Mexico was one of those places that completely surprised us. After receiving so much buzz and being such a tourist hotspot we were worried you wouldn’t be able to get an authentic feeling when visiting. After spending 3 weeks driving around the Yucatan Peninsula, we now understand why this stunning tropical beach destination gets all the attention it does.
Cancun, Mexico is one of those must see destinations. A great mix between the Las Vegas strip and a Hawaiian island, Cancun is one of those cities that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re wanting to catch a show and enjoy the nightlife or lay on a stunning white sand beach, Cancun has it all. Its stunning Caribbean location adds to the allure making this a top world class tourist hotspot.
You know we love giving you all the deets about our favourite places which is why after our Mexico trip we can’t wait to answer all your burning questions about tell you everything you need to know about Cancun, Mexico. Below we’ve laid down all our best Cancun travel tips to help you have the perfect vacation. Let’s jump in!
1. Where is Cancun?
Cancun is a popular tourist city located on the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. This coastal city sits nestled along the Caribbean Sea on the east side of Mexico. Cancun is famed for its luxurious all inclusive hotels that line the stunning turquoise waters. Cancun Mexico is in a near perfect location just north of the Riviera Maya region of Mexico where the sun is hot and the water is warm.
2. What is the weather like in Cancun?
Cancun is known for its beautiful tropical climate that receives year round warm temperatures. Similar to many tropical destinations, like Thailand, Cancun has a dry season and a rainy season.
The city receives peak tourism between December and April when it’s their dry season. While most of North America suffers through a cold winter during these months, Cancun Mexico enjoys sunshine and warm temperatures. This is one of the reasons why it’s such an ideal travel destination for North American travelers as the temperatures hover around 25-30 °C (mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit).
The months of June to November are less desirable to visit as you will find yourself in hurricane season where rain and high winds are the norm. The highest risk of hurricanes is between September and October which is when most water sports activities will be canceled in the area.
April/May and November are this area’s shoulder season and good months to travel for those looking to take advantage of off-season prices and fewer crowds but still want to enjoy nice weather.
3. How do you get to Cancun?
There are three main ways to get to Cancun: by air, by road, and by cruise ship.
Flying to Cancun
Most of the tourists visiting Cancun will enter through Cancun International Airport (CUN) which is the main airport connecting this part of Mexico to other major cities. From Cancun Airport, you can usually find direct flights to many cities around the world.
This is also the place you’ll more than likely rent your car or meet your private driver or shuttle bus to get into Cancun city. The drive is around 10km to 15 km (6 to 9 miles) depending on where you’re staying and takes around 20 to 30 minutes depending on traffic and weather.
This is also the airport you’ll take if you’re looking to explore different parts of Mexico such as Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Valladolid.
Driving to Cancun
If you’re heading to Cancun by road you will be taking Mexican Highway 307 (Carretera Federal 307) from the south – Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and Tulum. From the east, you’ll be traveling along Highway 180 (Carretera Federal 180).
Taking a cruise ship to Cancun
If you book a cruise through the Caribbean Sea and there is a stop in Cancun, you may find yourself lucky enough to explore this beautiful city for the day. This is one of the main cruise ship ports in the area and ships usually stay in Cancun for a few hours to let their guests come on land and experience the city.
4. Where to stay in Cancun?
If you’re looking for the traditional tourist all inclusive experience, Cancun Hotel Zone is a popular choice for where to stay in Cancun. This man made strip on the south end of the city is where you will find luxurious all inclusive hotels, beachfront resorts, and high end boutique accommodations. Sitting right on the stunning turquoise Caribbean coast these hotels are known for their private, clean, white sandy beaches with top tier hotel amenities.
If you’re looking for a more authentic Mexican experience and cheaper accommodations, another great area to consider is El Centro – Cancun’s downtown area. While you give up your beachfront location, that is traded for a good dose of culture. Here you will find street markets, budget friendly hotels, delicious authentic Mexican food, and have a better chance of mixing with locals.
