Your Complete Travel Guide to Cancun
On this page, I am sharing the most useful Cancun travel tips and everything you need to know before traveling to Cancun. It is packed with practical travel information on the most common places to visit in Cancun as well as off-the-beaten-path places to visit in the Yucatan peninsula.
With endless white-sand beaches, a turquoise sea, spectacular hotels, an exciting nightlife, and amazing cuisine, Cancun is the perfect destination for all sorts of vacations, and for any budget from family or friends reunion, to couples’ romantic getaways, and solo travelers and watersport lovers.
And also those who prefer less touristic places and are keener on road trips, a couple of nights in Cancun will certainly make it a great start of a wonderful journey through Mexico.
A Cancun vacation won’t certainly disappoint you. Especially if you read this guide. 🙂
I have lived in Cancun for 9 years now and I have put together this epic guide of Cancun where I will share everything I know about this so renowned destination, one of the most popular in the Mexican Caribbean.
Here I will give you all the practical tips that you need to know to make the best of your stay and organize your vacation in Cancun.
DO AND DON’TS IN CANCUN
- drink tap water
- get drunk when you are out alone
- stay all day in your hotel without visiting the surrounding
- swim when the flag is red
- pay in the US
- Try the local restaurants
- Go out and explore
- rent a car or book a tour
- hop on a bus and explore the real city
- take a kayak tour on the lagoon
- watch the sunrise on the sea
- watch the sunset on the lagoon
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE FOR A TRIP TO CANCUN?
Read this guide 🙂
IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL TO CANCUN UN 2021?
It is. The hotels are taking the necessary safety measure. Just make sure you read the hotel policy before booking your stay.
SHOULD I GET PESOS FOR CANCUN?
Yes indeed, you should. It’s much cheaper to pay in pesos and you will avoid getting scammed.
WHAT IS THE BEST MONTH TO VISIT CANCUN??
Definitely, April and May because it’s low season and prices are lower but it’s not so hot as in summer and there is less risk of rain.
CAN YOU BRUSH YOUR TEETH WITH THE WATER IN CANCUN?
Yes, you can, but it’s advisable to use a water bottle if you are particularly sensitive.
CAN YOU DRINK THE WATER IN CANCUN?
No. Use bottled water or buy a water bottle to refill.
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN CANCUN?
It really depends on what kind of vacation you are looking for. If you just want to relax on the beach in your hotel, 4 or 5 days are more than enough. If you love to explore, 1 to 2 weeks, depending on how much time you have. There are so many things you can do in Cancun and surrounding that you will never get bored, I promise.
CANCUN PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Mexican Pesos 1 USD = 19 MXN (approx)
WHERE TO EXCHANGE MONEY IN CANCUN
Avoid exchanging your currency at the airport or in your hotel. The best place to do it is a bank or an exchange bureau. There are many commercial plazas in the Zona Hotelera.
ELECTRIC SOCKET USED IN CANCUN
In Mexico, there are two associated plug types, types A and B. Plug type A is the plug that has two flat parallel pins and plug type B is the plug that has two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin. Mexico operates on a 127V supply voltage and 60Hz.
Make sure to pack a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic devices.
You need to apply for a visa if your passport is from the country listed on this page. If your country is not on the list you can enter Mexico with your valid passport and get a 3 to 6 months tourist permit. If you want to stay longer than 6 months you will need to go out and then go back in.
However if a few months ago it was very easy to do it now they are a little more strict on letting you back in such a short time.
Working in Mexico is more complicated and you should put yourself in the hands of a good lawyer that can look after all the paperwork for you and spare you all the hustle and headaches.
If your intention is to move to and work in Mexico, you can check this interview with a lawyer for more detailed information.
LANGUAGE SPOKEN IN CANCUN
The official language is Spanish, or better said, “Castellano”. Most people, especially those who work in tour activities and hotels will speak good English. If you are like me and love to explore rural areas, there are chances that you will encounter people who don’t speak English at all. Worry not!
Mexican people are very hospitable and warm and with a smile and gestures you will be able to get along very well with locals and it’s the best way to get to know them.
Smiles and a fun game of charades is a great way to get to know the locals. In any case, it’s always good to know a few words.
In this post on safety in Mexico, you will find some words and phrases to help you out.
Knowing a few words and having a basic understanding of the language is always helpful, especially in unwanted circumstances.
Also, I would always have
I have recently discovered also Safetywing as it’s been specifically recommended by different travel companies and professional travelers, especially for their user-friendly website and fast response.
Safetywing has many advantages, especially for nomads, one of which is being able to pay on a monthly basis and cancel at any time. You can check out their site as well and compare the two companies to choose what works best for you.
IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL TO CANCUN?
There is a lot to say about Cancun and safety. I cannot hide the dreadful episodes that have recently been in the news about Cancun.
They are certainly not encouraging people to travel here, and with a reason. However, I am still convinced that tourists and travelers are not targets for an organized crime unless you are personally involved in drugs and related matters.
I would always use lots of common sense and a vigilant eye but wouldn’t let the facts prevent me from traveling.
