Cancun Travel Guide
Cancun is Mexico’s largest tourist destination, so whatever your intentions during your Cancun vacation, you’ll find the answer: You’ll be able to see the impressive archeological ruins of the Riviera Maya, the beauty of its beaches, the vibrant nature of its parks and cenotes, as well as an unstoppable nightlife. This is the most complete and updated to 2020 guide, where I will show you how to enjoy the real adventure of the Mexican Riviera Maya.
If you are looking to discover Mexico’s cuisine you will enjoy hundreds and hundreds of restaurants, while if you want to connect with the culture of the country in Chichen Itza you will find one of the 7 wonders of the modern world and in the Mayan Ruins of Tulum landscapes that will leave you breathless.
- Where is Cancun
- Brief history of the city
- How are the hotels in Cancun
- The spectacular beaches of Cancun
- What to visit in Cancun – Sightseeing
- Best activities IN CANCUN
- WHAT TO DO IN CANCUN WITH KIDS
- Tours in Cancun
- How is the weather in Cancun
- How to get to and from Cancun
- GETTING AROUND IN CANCUN
Where is Cancun
Located in the east of Mexico, the city is close to well-known areas such as Tulum or Playa del Carmen, as it is in the state of Quintana Roo, completely bathed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea.
It’s the most important city of the Mayan Riviera and has some of the most tourist regions of the country as Isla Mujeres or other also very popular as the parks Xcaret, Xplor or Xel-Ha.
There are two clearly defined tourist areas of Cancun: one located on the mainland (where the city center is) and another on an island that occupies a 22km long strip known as the Hotel Zone, where the best hotels and beaches in Cancun are located.
Seen from the air, the island of Cancun (Hotel Zone) resembles a number seven, and is bordered on the east by the Caribbean Sea and on the west by the Nichupté Lagoon.
Brief history of the city
It’s amazing how fast this tourist destination has grown. Only four decades ago, there was almost no information about Cancun, as it was practically a desert island and very few people knew about its existence.
The shore was made up of swampy marshes, surrounded by mangroves, virgin jungle and unexplored beaches, until in 1969 a planning project was authorized for the construction of a tourist area and an international airport, inaugurated in 1974
But it wasn’t until 1989 that the tourism boom began in Cancún, making it Mexico’s most prosperous tourist destination to date.
It is also the main tourist destination in the Caribbean and all of Latin America, surpassing Brazil, Punta Cana, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Buenos Aires, with 10 million tourists making trips to Cancun every year.
How are the hotels in Cancun
If you are looking for a place to stay in Cancun during your trip, you will probably feel a little confused, since being such a tourist destination, the amount of options to spend the night becomes almost endless.
Accommodation options in Cancun are very varied, from extremely basic hotels in downtown to large all-inclusive resorts in the Hotel Zone.
In order to help you in your search for accommodation, here is a list of the top 5 best hotels in Cancun: good, nice and cheap for all tastes and budgets:
The spectacular beaches of Cancun
The main reason that moves anyone to travel to Cancun is its beaches. Listed by many as the best in the Caribbean (and even the world), the beaches of Cancun and Quintana Roo are a natural spectacle to enjoy during your trip.
If you decide to stay in the city, the first ones you should visit and see are the beaches of the Cancun Hotel Zone, such as Playa Tortugas, Playa Delfines or Playa Langosta.
Along this part of the city you will see miles of white sand beach and turquoise waters, where you can simply lie down to sunbathe, take a bath or do one of the many water activities available.
However, I recommend that you spend most of your time touring and seeing the beaches near Cancun, as they are even more spectacular. The first on our list would be Isla Mujeres, which is listed by many as “the most beautiful island in all of Mexico”.
What to visit in Cancun – Sightseeing
In addition to the spectacular beaches of turquoise water and white sand, among the most visited tourist sites in Cancun you should visit the pyramid of Chichen Itza, the ruins of Tulum, some of the parks like Xcaret or Xplor and the always lively Playa del Carmen.
Because the tourism boom in Cancun and the Riviera Maya is unstoppable (receiving more than 10 million tourists a year from all over Mexico and Latin America), the amount of places to see and to do in Cancun is enormous, and I tell you all about it here, in the most complete Cancun tourist guide:
THE MAYAN RUINS
If you had to choose a must-see destination to visit in Cancun during any trip, this would undoubtedly be the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Its pyramid, its temples and the essence of Mayan culture that surrounds it made it one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the other hand, there are also the ruins of Tulum, one of Cancun’s favorite tourist spots, which has the particularity of being located in front of a turquoise water beach.
