3 days in Cancun: The best itinerary + Tips


How to spend 3 Days in Cancun: The Best Itinerary + Where to Stay

You’re planning to spend 3 days in Cancun?

Great idea!

But with so much to see and do in Cancun, how can you make the most of your time there? How can you plan a perfect itinerary that covers the best attractions and experiences in Cancun?

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

In order to help you plan your stay, I have prepared for you the perfect itinerary to visit Cancun in 3 days.

In addition to the best places to visit and activities for each stage of your itinerary, I will also give you all my best tips and accommodation suggestions depending on your budget.

So, what are the best things to do in Cancun in 3 days? Where to stay?

Let’s find out!

Day 1: The Underwater Museum and the Hotel Zone

Start this 3-day itinerary in Cancun with a unique and memorable experience: visiting the Cancun Underwater Museum (MUSA).

This is one of the most successful conservation projects in the world, and it has quickly become one of Cancun’s top attractions.

The museum consists of more than 500 sculptures that have been placed on the ocean floor, creating an artificial reef that attracts marine life and helps restore the natural reef.

They depict human figures, animals, cars, houses, and even a Volkswagen Beetle. They are meant to raise awareness about environmental issues and inspire people to protect the ocean.

Some of them are also interactive, allowing divers and snorkelers to swim through them or touch them.

No matter which option you choose (diving or snorkeling), you’ll be amazed by the beauty and diversity of MUSA. You’ll see colorful fish, corals, turtles and rays.

Book the tour you want here:

  • The diving tour is suitable for certified divers and beginners alike. It includes basic equipment and supervision from a diving instructor. The minimum age for this tour is 12 years old, and they should be accompanied by an adult (18+). The tour lasts around 5 hours.

diving isla mujeres manchones
One of the underwater sculptures at Manchones. Work by Karina Salinas Martínez. Photo by MUSA.
  • The snorkeling tour is ideal for families or younger visitors who cannot dive. It includes pickup from your hotel, basic equipment and training on snorkeling safety. The snorkeling tour last about 3 hours.

snorkel musa cancun
Snorkeling in the MUSA, Cancun

After exploring the underwater museum, you can head back to the surface and enjoy some time on the beach.

The Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone) is the main tourist area where you’ll find some of the best beaches in Cancun, such as Playa Delfines, Playa Marlin, Playa Caracoles, and Playa Tortugas.

You can relax on the soft sand, swim in the turquoise water or try some water sports like jet skiing, parasailing or kayaking.

The Cancun Hotel Zone

In the evening, if you’re looking for some nightlife, you’ll find plenty of options in the Zona Hotelera!

You can dance the night away at one of the famous clubs like Coco Bongo (book your tickets here!), The City or Mandala, or enjoy a more laid-back atmosphere at one of the many bars and pubs.

Cancun is the best place in Mexico to party!

Day 2: Chichen Itza and Cenote Ik Kil

To continue your three days in Cancun, you’ll want to visit one of the most impressive and iconic attractions in Mexico: Chichén Itzá (click here for my detailed guide!)

This ancient Maya city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!

Some of the highlights include:

The Pyramid of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo, which is the main attraction of Chichen Itza. It has four sides with 91 steps each, plus a platform at the top, making a total of 365 steps that represent the days of the year. The pyramid is also aligned with the sun and the seasons, creating a fascinating phenomenon during the spring and autumn equinoxes, when a shadow of a serpent appears on the staircase.
The Temple of the Warriors: a large complex with a pyramid, columns and sculptures that depict warriors and jaguars
The Great Ball Court, which is the largest and best preserved ball court in Mesoamerica. The ball game was a ritual and symbolic activity that involved life and death.
The Observatory, also known as El Caracol: a circular building that was used as an astronomical observatory by the Maya.

My tip
To get to Chichen Itza from Cancun you can:

  • Book a guided tour from Cancun (click here!) that includes transportation from your hotel, guided visit of Chichen Itza, cenote Ik Kil, buffet lunch and a stop in Valladolid ❤️
  • Rent a car and drive there yourself (about 2h30)
  • Take an ADO bus (there is only one bus: departure 8am and return 4.30pm)

After exploring Chichen Itza, you’ll want to cool off at Cenote Ik Kil, which is about 3 kilometers (2 miles) away from the site. A cenote is another type of natural sinkhole that is filled with fresh water and surrounded by vegetation.

