There is a lot of stuff to do in Cancún, and that’s the reason many people visit this destination. Cancún is a haven for American spring breakers, but it caters to people from other demographic groups as well.
Cancún is, without a doubt, one of Mexico’s most (if not the most) well-known destinations in the whole country. Its location along the Caribbean Sea and its white-sand beaches are sought after by people from all over the world.
Today we will share with you activities, lodging options, restaurant recommendations, money-saving tips, tips for staying safe, suggested budgets, and a lot of useful information to plan your visit. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- Best Time to Visit
- Hit the Beach
- Take a Tour
- Go Party!
- Visit Downtown
- Shopping at Mercado 28
- How to Get There
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat
- Moving Around
- Suggested Budgets
- How to Stay Safe
- Is Uber Safe in Cancún?
- Apps to Download
- Final Thoughts
Best Time to Visit
To be honest, there is no such thing. You can visit Cancún any time of the year. Due to its location close to the equator, the city enjoys warm to hot weather all year round. While it certainly isn’t as hot in December as compared to August, you can still enjoy good weather.
If you’re concerned about the rain, then you might consider avoiding the rainy season between May and October. The hurricane season here starts in early June and lasts through the end of November. The most active months in terms of rain are August, September, and October.
We may never be certain about hurricanes and tropical storms, but statistically speaking, there have only been two that struck Cancún in the last 30 years: Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and Hurricane Wilma in 2005. So, if you visit during hurricane season, you won’t necessarily experience one, but you will likely see rain and need to adjust your plans.
That’s why it’s essential to buy travel insurance to cover all unforeseen events.
Hit the Beach
Chances are you live somewhere cold and you’re escaping from that. You’d prefer to be somewhere warm instead and get a tan while you enjoy your favorite cocktail. Sounds good?
If you’re staying at a hotel in the touristy area, you will have the beach just a few steps away from your hotel door. Just put on your swimsuit and sunglasses and hit the beach. You can lie down and admire the turquoise waters, read a good book, or just relax.
There is always something going on at the beach. You can join a volleyball game, participate in a contest, join a party, build a sandcastle, meet other people… the options are endless.
Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, the beach is always a good option while in Cancún.
Some of the most popular beaches are:
- Playa Delfines
- Isla Blanca
- Playa Langosta
- Xcacel Beach
- Playa Caracol
- Playa Tortugas
- Playa Marlín
- Playa Chac Mool
Take a Tour
You can also take one of the many tours offered in the city. You can hire one through your hotel or you can contact an agency yourself. Prices vary on the tour you take and start as low as $35 (prices in dollars) and go all the way up to $100 or more. Tips are not included.
Many tours typically last a whole day. They pick you up at your hotel in the morning and bring you back in the evening. There are many things you can do during the tour like visiting an archaeological site, diving into a cenote, practicing some snorkeling or scuba diving, doing zip lining/rappelling, riding a 4×4, exploring the jungle, trying Maya cuisine, riding a boat, just to name a few things. There are activities for the whole family or those adventure seekers. Mild or wild, it’s up to you.
Keep in mind that tours can be expensive. Check your possibilities and pick one or two. Well, that’s my suggestion.
Above all, always make sure what’s included. You don’t want any unpleasant surprises.
Some of the most popular tours include:
- Chichén Itzá
- Xel Ha
- Catamarán Isla Mujeres
Cancún boasts a superb nightlife scene with lots of clubs and bars. No wonder it’s a favorite among spring breakers and people who like to party hard.
Cancún’s most famous club is Coco Bongo. It’s a cool place with a good music mix and unlimited domestic drinks. However, be warned that it’s pricey. Depending on what package you get, you will be paying between $80-$195. Oh, and lines can get super long, especially during peak season.
However, it’s not your typical club. For instance, there is no dance floor per se. There is only a narrow platform in the center where ladies can get on top to dance. There are also a few balconies where they can dance as well.
Unlike other clubs, Coco Bongo boasts lively performances with impersonators, live bands, acrobats, bubbles, confetti, and the like. As you can see, it’s not your typical DJ-controlled club.
Other notable clubs in Cancún include:
- Party Rockers
- After Dark Events and Entertainment
- The City
And the list is way longer! You can party all night long if that’s your thing. Cancún’s nightlife never disappoints.
