Traveling to Cancun is a jump and hop from the US, then suddenly you step out into glorious heat and sunny days. The Yucatán Peninsula, where Cancun is located, is a popular winter destination–from December to February–when people swap snow-capped mountains for sandals and turquoise water. Summer holidays in Cancun get busy, too, but you must love humidity and bursts of rainfall.
Cancun is not everyone’s type of taco. Some travelers run straight to the less developed Tulum, or these days, even farther to Bacalar to escape the crowds. Some happily fall into the middle ground of Playa de Carmen. The general rule is that the coastline gets less crowded the farther south you go. Some say that the translation of the Mayan word Cancun is “pot of snakes”, and you might just feel that way with the nightlight and hotel skyline.
Cancun’s hotel zone is a skyrise wall that rises up from the city’s most easterly beaches, meaning many hotels get clear ocean views. The peninsula is virtually self-contained with restaurants, attractions and even a ruined pyramid within walking distance. You could happily spend all of your days visiting different beaches, snorkelling, drinking margaritas, and maybe even take a tour to an island, a cenote or the Chichen Itza ruins. Some people don’t make it past their all-inclusive resort offerings, but that would be a shame. In downtown Cancun you can get a taste of real Mexico, with local taquerias, hand-craft markets, and color everywhere.
Top Five Things To Do In Cancun
If you manage to fit in at least one thing from this list, you’ll leave Cancun with an amazing memory.
Surrealistic Snorkeling at the Underwater Museum
Discover more than 500 immersed sculptures in the underwater world of MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte or Cancun Underwater Museum), making it the largest underwater sculpture museum in the world. See the eerily beautiful work of sculpture Jason deCaires Taylor, and all the sealife that have made this museum their home.
Swim With Whale Sharks or Dolphins
The annual migration of 12-meter whale sharks–just a giant fish, despite the name–is one of Mexico’s most spectacular natural phenomen. You’ll need to take a boat to the north-west area of the Caribbean ocean, either from Holbox or Cancun, where you jump in and snorkel among these gentle giants from June to September. You can also swim with dolphins in Cancun. EcoColor is a company with 18 years experience of doing whale shark tours, with a sustainable practices (Enter the code MEXLOCAL to receive a 10% discount when you book here.)
Visit a Natural Cenote
Cenotes, underwater sinkholes and caves, are the uniqiue natural wonders that scatter all along the Yutucan coast. There are no cenotes in Cancun, but closeby you could visit several cenotes in a day: Zapote, Popol Vuh, K’aak, Lu’um, Lik’ or Ha Alux. The nicer cenotes are typically farther away. Close to Playa del Carmen you can find several cenotes close together–Azul, Eden, Cristalino and Tajma Ha. Closer to Cancun is Cenote La Noria, near the village of Puerto Morelos, and Cenote Verde Lucero includes a few activities. If you head to Chichen Itza, it’s not much farther to jump into the area’s beautiful cenotes: Cenote Ik Kil, Xcan Ché, Samula, Suytun, Kankirixche, Dzitnup, and Zaci. You’ll also find plenty of tourist brochures to adventure parks mixed with cenote tourism. They offer fun and unique choices – and you’ll pay for it, at around $80–100 per person.
Hang on a beach
The main beaches include Playa Marlin in the hotel zone. Playa Tortugas is near the Isla Mujeres ferry and, together with Playa Ballenas, these beaches are great if you want to do aquatic sports. Playa Cac Mool and Playa Delfines for those seeking less people, absent hotel services – and the colorful Cancun sign. If you’re looking for umbrellas, Playa Las Perlas has a small beach area.
Try Yucatan food
Mexican food is regionally varied, but Yucateca food is one of the cuisines that has dominated Mexico. Try ‘cochinita pibil’, a slow-roasted pork meat, or the unique relleno negro, a pre-hispanic salsa made from charcoal chilis, typical eaten with turkey.
Know Before You Go to Cancun
Cancun has been a touristic hotspot for many years – and that’s exactly you get. You’ll find developed hotel areas, good services, spring breakers and higher prices than normal. That sounds like the ideal holiday for plenty of people, but if you have the time and a little sense of adventure, head out to smaller towns to get a closer look at what Mexico is so famous for – a relaxed lifestyle, great hole-in-wall cuisine at unbelievable prices, and natural wonders pocketed all over the coastline.
It’s been a safe haven for many years, and police roadchecks are a familiar sight along the coastline driving towards Tulum. But, like anywhere, travel smart. Watch your belongings, especially if you leave them on a beach. If a police tries to ask for a ‘mordida’ (bribe), feel free to ask to call your consulate or talk to their managing officer and don’t be pressured into paying big fines for nothing.
Find a round-a-bout transfer rate so you don’t get stuck into over-paying: 10 pesos is around a dollar )bottle of water), 100 pesos is about 5 dollars (a drink, some taco), 1000 pesos about 70$ (starting prices for a night’s accommodation, or an airport taxi).
Don’t be afraid to try local food, but don’t eat without caution. Check that the place is scrubbed down, the kitchen clean, that the food is cooked while you wait, and a line of people.
Generally don’t drink from the taps, but ice is usually fine and made with filtered water.
Where to Stay in Cancun
If you plan to spend most of your time outside the city, there’s decent budget accommodation around the airport or along the main road leading to the airport. In any case, the airport is only 15km from the town centre,
For a beach holiday, the hotel strip is where many people stay, with a ‘resort’ vibe and tall buildings along the manmade shore.
There are newer hotels sprouting around the mongrove and golf areas, meaning you don’t see the beach but you do get a view with a lower pricetag.
Several towns are close enough to enjoy local life and still pop into Cancun for the day, such as Playa de Carmen or Puerto Morelos.
Transport To Cancun
Be prepared to pay premium tourist prices for a taxi from the airport, costing $40–60 for a private taxi, or more if it’s late at night or you stay at an expensive hotel. Some vendors might try to put up their prices, so ask around and don’t feel pressured to take the first offer–others will charge per person, with no option for bargaining. Once you’re in the hotel zone, even if you return back to the airport, prices are much less, more like $5–$20 dollars.
With those prices, hiring a car is not a bad option if mobility is attractive to you. It’s also easy enough to drive to Chitchen Itza, so you can also avoid high tour prices.
There are also regular and modern buses running to several points in the city, some with internet. Ado has first-class, air-conditioned buses that sell tickets on the day; you can get cheaper tickets from Mayab or Playa Express, but may need to book a day in advance. You can also take the small, shared vans (colectivo) at any time. Buses run around every 20–30mins, except for the early morning hours (around 12am to 4am).
Where to Eat in Cancun
- Du Mexique – French meets Mexican food
- La Dolce Vita – an Italian restaurant with a Three Diamonds Award.
- Marinero – authentic Mexican food, known for its fresh seafood.
- Puerto Madero – great views, interesting architecture and a mix of Latinamerican and Italian food.
- La Habichuela – now with two locations, the original has been in the business since the 70s.
Cancun Travel Tips
- Summer clothes – it’s hot and humid most of the year.
- Regardless of whether it’s summer or winter, take at least one thing light for cooler weather.
- You can save money bringing your own snorkel and mask–and there’s plenty to occup you–otherwise there are plenty of rentals.
- You’ll find major supermarkets here for anything you forget; Playa del Carmen even has Walmart. Some main supermarkets in Cancun are Chedauri, Soriana, and Superama.
- It’s tropical – you will get rained on if you travel to Cancun between May and. But the rain is short-lived and even refreshing, so you can sometimes just wait out the downpours.