Cancun is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico attracting tourists both domestic & International in large numbers. Tropical weather, the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, soft white sand, & world-class tourism infrastructure are just some of the draws here. For those who’d like to venture beyond the beaches and the Hotel Zone, there are coral reefs, cenotès, & Mayan ruins to explore. Read on for a complete Cancun travel guide!
The Yucatan Peninsula used to be home to Mayans before Spanish conquerors arrived in the area in the 1500s. Later, large numbers of people succumbed to diseases that were brought in and many others moved away.
In 1969, the Mexican government came up with the idea of turning the area into a tourist destination. In the decade that followed, their tourism plans were executed and the long strip of land that lay beside the Nichupte Lagoon became the Zona Hotelera. This zone is now home to a large number of hotels, resorts, restaurants, & beaches. Some beaches even have restrooms and lounge chairs & umbrella renting facilities. The downtown developed around the place that was allotted for the residents of Cancun, away from the parts that were meant to be for the tourists.
Today, with its miles of beaches & hotels and a host of things to see and do, tourism has grown beyond Cancun, and spread southwards making the whole of Riviera Maya attractive to visitors from near & far.
What to see and do
The white sand beaches are the biggest attraction of Cancun! There are so many of them, public & private. Whether you want to just soak up the sun or enjoy the water, Cancun has the facilities needed.
You can get onto the water on a catamaran or go snorkeling. Or dive into the sea and see Cancun’s underwater museum. You can also go learn about the Mayan civilization at Museo Maya de Cancun, the San Miguelito ruins behind it, or even go as far as El Rey & El Meco archaeological sites to go deeper into the stories of the land.
Go up the Scenic Tower and take in the views of Cancun & its surroundings, look for bargains in the flea markets in the downtown, party at the clubs & bars on Punta Cancun, and try out all the food this destination has to offer.
For more ideas on what to do in Cancun that aren’t included in this Cancun travel guide, check out my post: Top 10 things to do in Cancun.
Finding restaurants and food that you’re in the mood for is not a difficult task in Cancun. There are many in the downtown area, as well as the Hotel Zone. Some are inside the hotels and resorts. There are also more along the waterfront with views of the lagoon and ones that promise sunsets.
You’ll find every kind of cuisine you’re looking for in Cancun as the tourist destination caters to people from everywhere. Mexican, Latin American Thai, Japanese, Italian, Indian… you’ll find them all. There are restaurants for every budget too.
When you’re here you’re going to want a lot of the fresh seafood brought in from the Caribbean Sea. You have seafood restaurants that serve a global cuisine, and then you have the Mexican-influenced ones. And with Mexican food being something you’re going to crave, you’ll find places that take traditional dishes and give them a contemporary flair. And there are also the local eateries that prefer keeping the food simple & authentic. So your options are many!
For specific restaurants to go to that aren’t included in this Cancun travel guide, check out my post: Best Restaurants in Cancun.
You’ve got to visit Parque de las Palapas to shop for local food. It’s also a great place to find some souvenirs to take home.
Other places where you can pick up handicrafts, jewelry, & local wares are Mercado 28 Flea Market, Mercado 23, Plaza Caracol, & Coral Negro Flea.
If you’d like to do more than shopping at the local stores, there are places like Plaza Las Americas, La Isla Mall, Forum Cancun, & Luxury Avenue.
Cancun is situated in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico. The area is on the Yucatan Peninsula and towards the easternmost part of the country.
And Cancun lies in the northeastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, enjoying the water and beaches of the Caribbean Sea. This tourist town is made of 2 parts: Downtown Cancun, which is on the mainland, and the island of Cancun, a long stretch of land that’s southeast of it. This is the Zone Hotelera (the touristy part where the high rise hotels and restaurants are). It’s sandwiched between the Nichupte Lagoon & the Caribbean.
The terrain here is pretty flat but apart from the sea and the lagoon. However, Cancun is also surrounded by other natural features like islands, barrier reefs, and cenotés further inland.
What’s a Cancun travel guide without information on where to stay? With present-day Cancun built to bring tourists to the area, you can be sure that there are lots of hotels & resorts in the area. In fact, the strip of land that lies between the Nichupte Lagoon and the Caribbean Sea is called Zona Hotelera, or the Hotel Zone for all the properties that line its length. And in the Hotel Zone, you’ll find budget hotels to luxurious all-inclusive resorts and everything in between. Here you also get rooms with views of the lagoon and the Caribbean. Some properties even come with private beaches. There are a lot of restaurants in the area, too.
In and around the downtown area you can find more inexpensive options. You’ll also find hostels here.
If experiencing the nightlife is a major point on your Cancun wishlist and you’d like to be close to the clubs & bars, you could look for something in Punta Cancun, which is in the northern part of the Hotel Zone.
A large part of Cancun’s visitors fly in, landing at the Cancun International Airport. The international airport is just a little over 10 miles from the Hotel Zone so once you land there, you can use your hotel’s airport shuttle to get you to your accommodation. Or you can take a taxi.
To get around Cancun and explore the resort town, you can rent a car, or hire a taxi. If you need a more affordable option, you could try the local buses, some of which have air conditioning. A lot of buses go up and down the Hotel Zone and into downtown. You can also take the buses if you want to go to Playa del Carmen, Tulum, or other places in the larger Riviera Maya.
Best time to visit
If you’re looking for the best time in terms of the weather, you can visit sometime between January & April. This is when it’s not too hot and it’s pretty dry, making it a good time to be on the beaches. This is when Cancun gets most of its visitors, and it gets its craziest traffic in the months of March & April thanks to Spring Breakers.
If you want the avoid the crowds, and can tolerate the hot & humid days of this tropical climate you could visit in May or June. After that, Cancun goes into hurricane season, which starts around June and goes on into November with the most probabilities in the months of September, October, & November. The positive side is that the temperatures are down by this time so if you’re planning to travel in fall, make sure you have travel insurance, and keep an eye on the hurricane forecasts.
Despite being a Cancun travel guide, I wanted to make sure to include nearby areas to check out. Visitors who’d like to experience more than Zona Hotelera and Downtown Cancun can visit Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy, which is another 20 miles north of Isla Mujeres.
Further inland from Cancun is the famous Chichen Itza, another important Mayan site. The peninsula also has a few cenotes not very far from Cancun.
With more time on hand, one can explore the coast south of Cancun. Riviera Maya has been growing as a tourist destination.