Coba (in the picture) is in the middle of the jungle with a pyramid that can still be climbed and El Rey are a little smaller ruins but easily accessible as they are in the heart of the Hotel Zone.
You cannot travel to Cancun without visiting one of its parks. Whether you like adventure or traveling with children, another place to visit in Cancun are the theme and water parks of Xcaret, Xplor, Xel Há or Selvática, considered among the best in all of Mexico.
These parks are recognized around the world mainly for their natural beauty and archaeological significance, in addition to multiple cultural and recreational activities for all ages, which can be done daily in each park, thus attracting thousands of tourists.
CENOTES AND NATURE
The Riviera Maya is full of nature’s own jewels: mangroves, huge lakes, caves and underground rivers. But of all the tourist sites in Cancun full of natural life, the most impressive are the wonderful cenotes.
Knowing them, enjoying them and seeing at least some of them, is essential for every traveler who is looking for the best tourist attractions in Cancun. They are found throughout Quintana Roo and the Yucatan:
From those located on the Cenote Route in Puerto Morelos, to the better known Cenotes Ik Kil, Dos Ojos or the Gran Cenote, the amount of cenotes in Cancun to choose from is enormous, although if you are traveling for a few days I would definitely recommend the Xenotes Oasis Maya Tour, where you will enjoy the four best cenotes near Cancun in one day.
Art, culture and history also have their own space in the Riviera Maya. That is why among the tourist places in Cancun that travelers like the most are its museums, where numerous monuments and elements of the Mayan civilization are preserved, such as the Ka Yok Planetarium, the Mayan Museum of Cancun and the incredible Underwater Art Museum.
Best activities IN CANCUN
Without having to leave the city, you can spend a day enjoying its gastronomy, shopping in its malls and handicraft markets, partying at night in the many discos and shopping malls or enjoying the nightlife of Cancun in the most lively bars and clubs throughout Mexico.
GOING OUT TO EAT
Enjoying the Mexican cuisine is one of the activities that cannot be missed in any vacation in Cancun.
You can find a wide range of restaurants that offer varied options in dishes, prices and styles: Among the best restaurants in Cancun you will have the opportunity to eat in places of typical Mexican food.
You will also be able to taste traditional food from different countries of the world, dishes specialized in seafood and fish, as well as fast food places.
Another major tourist attraction in Cancun is its shopping malls and markets. In the city there is a wide variety of them where you can find fashion, recognized brands, jewelry, perfumes, popular or high prices, handicraft markets with products from Mexico, as well as gift and souvenir shops.
For many, the best shopping center is Plaza La Isla, one of the main tourist sites in Cancun since it has some spectacular water channels, in addition to the Interactive Aquarium, store and cinema.
On the other hand, markets like Mercado 28 are the best option if you are looking for where to buy and what to do in Cancun cheaply.
ENJOY THE NIGHTLIFE
Nothing compares to Cancun’s nightlife, which offers a wide variety of options: famous discos and nightclubs, massive beachfront parties, stunt shows and light shows are real tourist attractions in Cancun that you can’t miss.
These places are located both in the Hotel Zone, near the big hotels, and in downtown Cancun.
Meanwhile, for those looking for more relaxed plans, you can also enjoy live concerts with renowned artists, fashionable music, traditional music and the most varied genres.
WHAT TO DO IN CANCUN WITH KIDS
For those who are going on a family vacation or with small children, there is a wide variety of attractions in Cancun for children as well as for the whole family.
In addition to the theme and nature parks I mentioned earlier, many of Cancun’s all-inclusive hotels also include pools and slides.
Other tourist activities to do with children include of course visiting beaches with calm waters and games for the kids, outdoor excursions, swimming with dolphins, horseback riding, cultural and educational activities, movie theaters, among others, ideal to enjoy your vacation in Cancun to the fullest.
Tours in Cancun
For all adventure and nature lovers, there are a number of tours and excursions in Cancun to see and explore its parks, Mayan ruins or more remote beaches, as well as to practice activities such as diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, hiking and biking.
Tours are also available to visit fabulous underground rivers and cenotes, as well as other tourist areas in Quintana Roo such as Tulum, Puerto Morelos or Playa del Carmen.
Below are the four most requested tours by tourists during their trip to Cancun.
As I mentioned above, Chichen Itza is an archaeological zone representative of the Mayan culture, thanks mainly to its temple or pyramid of Kukulkan, declared as one of the new 7 wonders of the modern world and World Heritage Site.
This Mayan architectural jewel is visited by thousands of visitors every year during their tourism activities in Cancun.
