Cancun Mexico – What to See and Do

by | Last updated Apr 10, 2024 | Caribbean, Mexico, Central + South America

Are you looking for an unforgettable 7 day Cancun itinerary? Well, while I was living in London I received a proposal from a friend to go with her to Mexico. My first thoughts were, why on earth go to a developing world country when Europe is on my doorstep! But after some consideration I thought, why not!

To my unexpected delight I discovered a coastal paradise known as Cancun (pronounced Cancun). I also discovered there is so much to see and do in Cancun, which actually surprised me a little. So here are my suggestions on what to see and do in Cancun on a 7 day Cancun itinerary.

In this post I’ll cover the many things you can do in Cancun to include in your own week in Cancun. There is plenty of swimming in the spectacular turquoise Caribbean Sea, lying on golden sandy beaches, exploring Mayan ruins, discovering Mexican culture, particularly the flavoursome Mexican food and enjoying the vibrant nightlife in an all-inclusive Cancun resort. 

So if Cancun is on your radar, keep reading to learn what to do in Cancun for 7 days, from the top things to do in Cancun Mexico along with travel tips including where to stay and excursions to help you discover Cancun.

 

Don’t forget any beach holiday items by following my beach holiday packing list. And ensure you pack reef-safe sunscreen for sun protection.

TIP: Bring cash for tips and extras in Mexican Peso, the local currency.

Where is Cancun?

 

Cancun is situated on the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico, facing the Caribbean Sea. It was an alligator infested swamp before becoming a water enthusiast’s and sun worshipper’s paradise. If you enjoy lying on golden sands, swimming in a turquoise coloured ocean or perhaps sipping a cocktail by the pool before discovering Mayan ruins, then Cancun is definitely a place for you.

 

Cancun has been devastated a number of times by various hurricanes but always rebuilt. It comprises a long island joined to the mainland by a bridge at each end. On one side there is the Nichupte Lagoon with its bustling marinas. The ocean side has inviting turquoise crystalline waters lapping the white sands that stretch the length of the island, some 5 kilometres.

Cancun has two distinct areas: El Centro and the Zona Hotelera. Have a look at the map following.

El Centro is very different to the hotel zone as this is where you will find the local people of Cancun going about their daily business. You will find many good restaurants, shops, grocery stores and everything else you need here.

Zona Hotelera is located along the beachfront strip. This is where you will find high-rise hotels, nightclubs, shops and restaurants. And this is where I was staying in the Fiesta Americana Condesa Hotel.

 

Best time to visit Cancun

 

Anytime is a good time to visit Cancun. After all, it was created in the late seventies after a survey showed the area had the best year round weather, that being hot and tropical. On saying that, the high season for Cancun is during January to March when you will find the least amount of rain. But it is also expensive and crowded during this time. March is when the youngsters on Spring Break arrive and unless you want to party with them, I would avoid this time particularly if you have a young family. Most families visit from April to November and if you want to travel on a budget then come during the rainy season from July to October.

 

How to get to Cancun

 

Getting to Cancun by Air

 

Most arrive in Cancun by plane at Cancun’s international airport, The Cancun International Airport which is a major hub. It has tons of options for direct flights from all over North and South America and some places in Europe. It is a super convenient place to travel to and allows easy access to the resorts nearby and beyond.

Cancun International Airport has four terminals and most international travellers will arrive at either Terminal 3 or 4. At the arrivals hall you might be greeted by a random person offering you a ride to your hotel. I would suggest you ignore them as they are not legit taxi drivers and will be happy to rip you off. Taxis are available outside to get you to your accommodation but are expensive so haggle for a good price. Or you could take the public ADO bus that drops you at the bus terminal on Av Tulum in Downtown / Centro Cancun. From here, you can take a city bus to the Zona Hotelera. It’s only about a 20 minute ride.

I had an airport transfer included in my holiday package and it was wonderful to have a lift waiting for me. It reduced my waiting time and alleviated the stress of having to sort a lift on arrival. If you don’t have one included in your holiday package you can book an airport transport here for your arrival.

 

Getting to Cancun by Land

 

Cancun is easily reached by land, so if you are road tripping through Mexico there are roads from other Mexican tourist destinations that will lead you to Cancun.

 

How to get around Cancun

 

There are a number of ways to get around Cancun, including:

  • The local ADO buses can get you around Cancun and they are pretty cheap.
  • You can rent a car or van at the airport, from your accommodation or in advance to explore Cancun and beyond.
  • There are also many bus tour operators that can take you to the major sites which you can easily book from your hotel.
  • Walking is also a great way to get around Cancun, so put those walking shoes on and get going.

