Last Updated on October 26, 2023 by Jerardo Gomez
I loved my time in Cancun because it really makes it feel like a vacation where you can relax, have fun, but also go on adventures.
I have written a 5-day Itinerary to Cancun for first time travelers. This itinerary has a mix of resort fun, day-trips, and more.
This is a sample itinerary you can use for your next trip and one that I used on my first trip to Cancun.
It’s recommended you stay in the Zona Hoteleria during your first trip as it is the most convenient and has some of the best resorts in the area. This is a stretch of hotels that is safer to stay in and located in a prime location.
*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
Essential Beach Packing List
- Beach friendly sunscreen
- Pesos or Dollars
- Beach Wear
- Travel Insurance (I recommend Travelex)
- Tip Money in Cash
- At least one set of semi-formal clothing
- Passport (ensure it’s not expired)
- Basic Spanish (discount in link)
- Lightweight clothing and Sandals
Tips to Remember When Traveling to Cancun
- The weather is generally great but the rainy season is from June – November
- Cancun is generally, are hot and has direct sunlight due to their proximity to the equator. Wear sunscreen at all times. You have been warned.
- The Zona Hoteleria is safe for tourists but always be cautious
Cancun 5-day Itinerary for First-Time Visitors:
Day 1: Arriving in Cancun
Head to your resort to check-in. ~ 30 min
As soon as you arrive in Cancun, you will get through customs and grab your luggage. When you pass through immigration in Mexico, you will be asked how long your stay is and will get your passport stamped.
*Bonus tip* Save money by choosing a resort with free transportation. Tipping is the standard
After check in, if you arranged transportation to your hotel, they will be outside the airport with your name in a large sheet of paper.
I highly recommend getting transportation arranged with your resort.
Once you arrive at the resort check-in; a passport will be required to check in.
During this process, you will be briefed on the resort. It is important to keep the resort’s map or QR code to the resort’s information. You will be informed about dinner options, reservations, excursions, daily activities, and more.
They may want to offer you add-ons or even home-share presentations which you can always decline. (I discourage buying into their add-ons as it will be expensive)
*Pro tip* Make dinner reservations during check-in for the next few days if required by some restaurants.
On your first day decompress and enjoy the resort as you are probably tired from traveling.
You can have a meal, take a nap, enjoy the beach, spa, or tour the resort.
At some restaurants, they require a dress code of semi-formal. But really, they just don’t want you to wear beachwear. Tipping is customary
Day 2: Beach day
9:30 AM Breakfast
Usually, breakfast is a mix between continental breakfast and Mexican dishes.
I personally think breakfast at most resorts are not great, but I always find something that I like.
11:00 AM Walk the beach and explore.
I walked down the beach all the way to Punta Cancun, which is the main nightlife area. I saw a lot of of young people, families, and beach clubs.
The Hotel Zone has really beautiful beaches, just like in the pictures, you get a variety of colors of the sea and a white sand beach. For me, the white sand beaches and the contrast of the turquoise waters is perfect for pictures.
My estimate of beach depth is on average depth is about 5 feet but varies on the area. In some parts, I saw children in water about 3 feet deep with supervision.
12:30 PM Participating in Resort Day Activities
Varies on the day and resort but typically it’s fun activities like Zumba in the pool or water sports.
There is also beach volleyball and different things to do for different people.
Bars are open by this time and most resorts are all-inclusive.
I fo not drink alcohol regularly, but on vacation I like getting a cocktail and going to the pool around noon.
3:00 PM Swim at the beach/sunbathe or rest
I always recommend sunscreen because I’ve seen many with really bad sunburns. There is always a lifeguard around.
It is the Caribbean Sea so you may see some tiny fish but there are no sharks, jellyfish, or anything that will harm you.
I did get to see sea turtles! But it is best not to disturb them and watch them from afar. They come out from the water at night, and you won’t see them during the day in Cancun’s hotel zone.
5:30 PM Dinner at the Resort
Food is included in all-inclusive resorts so take advantage of it. Food can be a hit or miss in my experience. Drinks at bars are also a hit or miss depending on who makes it and if you tip.
7:30 PM Go to a lounge, meet people, and enjoy the atmosphere.
At many resorts, they have lounges, rooftop bars, and a place to relax in the evening which is usually very chill. Its a good time to wind down and pre-game if that is what you are into.
9:00 PM Resort show
Resorts have entertainment for about an hour in the evening such as karaoke, performances, dancers, etc. Its not for me but its worth taking a peak to see how it is.
10:00 PM Punta Cancun Bars, Clubs, Restaurants, Shows
There is a lot to see around this area. To get there from the hotel zone, you can either walk if you are close or take the public red ADO buses.
Safe and cheap at 10 pesos per person, routes R-1 and R-2 will drop you off there. They also go around to drop you off at many of the resorts.
In this part of the Cancun Hotel zone, you will find the nightlife is always lively like downtown Cancun for tourists. I liked Money Business. The most popular attraction is Coco Bongo.