There are many excursions to Chichen Itza from Cancun that you cannot miss that include transportation to and from Cancun hotels, meals, guide and access to the archaeological zone.
One of the most complete tours to Chichen Itza from Cancun (and the one I recommend) is the Chichen Itza + Sacred Cenote Tour.
To say Xcaret is to talk about the best and most recognized theme park in Cancun. At Xcaret park you can take a tour with several water and adventure activities such as trips to the Underground River, Mayan River, Paradise River, swimming with dolphins, scuba diving, snorkeling, beaches, coves and natural pools.
You can also visit the coral reef aquarium, see sea turtles, see the bat cave, the scenic tower, monkey island, the aviary, the butterfly farm, deer island, shows and activities are part of the best tourist attractions in Cancun that you will enjoy during your visit.
Check out the full price list of tickets and tours for Xcaret park at its official website
XENOTES MAYAN OASIS TOUR
For those who want to know the wonderful cenotes, this is one of the best tours in Cancun that can be done.
In a single day you will visit four cenotes, including several of the most fun tourist activities in Cancun in the middle of the tour, such as: zip line, snorkeling, rappelling and kayaking. Lunch and transportation to and from the hotel are included and you can find all the information on their reservation page.
Xplor is the most extreme park in Cancun, full of adrenaline and contact with nature, where you will live a truly unique experience in the underground world.
It is located in the heart of the Riviera Maya, where you will travel through rivers and caves covered with stalactites and stalagmites produced by the permanent infiltration of rainwater.
Xplor Park also has a night version called Xplor Fuego where you will live adventures in the middle of darkness. Find out more about Xplor Park here.
How is the weather in Cancun
The climate in Cancun and the Riviera Maya is semi-tropical, with an average annual temperature of 26°C that can increase to 36°C in summer.
Although the climate is quite stable and similar throughout the year, there are two different periods in Cancun.
In this sense, if you are wondering when to travel to Cancun, the best time is from November to April, as there is a fairly dry climate with not-so-hot temperatures.
However, if you visit Cancun from May to October, don’t worry too much about the rains, as it is unlikely that there will be showers for several days in a row in the same area.
How to get to and from Cancun
ARRIVE BY PLANE
Cancun International Airport is the second busiest airport in Mexico after Mexico City and is located 16 kilometers from the Hotel Zone.
It has three terminals: Terminal 1, only for domestic and charter flights; Terminal 2, located in the center of the airport complex, which operates domestic and international flights and Terminal 3, the most recently built which operates only international flights and also has immigration and customs facilities.
The airport offers direct connections to most Latin American countries, Europe and the United States, and there are numerous airlines in Cancun that offer direct flights or connections through Mexico City. Some of them are: AeroMéxico, Copa, Avianca, United, American, Iberia, Volaris, Interjet and VivaAerobús (In these last three you can find tickets at very low prices)
ARRIVE BY BUS
However, if you want to come by bus from some other Mexican destination, there is also a wide variety of buses to Cancun, mainly linked to the ADO company. If you’re from Mexico City or somewhere else, you can use this bus service to get to Cancun.
The road distance between Cancun and Mexico City is 1,652 kilometers, about 18 hours. The trip is very long but it should be mentioned that there are very good bus companies with a high level of service.
A recommended route for travelers is the one that connects through Merida, in the Yucatan Peninsula. The distance is shorter (300 kilometers) and is covered by the buses of the transport companies that cover this route.
You can travel with the ADO bus company, which owns most of the vehicles that go to downtown Cancun. Prices from Mexico City are approximately 1970 MXN // 100USD. For more information on prices from other destinations you can check the ADO website
GETTING AROUND IN CANCUN
Transportation in Cancun has three city bus companies: Autocar, Turicun and Maya Caribe. If you are going to make a trip within the Hotel Zone, you can take any of them without any problem, since they will surely bring you to the place you want to go due to the short distances in this part.
The ticket costs approximately 9 MXN // 0,45 USD. If you want to go to places in the center you can take, for example for the market 28, the bus R-2, which will leave you a few blocks away.
If you are going to Avenida Tulum, the main street in downtown Cancun, you can take the R-1. You will have no problem finding your way around because everything is very well indicated on the signs at the buses and stops.
The transportation service in Cancun is very good and has high frequency. There is also an excellent taxi service, but of course it is much more expensive. If you don’t want to make this expense you can also rent a car, which costs approximately 25 USD per day.
Recently the Uber application has also started to be used in Cancun with a minimum fare of 35 Mexican pesos (1,77usd).