 

Where to Stay in Cancun

 

Map of Zona Hotelera – use this to help you choose your accommodation

 

Choosing a hotel on the Cancun hotel strip (Zona Hotelera) is hard because of the fantastic array available. There are literally hotels for every type of traveller. For backpackers to Cancun looking for budget stays, for solo travelers and couples on romantic getaways to families to Cancun with kids looking for kids clubs – there is a hotel/resort for everyone.

I stayed at the ‘Fiesta Americana Condesa’ which is typical of the hotels in the area. In fact, it is more than a hotel, it was a resort. Like many of the other all-inclusive resorts, it offers every amenity under the sun, has luxuriant surroundings and fantastic views of the ocean or lagoon. Read my honest hotel review of Fiesta Americana Condesa here.

Our room was large, accommodating two double beds, cable TV, a well stocked bar, a safe, free wifi and a balcony overlooking the pool and the beach. The bathroom had sachets of shampoo, conditioner, body moisturiser, a hair dryer and a water purifying machine. I didn’t really need to leave the room if I didn’t want to. At night maids would roll down the bed covers and leave a chocolate on the pillow. I felt very spoilt and loved every minute of it.

The hotel was right on the ocean and it was only a short stroll to the beach. Unfortunately the lack of protection made it windy. This particular week, the seas were rough and so after being caught in one too many on-shore dumpers, I decided to make the even shorter stroll to the hotel pool. Here there were free beach towels, swim—up bars, volley ball courts in and out of the water, sun shelters (to protect my acquired English tan) and beach wear fashion parades everyday. Waitresses served drinks (although rather watered down) from 10.00am onwards. Sun chairs were placed in the shallows of the pools so you could hang your hands and feet over the edge of your chair into the water when you began to warm up.

My stay included breakfast every morning and what an array of food there was. It was a buffet style where you could pile loads on your plate. From fresh fruit, cereals and cooked foods. The juice was freshly squeezed and the coffee freshly made. Add the view over the pool out on to the beach and the ocean was a great way to start the day.

Every evening we went down to the bar for happy hour and experienced a number of local cocktails. Margaritas became my favourite before heading to one of the number of restaurants for dinner. You really didn’t need to leave your hotel for anything as most of them, like mine, provided every service known to the human race. However, we ventured into town and hit the bars and enjoyed copious Corona Beers. Other nights we walked along the Cancun strip and checked out some of the other hotels.

 

Cancun Accommodation

 

As I mentioned there is a plethora of accommodation available. There are plenty of hostels to stay in. If you are after a party hostel then consider the Fiesta Party Hostel. It is close to downtown Cancun and offers free beer, free dinner and no check-out time. Another hostel with the party spirit is the Mayan Monkey Hostel.It is in the heart of the hotel zone with views of the lagoon and an easy walk to the beach. If you would prefer a quieter hostel that is in the hotel zone, is on the beach and is more like a budget resort then consider the Cancun Plaza Condo Hotel.

For resort style accommodation you can’t go past the Fiesta Americana Condesa where I stayed but there are plenty of others to choose from. From the Marriott Cancun Resort to world-renowned hotel chain names like the Ritz Carlton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt Sheraton, etc. Check out Booking.com for more Cancun accommodation options, their price and availability. Book as soon as you can so you don’t miss out.

Cancun is a popular digital nomad destination. It offers cheap living, great wifi and a great digital nomad community. If you are looking for longer term accommodation so you can set up and work online in Cancun check out Facebook pages and groups for digital nomads in Cancun.

 

Enjoying a cocktail or two at Happy Hour at the Fiesta Americana Condessa

 

What to See, Do, Eat and Visit in Cancun & Surrounds

 

Going on holiday to Cancun Mexico means you will want to know what the best things to do in Cancun are, including Cancun attractions and Cancun activities so here is some of the Cancun things to do during your 7 days in Cancun.

 

Visit Cancun City & Beaches

 

The Cancun strip of hotels is built along the beach facing the Caribbean Sea. You can walk along the beaches and maybe have a selfie with the ‘Cancun Beach Sign’ at Playa Delfines. Other things to see along the Hotel Zone include:

  • La Isla Shopping Village, a mall with a huge variety of shops, eateries and the Tequila Cancun Museum.
  • Get bargains at Mercado Coral Negro, a flea market.
  • More shopping at Mayan Market selling Maya jewelery and handicrafts.
  • If you are short of time you might want to visit some of the beaches on a tour that could incorporate a tour of Cancun City itself. If interested in such a tour of Cancun City and its Beaches you can book one here.