Cenote Ik Kil is one of the most beautiful and popular cenotes in Yucatan, with crystal clear water that is perfect for swimming and snorkeling. You can also jump from a platform into the water if you’re feeling adventurous.

The famous site of Chichen Itza in the state of Yucatan
cenote ik kil
Cenote Ik Kil, near Chichen Itza

For lunch, you can enjoy some traditional Yucatecan food at one of the restaurants near Chichen Itza or Cenote Ik Kil. Some of the dishes you should try are:

cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus and spices)

sopa de lima (lime soup with chicken and tortilla strips)

papadzules (tortillas stuffed with boiled eggs and covered with pumpkin seed sauce)

panuchos (fried tortillas topped with refried beans, shredded turkey or chicken)

cochinita pibil mexico
Panucho with cochinita pibil

After lunch, head back to Cancun and enjoy the rest of the day at your hotel or at the beach.

You can also do some shopping at one of the many malls or markets in the city, such as La Isla Shopping Village, Plaza Las Americas or Mercado 28. You’ll find a variety of souvenirs, handicrafts, clothing and jewelry to take home with you.

la isla shopping cancun
La Isla Shopping Village

If you still have some energy left, you can check out Joyà or Jolly Roger for some evening entertainment. It’s very important to book your tickets in advance, because they sell out fast!

-Joyà is a spectacular show by Cirque du Soleil that combines acrobatics, music, theater and cuisine in a unique setting. You can choose to watch the show only or enjoy a gourmet dinner as well. Book your tickets for Joya here!

-Jolly Roger is a pirate-themed dinner show that takes place on a replica of a Spanish galleon. You’ll enjoy a delicious meal, drinks and a lively performance with sword fights, cannon fire and fireworks. Book your tickets for the Jolly Roger Pirate Show With Dinner here!

jolly roger cancun
The Jolly Roger, Cancun

Day 3: Isla Mujeres or Isla Contoy

On your third and final day, you can do one of the best things to do in Cancun in 3 days: visit Isla Mujeres, a beautiful island that is only 13 kilometers (8 miles) away from Cancun.

Isla Mujeres is a charming and laid-back place that offers a contrast to the hustle and bustle of Cancun. You can rent a golf cart, a bike or a scooter and explore the island at your own pace.

Some of the things you can do on Isla Mujeres are:

Visit Playa Norte, which is considered one of the best beaches in Mexico. It has soft white sand, clear turquoise water and palm trees. You can relax on a sunbed, swim in the sea or try some water sports like paddle boarding, kayaking or snorkeling.
Visit the Punta Sur Sculpture Park, which is located at the southern tip of the island. It has a lighthouse, a Mayan temple and a collection of sculptures by local and international artists. You can also enjoy a panoramic view of the ocean and the Cancun skyline from the cliff.
Visit Parque Garrafon: you can zip line over the Caribbean Sea, kayak or snorkel in the coral reef, relax in the infinity pool or hammocks. You can also upgrade to a VIP ticket (book it here!) that gives you access to a private area with premium food and drinks.

For lunch, you can try some of the local specialties on Isla Mujeres, such as tikin xic (fish marinated in achiote and citrus and cooked on a grill), ceviche or pescadillas (fried tortillas stuffed with fish).

You can also check out my full guide: 21 Best Things to Do in Isla Mujeres!

Garrafón Park Isla Mujeres
Garrafon Park on Isla Mujeres

Another option for a day trip from Cancun is to visit Isla Contoy. This small island is a protected national park that is home to more than 150 species of birds, as well as turtles, dolphins, rays and fish.

It is one of my favorite places in Mexico, no doubt about it! Once you get there, you can enjoy the pristine beaches, the crystal clear water and the lush vegetation. You’ll also have a delicious lunch of grilled fish and fresh fruits on the island.

You can only access the island by boat and with a limited number of visitors per day, so you’ll need to book your tour in advance. Book it here:

contoy beach
The beach of Isla Contoy

After returning by ferry to Cancun, you can enjoy a relaxing evening or go to Xoximilco if you want to experience a night of fun, culture, and tradition.

