The Ultimate Cancun Vacation: A Complete Travel Guide To Cancun, Mexico

When you think of Cancun, I’m sure you’re painting a picture of the iconic white sand beaches, turquoise waters, luxurious beachfront resorts, and the wild nightlife scene. There’s no doubt that Cancun holds all of this, but there are a ton of other things to do in Cancun other than beaching, partying, and eating/drinking too much. So much more!

Cancun is located on the northeastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, a region that’s extremely rich in culture and history. Unforgettable ruins, adrenaline-pumping activities, amazing gastronomy, and biodiversity that you have to see with your own two eyes are all a hop and a skip away. There really is something for everyone in Cancun.

And not only are there lots of things to do in Cancun proper, but the surrounding area of the Yucatan also provides plenty of opportunities for Cancun-based excursions. Explore ancient ruins, swim in a cenote, hop on a catamaran cruise, visit tropical islands, go zip lining— take your pick! The list is never-ending!

Continue exploring this Cancun travel guide to learn about what to pack, what to do, where to stay, and how to get around in Cancun, Mexico.

This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!

25+ Things To Do In Cancun - Travels With Elle


WHERE IS CANCUN LOCATED?

Cancun, Mexico is located in southeastern Mexico, on the northeastern edge of the Yucatán Peninsula. This coastal city is situated right next to the Caribbean Sea and forms a part of Mexico’s easternmost state, Quintana Roo.

Given its proximity to the Caribbean Sea, it’s no wonder travelers flock to Cancun to get a taste of island living, warm waters, and sunny tropical paradise.

Cancun is the largest tourist destination in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and home to the main airport (CUN), serving the entire Riviera Maya. That’s right, if you plan on visiting other popular cities/islands like Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel or Isla Mujeres, chances are you’re going to be flying in and out of Cancun International Airport.


WHAT IS CANCUN KNOWN FOR?

So much! Travelers visit Cancun for all sorts of reasons, but most commonly, they come for the gorgeous white sand beaches, warm turquoise blue waters, all-inclusive resorts, and the thriving nightlife scene.

There are also tons of activities to do in Cancun, including endless water sports, swimming in iconic cenotes nearby, visiting Mayan ruins, and feasting on delicious Mexican food. There’s something in Cancun to delight nearly every type of traveler!


BEST TIME TO VISIT CANCUN, MEXICO

In our opinion, the best time to go to Cancun is the shoulder months of April, May, November, and December.

We especially love going towards the end of November/first week of December right after Thanksgiving. We’ve been three times during this timeframe and have always been met with perfect weather!

For the best weather, plan to travel to Cancun between December and April. Even though the crowds are heavier, you’ll experience near-perfect weather and can find some pretty cheap flights and room rates if you book at least 3 months in advance.

For the best discounts on flights/lodging, you’ll find them especially in late spring, summer and fall. Though prices are cheap, do note that Cancún’s summers months are extra-humid and swelteringly hot and that Cancun’s fall months are prone to rainstorms.

WET SEASON: The wet season runs from May to October and tends to be actually hotter than the dry season. Hurricane season in Cancun spans June to November, with a higher likelihood of storms from August to October. Actual hurricanes are rare though, so it’s still a decent time to visit if you don’t mind periodic rain showers here and there throughout the day. (The area has seen only two hurricanes in the past 30 years.)

DRY SEASON: The dry season is from December to April. Travelers will find cooler, more pleasant temperatures.

Pro Tip: If you want to avoid major crowds, avoid traveling to Cancun during Spring Break (Mid-March to early April)! Alternatively, if you want to join in on the fun, mark your calendars!


ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR CANCUN, MEXICO

  • Want to make sure you’re going to be getting crystal clear waters? Check the latest seaweed conditions report before heading to Isla Mujeres.
  • The most popular times to visit Cancun range from June to early August and November to March (high season). With so many other places in the world so cold/snowy during the winter months of November to March, international travelers tend to flock to Cancun to escape the cold. Cancun during the wintertime is a very popular destination option. Christmas and New Year’s are particularly expensive times to visit, as these are popular times for other travelers.
  • If you’re looking for a quieter experience, plan your trip for mid-August to October. Accommodations and flights are cheaper during this window of time. However, do note that September and October are the rainiest, but cheapest months to visit.
  • Cancun hurricane season runs from August through November. Most weather experts recommend purchasing travel insurance if you plan on visiting during hurricane season.
  • Bring pesos with you just in case you need to pay with cash. Pick up pesos from an ATM wherever you depart from before heading to Isla Mujeres. Not all places accept credit cards on the island (small shopfronts, food vendors, etc.), and ATMs are few and far between.
  • When using a credit card, choose to pay in the local currency instead of your home currency. You’ll get a better exchange rate and will be paying less than the home currency option. (In my case, I would pay in $MXN instead of in $USD.)
  • The tap water in Mexico is not safe to drink. It’s probably safe in the resort areas, but I wouldn’t want to chance it. Instead of spending your money on plastic water bottles, bring a reusable water bottle and a rechargeable Steri-Pen (the way more environmentally friendly option).
  • Cancun is extremely tourist-friendly. If you can’t speak a lick of Spanish, you’ll be okay. Cancun largely caters to English-speaking visitors, and you’ll find that English is spoken by most locals, hotel/restaurant staff, and tour guides.
  • Cancun is safe. Certain areas of Mexico have long held a reputation for being unsafe due to cartel violence, but resort areas and tourists are not targeted. I’ve walked through downtown Cancun, the Hotel Zone, Isla Mujeres, and Puerto Morelos, and never did I once feel threatened and unsafe. Just exercise increased caution as you would anywhere–avoid being flashy, don’t walk around alone at night, be wary of your surroundings, and you should be just fine.
  • No matter what you’re budget is, you’ll find tons of accommodation options in Cancun. Most budget accommodations and hostels are located in downtown Cancun, while luxury and resort options are largely found in the Hotel Zone or more remote areas nearby such as Playa Mujeres or Puerto Morelos.
  • Taxis in Cancun are costly, and buses are cheap. Taxis in Cancun follow a set price (Ex: ~$45 from Playa del Carmen to Cancun’s Hotel Zone; ~$26 from Cancun International Airport to the Hotel Zone). Many travelers opt for local bus transportation, which is reliable, frequent, and inexpensive (under $1/ride) to ride between the Hotel Zone and downtown Cancun. Looking for something in the middle? A private transfer booked ahead will be your best bet.
  • Mexico is also known for silver so this is a great place to get some authentic silver. 

20+ Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle

Want more essential Cancun travel tips? Learn from my mistakes and experiences here!

WELCOME TO CANCUN: GET ORIENTED

Cancun, Mexico is located on the northeastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, facing the Caribbean Sea. The city of Cancun is divided into two areas, Downtown Cancun and The Hotel Zone (Zona Hotelera).

The Hotel Zone is the primary tourist area, synonymous with beachfront resorts, booze cruises, wild nightlife and white sand beaches. It’s a 15-mile strip of land that is home to dozens of different resorts, as well as chain restaurants and the majority of the nightclubs tourists flock here for. This is where most international travelers stay. Various restaurants, overpriced shops, and bars line the only road here, Kulkukan Boulevard, which runs from one side of the Hotel Zone to the other.

East of the Hotel Zone sits Downtown Cancun, where the locals live and play. Downtown Cancun (Ciudad Cancun) is the main residential area for all the people who work in the tourist industry. Here, you’ll find the most authentic Mexican food, way more affordable shopping, and a taste of the real culture Mexico has to offer.

South of Cancun, you’ll find Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, and Cozumel.

North of Cancun sits a beautiful island named Isla Mujeres.

Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres - Travels With Elle


BEST THINGS TO DO IN CANCUN, MEXICO

EXPLORE DOWNTOWN CANCUN

Though not as picture-perfect as the beachfront resorts you’re probably staying at, Downtown Cancun has no shortage of local culture. Featuring delicious street food, great shopping, and fun green spaces, Downtown Cancun surely warrants a few hours (or even a whole day) of exploration.

Take a stroll down to Avenida Tulum to experience the “real” Cancun. You will still find a few touristy shops and restaurants, but the general ambiance is much more authentic and you’ll find yourself among more locals than tourists. Spend the day shopping at Mercado 28 or Malecon Americas Shopping Center, or hang out and people-watch in the Parque Las Palapas.

On the hunt for authentic Mexican food? Make sure to get your fill of tacos—especially tacos al pastor, a gastronomic staple in this region.

Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle

 

GO SHOPPING AT MERCADO 28

This giant flea market boasts well over 500 vendors who sell pretty much everything you could ever want. From textiles to trinkets to home decor, from leather bags to clothing, you can be sure you’ll find some awesome Mexican souvenirs at Mercado 28. The shop vendors can be a bit pushy at times, but if you’re on a mission to shop and haggle, you can walk away with some great deals.

The market is also a great spot to try more authentic, local foods at a fraction of the Hotel Zone cost. My personal favorite spot is Mr. Habanero— they have the most amazing chips and salsa. The most unforgettable salsa I’ve had to date…

How to get here: Mercado 28 is easily reached by local bus from the Hotel Zone. Take the R-2 bus and ask to get off at Mercado 28; this is the stop right before Wal-Mart. Mercado 28 will be right behind the Super Aki store. There are a few stores in the area that have a similar name (Plaza 28 or Market 23, with vendors standing outside beckoning you to enter their shops), so make sure you pass the Super Aki store.

Tip: As with most flea markets, the prices that vendors initially give you are not firm, and haggling is expected so be ready to do some mental math and lock in those deals!

Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle

 

PARQUE LAS PALAPAS

Parque Las Palapas is the main park in Downtown Cancun and is located a short walk from Avenida Tulum. There are various food vendors around the park and public shows are often held in the large performing area within the park. You can also find local artisans selling their goods in the park during the evenings (the most ideal time to go is after 5pm). Parque Las Palapas is also the land of great tacos and great street food, so get your fill of local eats here!

SPEND A DAY ON ISLA MUJERES

Isla Mujeres is a small, yet lively island located only 20-30 minutes from Cancun by ferry. In my opinion, Isla Mujeres is a must-do when considering things to do in Cancun. The island offers stunning views thanks to its rocky coastline, as well as pristine beaches and colorful architecture that makes you forget how long you’ve been strolling for.

Not to mention, there are a plethora of things you can do once you’re on the island (including driving golf carts, going to water park resorts, and visiting a sea turtle sanctuary).

We loved Isla Mujeres so much that we dedicated an entire post to outline all the fun you could have on the island!

Isla Mujeres - Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle

 

SWIM IN A CENOTE

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its thousands of cenotes, which are natural sinkhole pools formed from the collapse of surrounding limestone. Many of these pools are underground and feature geologic wonders such as underwater stalagmites, stalactites, and underwater caves. Cenotes are also home to turquoise and emerald waters and various fish, making them awesome snorkeling and diving spots.

The entire stretch of the Riviera Maya coast is dotted with cenotes, totaling nearly 7,000 of them! It usually costs a small fee to enter, but the admission includes a life jacket rental and they sometimes have snorkel gear and flashlights for rent.

Many cenotes are easy to reach on your own by driving or cabbing there, like Dos Ojos and Gran Cenote (near Tulum) or Ik Kil and Suytun (near Chichen Itza). Some of the best cenotes near Cancun are located along the Ruta De Cenotes near the city of Puerto Morelos, about a 30-minute drive south of Cancun.

20+ Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle

If swimming in a cenote is on your bucket list (which it should be), but you don’t want to be bothered with renting a car or finding your own transportation there, check out a few of the half-day tours from Cancun below. They’re all combo tours, which allow you to experience cenotes as well as participate in some other great Cancun activities.

GO ZIPLINING

Ziplining is a very popular activity for travelers who are looking for a bit of adventure during their time in Cancun. Xplor, an Xcaret Xperiencias park, focuses on providing action and adventure to its visitors and features 13 thrilling ziplines. Another popular place to zipline is Selvatica, home to a 10 zipline course. Looking for even more of an adrenaline rush in addition to zip lining? Check out these options, jam-packed with adventure:

  • Extreme Adventure Eco Park: combines off-road ATVing, jungle ziplining, and cenote swimming all in one day.
  • Xplor: adventure park featuring zip lines, amphibious vehicles, rafts, and natural underground rivers for you to explore. Includes a buffet meal. Get your 15% discount by booking online.

SEE CHICHEN ITZA

Chichen Itza is arguably the most famous and well-preserved Mayan archaeological site not only in the Yucatan Peninsula, but in the world. If you’re into history or ancient ruins, then Chichen Itza is a must-visit. The ancient city dates back to the 5th century, though its most impressive structures were built later in the 9th through 12th centuries.

Chichen Itza is located about 2.5 hours away from Cancun by car or 3 hours by bus and well worth the long travel time! The site is pretty large with a lot to see, so allow several hours to explore the grounds. In my opinion, it’s a much more enriching experience when someone is there to explain the historical significance of the structures you’re looking at, so I’d recommend opting in for a tour once you’re there.

There are also several tour operators that run day trips from Cancun to Chichen Itza, along with various stops along the way to cenotes, additional ruins, or the nearby town of Valladolid (a town that emanates the ancient magic and culture of the Mayan inhabitants).

Chichen Itza, 20+ Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle

 

PLAYA DELFINES

A massive stretch of soft white sand waits for you at Playa Delfines! Despite it being Cancún’s largest public beach, it’s a lot quieter than some of the other beaches in the Hotel Zone. Another plus is that it’s super easy to get to by bus, car, or taxi. The waves can be a bit more intimidating than at other beaches, so while not great for swimming, it is one of the city’s few surfing spots.

Another plus? Due to the lack of chain restaurants and rowdy bars here, you’ll get a peaceful day with the chance to try authentic Mexican food through the local food vendors in the area. Some other amenities you’ll find here are restrooms, a playground, small shady palapas/umbrellas, and an outdoor gym.

20+ Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle

 

GO TO XCARET

Xcaret Total Admission

This 250-acre eco-park by the Xcaret Group is one of the most popular attractions in the Riviera Maya of Mexico. Xcaret Park boasts more than 40 attractions including underground rivers, an immersive aviary, a coral reef aquarium, aquatic activities, live shows, and educational/cultural attractions focused on Mayan history. This park is all about immersing yourself in the culture of the region (and having fun)–bringing together nature, gastronomy, archaeology, and tradition.

