Tulum, Cancún and Playa del Carmen: the perfect itinerary for 7 days

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Are you thinking of traveling to the Riviera Maya and started cooking up an itinerary through Tulum, Cancún and Playa del Carmen? Well, enough of that, then. We made an itinerary for you, and in addition to the beaches mentioned above, we included beautiful cenotes (rest assured that we’ll explain what this is down below) and the Chichén Itzá archaeological site, so you don’t risk going to Mexico and not seeing one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.

This itinerary presented below is ideal for those who have a week of vacation and want to travel on a Friday or Saturday and return on the following Saturday or Sunday.

The photo quality isn’t even that good and the color of the sea is already stunning… lol

Itinerary for Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancún for 1 week

Tulum– 4 nights: Be Tulum Hotel, Nomade Hotel, Amansala Hotel, Casa Violeta, Zebra Hotel, My Way Boutique Hotel or Rosa del Vento.
Playa del Carmen– 1 night: Fairmont Mayakoba Hotel, Magic Blue Boutique.
Cancún– 2 nights: see detailed tips of where to stay in Cancún

*There are more days in Tulum because it’s a super charming destination that deserves a bit more time; considering the first day is already half lost because of the travel, it doesn’t really count, and because, out of the three options, is the one most authentic and that “suffers” least with mass tourism, and because the day trip to Chichén Itzá is made from Tulum in this itinerary we’re proposing.

Feel free to change things around in the itinerary as you please, and make the trip yours. Throughout the post, we also offer some options and alternatives to the things we’re suggesting. The idea here is to inspire you! =)

Day 1- Saturday: Flight and travel

If you took a week off work, you’ll probably arrive in Cancún on Saturday.

So, whatever your flight time is, don’t count Saturday as a touring day, but as a warm-up day to get ready for what lies ahead.

Our suggestion is to already rent the car at Cancún airport and finish the journey, heading to Tulum (1 and a half-hour by car from the airport). Settle into your hotel and have something to eat in the village, or rest and charge up for the next day. If you want to make the best out of your night, consider Casa Jaguar, or hope for a full moon and catch the famous Full Moon Party at Papaya Playa Project.

Day 2- Sunday: Tulum, beach, beach club and city center

Time to see Tulum and its beautiful beaches like Playa Paraiso. You can settle in a beach club, like the famous Papaya Playa Project or even enjoy the beach in front of your hotel (if it is by the sand). Enjoy this opportunity to get to know the village of Tulum and have dinner there.

The Playa Paradiso in Tulum, a true paradise. Photo: Fabio Pastorello

There are a number of tasty restaurants in Tulum, such as the ‘Gitano’ for those going the hustle and bustle, the oceanfront Mexican ‘Ziggy’s’, the ‘Macondo’ in the Nomade hotel for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and charming food, ‘Posada Margherita’ for Italian food, and many others waiting to be explored by you.

Day 3- Monday: Chichén Itzá and Ik’Kil Cenote

I get totally baffled by the number of people who go to Cancún and leave out this amazing tour. Chichén Itzá has been voted one of the 7 wonders of the modern world and has a magnificent history. The visit allows you to see all the grandeur of the Kukulkan Temple (that famous pyramid full of steps on each side), as well as other Mayan ruins. It also lets you know a little bit more about these people, who were super advanced for their time (they invented the zero, the calendar of days, months and year as we know today, and much more).

Chichen Itza

Chichén Itzá. Photo: Blog Vida Cigana

Enjoy the opportunity and get to know some cenote on the same tour. A cenote, in a lay explanation (read: in my words), is a natural formation that looks like a huge hole in the middle of the earth with water underneath, which creates an impressive landscape, and which, fortunately, is present in heaps on this Mexico peninsula. It was even used as a place of sacrifice in Mayan rituals.

Most tours combine the Chichén Itzá tour with the nearby cenote, Ik’kil. This is also what I did on my first trip to Cancun. But if you’re staying in Tulum, you can also go (on another or even on that day) to the nearby Cenote dos Ojos, which is also quite impressive like Ik’kil.

