When you think of Cancun, you’ll likely picture long stretches of white sand beach, vibrant turquoise sea water, all-night parties, and luxury high-rise resorts. Yes, Cancun is all of this—and much more. You can choose to relax on the beach, dance all night long, or head out from the city and explore Maya ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Cancun is a destination that can be tailored to suit every type of traveler. For first-timers, however, the pizazz of the resorts and myriad of activities can be daunting. That’s why I recommend kicking off your Cancun trip with the basics and really getting to know the Mexican Caribbean city with this itinerary.
Year-round heat means packing light layers and lots of changes.
If you only have time for one thing, make it Chichen Itza.
On day one, immerse yourself in nature and the archaeological sites of the Yucatan with a day trip from Cancun. Begin at the Maya site of Tulum, where you can watch the sunrise over the Caribbean coast. Boat to nearby reefs to snorkel and see coral reefs and rock formations, as well as tropical fish, turtles, and stingrays. Later, take a refreshing dip in the cenote, surrounded by centuries-old stalactites and stalagmites.
Feeling rejuvenated, join a taco tasting tour through Cancun's best taquerias on your return. Graze while sampling local beer, accompanied by mariachi music.
Take a deep dive into ancient Maya civilization with a trip to Chichen Itza. See the Pyramid of Kukulcan before visiting the colonial town of Valladolid where you'll swim in a cenote and eat a buffet vegetarian lunch. There's time to taste tequila, shop for souvenirs, and take photos.
Get back for a sunset cruise of the Nichupte Lagoon on a Spanish-style galleon with dinner and live sax accompaniment included.
If you prefer to party, skip the lines at Coco Bongo with a VIP pass. Sip on premium spirits and get a front-row seat for the show.
On day three, stay close to your base, taking advantage of the Cancun coast before you leave. Take a thrilling Jet Ski ride for two and paraglide over the bay with panoramic views of Isla Mujeres.
If you prefer to stay closer to the earth, journey to the jungle at Puerto Morelos where you can horseback ride or take an all-terrain vehicle. For the more adventurous, there is ziplining, spider web climbing, and a suspension bridge.
Spend your last night in Cancun watching Cirque du Soleil JOYA in the Riviera Maya, with a dinner option.