 

Be a ‘Gringo’ (foreigner) in a Cancun Cantina

 

Being another ‘gringo’ in the many cantinas was fun and good value. The food was glorious, and not just tacos and fajitas either. Fresh fish, lobster and shrimp were plentiful and you mostly chose the way you wanted them cooked. You could try the Ceviche which is classified as raw fish, but is marinated in vinegar with onions, peppers and spices and served on rice — very nice!

Conch was very popular dish that I tried. Conchs are mollusks that are related to the snail and have have meat or ‘scungilli’ inside. It was served fried in bread crumbs, like fritters and it was a little chewy like squid but tasted more like crab, very tasty. Chicken and beef were served in onions, green peppers and sauce, and wrapped in soft tortillas with Salsa Sauce (a spicy tomato and onion sauce) – simply a must! Guacamole was plentiful, fresh and truly yummy – even better washed down with a shot of Tequila. If these delights weren’t enough, McDonalds was in the centre of town along with many pizzerias.

If you would like to enjoy a traditional Mexico fiesta then give Xoximilco a try. This Mexican party is held on trainers (gondola-like boats) where you can experience live music, traditional Mexican dishes served with beer and/or tequila. I never went on one but wish I had. You can book your Xoximilco Fiesta experience here.

 

Enjoy the nightlife

 

There is plenty of nightlife to enjoy in Cancun. Ranging from happy hour at your hotel to partying at clubs all night. The choice is yours. One of the most popular clubs in Cancun is the Bongo Night Club. You can experience the club by turning up but be aware there can be long queues of people waiting to get in. I discovered a tour you can go on that takes you to 3 top rated clubs before taking you to the Bongo Night Club which will see you skip-the-queue. You can book the Bongo Night Club Tour here.

 

Conch Fritters – very tasty

 

Shop till you drop

 

Shopping in Cancun is interesting and one of the best activities to do in Cancun. Items range from cheap to expensive. Some trinkets looked cheap and nasty, though, if you found a street stall you could pick up an authentic handmade wood carving of a Mayan God, some jewelry or a traditional woven Mexican blanket. Shopping malls are springing up all over the town with money exchanges (which you don’t need as they accept US Dollars), car rentals and designer stores — but who goes to Mexico to pick up the latest Chanel! Of course T-shirts were plentiful and how could I resist my ‘I’ve been to Cancun too’ shirt in psychedelic pink.

Cancun’s Mercado 28 (Market 28) is a popular place to explore. It is a huge shopping centre in downtown Cancun and is a giant flea-market boasting some 600 vendors where you can buy unique handcrafted items to maracas to leather items. If you like flea markets you will love this place. If you would like to be taken to some of the most popular stores you can always go on a shopping tour, you can book one here.

 

Visit some of the hotels in the Zona Hotelero

 

The Zona Hotelera is primarily one of the best Cancun tourist attractions. Along the 15 mile strip there are tons of hotels offering every service possible to its visitors. Making the area a place that some people don’t need, or want to leave. From all the luxury during the day to being a party zone at night visiting different hotels is a must-see and do. My friend and I spent some time walking along the beach and popping in to some of the hotels and resorts. It was fun to see what the other hotels looked like inside and out. At night, many of hotels were alive as revellers partied hard.

 

Discover Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza

 

El Castillo

 

One of the best activities to do in Cancun on your Cancun 7 day itinerary is to go on a day trip to Chichen Itzá. Chichen Itzá is one of the Yucatan’s most spectacular, well-preserved and largest archaeological Mayan ruin sites and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you visit you will learn first-hand about the Maya people that inhabited this ancient Maya capital. The site is well-preserved. You can walk around and admire stone-carved serpent heads on the gigantic stepped pyramid El Castillo. Be careful as it is very steep and the steps are small. Some people, when they get to the top cannot get down as fear overcomes them because the steps are so small. Many people crawl down on their bottoms.

You will also discover the secrets behind Juego de Pelota (the Great Ball Court). This is where sports tournaments ended in human sacrifice. Maybe have a dip in the limestone swimming hole, known as a cenote which is sacred to the Mayas.

You can reach Chichen Itza independently by taking an ADO bus. It can take around 3 hours. Going on a day tour which includes your transport, lunch and a guide is a great and enjoyable experience. I did a tour which we booked from our hotel. You can book one in advance here. I wrote this post on my visit to Chichen Itza.

