Cancun Travel Guide: Expert Tips for an Unforgettable Trip

Cancún is a coastal city in Mexico. Officially the state of Quintana Roo, it is often referred to as ‘The Mexican Caribbean’ and the Riviera Maya. Cancun is located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, and is one of the easternmost parts of the country.

Cancun is best known for its long and stunning beachfront, nightclubs, the many high-rise hotels, restaurants, and shops. The pristine white beaches run for 21 kilometers. The city has 2 distinct areas. Zona Hotelera is the beachfront strip, while El Centro is the traditional downtown. Cancun also offers a beautiful underwater world, plenty of water sports activities, Mayan archaeological sites, and world-class amenities for vacationers. It is often the gateway to El Mundo Maya or the Mayan World. You will find ancient Mayan ritual sites and temples everywhere.

cancun, mexico, tropical

Cancun Quick Facts

  1. Best beaches – Playa Delfines, Puerto Morelos, Playa Chac Mool, Playa Tortugas, Playa Forum.
  2. Maya Barrier Reef is the second largest reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
  3. Cancun has the longest underwater cave in the world.
  4. There is a Cancun underwater museum.
  5. You can swim with the largest fish in the world
  6. The hotel zone protects turtle eggs.
  7. Only 3 people lived here in 1970.
  8. The giant Mexican flag took 40 men to rise.
  9. There are Mayan ruins literally on your doorstep.

Cancun Airport

Cancun International Airport is one of the biggest airports in Mexico. It is also the main gateway to the city and the Riviera Maya. The airport receives around 14 million passengers each year, making it the 2nd busiest airport in the country after the Benito Juarez International Airport of Mexico City.

There are 3 terminals here.

  • Terminal 1 – For charter flights.
  • Terminal 2 – All domestic flights and some international flights.
  • Terminal 3 – International flights from North America and Europe.

Terminals 1 and 2 are side-by-side. It’s simple to stroll between the two terminals. There is also a shuttle that runs from Terminals 1 and 2 to Terminal 3.       

Passenger Facilities

  • There are many restaurants, bars, food outlets, and shops.
  • Banks, ATMs, and currency exchange booths.
  • Car rentals, tourist information desks.
  • Wi-Fi: You can get 15 minutes of Wi-Fi free. Ask your waiter for the password.

Getting Around

By Bus – Take the bus wherever possible. Buses are cheap and frequent. The majority of bus drivers are really polite and will stop even if you are not at a bus stop.

By Taxi – You will find taxis everywhere in Cancun. They are a bit expensive for the hotel zone and airport, but cheap in the downtown area.

By Car – Be very careful if you choose to drive in Cancun. The police have the habit of picking up tourists sometimes. If you hire a car, check whether the lights are working.

Top Cancun places for Tourists

Punta Cocos, Quintana Roo, Mexique
Punta CancunThe beachfront location. Crystal clear water where you can swim, kayak, and windsurf. Relax on the beach. There are 15 stunning reefs for snorkeling and scuba diving. There are also 2 good shopping centers – Plaza Forum and Plaza El Caracol. Best nightclubs in Cancun – The City, Sr. Frogs, Carlos’n Charlies, Hard Rock Café, and Cocobongo.
Kukulcan BoulevardIn a narrow strip with water on both sides. Beautiful Nichupté Lagoon. White sandy beach, turquoise water. Boat tours, mangrove forests. Stunning sunrise and sunset. Fancy restaurants, high-end hotels, and resorts, shopping centers. Ruins of El Rey.
Punta NizucPopular peaceful beach and marine park. Second biggest coral reef in the world. Turtles, manatees, 230 species of seaweed. Very good for snorkeling. The Gardener of Hope is an underwater museum part of MUSA. San Miguelito archaeological zone. The natural paradise of Nichupté Lagoon. There are many nightclubs here.
Puerto JuárezBeachfront with many high-end hotels offering wonderful views. Ferry service to Isla Mujeres. Close to the El Meco archaeological zone.
DowntownKabah Park, the green lung of Cancun. Exotic fauna. Permanent photo gallery telling the story of Cancun. There are many restaurants, shopping areas, bars, and nightclubs here.
Isla DoradaHigh-end residential area. Restaurants and swimming pools. There are an aquarium and wax museum. The Isla Mall shopping center.
Punta SamFerry service to Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. Good beaches, scuba diving in the coral reefs, water sports, and restaurants. Seafood.
Punta Nizuc - Cancún, Mexico

11 Top Attractions in Cančun

1. The Beaches – Cancun has some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. Playa Delfines has a relaxed vibe as there are no resorts or hotels here. Magnificent views! Puerto Morelos is a quiet and small fishing village. Explore the small cozy towns here and the beaches along the Mesoamerican Coral Reef. Good for snorkeling and diving. Playa Chac Mool is the place for water sports and beachside rentals. Playa Tortugas is a great place for swimming, thanks to the softer currents.

