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How To Make The Perfect 4 Day Itinerary for Cancun

Last updated on May 15th, 2024 at 02:13 pm

The perfect 4 day itinerary for Cancun does exist, but you’ll need to make choices! There is just so much to do in Cancun – whether it’s stunningly beautiful beaches with pristine white sand and turquoise waters, a freshwater and saltwater lagoon, Mayan archeology or shopping you’re after, Cancun delivers in spades.

I spent 5 nights/4 days in Cancun and managed to do quite a bit. In this post I’ll share what to do in Cancun in 4 days, give you some further options to add to your itinerary for Cancun and offer up a general travel guide and some travel tips to this very popular holiday destination.

Where is Cancun

The city of Cancun is located on the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Cancun is on the Caribbean Sea and is a very popular tourist destination. It is located just north of the area known as the Riviera Maya.

Best Time To Visit Cancun

The seasons in Cancun can be described as follows:

Winter: December to February

A popular time for visitors due to comfortable temperatures – the average high is around 28° Celsius – but this means the crowds and prices will be greater than at other times.

Spring: March to May

Temperatures are still mild and so this is also a busy time. I visited in March and still found the temperatures and humidity fairly high! Spring, especially March, is spring break time and Easter may fall then too, whilst whale shark encounters are reportedly best in May.

Summer: June to August

The wet season in Cancun starts in June. Hurricanes and tropical storms are apparently more likely from September to October, although the season could start earlier. Prices and crowds will be lower at this time whilst temperatures are at their highest and there are frequent rain showers. Apparently this is also a great time for wildlife viewings, especially whale sharks and sea turtles.

Autumn: September to November

Hurricane season ends at the end of November with most hurricanes occurring between August and October. In good news, Cancun has only experienced 2 major hurricanes in the past 30 years apparently! Temperatures are still warm and with September being the wettest month you may be able to get a good hotel deal.

Overall, the best time to visit Cancun is December to April. The weather is the most settled but, because of this, it’s also the most expensive season so expect to pay higher prices for flights and accommodation and for activities and locations to be more crowded.

Getting to Cancun

Travelling to Cancun will, of course, depend on where you are coming from. The two main options are:

Air

Most visitors to Cancun will arrive by air into Cancun International Airport. The airport is located about 19 kilometres from Cancun city and, according to the airport website, it was the 10th busiest airport in the world in 2021.

The official airport website makes clear that all visitors flying into Cancun airport must complete part of their immigration process prior to their arrival – I did this online and it was very quick and easy. In addition, the State of Quintana Roo requires all visitors to pay a visitor tax of $20.99 USD. This sum is only payable online and by credit card. Again, this was a simple process.

I flew directly from London Gatwick to Cancun with British Airways – the flight time stated on my ticket was around 11 hours but I’m sure it was quicker than that!

Check all flight options and availability from your home city here:

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Land

Arriving into Cancun from Mexico City or surrounding areas is also possible – buses arrive in the downtown Cancun bus terminal.

Travel everywhere for less

You can also consider hiring a car and driving or travelling by taxi.

Getting from Cancun International Airport

There are a few options for getting from Cancun airport to your accommodation:

Transfer

The easiest way in my view to get to your hotel from the airport is by pre-booked transfer. You can do this through the airport website and choose either a private vehicle (where you are the only passenger(s)) or a shuttle/shared ride where you will be dropped off along with anyone else travelling in your vehicle.

I pre-booked a transfer (cost was around $35 USD) and have to admit that, initially, I did find it somewhat chaotic on arrival at the airport but I was able to find the company I had booked with outside the main building and the process was very smooth from there.

Taxi

According to the airport website, taxis at Cancun need to be pre-booked and can’t be hailed down as you would in other cities. Check the airport website for up to date information regarding taxis, what is legal and to calculate taxi rates.

I did use Uber for my return journey to the airport.

Bus

You can travel by ADO bus from the airport to downtown Cancun. The buses only stop at the ADO bus stations however and not at any hotels so you will need to take onward transport once you arrive in Downtown Cancun.

Rental Car

If you prefer to have your own car, then there are a number of rental company options available at the airport.

Where to Stay in Cancun

The Cancun Hotel Zone (also referred to as the Zona Hotelera) runs for a little over 22 kilometres and, when viewed on a map, looks like the number 7. It’s in this strip of land that you will find most of the all-inclusive resorts and hotels.