If you want to escape the hubbub of the beaches, then I recommend heading over downtown. This is where the locals live and where you can see what daily life is like. Here you can find markets, shopping centers, restaurants, bars, and various shops. The area is easily accessible by public transportation and the prices are lower than the ones you see at the hotel zone.
The place to go is Avenida Tulum. Take your time to wander around and discover your next favorite spot. You never know what you will find.
Shopping at Mercado 28
This is the most famous and colorful market in town. It’s located downtown. You can find all sorts of items from jewelry to clothing to handicrafts to inexpensive food. If you want to experience the real Cancún and save money, this is the place to go.
How to Get There
The Cancún International Airport is one of the busiest airports in Mexico. It is located around 25 km (15 miles) from the hotel zone, and the drive takes approximately 25-30 minutes. Now, if you’re headed downtown, the distance is around 20 km (12 miles), and the drive takes approximately 20 minutes.
The airport is well connected and receives thousands of visitors from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. There are direct flights between Cancún and international destinations such as Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Madrid, London, Rome, Paris, among others. For more information on departures and arrivals, you can check out this link.
If you’re already in Mexico, you might consider traveling by land. The nearest major cities are:
- Mérida 303 km (188 miles), takes 4 hours.
- Chetumal 379 km (236 miles), takes 5 hours.
- Campeche 476 km (296 miles), takes 6 hours.
The main bus lines that cover these routes are ADO and OCC.
Where to Stay
Chances are you just want to stay at your hotel and not worry about hiring a tour. Maybe you don’t want to be pressed for time or maybe you don’t feel like going out. Whatever the reason is, you will probably prefer to stay at the hotel. Nothing wrong with that. Just to give you an example, I have a couple of relatives who almost always spend the whole time at the hotel when they go to Cancún. They say they just want to relax. It’s not my ideal type of vacation, but I understand some people think like that.
Some hotels have casinos, restaurants, shows, sports tournaments, and activities for the whole family. You won’t get bored if you decide to stay at one of these hotels.
What you will find may vary from hotel to hotel, but usually, resorts include all the activities above. However, make sure what’s included because some things like golf and spa treatments are usually not included.
Some of the most booked resorts include:
- The Royal Sands Resort and Spa
- Hyatt Ziva Cancún
- GR Solaris Cancún & Spa
- Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancún
- Riu Palace Peninsula
But don’t worry. There are many affordable lodging options in Cancún if you don’t want to stay at a resort.
Where to Eat
Since Cancún is along the coast, many dishes you will find contain seafood. However, Cancún is an international city with all kinds of cuisine. You will find Mexican food, of course, but also American, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, among others.
I recommend you check out the following places:
- El Timón de Cancún ZH. Huge portions and friendly customer service. The specialty is seafood. The average check is between 100 and 300 pesos ($5-$15) per person. Address: km. 9.5, Blvd. Kukulcan Zona Hotelera, Cancún 77500 Cancún Mexico.
- Taquería Los Chachalacos. Some of the best tacos and drinks in town. The average check is between 80 and 120 pesos ($4-$6) per person. Address: Zona Hotelera Km 9. 5, Al lado del Hostal Señor Frogs., Cancún 77505 Mexico.
- Lonchería El Pocito. A great place to have a cheap Yucatecan breakfast. The average check is between 80 and 120 pesos ($4-$6) per person. Address: Calle 31 Sm 63 Mz 35 Between Avenue Lopez Portillo & Avenue Uxmal, Cancún 77513 Mexico.
- Restaurante Cielo y Tierra. Tasty and varied menu including seafood, burgers, pasta, and other dishes. The average check is between 160 and 250 pesos ($8-$12.50) per person. Address: Sm 523 M41 L1 Local C Region 523, 77533 Cancún, Q A Un Costado De Plaza Amandala, Cancún 77533 Mexico.
- Mercado 28. You can find seafood, tacos, comida corrida, among other things. The average check varies, but it’s hands down one of the cheapest places to eat in Cancún. Address: Xel-ha Mz 13, 28, 77509 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico.
The cheapest way to get from the airport to the hotel zone is by taking an ADO bus (around 90 pesos or $4.50) going downtown and then a local bus (12 pesos or $0.60). The main road in Cancún is Boulevard Kukulcán. That’s where the hotel zone is located.
It’s easy and affordable to use public transportation to move around. There are camiones that connect the different areas such as the hotel zone and downtown. They all have a R and a number (R-1, R-2, etc). The fare is between 10 and 12 pesos ($0.50-$0.60). They pass every 5 minutes and have designated stops.
