it is on the more exhausting side of tours so it’s great to get it “out of the way” on the first day.
To visit Chichen Itza, the easiest and best way is to book a guided tour. Tours not only remove the stress of transportation and purchasing tickets, but also immensely help with our understanding of Chichen Itza’s history and the Mayan culture.
The tour I recommended is the Chichen Itza, Cenote & Valladolid All-Inclusive Tour on TripAdvisor. It is a very affordable tour with excellent execution as they’ve been operating the tour for years.
The tour usually begins with a hotel pickup, and a long bus ride to Chichen Itza with a rest stop on the way. During the ride, the tour guide (we had Luis, who’s funny and knowledgeable) gives an entertaining overview of the Mayan calendar, the history, and all the things to expect upon arrival at Chichen Itza. At the actual site, he explains all the mind-blowing design elements behind the temple and all the fascinating Mayan legends. With the remaining free time, explore the site on your own to breathe in the magnitude of the sight that is in front of you. As one of the seven wonders of the world, it’s certainly a memorable experience to stand here.
After the lunch buffet and an optional quick dip in the Cenote. This is really optional as there will be plenty of chances to swim in Cenotes on this trip, and this particular Cenote is extremely overcrowded.
Travel with the group to Valladolid, a Mayan city that was demolished and rebuilt by the Spanish, hence being named after the Spanish capital of the time. The architecture bears a lot of Spanish influence which is fascinating to look at. Grab some delicious churros and coffee here before starting on the long journey back to Cancun.
Day 2: Zipline, ATV and Jungle Adventures
There are numerous adventure tour providers in Cancun, the most popular one being Xplore by Xcaret. Regardless of which one you pick, definitely do at least one to get a dose of the thrilling and fun jungle experience in Cancun.
For this trip I recommend Selvatica – The Adventure Tribe. We booked the Offroad Polaris tour, which consists of a 10 course zipline circuit, a bungee jump, the Tarzania zipline coaster, and an ATV ride. The online discount offered is great and the tour costs $230 for two people (plus $10 each for a round trip transportation). This is considered on the pricey side, but this is a situation where you are getting what you pay for. Selvatica is much less crowded, and they clearly put a lot of thought into the whole place and experience.
Start with a 2.5 hour 10 course zip line, and despite a big group (~20 ppl) the pace is fast – before you know it, you would be flying through the jungle and landing in the pool. Challenge yourself with bungee jumping and then the zipline coaster that sours above the trees and does several crazy dips. Next, ride the ATV in a formation through the crazy bumpy and muddy dirt road, then finally end with a dip in the cenote.
Regardless of which tour you do, be sure to put on swimwear, wear aqua shoes, and put on plenty of sunscreen and bug spray. Consider bringing those waterproof phone cases as well to protect your phone while capturing the fun.
Day 3: Río Secreto Cave Exploration, Beaches, Shopping
If there is one unforgettable place to visit, it is Río Secreto, a turquoise underground river full of geological formations, stalactites and stalagmites. The collection of caves is mesmerizing, and Río Secreto is often known as the best kept secret gem in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Tours are operated within a portion of the site, in an effort to raise funds to preserve the rest of the beautiful caves. You can book a tour through the official Río Secreto website or other tour operators such as this one on TripAdvisor.
In small groups of around 10 people, explorers are provided with wet suites, helmets, and aqua shoes. The tour begins with a brief trek through the woods where a short Mayan ritual is performed to prepare explorers for contact with rainwater.
As the group wades through the water and learns about the history of the caves as well as about the geological formations, the tour is breathtakingly beautiful. It almost can be described as a spiritual experience, as you navigate through an unfamiliar space, submerge in water and on some occasions, and experience pure quiet and darkness. You would definitely feel the vastness of time and nature on this tour.
As many would note for this tour, no phones or cameras are allowed inside the caves. An official photographer follows the group to take photos, which are available for purchase after the tour for steep prices (it was $80 for the package when I visited).
After visiting Río Secreto, with any spare time left, spend time relaxing at the beaches. In the hotel zone, grab dinner at El Fish Fritanga, which has beautiful outdoor seating facing the waters, along with delicious cuisine. Spend some time strolling through La Isla Cancun Shopping Village to do some shopping before resting for the day.
Day 4: Tulum, Paradise Beach, and Coba Ruins
Use a day to tour archaeological sites of Tulum and Coba. Tulum is a beautiful town near the coastline, known for its beaches and well-preserved ruins of an ancient Mayan port city. Coba, on the other hand, is known for its grand and even more ancient sites from the Mesoamerican civilization. Both are well worth a visit.
Pick a tour of your own choosing to learn all about the archaeological sites. For my trip, we decided on the Tulum & Coba Day Trip Tour, which is a very well organized day trip to the sites.
Unlike the Chichen Itza one, this is a small, intimate group tour. Start the day early by visiting Tulum Archaeological Zone. This old Mayan city was built on a cliff, where the turquoise ocean, the white beach, the peaceful palm trees and the ruins all converge into one scene that is so unbelievably like paradise.
Next, spend a little bit of time on Paradise Beach to get closer to the ocean and breath in the beautiful coastal view.
In the afternoon, head to Coba Ruins, which dates way older than Tulum and still largely unexcavated, making the trip itself an exploration of the jungle. It consists of a large group of sites and a central pyramid, connected by over 16 Mayan ceremonial “white roads” (known as sacbéob).
Rent a bike, which is available near the entrance to bike on a relatively flat path, and stop at each temple to admire the history. The trip takes about an hour biking (and around 2.5 hours if walking).
After seeing the ruins, stop at Choo-Ha Cenote, which is by far the most beautiful cenote I’ve seen. It is fully underground, where the cave’s geological formations hang right above your head, and the water is the most clear to swim in. Most importantly, it is not crowded and is definitely a hidden gem.
Day 5: Water Sports, Underground Museum/Isla Mujeres
Spend the last day enjoying the beach to the fullest. Water activities are always the highlight in Cancun so this is a great day to get some fun activities in.
Check out the Jetski Guided Tour. Unfortunately you can’t jet ski without a guide in Cancun due to local laws, so be sure to book a guided tour. I did some research and this tour is the well-rounded one with reasonable pricing and good reviews. The tour lasts a full hour where a guide is in the lead and each jet ski follows behind. The group travels across the beautiful lagoon, with a chance to spot crocodiles, and a stop at a hidden beach to take some memorable photos.
Depending on your favorite type of activity, be sure to check out the other numerous water sports packages. One site recommended to us is Aquaworld, which offers a great variety of water activities ranging from snorkeling to fishing to sky-riding. If you are comfortable with being under water, check out the famous Underwater Museum, which features around 500 amazing sculptures underwater and is quite an impressive view.
With any extra time, also consider making a trip to Isla Mujeres, an island 13 kilometers off the coast from Cancún and a prime spot to relax, explore, and enjoy the vacation.
This is the 5 day trip in Cancun full of adventures and tours, with a good mix of archeological sites, cenotes & caves, jungle adventures, beach time and water activities. Be sure to customize the trip to your liking and have a fun ride!