The Hotel Zone is surrounded by water – the Caribbean Sea to one side and the Nichupte Lagoon to the other. The large road running through the Hotel Zone is the Boulevard Kukulcan. In addition to hotels and resorts, you will also find a lot of restaurants, entertainment venues, shops and beaches within the Hotel Zone.

Downtown Cancun is also home to many hotels and hostels, often cheaper than in the Hotel Zone. You will need to travel by local bus however to get from Downtown Cancun to the Hotel Zone.

I stayed in the Hotel Zone but decided against an all inclusive resort. Instead, I chose Sina Suites and had an excellent stay.

There are so many options available in Cancun that it’s really over to you as to what you want, what your budget is, how much time will you spend in the resort etc.

Currency

Mexico’s currency is the Peso, however in Cancun you can also use US dollars (USD). The general advice however is to use Pesos as the currency exchange can be unfavourable if you use USD. For example, if you pay a 13 pesos bus fare with $1, you won’t get any change. That $1 is in fact currently worth about 16.5 Pesos so you will be slightly worse off.

The Peso comes in both notes and coins – keep your coins for smaller purchases, especially bus fares.

Images shows examples of some Mexican peso notes

Staying Online in Cancun

If you like to stay online when travelling, either to keep in touch with family and friends, update social media, make bookings or use google maps, but you don’t want to incur roaming charges from your home provider, then consider an eSim from Airalo.

Easy to install, an eSim avoids the need to buy a local Sim card (and risk losing your home Sim when taking it out!) and allows you to continue using your own phone number for calls and texts.

I have used data packages purchased from Airalo on several occasions now, including in Cancun, and can highly recommend them. When time is of the essence as it can be when travelling, accessing online resources can be a real time saver. For solo travellers, it can also be a comfort to know you have online access all the time.

How To Get Around Cancun

Whilst Cancun is a walkable city, the size of the Hotel Zone means that you may want to save your feet and use other modes of transport!

Buses R1 and R2 (usually red in colour) will regularly run along Boulevard Kukulcan between the Hotel Zone and Downtown Cancun. A single fare costs 13 Pesos regardless of how many stops you travel. Try to use exact change…this is why I suggest keeping hold of those coins you receive as change when spending your Pesos!

Image shows a red bus which are seen regularly in Cancun as they operate between the Cancun hotel zone and Downtown Cancun
These buses are a familiar sight in Cancun!

Taxis are also available although I did not use these. Instead, I was advised by locals to use Uber on the basis that it would be cheaper than a local taxi.

I understand that there has been an acrimonious relationship between local taxis and Uber but Uber is legal in Cancun. I used my Uber app twice to book rides and and both times the price was reasonable and the service very good. The first trip was locally, the second to the airport.

Keep in mind that you will need either Wi-Fi or data to be able to order an Uber. See my comments above about my recommendation for using an eSim.

Finally, you may notice that each kilometre along the Hotel Zone has a marker designating which kilometre along the route you are. As long as you remember the kilometre designation for your hotel, you’ll always be able to get back there!

Stay Healthy In Cancun

I know what it’s like – you’re excited about your trip and don’t want to think about being unwell! That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when planning your itinerary for Cancun:

  • Don’t drink the tap water – instead, use bottled water or refill your own bottle using filtered water from your hotel (check if the restaurants/kitchens will provide this if refilling stations are not available in public areas)
  • Wear sunscreen – the temperatures will be high and the sun hot and nothing can ruin a trip more than a case of sunstroke!
  • Wear rash guard clothing – it may not always be easy to reapply sunscreen, especially when you’re on the water, but UV protection is a must
  • Apply bug spray – the little critters love the fresh blood of tourists!
  • Wear sunglasses – that pristine white sand throws off quite a glare!

9 Activities To Include In Your Cancun Itinerary 

There is a wide variety of things to do in Cancun so regardless of your interests, there really is something for everyone. That said, if you’re planning a 4 days itinerary for Cancun, then you will need to be selective when it comes to activities….I know from personal experience that, with the best will in the world, you can’t do it all!

Here then is my list of 9 activities that you can definitely include in your itinerary for Cancun:

1. Explore the Hotel Zone

As I mentioned above, the Hotel Zone is a very large area, however it’s definitely worth getting out and exploring. On my first day in Cancun I walked almost 31,000 steps along the Hotel Zone and whilst it was tough at times under the hot sun, it was really good to see where other hotels, shops, restaurants and beaches were and to have a few wildlife encounters! There are many iguanas in Cancun so keep a look out for them!