With both water-based and land activities, it’s a perfect day of fun and immersive activity for travelers of all ages. Xcaret Park offers lots of tours leaving from Cancun that will provide transportation, so you won’t need to worry about renting a car to get here. A buffet lunch is often provided, so all you’ll need to bring is a lot of energy and maybe a change of clothes if you plan to do water activities.

Check out their website as they often have discounts, especially when you buy combo tickets and visit their other parks or add on other activities such as cenote swimming, going to Chichen Itza on a deluxe tour (Xichen), etc.

GO TO XPLOR

Xplor All Inclusive with Transportation

Xplor Adventure Park is yet another eco-park by the Xcaret Group. This park is quite different than Xcaret in that it features ziplining, driving amphibious vehicles in the jungle, and paddling through underground rivers through stalactite caves. If you’re looking to get some ATVing done on your Cancun trip, Xplor is a great option–an exhilerating ATV ride is included in the all-inclusive park admission.

You can spend a whole day there taking part in these adventurous activities, then recharge and refuel with a lunch buffet and unlimited drinks. Alternatively, if you’d rather do all of this at night, they have Xplor Fuego Park, which is the same park with the same activities, only you’re doing them among torch-lit paths and ziplining in the middle of the night sky.

As with Xcaret, there are lots of tours leaving from Cancun (operated by the Xcaret group themselves) that will provide transportation, so you won’t need to worry about renting a car to get here.

Some of the other Xcaret parks include Xel-Ha, Xenses, Xoximilco and Xavage (all of them with different themes and activities!)

SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS

This is one of the absolute coolest and most memorable things to do in Cancun on Isla Mujeres, and it’s well worth adding to your itinerary. Between the summer months (June through September), whale sharks hang out and feed around the warm waters near Isla Mujeres. Well, lucky for you! You can book a whale shark swim tour to catch a glimpse of them living their best lives and actually snorkel with them!

And if you’re concerned about the dangers of swimming with “sharks”, don’t worry whatsoever, because whale sharks are completely harmless. If you only had time to do a few activities in Cancun, I’d highly recommend this be at the top of your list!

13 Best Things To Do On Isla Mujeres - Travels With Elle

 

VISIT THE UNDERWATER MUSEUM

One of the most popular activities in Isla Mujeres is to visit MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte), the underwater museum. The museum has a total of 500 sculptures, most by the British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, with three different galleries submerged between 10-20 feet below water. It’s truly a unique creation and quite a sight to see.

You can tour the underwater museum by glass-bottom boat to enjoy the sculptures, all designed in collaboration with marine biologists and experts to counteract the effects of climate change on our oceans and reef systems. Alternatively, there are also snorkeling and scuba diving tours where you’ll have the chance to get up close and personal to the underwater sculptures at MUSA.

If you miss the opportunity to book ahead of time online, you’ll be able to book a tour through various vendors in the downtown area. MUSA Cancun is divided into 3 sections:

  • Salon Nizuc – shallower underwater, suitable for snorkeling, the Jungle Tour, and the glass bottom boat tour
  • Salon Punta Sam – shallower underwater, suitable for snorkeling
  • Salone Machones – deeper underwater, suitable for both snorkelers and scuba divers

 

TEQUILA TASTING

How can you go to Mexico and not do some tequila tasting? Tequila in Mexico is considered an art form, so you’re sure to find a ton of artfully crafted tequila. The Restaurante La Destileria has a tequila museum that educates visitors on the origins of tequila and teaches them a little bit about the distilling process. At the end of the tour, there’s a tequila tasting.

If you’re staying at a resort, there might also be free tequila tasting there as well.

20+ Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle

WATCH A LUCHA LIBRE EVENT

Lucha libre, which you’re probably already familiar with if you’ve seen the movie Nacho Libre, is a Mexican version of pro-wrestling. Similar to pro-wrestling, lucha libre shows feature colorful head masks, choreographed maneuvers, and wild personalities, all within a rowdy and energetic arena.

Events usually have around five ‘fights’, each fight lasting for three rounds. Fights are held in Downtown Cancun and sometimes on Isla Mujeres as well. If this really interests you, go ahead and splurge for front row seats—they cost less than $15 USD. Beer and snacks are available for sale—perfect for an adrenaline-pumping show!

GO SNORKELING

Cancun is located close to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest reef in the world. This region is home to dolphins, tropical fish, nurse sharks, eagle rays, whale sharks, and much more. With that comes the chance for some amazing snorkeling and scuba diving. If you’re looking to catch some underwater views, the underwater museum (MUSA), Puerto Morelos, Cozumel, and Gran Cenote are awesome options.