5. Are there Mayan Ruins in Cancun?
If a quick taste of Mayan culture is all you’re looking for, you can visit El Rey Ruins in Cancun’s Hotel Zone. Zona Arueologica de El Rey are small but their location makes them a popular choice for tourists.
If you’re willing to venture out of the city, there are some more prominent ancient Mayan civilizations to explore. The most famous is Chichen Itza located just outside Valladolid. Prized for being one of the new 7 Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza was one of the highlights of our trip to Mexico.
Marked as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the sheer size of the ruins was impressive. You can make the 2-2.5 hour drive yourself and stay overnight in Valladolid or book a day trip to explore Chichen Itza.
Our favorite Mayan Ruins in Mexico was Coba, just outside Tulum. These ruins are spread out in the jungle leaving a shaded and more authentic off the beaten path experience. You can rent a bicycle to ride between the different temples and ruins. The Coba ruins are well worth the 2 hour (134km/83 miles) drive from Cancun.
Tulum ruins are one of the most picturesque archeological sites in this part of Mexico. The waterfront location showcases beautifully well preserved temples with unbeatable coastal views. The Tulum ruins can be reached with a 1.5 hour drive down the coast or with a popular day tour that will often combine snorkeling and cenote experiences.
6. Are there cenotes in Cancun?
Cenotes are one of the biggest attractions in this part of Mexico and one of the best ways to cool off in the hot climate. Cenotes are natural sinkholes that create freshwater pools you can swim in. Cenotes have historical significance as they were sacred to the Mayan people. Mayan villages were built near cenotes which acted as their freshwater source.
Some cenotes have cave systems that you have to walk through to enter. There are estimated to be around 6000 cenotes just in the Yucatan Peninsula. Many of them are located only a short drive south of Cancun near Playa del Carmen.
While there are no cenotes in Cancun proper, there are lots to be explored in the surrounding area. If you are willing to travel between 30 minutes to 2 hours from the city, you will have your choice of hundreds of different cenotes to explore.
If you’re wondering are cenotes worth visiting, our answer is a very prominent YES! Not only are cenotes cool to explore but thanks to being largely covered, they typically are full of cold crisp water that is the perfect way to cool down from the hot Mexican sun.
If you’re brave enough you can swim and snorkel through them. Some even have platformed areas you can dive into and rope swings you can jump in on. Cenotes range from pretty shallow to hundreds of feet deep. We went to one just outside of Playa del Carmen and there were people scuba diving in the deep water under us while we swam on the surface.
7. Does Cancun have good nightlife?
Yes! The short answer is yes, the nightlife in Cancun is epic and sure to provide a wild party.
The longer version:
Cancun features nightclubs and beach parties that attract some of the world’s biggest name DJs. There are themed parties and world renowned clubs like Mandala Beach Club, Dady’O, Coco Bongo, and The City. Coco Bongo is the most famous and is guaranteed to be a great night in Cancun. The City is the place if you’re looking to dance the night away with a famous DJ performing magic.
If pubs and bars are more your scene you’re in luck. You’ll want to head to the Hotel Zone to find everything from sports bars to beachfront pubs.
Cancun has it all. You’ll be able to find everything from beach parties and bonfires to rooftop bars and sky lounges. No matter if you’re looking for some good eats or casinos and gambling you’ll be surprised at everything offered in this tourist destination.
If you’re in Cancun during peak tourist season expect big crowds and wild parties. Be sure to stay safe while you’re partying in Cancun.
8. What are popular day trips from Cancun?
One of the best things about Cancun is the amount of things you can do. Within an hour drive of Cancun, you have nearly endless options to entertain you.
If you’re looking for all day fun you’ll want to check out some of the amusement parks around Cancun. There are a few of these parks in the area and all have their own theme. All of them have food included so you don’t even have to leave the park at all.