2. Go Kayaking

Cancun is known for its gorgeous beaches but were you also aware that the Nichupte Lagoon borders one side of the Hotel Zone? The lagoon is a nature reserve covering over 3,000 hectares and comprised of 7 fresh and salt water lakes. It also incudes areas of mangroves and these are perfect for those, like me, who enjoy kayaking.

I joined this sunset kayak trip and can highly recommend including it in your itinerary for Cancun. Click here to read about my kayaking adventure in more detail.

If you’re interested in experiencing Nichupte Lagoon in a different way however, then you take a look at some of these excellent options:

3. Visit Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza was constructed by the Mayan people around 600-900 AD and is one of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico.  

Chichen Itza was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and its most recognisable structure, the Temple of Kukulcán, was declared one of the new 7 wonders of the world in 2007. There is more to see than just this one temple though. Several other notable areas include the enormous ball court, skull platform, Platform of Venus, the Temple of the Warriors and The Thousand Columns.

Chichen Itza is easily accessible from Cancun and I would highly recommend including it in your Cancun trip. I visited Chichen Itza as part of this day trip from Cancun.

Alternatively, you may want to consider these options:

My trip included a tour guide and I must say, he was the ultimate guide, someone who had grown up at Chichen Itza! If you don’t have a guide or decide not to take one or listen to the one included with your trip, then do some research before hand so you at least have an idea of what you are seeing. There are also information boards around the site which are very useful.

One of the most common observations I heard from people about Chichen Itza before visiting was how hot it can get there. They were not wrong! Be sure to stay hydrated, wear sunscreen and bug spray and a hat. An umbrella is a great idea for providing shade but if you forget yours (as I did!) you can hire one for $5 USD.

To learn more about my visit to Chichen Itza and other options for visiting this incredible site, click here.

4. Swim in a Cenote

One of the things high up on my itinerary for Cancun was to go swimming in a cenote. 

For those not familiar with the term, a cenote is a natural sinkhole resulting when the collapse of limestone bedrock reveals the groundwater underneath. In the Yucatan Peninsula there are an estimated 10,000 cenotes so there’s plenty of choice! 

I enjoyed a couple of hours at Chichikan cenote as part of this day trip from Cancun. It was so wonderful to get into the cold, fresh water knowing it was around 38° Celsius above ground! Click here to read more about my cenote tour from Cancun.

Alternatively, you may want to consider these options:

5. Visit a ‘Magical Town’

Mexico launched its Magical Towns Programme in 2001. It was designed to promote various towns around Mexico that offer visitors a magical experience through their folklore, indigenous crafts, landscapes, history and culture. In addition, they must have the necessary infrastructure to welcome visitors. You can read more about the programme here.

There are currently 177 towns designated as magical towns in Mexico and the colonial town of Valladolid is one of these. I visited Valladolid as part of this day trip from Cancun. Although my time there was short, it is definitely worth including in your itinerary for Cancun.

There are several other magical towns you may want to include in your itinerary as day trips from Cancun, namely Bacalar, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Tulum. I have included various options for doing this further down in this post.

6. Spend the Day at the Beach(es)

My 4 day Cancun trip was my first time visiting the region and I was super keen to get to the stunning sand beaches I had seen online. And guess what? The beaches in Cancun are every bit as beautiful as you imagine! Lounging by your hotel pool can be wonderfully relaxing, but I would definitely recommend getting out onto the beach.

Although you may think (or are led to believe by the resorts themselves) that beaches accessed through the all inclusive resorts that line the Hotel Zone are private, they are in fact public. 

If you aren’t up for wandering through the lobbies of hotels you aren’t staying in however or, like me, you decide against an all inclusive resort then don’t worry, there are quite a few beaches in Cancun that can be accessed from the street including these ones I made sure to visit:

  • Playa Tortugas – located at kilometre 6
  • Playa Chac Mool  – located at kilometre 10 
  • Playa Marlin – located at kilometre 13
  • Playa Delfines – located at kilometre 19.5

Look for a large blue sign with the name of the beach – these are the access points. Make sure you pick up a map from your hotel showing the locations of all the beaches. 

7. Go Shopping

If you’re looking for souvenirs to take home then you’ll find plenty of options in Cancun. From small street side sellers to larger stores, you’re bound to find something. A popular market for souvenirs that unfortunately I did not get to is Mercado 28 in Downtown Cancun.

