3 Day itinerary Cancún: Explore the best of paradise

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What we talk about in this article

Cancún, a city known for its stunning beaches, vibrant nightlife, and rich Mayan culture, has so much to offer in just three days. Whether you’re seeking adventure or relaxation, this 3-day itinerary will guide you through the best of Cancún’s attractions, from snorkelling with whale sharks to exploring ancient Mayan ruins.

There are so many amazing activities to choose from, and the surroundings and nearby islands offer something special as well. You can easily alternate between adrenaline pumping activities and pure relaxation! Let’s go!

Where to stay in Cancún

Have you already decided where you want to stay in Cancún? In short, you have 2 main area’s to choose from. The Zona Hotelera or downtown.

The major advantage of the Zona Hotelera is that it is located in the most beautiful stretch of land, right at the ocean. What can be a downside for some is that you can find a lot of big resorts there, all in a row. As well as a big stretch of restaurants, bars and shops that give off a very touristy vibe. Some really like that, some just don’t. So, it’s crowded. Oh yeah, it’s also expensive, fairly important to make your decision. 

If you choose to stay downtown, you have plenty of choice between upscale hotels to budget hostels. And, you go for a more local vibe, which can also be a lot of fun. Always have a look on the map to make sure you’re not too far away, walking distance, from the top things to see or hang out. There go regular buses to the beach and the ride takes about 20 minutes to half an hour max.

We were always on a budget when we were backpacking, so we choose to stay downtown in Moloch hostel. It’s on the smaller size, cute, clean and it has nice rooms and showers. There is a small swimming pool and a cosy terrace. It is very close to the bus stop and in easy walking distance to Parque las Palapas.

Best luxury hotel

3 Day itinerary Cancún: Explore the best of paradise

Best family hotel (2 kids free)

3 Day itinerary Cancún: Explore the best of paradise

Best no party hostel downtown

Moloch hostel Cancun

Day 1 in Cancún: settle in - El Rey Ruins - Playa Delfines - Evening at Zona Hotelera - Night out at Coco Bongo

The first day is all about settling in and getting into the holiday vibe. Depending on your time of arrival and on how far you travelled, you might want to start off slow. That’s why we start day 1 at the Zona Hotelera. The surrounding areas are simply stunning, so it’s perfect to relax, take a look around, soak in the sun and have a refreshing dip in the clear blue water.

El Rey Mayan Ruins in the morning

The El Rey Mayan Ruins, is a nice archaeological site where you can find 47 structures. They served various purposes during the Mayan civilization. You can also check out some mural paintings and drawings from that time.

The best time to swing by the El Rey Mayan Ruins is in the early morning, before it gets too hot, that makes exploring the place a lot more comfortable.

One cool thing about El Rey is that it’s right there in the hotel zone of Cancún. So, it’s super easy to get to. If you’re planning on checking out El Rey, set aside half an hour to 1 hour to explore the site. It’s not as massive as Chichen Itza, but it’s still a really fascinating spot. You can wander around the ruins, admire the ancient structures, and take in the beautiful natural surroundings.

Swimming and sunbathing at Playa Delfines in the afternoon

It’s time to relax at Playa Delfines. This amazing beach captures the hearts of travellers looking for that perfect beach experience. 

What makes Playa Delfines special is its breathtaking natural beauty, attracting both locals and tourists alike. It’s one of the most stunning and untouched beaches that everyone can enjoy. 

The pristine blue waters are perfect for swimming and snorkelling. As the waves can get pretty big here, it’s also a popular place for surfers. Don’t forget to take a picture of the famous Cancún sign, to make sure it wasn’t all a dream.  

Playa Delfines Cancún
Playa Delfines - El Mirador - the look out

Planning to explore Playa Delfines? Don’t forget to pack sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses to shield yourself from the intense Mexican sun. Bring an umbrella or rent one at the beach. 

Visiting by car? There is a public car park right at the beach.

Are you visiting from the city? Take a local bus to the beach, it only takes about 25 to 30 minutes.

Explore the Zona Hotelera in the evening

Okay, this might be the most touristy thing to do, but it can also be fun for a night out.

If you’re staying in one of the hotels here, it’s perfect to go and freshen up after your afternoon at the beach and explore the hotel zone afterwards.

There are so many nice restaurants and bars here, so you’ll have plenty of choice to enjoy a nice dinner and drinks.

Zona Hotelera Cancún

A night out: Enjoy a show at Coco Bongo

If you want to experience an epic show and love to dance the night away, consider going to Coco Bongo. Join a spectacular party with big acts, acrobats, singing and dancing tributes and lots of confetti.

It can get packed, so book your ticket in advance!