Day 3: Day trip Tulum and Cenote
I found an amazing deal on TripAdvisor that is affordable. This group tour picks you up from your resort and takes you into Tulum’s archeological ruins and to cenotes (natural sinkholes). The archaeological site at Tulum Ruins is really beautiful and well-preserved. I was amazed of what it must have been like.
8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Exploring the ruins of Tulum and swimming in two different cenotes is an unforgettable experience. On a full-day tour from Cancun, you can explore the ancient Mayan city of Tulum and take a dip in two different incredible cenotes. The tour includes round-trip transportation, a knowledgeable guide, and lunch at a local Mayan restaurant.
At Tulum, you’ll learn about the history of this ancient city as you explore its ruins. You’ll also have time to take photos of the stunning views of the Caribbean Sea from atop the cliffs.
After exploring Tulum, you’ll head to two different famous cenotes where you can swim and snorkel in crystal-clear waters surrounded by lush jungle vegetation. Your guide will provide all the necessary equipment for swimming and snorkeling so that you can make the most of your experience.
The tour is suitable for all ages and fitness levels, making it perfect for families or groups of friends looking for an adventure. With round-trip transportation included, you don’t need to worry about getting lost or finding parking – just sit back and enjoy your day!
If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience near Cancun, then look no further than a Tulum & Cenote Tour! Explore one of Mexico’s most iconic archaeological sites before taking a refreshing dip in two beautiful cenotes – what more could you ask for?
It’s two hours spent here and I recommend sticking to the guided tour then they give you an hour to roam freely and take pictures, explore, and shop.
After Tulum, they take you to two different cenotes which are naturally made sinkholes. It’s optional to get in but it’s definitely a must. Lifejackets are required and safe to enter ~5-6 feet deep
How my experience went?
I really did like the whole experience. It was really cheap, and they spend the right amount of time at each stop. It was very convenient for me as they pick you up and drop you off at your resort. I would take a backpack for water, sunscreen, souvenirs, and extra clothes if you decide to go into the Cenote which was super fun.
8:00-9:00 AM Tour pick-up time
11:00 AM Arrival to tour ~ 2 1/2 hours with lunch
2:00 PM Cenotes ~ 40 minutes in each cenote
3:30 PM Head back to your resort
5:30 PM Arriving at the resort; Dinner
Take a shower and dress up for dinner, and relax as needed.
7:00 PM Enjoy resorts activities/shows
The lobby bar I have found in the different times I’ve been there is always fun and a good place to hang out.
10:00 PM Head over to Punta Cancun
If you liked it here, it would be worth going again. But if you were not able to go earlier in the Itinerary then it would be a good time to try going today.
Day 4: Playa del Carmen
On this day you will explore the popular town of Playa del Carmen which is filled with shops, restaurants, and excursions. This is often another point of stay for many tourists. You can stay all day and even all night or have your resort stay there.
Playa del Carmen is also close to Cozumel which you can actually see from the town. There are also some all-inclusive hotel in the area.
How much does it cost to go to Playa Del Carmen from Cancun?
The prices of ADO bus ride from Cancun to Playa del Carmen is 240 Pesos which is about 14 USD one way using the ADO bus in Mexico. It really is a deal and the ride is comfortable with AC.
I do recommend using the ADO bus because of its low fares which is great for budget travelers to Playa del Carmen.
It takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes to get to Playa del Carmen to Cancun.
9:00 AM Start your day with breakfast
To get to Playa del Carmen from Cancun with the ADO Bus, follow these instructions:
To get to Playa del Carmen from central Cancun using the ADO bus, you can follow these steps:
- Start by heading to the ADO bus terminal in central Cancun. You can take a taxi or use public transportation to reach there.
- Once you arrive at the ADO terminal, look for the booth or counter where you can purchase your ticket to Playa del Carmen. There are usually frequent departures throughout the day.
- Buy your ticket and inquire about the schedule for buses heading to Playa del Carmen. It’s advisable to check the departure times in advance in order to plan your journey accordingly.
- After obtaining your ticket, proceed to the designated platform where the bus to Playa del Carmen will depart from.
- When the bus arrives, present your ticket to the driver or the attendant and board the bus. Find a seat and settle in for the journey.
- The bus ride from central Cancun to Playa del Carmen usually takes around 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on traffic conditions and the specific route taken.
- Enjoy the scenic views along the way, and once you reach Playa del Carmen, disembark at the designated bus stop.
- From there, you can easily access the main areas of Playa del Carmen by walking, taking a taxi, or using local transportation services.
How I got there from the Resort:
Save some money and eat beforehand at your resort. When you are done, you will need to get on the R-1 ADO bus and it will take you to the bus station, but you will have to cross the street yourself.
Once you see a McDonalds you know that is your time to get off, and head to the terminal.
10:00 AM Take private transportation to Playa del Carmen. ~ 1 hour
Taking private transportation to Playa del Carmen is easy and cheap. The option I took which I found easy to access, very cheap, and felt safe with ~10 seat vans with other tourists. Other options are 42-seat buses.
11:00 AM Explore Playa del Carmen!
This is your chance to see a new town. La Quinta Avenida or 5th Avenue is the most popular street with many connecting streets with shops.
I stayed about 6 hours and ate an amazing local fried fish. You can definitely stay longer and even overnight if you want to explore the nightlife.