If you’re looking for a shopping centre then head to La Isla Shopping Village in the Hotel Zone at Kilometre 12.5. There you will find a variety of brands (international, local and luxury) as well as places to eat and drink. It’s also home to a Ferris Wheel you can ride and other forms of entertainment.

Local supermarkets are always worth a browse and in Cancun many will sell souvenirs, beach gear, clothing and anything else you may have forgotten to pack!

8. Visit the Museo Maya de Cancun

The Museo Maya de Cancun is an archeology museum located at kilometre 16.5 of the Hotel Zone. Inside the museum you will find many artifacts and information about Mayan history, art and civilization.

Outside, you can walk through the jungle and amongst the ruins of the San Miguelito Mayan community. Here you will find the ruins of various residential buildings, palaces and a pyramid.

San Miguelito was a thriving maritime community – its location between the Caribbean Sea and the Nichupte Lagoon a perfect spot for trading – until its decline in the 14th century. The site was abandoned in the mid-1500s and remained untouched until the early 1900s when American archeologists visited and created the first modern-day descriptions and maps. The Mexican government began excavation and restoration of the site in the 1970s.

In addition to the ruins, you will likely see a bit of the local wildlife. I saw plenty of birds, iguanas and a snake!

Tickets can be bought at the site, although if you wish to purchase in advance, choose this option here.

9. Visit the El Rey Mayan Ruins

Not far from the Museo Maya de Cancun you will find the El Rey Archeological Zone. Playa Delfines is a little over 1.5 km away, so be sure to stop off before heading to the beach!

The site is named after a sculpture found in the early 1900s which was interpreted as a king or noble person – the name El Rey meaning the King. Here you will find the ruins of various palaces, pyramids and temples. You will also find many iguanas!

Have More Time in Cancun Or Are You Looking For Something Else?

If you are planning a longer visit to Cancun than I did or you’re looking for some alternative activities, then you may want to consider the popular options I’ve set out below or those included as part of the Go City Cancun Pass:

1. Snorkeling/Diving

The turquoise waters around Cancun are perfect for those interested in snorkeling and/or diving. There are a variety of tours available – start your snorkeling trip research here and your diving trip research here.

2. Take a Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Imagine seeing those turquoise waters through the bottom of your boat….well you can! Check out these glass bottom boat tours:

3. Visit Tulum

As with Valladolid, Tulum is one of Mexico’s magical towns. A one day trip is a popular option for those staying in Cancun and often includes a visit to the Tulum ruins and a swim in a cenote. If this interests you, then consider including one of these day tours in your itinerary for Cancun:

4. Take a Trip to Isla Mujeres 

Another magical town, Isla Mujeres is an island located 13 kilometres off the Cancun coast. Here you can go snorkeling, diving, visit a turtle farm, swim or simply relax on the beach.

You can get to Isla Mujeres by ferry or you could join a catamaran or boat tour such as these:

5. Visit Bacalar

The city of Bacalar is located about an hour north of the Belize border and about 4 hours south of Cancun. Famous for its stunning lagoon, a day trip to Bacalar is possible from Cancun but it will be a long day. Check this tour here or these options here.

6. Swim with Whale Sharks

Another popular activity but one that I have no experience with is swimming with whale sharks. If this is something you want to include in your itinerary for Cancun, then you can consider these options:

7. Spend the Day at One of the Xcaret Parks

The Xcaret group of companies offer a variety of water parks in Cancun and beyond. The most well known is Xcaret Park which is located in Playa del Carmen, about an hour south of Cancun International Airport. It offers more than 50 natural and cultural attractions to experience, including underground rivers.

Check the official website for details of the variety of parks available to visit and these day trip options (some with transport, others without):

Final Thoughts

Cancun Mexico is a very popular destination and it’s easy to see why. Stunning beaches, excellent water activities, Mayan history and plenty of shopping options all combine to offer something for all tastes, interests and ages. The challenge is deciding what to fit into your 4 day Cancun itinerary!

If you have the luxury of a slightly longer trip to Cancun, then there is a great deal that you will be able to enjoy and I hope that some of my suggestions of further activities will fit nicely into your itinerary for Cancun.

If you need any further, general assistance with how to plan a trip to Cancun, do check out my Resources page here.

Disclaimer – Information correct at the time of writing but do check before visiting

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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