- If you’re an adrenaline junkie you can fly through the air on ziplines at the Xplor Park. This is our favorite park. There is a hammock swing that ends in a water splash and ATV courses through the jungle.
- Xcaret Eco Park is based more on a family experience. There are over 40 activities included in the price of admission including lots of great snorkeling and animal encounters.
- You can probably guess what Xenses Park theme is: your senses. You’ll experience over 50 scenarios, two lazy rivers, and a walk through sauna among many others.
- If you’re like us and come to Cancun Mexico for the aquatic adventures, Xel Ha Park is the park for you. This family friendly park will deliver the ultimate outdoor adventure of ziplining, snorkeling on coral reefs, jungle treks, and exploring caves and cenotes.
If you’re wanting to hangout near the water and do fun beach excursions in Cancun, you’ve got lots of options. From spending the day on a luxurious catamaran to jet skiing, paddleboarding, kayaking, and parasailing, Cancun offers a bit of everything.
For those who have always wanted to swim with turtles and stingrays, you’ll love the day trip to Akumal. We don’t usually like interacting with wild animals but this is a protected area with restrictions. You have to stay in a specified area and stay on the surface of the water – only observing the turtles and stingrays.
9. What food can I expect in Mexico?
One of the best things about visiting a new country is trying all the new foods! Cancun, Mexico is certainly no exception. If you’re like us, you can expect to eat your weight in delicious authentic Mexican food like tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. Between Myles’ favorite: nachos, and Samara’s favorite: quesadillas, it’s safe to say we were in heaven here!
If you’re staying in all inclusive resorts with restaurants that cater to American tourists, you can expect a good mix of Mexican and American cuisine. The Mexican food served here will often be “Americanized” to suit the tourist palate. There will also be other themed restaurants on site for you to have different types of food during your stay. If you’re a foodie, I recommend leaving your resort to try some local cuisine, perhaps street food, in order to try a more authentic traditional Mexican meal.
If Mexican food isn’t your thing, you’ll be happy to know that the thriving tourism sector brings way to a large number of international restaurants in Cancun. From Italian, American, Indian, and even sushi restaurants, you will be able to fulfill every craving in Cancun.
10. Is Cancun safe to visit?
Safety is a common concern when traveling. It’s no wonder so many tourists have the question: is Mexico safe? Cancun is a very tourist driven area and therefore generally considered a safe destination for travelers.
As with anywhere, it is important to have street sense and be cautious of pickpocketing in crowded areas. You will want to avoid flashing valuables when out in public and I always recommend using the safe in your hotel room if there is one. If you are planning to take advantage of the nightlife, be sure you’ve organized a safe way home before you start your night.
When out and about, be sure to avoid dark alleyways and make sure you are aware of your surroundings. If you need a ride, be sure to book official taxis and rideshares. Don’t be alarmed when you see police trucks with police officers in the back – it’s just the way they do it in Mexico.
11. Should I stay in Playa del Carmen or Cancun?
The truth is, both cities are worth the visit. You’ll want to stay in Cancun if you’re looking for a party and thriving nightlife, great restaurants, big name shopping, and a bustling city feel while still having access to the best beaches in Mexico. You’ll want to choose Cancun if you plan to take a day trip to visit Isla Mujeres.
If you’re looking for more of an authentic feel to your trip to Mexico, you can head about an hour south to Playa del Carmen. While the city is notably smaller, you will still find lots to do in Playa del Carmen. In recent years this city has boomed thanks to a thriving tourism scene but prices are still cheaper than in Cancun.
If you’re wanting to visit Cozumel or take a day trip to Tulum, Playa del Carmen is where you’ll want to stay. Thanks to its central location, Playa is also a great place to stay if you want to do day trips such as swimming in sacred cenotes or zipline in Xplor.