It is a tribute to the famous floating gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City, where you can board a colorful trajinera (a Mexican gondola) and enjoy a ride through the canals.

Along the way, you will taste delicious Mexican dishes, drink tequila and other beverages from an open bar, and listen to live music from different regions of Mexico.

I had a blast at Xoximilco with my friends. It was the perfect way to end our three-day Cancun getaway. It was like a party on water!

xoximilco cancún
Xoximilco Cancún

I hope you enjoyed this guide on the perfect 72 hours in Cancun and found it useful for planning your trip. Check out my other Cancun guides:

The Best Hotels for your 3-Day Itinerary in Cancun

  • Mayan Monkey Cancun: a hostel with a festive atmosphere in Cancun’s hotel zone, very close to the beach and bars. Terrace, outdoor pool, bar with happy hour, air conditioning, ping-pong, good wifi. Private rooms and dorms, from only 24$usd!
  • Bed and Breakfast Pecari: if you are looking for more comfort, I recommend without hesitation this establishment. It is a beautiful Bed and Breakfast located in a quiet street near the city center and the ADO bus station, with a relaxation area by the pool, spacious rooms, and a good breakfast, starting at 50$usd per night!
  • Beachscape Kin Ha Villas & Suites: rooms, suites, and villas for 2 to 12 people with direct access to the beach. Outdoor pool, children’s pool, gym, restaurant, beach bar. Breakfast included, starting at 218$usd per night.
  • The Royal Sands Resort & Spa: spacious rooms and suites with ocean views, in the heart of Cancun’s hotel zone. Large outdoor pool, gym, spa, fine restaurants, sports bar and many activities. All inclusive, starting at 485 $usd per night

My tip
To find the perfect place to stay for a 3-day Cancun vacation, check out my article: Where to stay in Cancun?  

How to make the most of 3 days in Cancun

  • Plan your itinerary in advance and book your tours, tickets and transportation online. This will save you time and money and avoid any hassle or disappointment.
  • Pack light and comfortable clothes, shoes and accessories for the tropical weather. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, swimsuit and towel. You can also bring a light jacket or sweater for the evenings or the air-conditioned places.
  • Bring some cash in Mexican pesos for tips, souvenirs and small expenses. You can also use your credit or debit card at most places, but check the exchange rate and fees before you do.
  • You can find ATMs and currency exchange offices in Cancun, but avoid using them at the airport or the tourist areas as they may charge higher rates.
  • Respect the local culture and customs and follow the rules and regulations of the places you visit.
  • Be polite and courteous to the people you meet and learn some basic Spanish phrases to communicate better.
  • Avoid drinking tap water or ice cubes

How to visit Cancun in 4, 5, 6 days or a week

You can do a lot of things in three days in Cancun, but if you have more time, you can discover even more amazing attractions nearby!

Whether you have 4, 5, 6 or 7 days in Cancun, you can plan a trip that suits your preferences and budget. Here are some of the places you should not miss on your extended stay in Cancun:

1. Xcaret Park

Xcaret is the Mexico’s water park where you and your family will live more than 50 natural and cultural attractions, from swimming in underground rivers and snorkeling in coral reefs, to watching traditional dances and ceremonies and visiting a replica of a Maya village.

You can also see amazing wildlife, such as jaguars, flamingos, butterflies and turtles, and learn about their conservation. Xcaret is a place where you can have fun, learn and connect with the beauty and diversity of Mexico.

And before leaving, don’t forget to experience the amazing history of the Maya through Xcaret Mexico Espectacular, a show with 300 talented performers.

Getting to Xcaret from Cancun:

  • Take the ADO bus from Cancún to Xcaret (1h30), départures 7h30, 7h50, 9h, 10h30, and only one return at 21h30 so buy your tickets in advance!
  • Get the Xcaret Plus ticket (click here!) with Buffet & Transport from your hotel
  • You can drive (1h15) from Cancún to Xcaret Park taking MEX-307

My advice
The best way to enjoy the parks is to stay at the Xcaret Hotel❤️

In addition to meals, you will have full access to all the parks for free! (Xcaret, Xplor, Xplor Fuego, Xenses, Xoximilco, Xel-Ha and Xenote)

Xcaret Park

2. Xplor Park

Xplor is an adventure park where you can unleash your adrenaline and explore the natural wonders of the Riviera Maya.

