The Ultimate Cancun 5 Day Itinerary: Beaches and Jungle

Cancun 5 day itinerary
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Our ultimate Cancun 5 day itinerary covers all the bases of this happening Mexican resort. From the shimmering, white-sand beaches to the tropical Caribbean islands that lie off the coast, the dank cenotes of the jungles to the wild nightlife of the city itself, we’ll check all the boxes that you can think of.

Each day on our Cancun 5 day itinerary has a unique vibe. We’ll start with those legendary Hotel Zone playas. There are lots of them to get through, all with talcum sands and turquoise seas. Then we’ll push on to the rich history of the Yucatan, the further-afield beaches of the Riviera Maya, and finally the wild, hedonistic side of Cancun.

We’ve planned it all so that you can easily tweak and change the order of the day. Add in beaches here; drop them out there. Choose to swap and alter cenote visits for more history if you wish. Transport wise, there is some public transport in the form of buses and boats, along with one day where you might be better off with your own car rental.

Day 1 – Hit the beaches

Cancun beaches
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Morning: Don’t worry, there’s no rush to get out of the hotel fast on the first day of our ultimate Cancun 5 day itinerary. This one’s all about enjoying the beaches and curing the jet lag. We’ll assume you’re staying somewhere in the Hotel Zone. That’s prime for hitting the best sands in the city. The northern end of the area is where the top swimming beaches are, so head to Playa Tortugas for your dip in the Caribbean Sea. Afterwards, Sirenas Raw Bar offers fresh tropical smoothies and tostadas for breakfast. It’s about 10 minutes’ walk down Kukulcan Boulevard (the main road in the Hotel Zone) from the beach.

Afternoon: After a late brunch and your first swim, head back to Kukulcan Boulevard. There are very regular buses running north and south up and down its whole length. You’re looking to go south, to start that odyssey through the Cancun beaches. First stop: Playa Chac Mool. It’s a perennially popular stretch of caster sugar-white sand that has big hotels to its back and some frothing ocean waves. After that, hop back on the bus and head to Playa San Miguelito, where the vibes become much quieter and there are noticeably fewer people on the beach. The final stop will be Playa Delfines. It’s one of Cancun’s most exclusive spots, backed by five-star hotels with chic spas and eateries. Look out for dolphins in the water – they are regulars along this part of the zone.

Evening: For the sunset hour, try to make it back to the heart of the Cancun Hotel Zone. That’s at Punta Cancun, an area that throbs with bars and taco joints and slick cocktail outlets. Seafood lovers should be sure to patronize Habaneros Mexican Cevecheria on the shoreline. It’s got fresh lobster and some of the zestiest fish salads in the area.

Day 2 – Delve into the enthralling history of the Yucatan

Chichen Itza
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Morning & Afternoon: We’d totally recommend taking an organized tour of the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Chichen Itza. Put simply, no ultimate Cancun 5 day itinerary could be complete without a mention of this epic place. Day excursions make a visit super easy, too. They usually involve an early pick up right outside your hotel in the Hotel Zone or Centro areas of the city, a transfer to the site itself, and even guided tours with qualified historians when you arrive. That’s invaluable, because it means you’ll have all the historical background behind the great structures of Chichen Itza, including the soaring Kukulkan Pyramid, the colonnaded Temple of a Thousand Warriors, and the Upper Temple of the Jaguar.

If you can, try to choose a day trip that also includes a visit to the nearby city of Valladolid. That’s a gorgeous colonial-styled town with flagstone plazas, arcaded palazzos, and a bustling Mercado Municipal for all your souvenir needs.

Evening: Most day tours of Chichen Itza and the surrounding Yucatan region will get you back into Cancun for the early- to mid-evening. That leaves time for dinner, but tonight you’ll be heading to the lagoon side of the Hotel Zone. There’s a slightly less-chic vibe there, so eateries run the gamut from Southern-fried seafood at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. to rustic Tuscan kitchens at Trattoria Limoncello. Take your pick because the sunset over the Nichupte Lagoon is spectacular no matter where you go.

Day 3 – The Isla Mujeres and Cancun’s centro

Isla Mujeres
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Morning: Wake as early as you can and make for the marina at Puerto Juarez. It’s just outside of Centro Cancun and north of the Hotel Zone. A taxi there should take around 20-25 minutes in light traffic. Transfer onto the regular Ultramar ferry link that goes across to the Isla Mujeres. They leave roughly every 30 minutes, starting at 5am, while the trip lasts about 15 minutes in total. We’d say skip breakfast on the mainland, because wonderfully welcoming Café Mogagua awaits just a single block inland from the port on the island. It’s a chilled, tropical eatery with a big terrace splashed with shade. The menus offer up everything from fluffy pancakes to huevos rancheros with bacon.