Note: When snorkeling, remember to use a reef-safe sunscreen so you don’t damage the coral reef ecosystem. Maintain distance from sea turtles and other marine creatures and be very careful not to touch them or the coral, which can be really damaging to them and their home underwater.

13 Best Things To Do On Isla Mujeres - Travels With Elle

HORSEBACK RIDING IN THE YUCATAN JUNGLE

Adventure through the Yucatan peninsula’s jungle on horseback with this awesome tour that combines horseback riding with a cenote swim. You’re provided with snacks, towels, water, and all the necessary riding equipment. Round-trip transportation from Playa del Carmen or Cancun included.

DAY TRIP TO ISLA CONTOY

Isla Contoy is an uninhabited island near Cancun, approximately 30 kilometers north of Isla Mujeres. You’ll find extraordinary biodiversity and wildlife on Isla Contoy that you won’t find in the rest of the Cancun area. One of the things that make Isla Contoy so special is that it is a National Park and conservation area, which means the beaches and the waters are untainted–as they should be.

You can only get there by boat, and in order to keep the island in pristine conditions, the local authorities have also placed a daily limit of 200 visitors. The best way to get there is through a day cruise.

Cruise tours to Isla Contoy start at around $100 per person and are all-inclusive, which means you’re going to get your fill of delicious food and drinks on your way there. When you land, a whole lot of fun is in store for you! An expert tour guide, breakfast, lunch buffet, transportation to and from your hotel room, and snorkeling equipment are usually included.

NIGHTLIFE/CLUBBING

This city is known for its wild nightlife, especially during Spring Break for universities and colleges when students travel to Mexico to let loose and celebrate their time off. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Cancun for the younger crowd. If you’re looking to have a good time dancing and partying all night, then you’re in the right vacation spot.

Coco Bongo is the most popular club in Cancun. They have aerial performers, acrobatics, and live DJs who will pack your night with entertainment. It’s touristy, sure, but quite a spectacle (imagine a mix between nightclub and Vegas show).

The City Nightclub features popular electronic music DJs who perform on a regular basis. This nightclub has three floors and nine bars, so if you ever get sick of one room, just head to the next! Dady O is another place to be if you’re looking for a popping club with techno/house music, professional dancers, strobe lights and a rotating dance floor.

BOATING IN NICHUPTE LAGOON

Nichupte Lagoon is an enormous body of water made up of 5 different lagoons called Nichupte, Río Inglés, Rio del Amor, Caleta Nizuc y Bojórquez. Cancun sits between the Caribbean Ocean and the Nichupte Lagoon, which means you get the chance to explore this extensive mangrove eco-system.

The lagoon area is great for all kinds of water activities including fishing, snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, jet-skiing, speedboating, and bird watching. Join a speedboating tour to go off the beaten path a bit and experience the lush jungle, natural scenery, and wildlife the lagoon has to offer.

TAKE A DAY TRIP TO TULUM

Located about 1.5 hours south of Cancun in the Riviera Maya, Tulum offers a unique opportunity to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Cancun. Here, you’ll find a more laidback feel, amazing cenotes, Mayan ruins, and gorgeous beaches. What’s so unique about the Tulum ruins? Well, these ruins are located in the most picturesque location you could think of—overlooking a pristine beach and surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea. Seriously, this place is what tropical travelers dream of in their sleep.

A full-day Tulum tour makes for an unforgettable excursion from Cancun and definitely one that should be at the top of your list. Since these day trips tend to be longer and you’ll probably want to take a dip in the sea, make sure to bring a swimsuit and a change of clothes!

20+ Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle

Pro Tip: There are three major cenotes in the area that are so worth checking out while you’re down in this area – Gran Cenote (largest and busiest, filled with fish and turtles), Dos Ojos (two connecting cenotes: one a clear blue and the other a deep, dark cavern), and Yal Ku (lagoon with tons of tropical fish). Don’t want to drive? A lot of the Tulum combo tours will usually include a cenote swim!

XOXIMILCO

Looking to enjoy a traditional Mexican fiesta? Look no further than Xoximilco! Here, you can spend a few hours floating on a brightly colored gondola, enjoying a lively and festive atmosphere complete with great food, traditional music, dancing, singing, games, and tequila galore! Xoximilco is a great way to get a taste of local culture, and it’s a super fun way of getting to do that.

20+ Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle

TEMAZCAL CEREMONY

Enjoy a Mayan temazcal ceremony, a pre-Hispanic ritual to clean the spirit and the body. Tezmacal rituals are a traditional Mayan activity that takes place in a small ceremonial hut. The goal of this ceremony is to purify the body, mind, and soul. Temazcal ceremonies have been performed since ancient times, usually led by a local shaman, who conducts the ritual and oversees the participants.

The tezmacal ceremony takes place in complete darkness, as the shaman pours water over hot rocks (creating a sauna-like environment) and continuously chants, hopefully throwing you in a state of deep meditation. I hope this comprehensive list of things to do in Cancun helps you plan that perfect Mexican vacation! Enjoy the sunshine.