*BLOG TIP – don’t make the same mistakes I did and don’t go to the cenotes before going to Chichén Itzá. That’s because the Mayan temple closes at 4:30 pm and you’ll already spend 3 hours only on the trip from Cancun/Tulum. It’s easy to get distracted and arrive late, having to visit everything in a rush. Just imagine: you wake up on the late side and leave about 9 am, arrive at the region around noon, grab a bite to eat and visit the cenote, swim for a bit and, when you look at the time, it’s almost 4 pm and you risk not seeing the Chichén Itzá! 

Day 4- Tuesday: Tulum Archaeological Site, beach, and city center

The archaeological zone of Tulum could not be left out of this itinerary by the Riviera Maya, as it’s the only Mayan complex by the seaside! Besides the beautiful view, you can also take a dip in a really cute little beach in the middle of the archaeological site. The ideal is to pick up a guide right at the park entrance to get the most out of it and understand each piece on the place. Admission is paid, and costs around R$15,00 (roughly).

Tulum, ruínas maias e praia paradisíaca juntas

Tulum Archaeological Site, Mayan ruins and paradise beach all in one place. Photo: Blog Vida Cigana

At the end of the day, enjoy more of Tulum’s beach and one of the restaurants we mentioned above (on day 2).

Day 5- Wednesday: Cozumel and Playa del Carmen

Leave Tulum real early. Leave your bags in the car and get ready to spend the day outside. Drive towards the ferry to Cozumel, at the port of Playa del Carmen. Go to the island, rent a buggy and explore the beaches freely. It’s best to explore the beaches that are on the same shore from which the ferry arrives, as it’s where there are the most structures, the sea is the calmest, and there’s also snorkeling spots.

At around 4 pm, return to Playa del Carmen. From here you can either head to your hotel and take a shower or continue on with your day. The next stop is dinner at the end of the day, at the Saffron restaurant at the Fairmont Mayakoba, a super-cute restaurant at a luxury hotel. If you prefer, dine at one of the many restaurants and bars on Quinta Avenida in downtown Playa del Carmen, which is a delight and ideal for an after-dinner drink, even with the mini-Cancún vibes.

Quinta Avenida, em Playa del Carmen.

The charming Quinta Avenida, in Playa del Carmen. Photo: Fabio Pastorello

*BLOG TIP-  If you enjoy diving, consider spending a night at Cozumel, which has good diving spots, or plan to do so while you’re doing a tour during the day. 

*BLOG TIP 2: If you want to include a visit to Xcaret park, the tip is to stay an extra night at Playa del Carmen and visit the park on a day trip from there. That’s what makes the most sense geographically, as Xcaret is real close to Playa del Carmen. 

Day 6- Thursday: Cancún

Time to go to Cancún to enjoy Cancún’s best, whether you like it or not: all-inclusive resorts, shopping, and partying. After all, this is a super touristy destination with a strong American presence (reflected in the brands of the shops, bars and the food offers).

Don’t expect to find anything very authentic unless you go to the city of Cancún itself, outside of the beach. But even with these things, Cancún is a delight if you know what to expect and want to relax and enjoy yourself!

Beach infrastructure at our seaside hotel.

At night, be sure to go to one of the city’s many nightclubs such as Coco Bongo, Señor Frogs, The City, Dady’O and Mandala.

*BLOG TIP: To stay or not to stay at an all-inclusive?  See at the end of this post the pros and cons of an all-inclusive in Cancún. All-inclusive resorts aren’t really my thing when it comes to travel, but do I recognize the perks of spending 24 hours eating and drinking without thinking about the final bill (it has already been paid, and was probably costly), and all still facing a beautiful sea. Besides being a great option for large groups and families. If you choose not to stay in one, Cancún has numerous tasty restaurants, shopping malls, and other places to go.

Day 7- Friday: Cancún

Hit repeat for yesterday, but change places. Beach, shopping, club, bar… whatever you want. Or, an option for today is to visit Isla del Mujeres on a really nice boat trip.

Cancún as seen from the top of the Moon Palace Hotel building.

Day 8- Saturday: Last breaths in Cancún and flight back

This is the day you try to make the most of the little time of travel you have left. If your flight is in the afternoon, you may still have the morning free to enjoy at the hotel. But the truth is that the trip is coming to an end. Pack your bags, check out and go to the airport. It’s time to come back home and share your findings, photos, and stories with your friends.

This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)

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