Published On: Wed, May 14th, 2014

5 Days in Cancun on a budget – What to do?

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You can smell the sea from the Cancun airport. No more stuffy airplane, no more boring job in your cold hometown. Welcome to paradise – the Mayan Riviera. Welcome to Cancun.

The Mayan Riviera is a 130 km stretch of Caribbean coastline in southeast Mexico. Between Cancún in the north and the Mayan ruins of Tulum in the south are countless white-sand beaches on the calm turquoise water of the Caribbean.

Cancun Playa Delfines

Cancun is famous for all-inclusive luxury resorts, while formerly lesser-known beach hangouts like Playa del Carmen are now firmly established on the beaten path. But a budget-conscious side remains to these world-class tourist destinations. You can still get a nice hotel room for under $30 USD in downtown Cancun, and eat the best – and cheapest – local food just a few blocks from the beach in Playa del Carmen.

The great Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, are only a few hours from Cancún on good highways. In the other direction, rocky Tulum rivals Chichén Itzá with its location on limestone cliffs overlooking the sky-blue Caribbean.

15 valladolid market yucca

Here are some of the maps from the guide, which is 88 pages in Kindle or 43 pages in the .pdf version:

Cancun Unanchor Travel Guide – Cancun and Mayan Riviera 5-Day Itinerary

1 Cancun : Mexico

In my guide, a five-day itinerary in Cancun, you visit the following places in the Yucatan peninsula:

2 The Yucatan Peninsula

3 chichen itza

Chichen Itza is one of the new seven wonders of the world, a Mayan city that’s much bigger than the iconic, hugely impressive pyramid. Valladolid is a colonial Yucateca town near Chichen Itza.

Tulum ruins

Tulum is another ancient Mayan city. It may not be as grandiose as Chichen Itza, but its location on cliffs overlooking the turquoise Caribbean can’t be beat. Plus there’s a little beach for swimming.

3 Cancun and Zona Hotelera

Cancun is a long thin island of beach and big all-inclusive resorts. If you want to stay cheap, stay downtown.

Parque las Palapas is a big park with lots of food stalls. It’s the spot for good, cheap Mexican street food (tacos, etc.). If you prefer a restaurant, they are all around the park.

Mercado 28 is a tourist market with the best prices in the region. There’s good cheap restaurants (fonditas) in there too.

4 Downtown Cancun

Getting to the beach from downtown Cancun is easy.

5 Cancun bus to beach

There’s a lot more to the Mayan Riviera than Cancun. Not far away are Mayan Ruins (Chichen Itza, Tulum, Coba), nice colonial towns full of culture (Valladolid, Merida), and countless beaches and cenotes (freshwater sinkholes and caves).

6 Mayan Riviera

Playa del Carmen is a more low-key beach town south of Cancun. You can stay a few blocks from the beach for as cheap as $20 a night. All the nightclubs, restaurants, and shopping centers of Cancun are also in Playa del Carmen. The main difference is that you can get around on foot.

7 Playa del Carmen

At night, you can walk down Quinta Ave. (5th Ave), the main drag in Playa del Carmen that follows the beach.

z playa del carmen

Valladolid, the closest town to Chichen Itza, is also the nearest place to get some authentic Yucatan culture.

8 Valladolid

It has a great traditional market.

13 valladolid market

There are other, cheaper options to get around, but the most frequent and comfortable buses are run by ADO. Here’s how to use their website:

ado 1

ado 2

My Cancun and Mayan Riviera 5-Day Itinerary is for the independent traveler who likes the beach but also wants some culture. Besides saving a lot of money, you:

  • Have two full days on two gorgeous beaches: Cancún and Playa del Carmen.
  • Explore two Mayan ruins: Chichén Itzá, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, and Tulum, a sunny fortress built on cliffs overlooking one of the most iconic beaches in Mexico.
  • Dip your toe into Yucatán culture in Valladolid, a small colonial town in central Yucatán.
  • Swim, snorkel or scuba dive in the clear, freshwater Dos Ojos cenote.
  • Eat what Mexicans eat: seafood, tacos, and Yucatán specialties like panuchos and salbutes.
  • Shop, party, get tan, and learn some Spanish, history and culture. And, if time permits, venture farther into Mexico and Central America.

It’s cheap at $5 for 43 pages of solid information, 88 pages on kindle. (And Actually it’s only $4.99.) You’ll save that much the first time you follow my advice on a bus, restaurant or cenote.

(BTW, if you download it and like it, then could you help me out by writing a review on Amazon? Thanks.)

This part of Mexico may be the most visited, but in some ways the least understood. I try to remedy this with my modest guide.

The Kindle Version:

Cancun Unanchor Travel Guide – Cancun and Mayan Riviera 5-Day Itinerary

The .pdf / online version:

Cancun and Mayan Riviera 5-Day Itinerary

Cancun and Mayan Riviera 5-Day Itinerary

By Ted Campbell


Ted Campbell is university professor, translator, and freelance writer in Mexico. For stories of adventure, culture, music, food, and mountain biking, check out his blog No Hay Bronca.

Mexico Travel Care




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