You can fly over the jungle on zip-lines, drive amphibious vehicles through caves and trails, raft and swim in underground rivers, and enjoy a delicious buffet.

Xplor is a park for thrill-seekers and nature-lovers who want to have an unforgettable experience.

My advice
If you want to learn more about Xplor Park, with my personal experience, check out My Ultimate Guide on Xplor.

To get to Xplor from Cancun you can: 

  • Drive 1h on the Federal Highway 307 (the park is just past Playa del Carmen)
  • Book the Xplor Park All-Inclusive that includes the roundtrip transportation
  • Take an ADO bus to Playa del Carmen (1h) and a colectivo to Tulum (tell the driver you will get off at Xplor)
Riding the amphibious vehicle, Xplor

3. Cozumel Island

If you love diving, you will love Cozumel. It has some of the world’s best coral reefs and marine life, and Jacques Cousteau ranked it among the top 10 dive spots in the world.

The water is clear and blue, and you can find over 40 dive sites and hundreds of kinds of fish, coral, mollusks, marine mammals, and plants.

Cozumel has dives for everyone, from beginners to experts. My favorite dive site was the Palancar Reef, where I saw the most amazing colors and shapes of corals, sponges and tropical fish.

To get to Cozumel from Cancun, you need to go Playa del Carmen (1h10) and take the ferry to Cozumel (book your ferry ticket here!)

The best Cozumel tours are:

The Chen Rio beach in Cozumel

4. Tulum

Tulum is a stunning coastal town with a bohemian vibe that combines history, nature, and adventure.

You can visit the Tulum Archaeological Site, where you can admire the ruins of a Mayan city that overlooks the turquoise Caribbean Sea.

My advice
Don’t miss my Ultimate Guide to the Tulum Ruins if you’re interested in learning all about this incredible Mayan site! 

Tulum has some of the most stunning beaches in Mexico like Playa Paraiso and Playa las Palmas, where you can swim in the turquoise Caribbean Sea, relax on the white sand and swim crystal-clear water.

It is also home to many cenotes, natural pools that are connected by underground rivers such as: Cenote Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote, Cenote Carwash, Zacil-Ha or cenote Calavera. 

Here are my favorite tours of Tulum (click directly on the link to book the tour you are interested in):

The archaeological site of Tulum facing the sea

5. Bacalar

Bacalar is one of my favorite destinations in Mexico because it has a tranquil and authentic vibe.

It is a town on the shore of a lagoon that is known as the lake of seven colors for its stunning shades of blue.

You can swim, kayak, paddle board or sail on the lagoon, or visit the nearby cenotes and forts. Bacalar is a place to enjoy nature and relax.

Some of the best attractions in Bacalar are:

  • The Cenote Azul (not to be confused with the Cenote Azul in Playa del Carmen!), a deep cenote that is perfect for swimming and snorkeling. You can see many fish and underwater formations in the cenote, and enjoy a meal at the restaurant on site.
  • The Pirates Canal (Canal de los Piratas), a narrow channel that connects the lagoon with the Chetumal Bay. You can take a boat tour through the canal and learn about the history of piracy and smuggling in the area.
  • The Rapidos de Bacalar, a natural wonder where you can swim or kayak in a narrow channel of turquoise water that flows between two lagoons. It is fun because you can enjoy the scenery, the wildlife, and the thrill of the strong current that carries you along.
  • The San Felipe Fort, a colonial fort that was built in 1729 to protect Bacalar from pirate attacks. You can see the cannons, walls and towers of the fort, and visit the museum inside that displays artifacts and information about the history of Bacalar.

My tip
Bacalar is 5 hours away from Cancun by car, so if you only have one day to visit this beautiful lagoon, the best option is to take a tour (book it here!)

Otherwise, it will be too rushed and you won’t have enough time to enjoy it!

bacalar catamaran
Bacalar catamaran tour

6. Rio Lagartos

Rio Lagartos is a fishing village and a natural reserve that is home to many species of birds, including flamingos, pelicans and herons.

Rio Lagartos is a place to admire the biodiversity, beauty and tranquility of the Yucatan coast.