To visit the touristy places (Xcaret, Xel-ha, Chichén Itzá, Tulum, Cobá, etc), you can take an ADO bus. The fees vary per destination, so I recommend checking their site directly for accurate information.
If you’re going to nearby towns such as Tulum, Puerto Morelos, or Playa del Carmen, you can take a colectivo or combi (a type of van). Their frequency varies. Depending on your destination, the fare can cost up to 50 pesos ($2.50).
There are plenty of taxis throughout town. You can find them outside hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions. However, be warned that they’re not metered. To move around downtown, the minimum fare is 70 pesos ($3.50), while the minimum fare for the hotel zone is 200 pesos ($10). It is an expensive option.
Last but not least, there is Uber available. However, I don’t recommend using it here. More on that later.
Cancún can be as affordable or as expensive as you want it to be. Keep in mind it’s essential to consider the time of year you’re visiting as the prices for flights, hotels, and car rentals vary significantly.
If you’re backpacking, you’re looking at around 1,150 pesos ($57.50) per day. This includes accommodation at a hostel/cheap hotel, a combination of street food and home-cooked food, local transportation, and a few attractions per day.
A mid-range budget is around 2,100 pesos ($105) per day. This includes accommodation at a 2-star hotel/Airbnb, cheap restaurants, a few more attractions than the backpacker budget, and maybe one taxi.
Finally, if you don’t want to limit yourself, then a luxury budget will cost you at least 7,200 pesos ($360) per day. This includes staying at a 4-star hotel, eating at nice restaurants, taking taxis or renting a small car, and taking a guided tour. I’m not considering fuel here.
Keep in mind these figures are just estimates. Some days you will spend less, while others you will spend more. This will give you a foundation to plan your budget and adjust it as necessary.
For your convenience, I created a table comparing the budgets we mentioned above. The prices are in Mexican pesos ($1 = 20 pesos).
|Lodging||Meals||Transportation||Attractions||Average Cost Per Day|
Tips for Saving Money
I know that saving as much money as possible is important for many people when traveling. If this applies to you, then you might consider the following:
- Avoid visiting during peak season (mid-December to mid-January, Semana Santa/the week before Easter, and July and August).
- Use Booking to get good deals on lodging. Hostels are usually the cheapest options, but you can also find cheap hotels. As a general rule in Cancún, lodging is cheaper dowtown than at the hotel zone.
- Alternatively, you can use Couchsurfing to find free lodging, although some people are leery of using it due to its reputation.
- Look for volunteering opportunities. Some places give free lodging and usually one or two meals per day in exchange of helping them for a few hours. But act fast because a lot of people sign up for these opportunities!
- Use public transportation as much as possible and avoid taxis. They’re expensive!
- Eat street food or go to the market. We provided some recommendations above, but you can find other cheap eats through Tripadvisor, Yelp, and Foursquare.
- For cheap souvenirs, head over to Mercado 28.
- Look for free walking tours online. You just have to tip your guide at the end of the tour.
- Many attractions like Xcaret and Coco Bongo offer special discounts if you buy tickets online. This applies to other attractions as well.
- If you’re planning to rent a car, in many cases, it’s usually cheaper to do so from a local company rather than from big franchises. Try to look for as many options as possible.
How to Stay Safe
Now, you may have heard about some violent incidents in recent years. While drug-related violence and crimes do exist, they have mostly to do with members of opposing cartels. Tourists are rarely the targets of these attacks. Keep yourself out of trouble by avoiding everything related to drugs and sex tourism, and you will be fine.
Downtown and the hotel zone are relatively safe areas. There are a lot of police officers patroling there. That being said, avoid walking alone at night, especially in empty/dark streets or alleys.
Watch out for pickpocketers and bag snatchers. Never leave your valuables alone.
If you go to a bar or club, never leave your drink alone. Do not accept drinks from strangers under any circumstances.
Beware of scammers. Unfortunately, some people will try to rip you off. Only hire tours from certified agencies. Any sales agent that approaches you should be able to provide his credentials upon request.
Make copies of all your important documents.
If you ever find yourself in an emergency, dial 911.
COVID isn’t over yet. Please follow the guidelines established by the local government.
Don’t forget to buy travel insurance. You never know when you will need it.
Is Uber Safe in Cancún?