Afternoon: Rent yourself a golf cart. Yep – you read that right. It’s the prime way to get around the island. There are plenty of places that offer them for a single day. Rates range from about $40-60, but it’s worth it because you’ll be able to scoot down to the southernmost point, known as Punta Sur. There, wild waves smash into rugged cliffs below a headland that hosts the fascinating Mayan ruins of Ixchel Temple. Drop into the open-air terraces of Acantilado restaurant for lunch. The menu there has some mean beef fajitas, and the margaritas are a fantastic accompaniment for the coastal views.

Evening: Make the drive back up the west coast of the Isla Mujeres and plan a pitstop at the Tortugranja to see the local species of endangered sea turtles. There are also plenty of soft-sanded beaches stringing that part of the isle if you’ve got the time to fit in some sunbathing. Either way, your aim is the port area and the boat back to Cancun (there are boats every 30 minutes until 9.30pm). Once on the mainland, head for Centro, the heart of Cancun city. There, hit the Parque de las Palapas. Mexicana street-food stalls abound and it’s always buzzy after dark, with beer drinkers, mariachi bands, and entertainers of all sorts.

Day 4 – Explore the Riviera Maya

Tulum
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Morning: Having your own car for the day will help things along when you come to exploring the famous Riviera Maya that rolls out south of Cancun. If that’s not possible then don’t worry, because there are regular buses linking up most of the main towns mentioned here. Either way, try to get an early start, because your first port of call is the boat-bobbing town of Puerto Morelos. It’s known for being one of the few locations on this uber-popular run of shoreline that’s managed to retain a little of it true Mexican character. There are some lovely locations for breakfast on the main beachfront but the Local Coffee + Shop makes some great brews a few blocks back. The swimming here is wonderful, though the playa does suffer from seaweed blooms between May and August.

Afternoon: Playa del Carmen is where you’ll head for lunch. This town has risen to become the Yucatan’s answer to Chiang Mai in recent years. It’s now booming with digital nomads and young professionals. That means there are some great international eateries – personally, we can’t stay away from the fiery salsas and veggie tacos at La Cueva del Chango. Before eating, you’ll want to stroll the main beachfront, where bars and sunbeds spill out onto the shimmering sands. It’s one of the riviera’s liveliest spots, with watersports outfitters galore.

Evening: The final location on the Riviera Maya included in this Cancun 5 day itinerary will be Tulum. A much-photographed town that’s known primarily for the half-ruined remains of Tulum Temple, it’s a cracking spot to enjoy the sunset over the Caribbean Sea. If there’s time left in the day, then hit the Tulum Archaeological Zone. That’s where the bulk of the ancient ruins exist, all anchored on the mighty Pyramid El Castillo. For the photo op, be sure to search out Templo Dios del Viento on the shoreline. Remember that there’s a two-hour drive back to Cancun from here, so leave enough time for the return journey. Alternatively, you could stay the night in Tulum. There are some excellent hotels, and it’s a great starting point for Day 5’s activities…

Day 5 – Cenotes by day, nightlife after sunset

Cenote
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Morning & Afternoon: No Cancun 5 day itinerary could possibly skip the incredible cenotes that dot the Yucatan Peninsula. These are natural sinkholes that have formed above underground rivers and springs. Many are now open to the air and offer unique swimming spots for those looking to escape the beaches. You’ve got two choices when it comes to seeing Cancun’s cenotes. Either take a planned tour. They usually last half a day or a full day, include lunch, and stops at three or four cenotes in total. Or go it alone with a car rental. We’ll leave it to you to decide, but some cenotes stand out from the bunch. They include:

  • Cenote Siete Bocas – A cobalt-blue cenote that drifts under some low-hanging caves near Puerto Morelos.
  • Cenote AzulCenote Azul is one of the most famous cenotes in Mexico. Close to Playa del Carmen, it’s a stunning series of Instagram-worthy pools filled with crystal clear waters.
  • Cenote Dos Ojos – Relatively unknown but with great access from Tulum, this one’s a whole underground cave system where you can swim under massive mineral formations.

Evening: Return to Cancun for the evening because there’s a side to the resort that you’ve yet to experience: Its hedonism. Let’s put it simply: The party here is epic. Cancun is hailed as a spring breaker mecca, so things get super wild in the months between February and April. That said, it’s positively bumping no matter the season. The place to find it going on is around Punta Cancun. Venues like Congo Bar Cancún, legendary Coco Bongo, Mandala, and Hard Rock lead the way, but there are plenty. Why not just let the night take the water direction it wants?

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.