Some of the attractions that you can visit in Rio Lagartos are:

  • The Flamingo Observation Point, a wooden platform that offers a great view of the flamingo colonies that inhabit the lagoon. You can see hundreds of these pink birds feeding, flying and nesting in their natural habitat. The best time to see them is from January to June, when they are more abundant and colorful.
  •  The Pink Salt Lakes called Las Coloradas, a series of salt ponds that have a striking pink hue due to the presence of microorganisms and minerals. You can walk along the edge of the lakes and see how salt is extracted by local workers. You can also take photos of this unique landscape that contrasts with the blue sky and water.
  • The Mud Baths, a natural spa where you can apply some mineral-rich mud on your skin and let it dry under the sun. The mud is said to have therapeutic benefits for your skin, such as exfoliating, moisturizing and detoxifying. You can rinse off the mud in the lagoon or in a nearby shower.
  • You can take a boat tour through the mangroves and see crocodiles, turtles and other wildlife.

To get to Rio Lagartos from Cancun, you can drive 3h on Highway 180D, which is well-paved and safe.

Another option is to take an ADO bus from Cancun downtown to Tizimin (2h) and then transfer to another bus or a colectivo (shared taxi) to Rio Lagartos, which is an hour away. However, I think this is too complicated and time-consuming for a day trip from Cancun.

If you want to visit Rio Lagartos from Cancun and return the same day, the best option is to take a tour to Rio Lagartos and Las Coloradas that includes transportation and activities. Book it here:

Las Coloradas in the Ria Lagartos Reserve. Photo Esaú Alberto Canto Novelo

7. Holbox Island

Holbox Island is a paradise for nature lovers, as it has pristine beaches, diverse wildlife and a relaxed atmosphere.

You can swim with whale sharks, see flamingos and dolphins, or enjoy the bioluminescence at night. Holbox is also known for its street art, which adds color and charm to the town.

I highly recommend renting a bike to explore the best beaches of Holbox: Punta Cocos and Punta Mosquito.

You can also take the Three Islands Tour, a boat trip that takes you to three nearby islands: Isla Pajaros, Isla Pasión and Yalahau.

You can see hundreds of birds, including flamingos and pelicans, on Isla Pajaros, relax on the white sand of Isla Pasión, and swim in the fresh water of Yalahau, a natural spring that is also a cenote.

To get to Holbox from Cancun, you need to travel to Chiquila first (bus ADO or drive 2h15-2h30) and then take a ferry to Holbox (20 min).

A tour from Cancun to Holbox (book it here) is the most convenient way to explore this paradise island. It includes pick-up from your hotel, the three islands tour, lunch at a local restaurant and free time to enjoy the beach or the town of Holbox!

punta mosquito holbox
Punta Mosquito, Holbox

Rent a car for a your 3-day Cancun trip

Renting a car is for sure the best way to explore Cancun and make the most of your stay!

While it’s not super useful to visit the city, having a car is a must to discover the rest of the country.

To rent a car, personally, I always use Booking.com Cars, for a few reasons:

  • You can easily compare the rental cars prices between all the agencies: for sure the easiest way to find the best rate!
  • Cancellation is often offered free of charge: no need to worry if you change your mind
  • Booking Cars offers full insurance coverage at a lower price than the rental companies, so it’s an instant saving with no effort

Simply click on the green button to find your rental car at the best price:

How to find a cheap flight to Cancun

Cancun International Airport is a major hub, well-connected with frequent flights from Europe and North America by leading airlines including Air Transat, Air Canada, Iberia, Aeromexico, Interjet, and KLM. You’ll have no trouble finding a flight that fits your schedule.

To snag the best deals on flights to Cancun and other domestic routes in Mexico, don’t forget to use our flight comparison tool, partnered with Skyscanner. It’s your shortcut to the best prices!

My tip
 How to get from the Cancun airport to your hotel:

View of Cancun from the plane
Book your trip now and save money!

You’re traveling in Mexico? These articles will help you!

Discover all my articles about Mexico: All my articles to help you plan your trip to Mexico are listed there.

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best places to visit in Cancun in 3 days


I have created this blog to give you all my best tips to plan your next trip to Mexico, regardless of your budget. I share detailed itineraries, advice about places to visit as well as recommendations for transportation, hotels and restaurants. I hope I will also help you to discover amazing off the beaten path destinations in Mexico!

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