I put together a very detailed guide on how to stay safe while traveling in Mexico which will offer great guidelines on being smart when you travel to Cancun, besides some helpful Spanish vocabulary.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO CANCUN
Despite in Cancun you have 2 seasons, winter and summer, the climate is very similar, warm and sunny most of the time all year round. However, there are a couple of things to consider:
- Summers are much hotter and humid
- In August through October, you are more likely to find a rainy day and a better chance to see a hurricane
- December through March is the high season for the milder temperature and lower humidity and less chance of rain
- The above information cannot be 100% reliable because it can rain a lot in February and not one drop of rain in September
Having said that I wouldn’t really bother and I would travel in the season that is most convenient for you.
Read also my detailed post on the best time to travel to Cancun
GETTING TO CANCUN
Cancun International Airport is one of the most important international hubs in Mexico with flights connecting from all over the world making it easy and much cheaper to travel to Cancun and the entire Yucatan Peninsula, including the Riviera Maya.
It’s very easy to find cheap flights to take you there, what’s tricky is coming out of the airport, which can become a hassle if you are not prepared. I wrote a detailed guide on all the steps you will go through.
It’s nothing to worry about but it’s better to know before you get there.
The post includes also the best way to get to your hotel and how not to get scammed by the airport vendors.
Check out the post: What to do when you arrive at Cancun Airport
HOW TO MOVE AROUND CANCUN
Moving around in Cancun is very simple. Here below I am going to list all your options.
Local Urban Buses in Cancun
Along the Hotel Zone, local buses run all day and night long, and you can’t go wrong.
At the cost of a few cents of a dollar, you can get from one side to the other of the Hotel Zone, useful to explore the beaches. Please bear in mind that every time you get out of a bus, your ticket expires, and you will have to pay again if you get on another one, even right away.
It will happen if you want to go downtown, to Mercado 28 for example, some of the busses will take you straight from the hotel zone others will end their trip at the end of the Avenida Kukulcan and then you will need to change. Ask the driver for directions.
Taxi in Cancun
If you need to get to more remote areas, such as Isla Blanca or El Meco, for example, I would suggest you should take a taxi, less adventurous, but much easier.
Mind that taxis in the Hotel Zone are insanely expensive, I would say a ripoff. However, you cannot call a taxi from somewhere else as they have control of the area and the hotels are bound to refer to them. Kind of insane, but it is what it is.
Also if you want to get a taxi from the airport it is not convenient at all and you should definitely organize your transportation ahead of time or get an ADO.
Uber didn’t survive in Cancun, because taxis would beat them away, literally and that tells a lot.
Car Rental in Cancun
You can rent a car, and you will find a lot of car rentals agencies around, but you should be careful of the very low rates that are advertised but will inflate significantly when you need to add insurance and all the extras, which you will need. Unfortunately, your credit card insurance is not valid when you rent a car in Mexico. More on Driving in Mexico in this post.
From Cancun to anywhere by bus
If you wish to travel around Mexico from Cancun by bus, it’s super easy as Cancun is connected to the most important city and tourist locations in the Yucatan Peninsula and outside.
At the ADO bus terminal, you will find buses anywhere including Tulum, Valladolid, Merida, Playa del Carmen, and Chiquila’ (Holbox), Chicheniza, Uxmal. You can even get to San Cristobal de las Casas or Mexico city by bus. It is a little long way but certainly an experience.
WHAT TO PACK FOR TRAVELING TO CANCUN
I have written a complete guide on what to pack for your trip to Cancun. However, as a quick overview, a few of my must-bring items when you travel to Cancun are a travel water bottle, sand-free beach blanket (you will get beach towels in your all-inclusive hotel, but it’s useful if you go visit other beaches, and you should), RFID travel wallet, a plug adaptor (if you are coming from US you won’t need it as the sockets are the same) and a good pair of travel sandals that are fancy and comfortable at the same time depending on the kind of trip you want to have.
THINGS TO DO IN CANCUN
Although Cancun is mainly renowned for the spectacular beaches and the party life, there is a surprising amount of things to do in Cancun, some of with you might have never heard of. Check out my Guide to The unmissable things to do in Cancun.
FESTIVALS AND CELEBRATIONS IN CANCUN
I don’t normally like to travel during celebrations period because crowds tend to freak me out. However, there are a few celebrations in Mexico that are really worth a visit even if you are like me.
The most important is the day of the dead, celebrate all around the country in a very special way.
It’s a feast with special candies, colorful dresses, and makes up, creative altars to welcome the already gone family members whose souls will return in these days to pay a visit.
It looks like a Mexican Halloween, but although it falls on the same date and it might recall it, it has a totally different meaning, more spiritual I would say, and its own unique origin.
I will write an extended post on it but I leave you with this thorough article from National Geographic if you want to learn more about it. Unfortunately in Cancun, it’s not one of the best places to celebrate it. The city of Oaxaca or Pazcuaro is the most popular for its spectacular organization.