Day 2 in Cancún: Day trip to Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá - one of the New Seven Wonders of the World

Chichén Itzá is an ancient Mayan city that was a very important in its day. Now, it’s considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Its architectural beauty and historical significance make it a truly special place to visit. It’s approximately 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Cancún, making it a convenient day trip.

Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza

The main attraction is the iconic El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulcan, a step pyramid with breathtaking precision and design. Other notable structures include the Great Ball Court, the Group of a Thousand Columns, and the Temple of the Warriors. These fascinating archaeological wonders make it a must-see destination that shouldn’t be missed. 

When visiting Chichén Itzá, it is important to keep the hot and humid climate in mind, so wearing comfortable clothing, using sun-block and staying hydrated is crucial.

Visit Chichén Itzá on your own

If you want to visit the ruins on your own, your best option is to drive yourself or take the ADO bus.

The ADO bus leaves at 8.45 am and takes around 2 hours to get you there. The biggest disadvantage is that you arrive fairly late to the party, as the park opens at 8 a.m. So be prepared to share the site with hoards of other visitors.

Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza

Visit Chichen Itza with a guided tour

We love exploring on our own, but for this site, your best option is to choose one of the highly rated guided tours.

Most tours combine a visit to the ruins with a refreshing dip in a cenote afterwards. This might be just what you need after exploring the structures of Chichén Itzá in the blistering sun. Some tours even add a visit to a historic city such as Valladolid or to Coba, another archaeological site, making it a full day experience. 

Good to know: If you don’t like big crowds, take a tour that leaves as early as possible to the ruins, so you can avoid the crazy amount of tourists there.

Chichen Itza early access & cenote

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, cenote & Valladolid

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, cenote & Coba tour

Chichen Itza

Day 3 in Cancún: Trip to Isla Mujeres - Mercado 28 - Parque Las Palapas

The best thing about Cancún are the beautiful beaches and its exquisite surroundings. You just can’t get enough of the pristine white stretches of sand, the refreshing turquoise water and the waving palm trees. You find all that and a lot more on nearby Isla Mujeres. This beautiful island with its laid-back atmosphere is just a short ferry ride away from the port and ideal for a half day or full day excursion.

In the late afternoon and the evening, get ready to spend some time in the city, get a feel of the local vibe and taste some great street food or dine in one of the many good restaurants.

Day trip to Isla Mujeres from Cancún

Isla Mujeres is located just a 15 to 25-minute ferry ride from the port.

Known for its stunning natural beauty, this charming island is surrounded by crystal-clear turquoise waters and has pristine white sandy beaches. The atmosphere is relaxed, making it an ideal place to unwind and enjoy the pace of the island life.

Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres

One of the main draws of Isla Mujeres is its world-class snorkelling and diving opportunities. The warm waters are teeming with colourful marine life and vibrant coral reefs, allowing visitors to explore an underwater paradise.

Snorkelling and diving tours are readily available, providing an unforgettable experience for both beginners and experienced divers alike.

In addition to water activities, Isla Mujeres offers various other attractions. You can explore the island’s history and culture by visiting Punta Sur Park, a gorgeous nature park which even has its own Mayan ruins to explore.

Indulge in locale cuisine in one or more of the many restaurants downtown and buy some nice souvenirs and unique handicrafts at the cosy shops.  

Isla Mujeres - Punta Sur
Isla Mujeres

For those seeking adventure, numerous water sports such as paddleboarding, kayaking, and jet skiing are also available. 

Exploring the island by renting a golf cart, motorbike or bicycle is a popular choice, allowing visitors to discover hidden beaches and scenic viewpoints.

In short: Isla Mujeres is a paradise that offers a blend of relaxation, adventure, and natural beauty. With its stunning beaches, incredible marine life, and rich culture, it is a destination not to be missed for those visiting the Cancún area.

Isla Mujeres

Round trip ferry Cancún - Isla Mujeres

Ferry to Isla Mujeres from Cancun

Ferry tickets to Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres

If you like to sail and want to meet new people, consider going on a catamaran sailing tour. It’s a great way to enjoy the ocean, and when conditions are good, you can go snorkelling as well. 

Keep this in mind before you book: 

– It’s not guaranteed that you can go snorkelling. Sometimes conditions are off. 

– When you do a tour, all is arranged for you, this also means that you don’t get to choose how much time you spend on an activity or on the island. This means, somethings might feel rushed. 

– Don’t expect too much from the offered drinks and lunch. It’s an extra service to enjoy, but it’s not fancy or high-end. Consider bringing your own snacks

In short, with a tour, it’s best to be good informed. If you know what to expect, you can have an excellent time, enjoy the sailing, the swimming, snorkelling and the island visit while meeting new friends.

8-hours Isla Mujeres Catamaran tour + Island visit

catamaran Isla Mujeres

Explore Mercado 28 in the late afternoon

Mercado 28, right in the heart of the city, is this colourful market that’s famous for its amazing selection of souvenirs. It’s like a treasure trove for tourists, with all these unique goodies you can take back home.