I mentioned above that I advised against using Uber in Cancún, but why is that? Well, Uber’s situation here is complicated. You could say it’s a love-hate relationship.
Out of all the Mexican cities Uber operates in, Cancún is the one where it has faced the strongest opposition from taxi unions. The tension between them was such, that it stopped operating there for some time until it made a comeback in 2019.
While Uber itself is safe to use, you may be getting yourself and the driver into big trouble by using it. Unfortunately, taxis are a mafia that controls private transportation in Cancún. They don’t like competition. If they see an Uber driver picking someone up at the airport or the hotel zone, things can get ugly. There are reports of beat-up drivers, smashed windows, and customers forced out of the car.
By the way, Uber drivers cannot legally pick up people at the airport, since it is a federal zone reserved for authorized taxis. You can take Uber to the airport but not from the airport.
So, while certainly you can use Uber in Cancún, I strongly advise against it. However, if you still want to use it, then make sure to be out of sight of any taxis, especially those at the airport and hotel zone.
Apps to Download
To make the most out of your visit, I recommend downloading the following apps:
- Guest Assist. Designed by the government of Quintana Roo to help tourists find emergency numbers, COVID information, legal advice, consulates, file complaints, among other services.
- Tripadvisor. Learn about other travelers’ experiences and recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and other places in town.
- Moovit. Get the ins and out of public transportation. Just enter your origin and destination and find out which bus to take.
- Monitoreo de Sargazo. Find out which beaches are free of sargassum (a kind of seaweed) in real time.
- Google Translate. If you don’t speak fluent Spanish, then make sure you have this app.
- TravelSAFE. Connect to an emergency hotline by just pressing the SOS button.
- MyCurrency. Find the latest exchange rate to know how much something is costing you.
- Travello. Find other travelers on the road and make new friends.
- Busbud. Find bus schedules (when traveling to other cities) and book cheaper tickets online.
- Google Maps. Find driving directions and download maps for offline use.
- Parkopedia Parking. Find the nearest garage/parking lot.
- Chichen Itza Tour Guide Cancun. Guided tour with photos, audio, and an offline map.
- Tulum Ruins Tour Guide Cancun. Guided tour with photos, audio, and an offline map.
- Coba Ruins Cancun Mexico Tour. Guided tour with photos, audio, and an offline map.
Cancún has it all. You can never go wrong with it. Whether you’re traveling solo, with family or friends, you will always find something to do that fits your preferences and budget. There is a lot of stuff to do in Cancún. It’s just a matter of looking in the right places.
It comes as no surprise then that it’s one of Mexico’s most visited destinations. You can either be a party-hearty or a party hardy and have a good time. I’m somewhere in between and I have always enjoyed my stay.
As always, feel free to comment and ask any questions below. I’d love to hear from you. Bon voyage!
Book your trip now!
Book your flight
The first thing you have to do is find cheap flights. But where do you find those? There are many search engines, but the one I highly recommend is Skyscanner. Here you can compare fares from all over the world and pick the one that suits you best.
Book your accommodation
The next thing you have to do is secure your lodging. Whether you prefer a hostel, a guesthouse, a B&B, or a hotel, you can find them all on Booking. You can find lodging of all kinds ranging from cheap to expensive and somewhere in between. Many people have scored good deals using it.
Another popular option is Hostelworld. This website focuses on hostels as opposed to hotels.
Book a tour
In some places, you might want to hire a tour. Not all places are equally accessible to visit by oneself. It helps enormously when you visit with a local guide who can show you around and answer any questions you might have…all in your native language. My to-go place is Viator as they offer tours of all kinds and have a presence all over the world.
Rent a car
Public transportation is usually cheaper than renting a car, but it’s sometimes more complicated and time-consuming. That’s a reality. In some cases, it’s more convenient to rent a car. My recommendation is Rentalcars.com. Here you can compare rates and choose the one that fits you best.
Book your bus tickets
You can save money by booking bus tickets online. My favorite site to do this is Busbud.
Get travel insurance
Never travel without a travel insurance policy, especially these days! Travel insurance can save your life. My recommendations are World Nomads and Insured Nomads. Both companies cover COVID-19 related incidents, which is crucial these days.
Just click on the “Plan your trip” tab at the top of this page, and you will find more resources like getting Mexican insurance for your foreign car, buying travel accessories, and learning Spanish. And, of course, don’t forget to check back often to read more tips on Mexico travel.