However, if you are in Cancun on the Riviera Maya, you might want to celebrate the day of the death in Xcaret an amusement park that for that occasion offers a remake of the ancient celebrations.
NIGHTLIFE IN CANCUN
I have to say it is not really my thing to go out at night as I am a morning person and I don’t drink, or very rarely I can have a glass of wine. But I thought I would have added a few iconic places that I know about and are worth mentioning.
HOTEL ZONE NIGHTLIFE
COCOBONGO – talking about iconic places, this is one indeed. Their shows are incredible. They have different performances representing music celebrities of all times, such as Madonna, Freddy Mercury, Michel Jackson, and many more. For sure it’s worth going at least once. I love the music of the 80s as well.
MANDALA – I’ve never been there, to be honest. But I am just including the place for the sake of information because I know it is one of the top-ranked places to go. I would suggest that just a week before you check their page about their different nights and rates. They have different kinds of passes and rates. ENJOY!
DOWN TOWN NIGHTLIFE
EL RINCON DEL VINO I like this place, is small and cozy, with a little terrace and live music. You can also have dinner if you like Spanish style tapas. A place for a tranquil nights in good company.
MORA MORA I have mentioned it in my post on the best restaurants in Cancun but I just found out they are also very active with night entertainment, Offering alternative music and dance floor. They have different events and guests DJ playing, so you should check their Facebook page about their weekly program.
TOURS FROM CANCUN
If you prefer traveling on a group tour, I have recently joined a partnership with G Adventures. They are a super reputable company and have been running tours around the world for ages.
The reason why we love G Adventures is that they have loads of different tours that cater to different age groups.
And if you are traveling alone, because you love it but you wish to join a tour for certain parts of your journey for different reasons, there you will certainly find people of your age and with similar interests whenever you feel like mingling with likeminded people.
They have tours that span from Mexico city all the way to Guatemala or even farther south to central America if you wish to combine different countries or tours that focus on specific regions.
So if you don’t feel like traveling by yourself, it’s understandable.
I love traveling on my own, with the freedom to do whatever I want and at the time I want, but there are certain situations in which I prefer to have a guide to take me around so I don’t have to think about anything, other than enjoying the place.
On the other end, you also have the possibility to book daily tours that will take you to wherever you want to go but you will be “free” again at the end of the day.
This is the ideal solution if you really don’t feel like renting a car, or you have limited time and want to visit many places, and/or you wish to have a professional guide that gives you information on the area.
Cancun offers a wealth of day tours to absolutely anywhere you want to go. You can either decide while you are there in your hotel and ask the concierge or the agents at the tour desk to give you advice.
Or you can even book in advance so you know beforehand the costs and you don’t have to think about other expenses once you are on vacation.
Here I am including some tours from Cancun that you might want to consider
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN CANCUN
In gastronomy, Cancun is second to none. Although there is not exactly a traditional regional cuisine here, you can find a variety of restaurants of all kinds and budgets.
From Yucatecan cuisine, or Mexican in general, to Thai, Indian, Peru, Italian, and much more. Fish and meat lovers and vegans alike fill find their happy food place in Cancun.
In my 8 years in Cancun, I have tried quite a few places and I have collected my reviews in a thorough post, which is actually a little guide on the restaurants in Cancun and it’s actualized with the newest restaurants
PLACES TO STAY IN CANCUN
I am not sure how many resorts there are in Cancun but according to the official visitors’ bureau site, there are over 32,000 Cancun hotel rooms catering to everyone. From couples looking for a romantic luxury getaway to family all-inclusive resorts, from high-end to budget hostels. hotel to the downtown hotels for the budget traveler.
It is indeed a destination for anyone. The only thing is you have to know where you are going.
Although I am not a big fan of all-inclusive, I need to give credit to the spectacular all-inclusive resort choice that we have in Cancun. I have selected my favorite brands for you in a separate post for you, while here below you can find my pick for each category.
The so-called hotel zone, right on the beautiful beach, is where you find the most upscale hotels, although they have now opened a couple of hostels as well, for the budget-conscious travelers who want to enjoy the beach.
In downtown Cancun, far from the beach, you can find any sorts of accommodation from business hotels to hostels or apartments.
You can find the best deals on the booking.com site, where I also book my hotels.
I have written a thorough post on the best Airbnb in Cancun where I have selected the best apartment for location and design, an article on the top Luxury Hotels in Cancun that I have personally visited (almost all of them). And lastly, you can check on my new site a selection of hotels for different budgets.
QUICK HOTEL TIPS – TOP CHOICE
BEST LUXURY BEACH HOTEL IN CANCUN – NIZUC Resort & Spa
CANCUN BEST FAMILY RESORT – HYATT ZIVA
TRENDIEST HOSTEL IN CANCUN IN 2019 – SELINA DOWNTOWN
BEST ALL INCLUSIVE ADULT ONLY IN CANCUN – HYATT ZILARA CANCUN
TOP LUXURY ALL-INCLUSIVE ADULT-ONLY – LE BLANC SPA RESORT
BEST PARTY HOTEL IN CANCUN – HARD ROCK CANCUN