Cancun has gained fame as a deluxe resort destination, where ivory sands meet all-inclusive hideaways on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. But there are many more sides to this coastal paradise than just beautiful beaches, unfailing sunshine and fine dining a few minutes walk from your hotel door. More adventurous visitors can discover staggering Mayan ruins, lively local nightlife and world-class scuba diving, among much else.
Fitting Cancun into a single weekend, then, is something of a challenge - especially as, above all else, you want the experience to be relaxing. Here, after much careful consideration, we’ve crafted a three-day itinerary enabling you to experience Cancun’s diverse attractions without having to hurry anywhere - although hardcore partygoers may have to sacrifice a few hours of sleep...
Lush sands and immaculate hotels sandwiched between a glimmering lagoon and the Caribbean Sea; a vibrant downtown filled with music, free cultural events and colourful plazas. These are the two sides to Cancun - the glittering hotel zone, and the lively city itself. On your first night in Cancun, be sure to drink in a little of both. Check into whichever of the city’s plethora of resorts you’ve settled on, and take a stroll along the sand lining the turquoise sea, then down to the mangroves fringing the bird-filled lagoon. Shopaholics can drop into the sprawling modern shopping center of Kukulcan Plaza situated in the heart of the hotel zone. And once you’ve absorbed a little of this luxury, jump on a bus or taxi into downtown Cancun, to get a feel for the local area itself. A top spot to aim for is the Parque de las Palapas, a shadow-strewn square with a large stage that hosts free shows on Friday nights. Palm trees shade the square and local chefs, merchants and artisans run stalls selling a variety of dishes and goods. It’s a vibrant, romantic spot, and the perfect place to get a taste of the local culture.
Need help deciding where to stay? Maybe Hopper's article on the best all-inclusive beach resorts in Cancun can help
Located in the heart of the hotel zone, you won’t have to stumble far from your bedroom to reach the characterful interior of La Destilería. Resembling a Mexican hacienda, this restaurant doubles as a tequila distillery, and lunchtime diners can combine their meal with a short tequila tour, visiting the on-site museum and sampling a smidgen of the venue’s 150 brands of tequila. The food is terrific, too, an authentic Mexican menu sprinkled with creative twists on traditional regional dishes. Highlights include arrachera-style beef fajitas served in a traditional molcajete pot, and delicious caramel crepes for dessert. An outdoor deck overlooks the lagoon, perfect for leisurely lunchtime dining.
There’s only one place to be during your free Saturday afternoon in Cancun: outdoors. During peak season, the Yucatan peninsula swelters in soaring temperatures, pleasantly cooled by the sea breeze blowing in from three directions. Even in April, daytime temperatures rarely fall below 75 degrees. For most people this means only one thing: a trip to the beach, to indulge a spot of swimming, beachcombing, people watching and sunbathing. Cancun is home to a string of iconic beaches, from the lively and crowded Playa Las Perlas and Playa Tortugas, to the more rugged and windswept Playa Delfines and Chac Mool. Those seeking something more adventurous can organize a scuba diving trip out to the legendary dive sites around Cozumel Island, focused on kaleidoscopic snapshots of the 175-mile Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, possibly the second largest contiguous coral reef in the world.
Cancun's epic beaches are the number one reason to visit according to our top 10 reasons to visit Cancun article
via their website
After a day by - or in - the sea, dinner time brings an opportunity to sample some of the creatures that call it home. Cancun is renowned for its seafood, and nowhere does it better than Lorenzillo’s, a long-established white-linen restaurant whose twinkling lights reflect in the darkling waters of the Nichupte Lagoon. The restaurant hasn’t changed much through the decades, and its centerpiece remains an enormous lobster tank (along with the fabulous dishes concocted from the doomed creatures therein). Crab is another highlight - including the delicious El Botin, breaded and fried soft-shell crabs - and meat-lovers can opt for excellent steaks. Brave diners can sit on the terrace to watch the sunset, watched in turn by half-submerged alligators slinking through the green water of the lagoon.
It’s Saturday night and, unless you’re tucking young kids into bed, you’re going to want to check out Cancun’s uninhibited nightlife. Start by grabbing a drink in the hotel zone itself. Coco Bongo’s is about as loco as its name suggests, with revellers greeted by an unpredictable explosion of entertainment including women swinging from the ceiling over their heads. Down the road, Senor Frog’s has a slide curling out of the venue and into the lagoon (don’t worry, the waters are croc-free). More sophisticated party-goers can hit the sleek dancefloor at Dady’O, or the misleadingly named Basic Discotheque, whose extravagant architecture provides stupendous views over the lagoon. Alternatively, more adventurous travellers can take a taxi to where the locals hang out. For cool jazz and world music, join the trendy crowd squeezing into Roots, or for a more hardcore club experience take your pick of the venues lining Yaxchilan Avenue.
Besides just the nightclubs, Cancun's hotels also offer exciting bars. See the five best hotel bars in Cancun here
Chichen Itza is the largest of the Mayan cities situated on the Yucatan peninsula. A deeply evocative archeological site, its array of stone monuments and artistic works reveal a great deal about both the Mayan’s vision of the universe, and the sophistication of their astronomical understanding. The site was originally centered around the Sacred Cenote, a limestone sinkhole and natural well considered to be holy to the Rain God Chac. This was a Mayan place of pilgrimage for over 1000 years. Around the turn of the millennia, following an alliance between the Toltec and Mayan peoples, this site developed into the most powerful city on the Yucatan peninsula. Centuries of turbulent history unfolded before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors gutted the city in the 16th century. It was then slowly swallowed by the surrounding jungle, re-emerging with archaeological excavations begun in the 1920s. These revealed a staggering collection of ancient buildings, chief among them the Temple of Kukulkan, dedicated to the feathered serpent deity also known as Quetzalcoatl. This temple has 365 steps - 91 on each of the four sides, plus the top platform - and twice a year, on the spring and autumn equinoxes, a shadow falls on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent. As the sun descends, the shadow snakes down the steps and merges into a stone serpent head at the pyramid’s base. This unforgettable site is a three-hour bus trip from Cancun, and a little faster by car or with an organized tour.
Chichen Itza is also on Hopper's ranking of the five best day trips from Cancun. See the other destinations on the list