WHERE TO STAY IN CANCUN, MEXICO

There are a lot of very affordable hotel options in Cancun. Of course, you could stay at one of the many “name-brand” hotels in Cancun, but if you want to try something new, take a look at these options below.

This is one of my favorite moderately-priced accommodation options in the Hotel Zone, while still providing you with all the island vibes:

  • La Villa du Golf à Cancun Hotel Boutique – I loved this little villa hotel so much. Not only are the beds extremely comfortable (you’ll get a great night’s sleep), but they also do fresh, made-to-order breakfasts in the mornings! Talk about luxury at the most affordable price ever. Hands down we would stay here again.

If you’re looking for more luxury, nothing, and I mean nothing, will beat this:

  • Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun (All-Inclusive) – This 5-star beachfront luxury hotel features a 40,000 square-foot full-service spa and six fine-dining restaurants including a AAA Five Diamond French dining experience. There are also a ton of bars as well as around-the-clock room service. Guests may also use the large outdoor pool along with a children’s club. The El Meco Mayan Ruins is 7 miles from the hotel.

For budget travelers who don’t mind the hostel experience, there is one hostel that beats the rest of them by a landslide:

  • Nomads Hotel & Rooftop Pool Cancun – This is the hippest and most modern-looking hostel in Cancun! The hostel features a rooftop pool with a huge bar, as well as a hangout area where you can enjoy the views surrounded by people from all over the world. Do note that this hostel is in Cancun and not on Isla Mujeres.

For travelers looking for luxury, I’m recommending these All-Inclusive Resorts–

If you hadn’t noticed from the list above, I’m a huge fan of the Excellence properties. And you can usually find pretty good deals if you book early enough (often 40%+ off room rates). I don’t do all-inclusive often, but when I do, you better believe I’m getting a good deal on price!

Excellence resorts all feature peaceful beaches with fine, white sands, several outdoor pools, the most relaxing spa and hydrotherapy area you’ll ever find in this budget range, and ample spaces for relaxation. The all-inclusive rate covers food and beverages at 9+ international restaurants and 10+ bars.

You’ll get to stay in huge, modern rooms, all featuring big bathing tubs and furnished balconies–plus some have ocean views, private hammocks, swim-up access to pools, and private plunge pools.

Best Things To Do In Cancun Mexico - Excellence Playa Mujeres
The stunning view from our balcony at Excellence Playa Mujeres.

On top of that, they have tons of scheduled activities throughout the day, so even if you do nothing else around Cancun, you’re sure to have a lot to do at the resort. Some examples include group aquatic Zumba, bike rides around the property, poker and casino night, Mexican fiesta buffets, workout classes, ‘free’ SUP and kayak usage, and nightly shows.

If you’re going to go all-inclusive, you gotta do it right! The sheer amount of bars, restaurants, and activities offered at their resorts make them worth every dollar spent.


TRANSPORTATION IN CANCUN, MEXICO

HOW TO GET TO AND FROM CANCUN AIRPORT

If you’re vacationing in Cancun, you’re most likely going to be flying into Cancun International Airport. From there, you can take private transportation booked in advance (great value), taxi (most expensive), or take the public ADO bus (cheapest).

Many people opt to take private transportation, as this is the fastest, safest and most comfortable mode of transport. With private transportation, you have a few options. You can either book a private vehicle, where you get the car or van to yourself, or you can book a private shuttle, where you’re sharing the ride with other travelers.

Opting for the shuttle will reduce the cost of transportation.

TRANSPORTATION AROUND CANCUN

Public Bus

There are regular ADO buses that will take you all around the Yucatan Peninsula from the ADO Cancun Bus Station. Buses are comfortable and safe, so they are a fine choice for traveling to Tulum, Chichen Itza, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, and eco-parks such as Xcaret, Xplor, and Xel-Ha.

Collectivo

The cheapest way to get around Cancun is to take a collectivo (group taxi). Collectivos are the main form of transportation locals use to get around the city. Collectivos are the cheapest and most direct way to move around the Hotel Zone to any point of the city. You can identify these buses pretty easily, the routes are marked with the letter “R” and a number. The most important ones to/from the Cancun Hotel Zone are:

  • R-1: Takes you to the ADO bus station.
  • R-2: Takes you to the famous Mercado 28 and Walmart.
  • R-27: Takes you to Plaza Las Américas.
Cancun Taxis

Taking a taxi is pretty simple since they’re almost everywhere, but just know you’ll be paying a premium. Always settle on the price before getting in (prices taxi drivers give you are not always firm).


DO YOU NEED A CAR IN CANCUN?

The short answer is no, you do not need a car to enjoy your Cancun vacation.