2. Chichen Itza – Ancient Mayan ruin, a place of towering pyramids, gigantic temples, and intricately carved columns. See the Castillo Pyramid with its 365 steps, 52 panels, and 18 terraces.

Aerial View of Chichen Itza, Mexico

3. The Cenotes – Full of waterfalls, lush vegetation, and is over 130 feet deep. See turtles and fish in the stunningly clear water. Swim through a cave that connects two cenotes for a unique experience. Chance to see bats and other animals in the lush forests. Ik-Kil is a popular cenote for swimming and snorkeling, very close to Chichen Itza. Also, visit Gran Conoto or Sac Aktum.

cenote ik-kil, mexico, and cave in Mexico

4. Underwater Museum – See the famous ‘man of fire’ sculpture below water at MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte). It is covered in fire corals.

5. Tulum Ruins – The ancient Mayan city of Tulum from the 13th century. See the walled city overlooking the sea. Templo de las Pinturas, the temple shaped like a pyramid of Cobá, surrounding forests, cenotes. Don’t miss the clifftop Castillo watchtower.

Maya Ruins in Tulum Mexico
Maya Ruins in Tulum Mexico

6. Jetpack Cancun – For adventure sports. Soar above the water with a jetpack strapped to your back. Walk on water, dive, and even fly on the water.

7. Xcaret Park – A privately owned theme park. Mexican music, food, handicrafts. Coral reef aquarium, snorkeling, scuba diving, cultural programs, Mexican folklore. Marine fossils, pink flamingos. See Jaguar Island, Manatee Lagoon, and the Butterfly Pavilion. Rock formations with many caves and tunnels.

xcaret, cancun, mexico

8. Isla Mujeres – 13 kilometers into the sea from Cancun, visit this island for beautiful beaches, Mayan temple ruins, sea turtle sanctuary, dolphin watching, kayaking, swimming, and water sports.

9. Coco Bongo – A popular nightclub at the Boulevard Kukulcan. Costume parties, acrobatic performances, soap bubbles, confetti, balloons.

10. Tequila Herradura Sensory Museum – Home to the finest tequilas. Sniff, smell, and taste your way through this cultural experience.

11. Water Sports – There is plenty to choose from. You can try parasailing, flyboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, speed boating, dolphin watching, swimming, and then there is of course snorkeling and scuba diving.

Cancun Climate

Cancun has a tropical climate.

November to April, during the dry season, is a warm period with comfortable temperatures. The sea is warm. There can however be a few hurricanes and tropical storms in November. Wind from the north, el Norte, can blow in late November bringing cool and windy days.

May to October is the rainy season, which is hot and muggy. The breeze tempers the heat, but moisture is still high. You will have a lot of sunshine because the rains are mostly sharp and short showers. Hurricane season runs from June to November. Rainy season is most intense between August and October.

The months of March through May are the sunniest.

The Best Time to Visit Cancun

The peak season in Cancun lasts from the end of November through the first week of March. Prices peak from mid-December to mid-January. May through November is the most affordable season to go, with September and October being the most affordable times to visit.

How To Visit Cancún on a Budget

AccommodationStay at Cancun downtown rather than on the beachfront. To save money, look for a budget hotel or hostel in the area.
FoodEat where the locals eat. Head to a supermarket to stock up on food. There is a huge Walmart on Avenida Coba. You will also find food at many local markets around the city.
TransportDon’t take the taxi. The bus service is regular and dependable. It will be much cheaper as well. Take Mayab buses instead of ADO. A bus from the main terminus can take you to many tourist attractions. The terminal is at the corner of Tulum and Uxmal Avenues. ADO runs the first-class buses. Mayab is the cheaper option. They run on most routes.
PesoAlways pay in Mexican peso to avoid taking a hit on the exchange rate you’ll be given in bars, restaurants, and shops.
Tickets and ToursBook your snorkeling and other trips and tickets online.
HaggleThis is perfectly acceptable, especially in the more touristy areas. The prices of most souvenirs and gifts are hiked up, so you can possibly bring down the price through some smart negotiation.

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