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Are you planning a holiday to Mexico’s Cancun but not sure where else to spend your time beyond the tourist capital?
Instead of spending the entire two weeks in the city there are some amazing destinations very near by that are easily accessible by buses, ferries and rental car to help you see a bit more of the Yucatan area.
I’ve based this itinerary / route on a two week holiday with the extra two days (Saturday and Sunday) taken from the earlier week’s weekend so really this is a 16 day route. It should also be noted that this is a route aimed at those travellers who are new to this area of Mexico and who have an interest in beaches and popular tourism activities.
See more articles on Mexico:
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- Volcan Puricutin hike
- Best Things To Do In Guadalajara, Mexico
Day 0: Fly into Cancun Airport
Bu-bye work, hello Tequila.
If you haven’t arranged a private pick up it is very easy to get into the main city or the tourist zone via a tourist class bus at the airport. This costs roughly $5 (as of 2015) depending on the exchange rate and can drop you off in the tourist zone or down town.
It doesn’t drop you off directly at your hotel however so if you don’t know where to go (and speak no Spanish) it may be easier to organize a transfer.
Day One, Two & Three
Spend the next two days in Cancun, eating Mexican food, sipping cocktails by the beach in the tourist zone or exploring the inner city. These days could also be used to indulge in a range of activities Cancun has to offer such as the seasonal whale shark swim or parasailing over the picture perfect beach.
Day Four: Isla Mujeres
Catch the early morning ferry to the insanely beautiful Isla Muejeres. You could organize this through your hotel or if you are more of an independent traveller you can hop on the bus to the ferry port and make the trip sans tour operator (basic Spanish will aid you greatly here).
You will not regret leaving the beaches of Cancun for the beaches of Isla Mujeres and it may very well be the highlight of your trip if you’re a lover of clear, shallow waters.
Day Five: Chichen Itza
Book a tour, a bus or hire a car to explore the Yucatan’s main archaeological attraction. Most tours include a stop to the one of the cenotes on the return leg of the journey and simplify the process of getting there.
However you can also more affordably catch a bus or a local shuttle which may stop at certain cenotes if you ask to be dropped off.
Certain forms of transport (local vans) are rather informal and will happily pick up riders from random parts of the road. Its best to ask your hostel / hotel / fellow travellers to see whats possibly and how they got from A to B.
Chichen Itza is sweltering in summer so bring a hat and a ton of sunscreen especially if you’ve already been burnt from your time at the beach.
Day Six: Cenotes
If you took a day tour to Chichen Itza on day five you may have already visited one of the cenotes, if so you can use this day to visit a second cenote or do whatever else your taco-filled heart wants.
Today is the perfect day to catch a collectivo to the cenotes, or if you don’t speak Spanish and you’re not up for the adventure make sure you have pre-booked a day tour to make it easier.
You’ll have to do some research on which cenotes you want to visit as they all have different vibes and can look vastly different, but you should be able to visit one to two today depending on locations.
We took a collectivo from Playa del Carmen and visited Dos Ojos without a tour group which we found to be rather easy as we spoke enough Spanish to get us there. Once you arrive at the site you can either catch a short taxi ride or walk the 30 minute walk on a dirt road to the Cenote (the road ends with the Cenote and you will see taxi’s going past, just stay on it).
You do not need to pay for a tour on arrival (unless you want to) but you will have to pre-book if you plan to give cavern diving a go.
Day Seven: Playa Del Carmen
It’s only an hour to Playa Del Carmen from your base in Cancun so you’ll have plenty of time to explore the beach and the main shopping avenue even if you sleep til noon. Overnight here if possible as it will make it easier to catch the ferry to Cozumel the next morning.
Playa del Carmen is a prime tourist spot for americans and the bus stop drops you off straight in the center of the tourist zone. There’s not too much to do here apart from shopping, lounging on the beach, diving and eating.
Day Eight & Nine: Cozumel
Use the first day for settling in and checking out the beach and small town. Cozumel is relatively small but the main town is very cute, albeit a tad pricey. You’ll find a large range of expensive eateries but you will find cheaper, local eats if you look a few blocks back from the ocean.
Book tomorrow’s dive today if your qualified.
Cozumel has a great beach on the other side of the island (opposite side to where the ferry drops you off and a little to the right) which you can walk to or hire a moped or golf buggy to. It can be a little hard to find so ask at your hotel reception if you can’t find out how to get there from your map.
On the second day if you’re a diver now is your chance to get a taste of Cozumel’s world class diving. If your not a diver but you’d still love to be in the water, many of the dives centres will take snorkelers out on the dive boats so you still get to go out there and see what’s swimming around Cozumel.
If diving isn’t your thing you may want to leave earlier in the day and spend more time back in Playa del Carmen to shop or chill on the beach.
Alternatively, if you want to spend extra time on Cozumel, check out this 3 day itinerary.
Day Ten: Akumal
Do yourself a favor and make your way to Akumal today. In this tiny resort town you can swim with turtles for free (or with a tour if you like) straight off a very calm beach. You can find out more about this experience in my Akumal article where I talk about my experience.
Day Eleven: Tulum
First of all, it’s probably easier to base yourself in Playa del Carmen for today and catch the earliest bus you can to the famous Tulum ruins. Aim to arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds (although its not as packed as Chichen Itza).
If you don’t feel comfortable catching the tourist bus without a tour you can organize a day trip the day before through your hostel/ hotel (or at through the tourist desk at the bus station).
Day Twelve: Sprinkle Somewhere
Not necessarily used as day twelve but add this day as an extra day to any of the above cities.
For instance we love to dive so we would add this day to Cozumel as a second dive day. Alternatively you could check out one of the water based theme parks such as Xel-ha, spend the day sunbathing or check out another cool spot you’ve heard of that we haven’t listed here.
Last Day: Fly Home
Fly back home with awkward tan lines, a few extra kilos and a smile on your face.
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