The 6-Day Best of Cancún and the Riviera Maya

There’s a lot to do in Cancún, Cozumel, and the Riviera Maya, so this itinerary packs a lot into a little time. Follow along and you’ll hit the beach, go diving and snorkeling, explore Maya ruins, take in a museum, discover out-of-the way places, nosh on local food, go to a nightclub or two, and still be back in time to catch your flight home. Ready, set, go!

The Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá. Photo © manganganath/123rf.

The Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá. Photo © manganganath/123rf.

Day 1

Arrive in Cancún. If you’re staying in the Zona Hotelera, head straight to the beach after you check in—the beautiful beach will be a welcome sight after hours on a plane. If you’re staying downtown, you can either hop on a bus to the beach or stroll around Parque Las Palapas. In the evening, head to dinner at one of Cancún’s fabulous open-air eateries.

Cancun. Photo © Irina Moskalev/123rf.

Cancún. Photo © Irina Moskalev/123rf.

Day 2

Spend the morning on the beach or by the pool. In the Zona Hotelera, you’re just steps away from either. Those staying downtown can take a bus to one of the public beaches—Playa Delfines has a bus stop right in front, and El Rey, a Maya ruin, is across the boulevard when you need a change of scenery. In the evening, head to one of Cancún’s iconic nightclubs—CocoBongo and Grand Mambo Café are always hopping. For something a little mellower, head to El Pabilo to catch some jazz.

Day 3

Spend a day exploring the Riviera Maya. A rental car makes life easier, but it’s certainly doable by bus or taxi. Playa del Carmen and Akumal make for interesting exploring and could easily take up your entire day; if you like snorkeling, consider going to Puerto Morelos, Laguna Yal-Ku, or Cenote Manatí.

Beach in Akumal Bay. Photo © BlueOrange Studio/123rf.

Beach in Akumal Bay. Photo © BlueOrange Studio/123rf.

Day 4

Leave bright and early to get to the Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá before the crowds do. Spend the morning there, followed by lunch in the colonial city of Valladolid. From there, go swimming in nearby cenotes, or visit Ek’ Balam, a much smaller ruin. Both Valladolid and Ek’ Balam have good lodging options, if you want to turn this into an overnight trip.

Day 5

Isla Mujeres. Photo © Evgenia76/123rf.

Isla Mujeres. Photo © Evgenia76/123rf.

Spend this day on either Isla Mujeres or Isla Cozumel, both easy to reach by ferry. Divers can plan on enjoying a tank or two, especially at Cozumel. If you prefer snorkeling, trips can be booked at dive shops or on the ferry pier of either island. Or just chill out on the beach—Playa Norte in Isla Mujeres is a sure bet, and the windswept eastern side of Cozumel is a great option for beachcombing. Either way, definitely think about renting a car or golf cart, which allow you time and flexibility to explore either beyond their central areas.

Day 6

Back in Cancún, this is your last full day. If you’re up for it, book a snorkeling tour or visit the Museo Maya de Cancún, an excellent archaeological museum at the southern end of the Zona Hotelera. Otherwise, sit back, relax, and enjoy the pool and beach—it’s been a busy week!


Excerpted from the Twelfth Edition of Moon Cancún & Cozumel.

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