Got to mention, though, some of the vendors there really know how to sell! They can be a bit pushy at times, but honestly, it adds a little thrill to the whole shopping experience. And if you’re looking to brush up on your bargaining skills, Mercado 28 is the perfect place to practice your haggling game. It’s like a real-life training ground for negotiation.

Parque las Palapas

Spend your evening at Parque las Palapas

One of our favourite things to do in the city is taking a lovely evening stroll around Parque las Palapas. As the sun sets, this public square comes alive, it’s filled with charming food stalls and inviting tables, the perfect casual setting to enjoy a variety of delicious snacks.

On one side of the square, there’s a grand stage, attracting a diverse range of artists and talented locals who put on their best show to entertain the crowd.

As the evening progresses, more food stalls and vendors join the scene, offering an even wider array of tasty treats. A true temptation for your taste buds. 

Parque las Palapas is like the heart of Cancún, giving you a fun experience to indulge in local flavours, lively performances, and the cosy atmosphere of the bustling square.

Parque las Palapas
Parque las Palapas
Parque las Palapas

Other top activities to do in Cancún

As everyone enjoys different types of activities, this itinerary might not contain all the things you’ll like to see or do. That’s why we list a few other top things to see and do in Cancún. Make sure to book your tickets in time, as some activities can fill up fast, especially in high season.

Cenotes tour Cancun

Cenotes tour with kayaking, snorkeling & more

This high-rated tour takes you to 4 different cenotes, each with its unique setting and fun activities. Within this full-day tour, you’ll get the chance to not only swim, but also to rappel, snorkel, kayak, zip line and jump off a cliff. They provide a nice lunch and some drinks, fruits and other snacks to make your day even better. See the most beautiful cenotes in the area and enjoy a full day in nature.

Swim with whale sharks (from May to September)

Get ready for an adventure of a lifetime, swimming with whale sharks, the greatest fish alive. These gentle giants are known to be very docile and love to interact with humans.

It’s important to have very good guidance, so you feel safe and the interaction with these friendly fish can be respectful and fun for every creature, men and fish.

Whale shark swimming

Keep this in mind before you book:

– Of course, no one can guarantee that you will be able to see and swim with the fish, but chances are high. 

– Make sure to take some medication in order to avoid seasickness, waters can be choppy.

– Wear comfortable clothes like a long-sleeve cotton shirt or jumper, long cotton pants and an impermeable jacket. 

It can get busy with boats, all there for the same reason, to see and swim with whale sharks. At some point, it might feel as all these boats are almost ‘hunting’ the whale sharks, just for the tourists. So it might not be the peaceful experience you’re hoping for.

In short: With these tours, it can go both ways.

  1. You can be really lucky and have an amazing sunny day in calm waters on the ocean, enjoying the company of turtles, dolphins, seabirds and whale sharks.
  2. Or you can have no luck at all, seeing almost no animals and in the worst case feeling sea sick the whole time. 

Your guess is as good as mine. But one thing is for sure, when you do get to see the sharks, and even swim with them, that will be an extraordinary experience.

whale shark snorkelling

Drive your own speedboat and go snorkeling

Get ready to experience some more breathtaking nature. Learn how to drive your own 2-seater speedboat and feel the rush as you cruise over the Lagoon of Nichupté, surrounded by the amazing wildlife and lush vegetation of the mangrove.

After exploring the jungle-like mangrove, head to Punta Nizuc, a stunning coral reef that’s perfect for snorkelling. You can even spot some of the statues of the underwater museum (MUSA).

Nichupte Lagoon

What to pack for Cancún?

You’re going to the Caribbean, so prepare for hot weather, a lot of sunshine, and a lot of swimming! When packing for a trip to Cancún, a swimsuit is the number one item on your list. For your clothes, think lightweight and choose breathable materials such as cotton or linen. Check out our Cancún packing list with printable checklist to see what to take with you.

How many days in Cancún do you need?

You might ask yourself:” Is 3 days enough?” Well, you can never spend enough days in paradise. 

But, in 3 days you can already see and do a lot, as you can see. It’s totally up to you if you want to slow it down or pace things up, activity wise. There are plenty of activities to do, sights to see, islands to visit and day trips to embark on. So, if you have the luxury of staying longer, go for it! You’ll find it’s very easy to find fun things to do in and around the city.

3 day itinerary Cancun

To wrap it up - 3 day itinerary Cancún

We were lucky enough to visit Cancún a few times already and we absolutely loved it every time.

The moment your feet touch ground after that long flight, you take out your shorts and let the sun warm your heart and soul.

To us, it always feels a bit like coming home. Enjoy your stay!

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