The beaches of Playa del Carmen are some of the best in Mexico. From white sand beaches to rocky coves, there are plenty of spots to relax and soak up some sun. There are also plenty of water sports available such as snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, and more. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even swim with whale sharks!
Playa del Carmen is known for its lively nightlife scene. There are plenty of bars and clubs to choose from with music ranging from Latin beats to EDM and everything in between. Whether you’re looking for a casual night out or an all-night party, you’ll find it here.
Shopping & Dining
Playa del Carmen has a wide variety of shopping options from local markets to high-end boutiques. You can find everything from traditional Mexican handicrafts to designer clothes and accessories. The city also boasts some of the best restaurants in the area serving up delicious local cuisine as well as international dishes.
There are shopping malls with major brands.
Hidden Gems & Must-See Attractions
If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path, Playa del Carmen has plenty to offer. Visit ancient Mayan ruins such as Tulum or Cobá for a glimpse into history or explore nearby cenotes (underground swimming holes) for an unforgettable experience. For those seeking adventure, take a day trip out to Isla Mujeres where you can go zip lining through lush jungles or take a boat tour around the island’s crystal clear waters.
5:30 PM Head back to the resort ~ 1 hour
6:00 PM Swim at the beach or enjoy the bar 1-2 hours
Alternatively you can head to La Isla shopping center where I found a Ripley’s believe it or not museum.
7:30 PM Reserved dinner or try a restaurant outside the resorts.
There are many restaurants to go to outside of the resort if that is what you want to do. I have written an article about the best restaurants in Cancun.
8:45 PM Enjoy resort activities/shows/ buy last-minute souvenirs
Day 5: Last day in Cancun
8:30 AM Last-minute swim at the beach
10:00 AM Last breakfast
11:00 AM Souvenir shopping
11:45 AM This is your time to pack! Don’t forget anything.
12:30 PM Check-out and head to the airport.
*Make sure you arrive at least 2.5 hours early*
If you only have less time to spend, then there is a 4-day itinerary for you to Cancun.
That is it for this itinerary! There is a lot more to see and do other than this Itinerary but I think that its the best itinerary to Cancun for first-time visitors. Remember to book hotels and flights using my links to support me at no cost to you.
- Visit other Rivera Maya beaches
- Visit Isla Mujeres
- Cancun Underwater Museum in Isla Mujeres
- Museo Maya de Cancun AKA Mayan Museum
- Playa Delfines
- Chichen Itza Day trip
- Parque de las Palapas
- El Rey Ruins
- Xcaret Theme Park
- Cancun Shopping Mall La Isla
- Visit Cancun Playa Tortugas
- Explore Cancun City
- Playa Forum food and shops
- Cenote Dos Ojos and Cenote Siete Bocas
Getting to Cancun: The most convenient way to reach Cancun is by flying into Cancun International Airport (CUN). Many major airlines offer direct flights to Cancun from various cities around the world.
Budgeting for Cancun: The amount of money to bring depends on your travel style and preferences. It’s advisable to have a mix of cash and credit cards. For a moderate budget, plan to have around $50-100 USD per day for meals, transportation, and activities IF you are not staying at an All-Inclusive resort. One of my trips I only used 30$ just for tips and bus rides because food and drinks were included in my stay.
The ideal time to visit Cancun is during the dry season, which typically runs from December to April. This period offers pleasant temperatures, minimal rainfall, and abundant sunshine. However, keep in mind that it’s also the peak tourist season, so expect higher prices and larger crowds. If you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting in the shoulder seasons of May to June or November.
When packing for Cancun, include lightweight and breathable clothing suitable for warm weather. Don’t forget to pack swimwear, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, insect repellent, comfortable walking shoes, and a light sweater or jacket for cooler evenings. Also, bring a waterproof bag to protect your belongings at the beach or during water activities.
Don’t miss out on exploring the awe-inspiring Mayan ruins of Tulum, the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá, and the nearby island of Isla Mujeres. Enjoy the vibrant underwater world by snorkeling or diving in the Great Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest barrier reef system in the world.
Dining Recommendations: Cancun offers a wide range of dining options. For delicious seafood and stunning ocean views, consider visiting places like Lorenzillo’s or La Habichuela. For authentic Mexican cuisine, try La Parrilla or Los de Pescado. For a fusion of international flavors, Puerto Madero and Harry’s Prime Steakhouse are worth a visit.
Nighttime Entertainment: Cancun comes alive after dark with its vibrant nightlife. Visit the famous Coco Bongo for an energetic blend of music, acrobatics, and entertainment. Enjoy live music and dancing at clubs like Mandala or The City. For a more relaxed evening, explore the nightlife scene in downtown Cancun’s Parque Las Palapas, where you can find local food vendors, live performances, and a lively atmosphere
Getting Around Cancun: In Cancun, taxis and private transportation services are widely available and can be hailed on the street or booked through apps. Additionally, the local bus system, known as the “R-1” or “R-2,” is an affordable option for traveling along the main hotel zone. Car rentals are also available if you plan to explore beyond the city, but be prepared for additional parking fees in certain areas.