 

Cozumel

 

Cozumel is an island located about 19km offshore from Cancun. The island is about 48km (30 miles) long and 16km (9.9 miles) wide with much of it covered with mangroves. If you venture there you will be treated to great snorkelling and scuba diving. But if you prefer to stay on land then I suggest sitting on a beach or walking around the main town of San Miguel. Cozumel can be reached by a short ferry ride that you can book from your hotel or you can book a trip to Cozumel here.

 

Tulum

 

If you enjoyed the visit to Chichen Itza then you will enjoy a visit to Tulum. Here you will find more Mayan ruins to explore. These ruins are situated on 12 metre high tall cliffs along the coast. Quite spectacular to see. You can visit independently or go on a tour. You can book a trip to Tulum here.

 

Enjoy and Participate in Water Activities

 

If you would like to do more than a quick dip in the pool or ocean there are plenty of water activities in and around Cancun to undertake. There is stand up paddle boarding (SUP), snorkelling and scuba diving. One of the best places to snorkel is at the amazing Underwater Museum or MUSA where you will find 500 sculptures created to encourage coral reef development. Sculptures include VW Beetles, statues of locals and huge hands. Plus there is loads of local wildlife to see swimming around.

 

1 Week Cancun Itinerary

 

Now you know what to see and do in Cancun, here is my suggested 7 day Cancun itinerary to help you make the most of your time on your Cancun holiday. This Cancun trip guide is based on my own experiences while holidaying in Cancun. Days are interchangeable, so feel free to move them around or maybe you may will find other things to do in Cancun not on my list. And if you don’t have 7 days to spend in Cancun, you can turn this itinerary into a 5 day Cancun itinerary or a 6 day Cancun itinerary depending on the time you have available.

 

Day

1. – Arrive Cancun and get to know your resort. Resorts in Cancun are a world unto themselves offering everything you will need during your week in Cancun. Also, go for a walk along the beach then enjoy happy hour (yes most hotels have them), dinner and maybe the nightlife before bed.

2. – Get to know Cancun’s beaches and Cancun city.

3. – Day trip to Chichen Itza.

4. – Spend the morn ing at the beach or the pool at your hotel resort. For the afternoon, head into Cancun town for some retail therapy and dinner.

5. – Go on a day trip to Tulum.

6. – Spend the day enjoy water activities.

7. – Have your last swim at the beach or in the pool and prepare to leave Cancun Mexico.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Cancun is a place that has a lot to offer the traveller. My favourite things to do and see in Cancun were relaxing by the pool and beach, enjoying the local food and shopping for Mexican products. And then there was my trip to Chichen Itza which was incredible to learn about the Mayan culture. Cancun has so much to offer and I am so glad my friend convinced me to take a holiday in Cancun in Mexico with her. If you find yourself in Mexico I would definitely include Cancun in your itinerary.

Please Note: This was not a sponsored trip. I went on a package deal that my friend organised. It included my flight from LA to Cancun. Airport transfer. Seven nights accommodation staying at the Fiesta American Condesa that included breakfast every day.

 

After more Mexico inspirationBest places to see and do in Mexico for your first visit

 

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Sharyn McCullum Travel Writer and Founder Of Live Work Play Travel, Work Abroad, Work Online, Travel Blog Enjoying At Beer At The Coldstream Brewery In The Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia.

Sharyn McCullum – Travel Writer / Blogger, Remote On-line Worker, sometime Digital Nomad and Travel, Live and Work Abroad Expert. Is a chocoholic, coffee connoisseur and lover of ’80s music. Been travelling all her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. Lived in London 4 years on a working holiday. Has holidayed in Hawaii over 15 times and currently calls Melbourne, Australia home. Is inspiring others to live work play travel around the world with this blog. Read more about Sharyn here.

6 Comments

  1. Ruth

    Your post brought back good memories. Oh and conch fritters, I haven’t had those in a long, long time. In Puerto Rico, we also eat them in a salad (think about it as a type of ceviche). It is so delicious!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Yes it is delicious. It is great to experience local foods.

      Reply
  2. Nichole the Nomad

    Cancun looks beautiful! I love that you include activities other than laying on the beach. The Mayan Ruins looks so incredible! I cannot wait to visit someday!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      There is only so long you can lay on a beach so I like knowing there are other things to do.

      Reply
  3. Kelly

    Pinned this for later as I am hopefully visiting Cancun next year! I have been to Cozumel and Playa del Carmen before so would love to explore Tulum this time too 🙂

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I think you will love Cancun and its surrounding areas. If you have been to nearby places before you know what to expect. Have a great time.

      Reply

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