12. Is Cancun worth visiting?
Yes! If you are looking for a tropical beach getaway filled with good food, hot weather, and delicious food, a Cancun vacation will be well worth it! Cancun is full of good vibes and stunning all inclusive resorts – all in an amazing upbeat city. Cancun tourism is thriving! It’s no wonder Cancun is a top tropical vacation destination in North America.
13. What are the best islands near Cancun?
If you are looking for more of a beach bum vacation and are interested in doing some island hopping, you’ll be pleased to know you have a few great options. If you’re looking for the perfect island paradise escape, you can choose from the many islands that sit in these Caribbean waters.
The closest island to Cancun is the beautiful Isla Mujeres (translated to woman island). Located just 13 km (8 miles) off the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a long and skinny island known for its white sandy beaches and laid back island vibes.
Isla Mujeres is an ideal beach getaway filled with fun things to do including scuba diving and snorkeling at the MUSA Underwater Museum, renting a golf cart to tour the island, or relaxing at a lazy beach club. Between the months of May and September, you can swim with whale sharks off the coast of Isla Mujeres.
The island’s proximity to Cancun makes it the perfect place to take a day trip from Cancun. You can also take the 20 minute ferry ride to Isla Mujeres which runs every half hour and costs 160 pesos one way or 300 pesos for a round trip pass.
Our favourite tropical island near Cancun is Cozumel. Located off the coast of Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is a must visit island for those looking world class scuba diving and snorkeling. The waters off the coast of the island are full of life being in the Mesoamerican Reef, the world’s second largest coral reef.
You can take an organized day tour to Cozumel or make the journey yourself. If you are wanting to get from Cancun to Cozumel yourself, you will first have to take either the ADO bus, car, or taxi to Playa del Carmen. Once there you can take the 45 minute ferry to Cozumel.
Isla Holbox, located north of Cancun, is perfect for those looking for tropical island hideaways. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Isla Holbox is the perfect escape that will take you back to the basics. The island has no cars on it and is known more for its escape to nature.
You can expect all the best things to do on Holbox to be outdoor nature encounters. A bucket list activity is experiencing the bioluminescence on the island. If you’re on the island between June and September, you can swim with whale sharks off the coast of Holbox. You can also go island hopping between the different islands in the area. Taking a sunrise kayak tour through the mangroves will allow you to take in the natural beauty of the area including the local flamingos that live here.
To get to Holbox Island, you’ll need to drive or catch the ADO bus to Chiquila. From there you will take the 15 minute ferry to Holbox. The ferry costs 220 MXN per adult and 160 MXN per child and runs every half hour between 5 am and 8:30 pm.
14. Do they speak English in Cancun?
Yes. While Spanish is the official language of Mexico, English is widely spoken in Cancun. English is especially prevalent in more touristy areas of Mexico such as Cancun’s hotel zone. Almost all tour guides will speak English as well as hotel staff.
15. Is Cancun expensive?
By North American standards, Cancun is fairly affordable however when compared to the prices in the rest of Mexico, the tourist hotspot does come at a price. With all the amenities found in Cancun, it is one of the most expensive areas in Mexico, especially for food and shopping.
16. What currency is used in Cancun?
The Mexican Peso (MXN) is the official local currency of Mexico. You will most often see prices labeled in both pesos and US dollars. We recommend having a mix of both currencies on you. Be cautious when paying for items, particularly when shopping, as currency rates are often not in favor of US currency – they’ll be higher than if you paid in Pesos. We found it better to ask for prices in pesos and pay that way.
It’s worth noting that paying with cash is preferred, especially when shopping with locals in markets. Some vendors will have surcharges when paying with cards or do not accept card payments altogether.
Thanks for stopping by!
Cancun turned out to be way more than we could have ever expected. From the stunning beaches, the world class resorts, the interesting history, the delicious food, and rich culture, we loved visiting Cancun. We had a lot of questions before we visited Cancun and we knew we wanted to answer them all to create a list of Cancun travel tips for you. We hope that by answering these questions, we’ve convinced you to experience all this beautiful area has to offer.
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