How to See the Very Best of Cancún — Land and Sea — in Three Days

This three-day Cancún itinerary is made for those who want to experience the best of the area — and there’s a little bit of everything, from unforgettable street food and beaches to water adventures and one of the world’s most unique museums.

Whether you’re looking to pack a long weekend full of activities or stretch on the sand without a plan in sight, you’ll quickly discover that Cancún is far from just a hard-partying spring break destination. Dine at some of the finest restaurants that Quintana Roo has to offer, enjoy a bit of natural adventure and immerse yourself in local Mayan culture.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Walk on the Wild Side

There are plenty of luxe hotels right on the beach. (Photo: Getty Images)

Start the weekend off by getting the lay of the land on foot. Head downtown to Parque las Palapas, the neighborhood’s main green space, before the crowds gather. Here, you’ll find all kinds of street food options for breakfast — common fare includes tamales, atoles and tortas de chilaquiles. One of the most beautiful elements of Cancún street fare is that each vendor has their own spin on classic dishes, whether it’s a secret spice or a homemade sauce. For a seated option, try the Marakame Café, a hidden gem near Jardín Miramar with the perfect patio. From here, head straight over to Mercado 28, a flea market with the best selection of local artisan wares and souvenirs.

When you’re ready to refuel, grab lunch at Cancún’s best taco joint: Tacos Rigo. Prized by locals and tourists alike, it opens early and stays open late, so don’t miss the chance to stop in for a meal that’s easy on the budget. Try some Mexican classics like al pastor (grilled slices of pork) or longaniza (a Spanish sausage made of minced meat). After a plate or two — and maybe some drinks — spend a quiet afternoon checking out the city’s most impressive street art. Parque del Artesano is a great place to start with its mural-covered walls decorated by local artists, and there are often bands playing on one of the stage’s small stages and vendors selling handmade goods and snacks.

Start to wrap up the day and hop in a car to the Faro de Punta Cancun lighthouse to catch the sunset. If you’re up for a walk to dinner, backtrack the way you came and you’ll find yourself at Sirenas Raw Bar in an hour. Located in Puerto Cancún, you can enjoy dinner with a side of live salsa music every Friday night.

Saturday: Here’s to the Night

Woman snorkling in blue water
Take in a different angle of Cancun with some snorkeling. (Photo: Getty Images)

Relax on one of Cancún’s many beautiful beaches and enjoy breakfast on the sand. Picnic a la Playa offers pop-up meals — the perfect activity for groups as small as two or as large as 14. This time, make your breakfast destination Playa Chac-Mool and relax seaside as they prepare everything, from the food to the picnic setup. Take your time watching the waves while you dine seaside before taking a short walk a few hundred feet north to The Rock. This is where the surf cinematically breaks and makes for some dramatic photo opportunities.

Playa Chac-Mool is known for its quality surf, so catch a lesson or rent a board from a beachside vendor to help work up your appetite again. Check out Good Vibes Surf School for both classes and rentals. If you’re more of a bystander, rent a beach lounger from a local — they walk along the beach looking to help anyone who isn’t staying at one of the oceanside hotels with private beach access and chairs.

When hunger strikes again, take a late lunch at El Morro Seafood & Oyster Bar. While the restaurant will happily cook up your own catch of the day, we recommend benefitting from someone else’s bounty and ordering lobster and oysters for the table to share. Once you’re settled up, meet up with the team from Total Snorkel Cancun in Puerto Juarez to join a snorkeling tour. If you’re up for a unique experience after dark, take in one of the area’s most dazzling sights: a bioluminescent night snorkel.

No matter which you choose, enjoy a pre- or post-snorkel seafood dinner at one of the beach restaurants nearby, which stay open until 10 p.m., like Flamingos for fresh seafood or Restaurante Entremuelles, where the ceviches and pizzas are crowd favorites.

Sunday: Learn a Thing or Two

stone hands underwater in Cancun mexico
Stone sculptures are like a playground for snorkelers. (Photo: Getty Images)

Cancún itself may be a young city — it was founded in the 1970s as a tourist destination — but it’s steeped in Mayan history and archaeological sites. Before heading out to experience this historic side of the city, sit down for a hearty brunch buffet on Playa Chac-Mool at the Restaurante Hacienda el Mortero. This spot offers a multitude of traditional dishes, many centered around the restaurant’s handmade tortillas. Brunch runs until 2 p.m., so you don’t have to worry about missing out if you want to sleep in after your nighttime snorkel session.

There are two main archaeological zones in Cancún — El Meco in the Puerto Juarez area, and El Rey on the southern end of the Hotel Zone — both of which were built around the same time as the must-see ruins at Tulum and offer glimpses into pre-classical Mayan history in the area. The Maya Museum and Archaeological Zone is part of the El Rey archaeological site, where you can take in Mayan ruins, learn about the region’s many discoveries and enjoy the fauna and wildlife of the surrounding jungle.

After a morning spent taking in this ancient stonework, you don’t have to travel far at all to visit the underwater stone sculpture art museum near Playa Marlín. As one of the world’s most interesting museums, you can see these stunning ocean artworks via glass-bottomed boat or by joining a scuba diving excursion. We recommend checking out Travel Art Cancún for both versions of the tour.

After you’ve worked up a sufficient appetite, only a restaurant like Navíos will do. This beautiful outdoor spot overlooking the lagoon offers some of the best modern Mexican fusion cuisine on the island. Finish your final night with a slow walk on Playa Delfines to collect shells to remember Cancún. Head to the dolphin lookout to get an iconic photo with the popular Cancún sign.

 


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