There are plenty of convenient ways to get around Cancun as it is. Collectivo buses can take you all around the city and the Hotel Zone, the ADO bus gets you around the Yucatan Peninsula, and taxis can get you everywhere else (for a heftier price). If you want to enjoy a few excursions outside of Cancun, chances are there are tour operators that can get you there, transportation and hotel pickup included.

But we get it, there are scenarios where you may want more flexibility in your itinerary where following a bus schedule or a guided excursion just isn’t convenient enough. Maybe you want to hit up a few extra cenotes, get a super-early headstart on your Riviera Maya adventures south of Cancun, or go really off-the-beaten-path. If that’s the case, then it may make sense to rent a car. 

If you really want that flexibility of having a car to head out of the city on your own, I’d recommend renting a car for just the days you need it. During the time you plan to explore Cancun’s city limits, there is no need to rent one. Rent a car for the days you plan to explore elsewhere and return it for the days you don’t.

Example scenario: Hang out in Cancun for 3 days with no car while you enjoy your resort and explore downtown Cancun. Then on your last remaining days, rent a car to explore Playa Del Carmen, drive to Akumal to snorkel, drive to Coba to tour the ruins, drive to Tulum for the rest of the day. Return the car to the airport once you’re all checked out and ready to leave Mexico.

One of the most convenient ways to rent a rental car is with City Car Rental. The average cost for a car rental from Cancun is $13 USD/day for an economy car, and your reservation includes car rental insurance. That’s so convenient in my mind because who wants to worry about international insurance coverage, anyway? 

Driving in a foreign country can be overwhelming, but in Mexico, we find it not too difficult. Inside cities like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and other larger cities the traffic can be a bit busy, but outside the cities, there are surprisingly few cars on the road.

In Mexico, they drive on the right side of the road and the steering wheel is on the left side of the car, just like it is in the USA and most parts of Europe.


ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST FOR CANCUN, MEXICO

  • Lightweight Packable Day Bag | Inside my larger travel backpack, I always bring a lightweight, packable backpack to use for day-to-day exploration. The Fjallraven Kanken Mini is perfect for carrying a few snacks, a lightweight jacket, cameras, phones, a water bottle, and whatever else I need for the day.
  • Packing Cubes | Start packing the smart way. The key to smart packing is going to be compartmentalization, aka your packing cubes. This set comes with a bunch of different sizes, so you can create a separate compartment for undies and socks, one for clothing, one for toiletries, and one for anything else you may want to organize. By using packing cubes, it’s so much easier to pull out only what you need, rather than dig through all of your luggage to find that one thing you’re looking for.
  • Laundry Bag | Summer = lots of sweaty, smelly worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
  • Clothing | Pack your usual summer clothes for Cancun, as well as a few layers for unexpected cooler temperatures. This includes tanks, shorts, swimsuits, and swim coverups!
  • Light Rain Jacket | Traveling to tropical areas does not necessarily mean there won’t be rain or wind. Packing a light rain jacket will definitely come in handy in unpredictable tropical climates. This one for men and this one for women are some of the best jackets for any kind of travel. They’re ultralight, wind and water-repellent, and take up virtually no space so they’re easy to carry wherever you go.
  • Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on having an adventurous day or two, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
  • Walking Shoes | One pair of closed-toed shoes (walking shoes or running shoes) is always crucial for any trip. These ones that I’ve been traveling around with are super light and breathable. I can even walk 15+ miles in them before getting sore feet.
    • For women: Adidas Cloudfoam runners are classic looking and ultra-comfortable.
    • For men: ON Running Shoes have risen in popularity, and for good reason! They are comfortable as heck, my boyfriend loves his pair.

  • Cooling Facial Mist | When you’re faced with mid-day humidity, it can be very hard to deal with. Keeping a small bottle of facial mist in your purse or backpack on a hot day will save your life. This mist takes all the cooling, soothing ingredients you can think of—aloe, cucumber, and green tea—and combines them into one refreshing spritzer for your face.
  • Dry Shampoo | Bring some dry shampoo to use in between washes to instantly revitalize and freshen your semi-dirty hair.
  • Leave-In Conditioner | I recommend bringing a leave-in conditioner to help nurture your hair after spending time in pools and the salty ocean. As someone with naturally frizzy hair, my hair tends to get tangled, coarse, and even more frizzy after it’s submerged in water. This leave-in conditioner is a cult favorite – just put it in your damp hair after your shower and comb it through.
  • SPF 30+ Sunscreen (For Face) | COOLA sunscreen is my new go-to facial sunscreen. My face doesn’t feel sticky or goopy, which is so important for feeling comfortable when you’re out and about in humid areas. If you’re going anywhere in the tropics, you’ll be close to the equator so you really want to use a high SPF – I don’t go below SPF 30 in hot and sunny climates. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s reef-friendly!
  • Sunscreen (For Body) | Applying sunscreen to your body is absolutely necessary for tropical destinations. Even if it’s overcast and cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply whenever you’re outdoors. If you plan on snorkeling near the reefs, choose a coral reef-safe brand like Coola or Sun Bum, as traditional sunscreen contains chemicals that damage and even kill the precious reefs.
  • After Sun Cooling Spray| Let’s be real– you’re probably going to be spending the majority of your vacation outdoors under the sun. Chances are, you’re going to get a nice tan, and maybe even a sunburn or two! Even if you don’t get sunburned, you should still treat your exposed skin to some much-needed hydration with an after-sun cooling spray or after-sun lotion.
  • Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
  • Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
  • Oil Blotting Sheets | On a typical day in a hot and tropical place, your makeup will slide/sweat off your face in exactly three seconds after stepping outside. Rather than layering on more makeup, first, focus on tackling your shiny, sweaty glow. The solution? Use blotting sheets whenever your face starts getting sweaty.
  • Cooling Face Mask | After a long day of exploring, nothing will feel better than propping your feet up and slapping on a cooling face mask for 10-20 minutes. Lay back and relax!
  • Insect Repellent Lotion | Mosquitos love hot climates, so I would definitely recommend packing insect repellent with a high DEET percentage, no matter the season you’re traveling. Sawyer makes some really great bug repellent products, and they’re travel-friendly too!
  • Permethrin Insect Repellent Spray for Clothing | This clothing insect repellent spray is a game-changer. If you’re going to be outdoors in areas where mosquitos are prevalent, I’d highly recommend preparing your clothes with this fabric spray!
    • How does it work? This is a treatment spray for clothes that adheres only to fabrics, leaving no smell or residue on clothes and doesn’t harm human skin. Permethrin spray lasts for up to 6 machine washes, which is more than enough for most tropical trips. Real life story– I hiked Machu Picchu after treating my hiking clothes with this, and I only got a total of 2 mosquito bites after the 4-day trip, whereas some of my friends got 20+ bites. Worth it.
    • Pro Tip: Buy and use before you leave for your trip. A few days before departure, spray all of your clothes, plus anything else made of fabric that you’d like treated.
  • Insect Repelling Lightweight Pullover | Too lazy to treat your clothes with insect repellent? I know, it’s a process. The ExOfficio BugsAway pullover is the next best thing– it’s super lightweight too.
  • Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun. As a bonus, bandanas and Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your bandana or Buff then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down.
  • Cooling Towel | Perfect for working out, a day at the beach, or simply sitting there baking in the sun—you’ll feel Chill Pal‘s cooling effect as soon as you take it out of the package. To activate the cooling towel, just soak it in water and wring it out, then wear it as a bandana or use it as a towel. Another hot weather game-changing travel essential.
  • Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need in hot, humid climates. Super useful if you plan on having beach days or staying in hostels.  This one is a great option.
  • Travel Clothesline | This is a small and portable clothesline that allows you to hang up your wet clothes almost anywhere. I’ve found that it’s really handy whenever I have wet bathing suits or towels that need to be air-dried. I love it for its multi-purpose functionality!
  • Dry Bag | Another multi-purpose item on the list! Dry bags are completely necessary for keeping your dry belongings (clothes, electronics, money, etc)… dry. Don’t set foot on a kayak, boat or canoe without putting your stuff in a dry bag. Trust me, it’s better than ending up with a phone or camera submerged in water in the case where the boat tips or something. It’s also super handy for carrying around wet bathing suits and towels. Or even doubling as your laundry bag!
  • A GoPro or other underwater camera | Your regular camera or iPhone won’t be an option if you do water sports or even decide to go swimming with turtles. You could always get a waterproof case but the GoPro has time and time again proven to be the best for underwater photography.
  • Underwater Smartphone Housing | Don’t want to invest in an underwater camera? That’s fine, just stick your phone in the AxisGo’s underwater housing! It’s designed to protect your phone from the harshest weather conditions while offering the freedom to safely capture those special moments underwater.
  • Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great food spots… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
  • Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated in the warm weather with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
  • Snorkel Set | If you plan on snorkeling a lot, bring your own set to save on rental costs.
  • Medicine | If you get motion sickness, consider bringing a motion sickness reliever like Dramamine for the ferry ride over to Isla Mujeres. If you need other meds, don’t forget your pain killers, antacids, etc.

20+ Things To Do In Cancun, Mexico - Travels With Elle


And that concludes this Cancun travel guide. I hope this post has equipped you with new and exciting knowledge that will help you plan your best Mexican vacation. Safe travels to you!

Looking for more Mexico travel tips? Read More:

Essential Tips for Cancun, Mexico: 15 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My Trip

13 Exciting Things To Do On Isla Mujeres, Mexico: The Complete Activity Guide

Your Mexico All-Inclusive Packing List: 60 Essential Things To Bring With You

15 Best All-Inclusive Resorts in Cancun for Families

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