Guide to Cancun

Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico

About Cancun

The State of Quintana Roo, on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, hosts Mexico’s most visited beach side resort: Cancun (pronounced “Kan-KOON”).

In the mid 1970’s, the Mexican Tourist Board needed to identify areas for tourist development to attract much-needed foreign income into Mexico. A deserted island, disconnected from the Mexican mainland, with silky-soft, talcum-powder-like beach sand, was to be the setting for what was to become Mexico’s largest, most popular and most successful tourist spot.

Over two million people flock to the shores of Cancun annually, and there is good reason for this. The local environment is stunning; the beaches along the Riviera Maya are pristine and the sea here is perfect for swimming and water activities; added to this, within a short traveling distance visitors can find themselves at the heart of some of the most breathtaking archaeological wonders of the world.

Cancun is a traditional commercialized resort destination. The island is now connected on both sides with bridges and all along the main avenue (Avenida Kukulcan) you’ll discover a plethora of hotels and resorts, shops, restaurants, bars and night spots – in essence – all of the ingredients you’ll ever need for that no-hassle, chill-out and relax holiday in pleasant surroundings and fine weather.

Cancun is easy for foreigners to travel around. Everyone speaks English; you’ll see names and brands that you are familiar with at home, and everything is catered for. Cancun is the place to come if you’re looking for a hassle-free holiday and that also offers the opportunity to discover some archaeological wonders left behind by the Mayas.

Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel are all nearby, and you can discover these places individually with Mexperience. The archaeological wonders at Tulum, Chichen Itza and Coba are three of the main historical attractions in the area. A little further away, but well worth the trip if you have the time and inclination, is the colonial city of Merida and nearby archaeological site of Uxmal — one of the most attractive of all ancient ruins in Mexico.

If you’re planning a honeymoon in Mexico then Isla Mujeres is quieter, less commercialized and more exclusive. Some honeymooners spend a week in Cancun and a week on the island of Isla Mujeres for variety of atmosphere.

The fact that so many people travel to Cancun — and keep going back — is a testimony to its magnetic appeal. If you’re looking for something quieter or more exclusive in a resort, then explore Punta de Mita, Costa Alegre, Huatulco and Puerto Escondido (these are situated on Mexico’s Pacific coastline) instead.

Cancun has a lot to offer tourists. If you’re looking for some easy-to-arrange fun at some of Mexico’s best hotels and resorts —coupled with wonderful beaches and all within easy reach of Mayan ruins — consider Cancun.

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Key Attractions

Cancun’s Beaches

The choice to develop Cancun as a tourist atrraction was due in no small part to its dreamy tropical beaches. However hurricane Wilma in 2005 swept away many of the tourist beaches, leaving behind thin strips of sandy shore where before there were wide bands of beach area. There have been efforts to reconstruct the beaches and replace the sand, but human engineering can’t match that of mother nature. Resorts which once could boast ample beachfronts have tried to compensate for the diminished sand by adding pools and gardens to their properties to enhance the ambience and provide outdoor ocean-facing facilities. You can still enjoy a wonderful experience in Cancun; the waters are still turqoise and picturesque and the destination offers a wide variety of amenities which extend beyond beach life. If you absolutely must have an ample beach to walk on, sunbathe and swim from, consider nearby Playa del Carmen Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Tulum.

Diving and Snorkeling

If you want to SCUBA dive or just snorkel in the clear shallow waters and see the coral and fish, Cancun has ideal waters for both. The corals, shallow reefs and sheer diversity of marine life make Cancun one of top resorts world-wide for divers and snorkelers. Of particular note is the Gran Arrecife Maya (Great Mesoamerica Reef), which is one of the largest reefs in the whole world.

If you want to learn how to SCUBA dive, Cancun is an excellent place to learn, and there are plenty of operators who will help to get you started. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to breathe under water, give SCUBA diving a try on your visit to Cancun—very few forget this wonderful experience. For experienced SCUBA divers in particular, the Island of Cozumel offers better facilities and is THE place to dive in this region of Mexico.

Spas in Cancun

Cancun is host to a number excellent resort spas. For more information about spas and how to benefit from a magnificent spa experience in Mexico, connect to the Mexperience guide about Spas in Mexico for full details and to browse spas in Cancun.

Water Sports

If you’re looking for fun on the water, whether it’s pedal power or motor-power, Cancun offers you choice, variety and expertise in all things water-based. The lagoon to the west of Cancun (Laguna Nichupe) offers sailboats, jet-skis, windsurfing and other water-sport equipment for rent. Deep-sea fishing is also a popular activity here. See Also: Water Sports in Mexico.

Sports Fishing Experiences

Cancun is one of Mexico’s top destinations for deep sea sports fishing – especially in the waters around nearby Cozumel. See Also: Sports Fishing in Mexico.

‘Jungle’ Tour on Water

Ride through Cancun’s mangrove estuaries on a small motorized boat, leading out into Mexico’s Caribbean sea and reefs. You rent your own boat, and see the sights at your own pace (payment is by the hour). You can stop your boat and dive into the shallow waters to snorkel around the reefs and local marine life there. The operators provide snorkeling equipment and refreshments for you to take with you, included in the price. It’s a great way to see this magical part of the world!

Local Boat Cruises

Regular excursions are available to Isla Mujeres: Connect to Isla Mujeres with Mexperience for more information about the island. You can get to the island by:

  • Shuttle Boat – from Playa Linda or Playa Tortuga
  • Water Taxi – (fast, but more expensive) from Xcaret Terminal
  • Public Ferry – from Puerto Juarez
  • Pleasure Boat – see below.

Pleasure boat cruises are a great and popular way to see Cancun from the sea and also to visit the surrounding islands, including Isla Mujeres. Some pleasure boats have glass bottomed hulls and travel slowly over the shallow reefs.

Swimming with Dolphins

You can swim with the dolphins from nearby Isla Mujeres. Connect to the Mexperience guide to Isla Mujeres for details.

Bird’s Eye View of Cancun… by Helicopter

You can buy your own “customized” air tour of Cancun and surroundings, with flights available days and evenings, weather conditions permitting. See the blues and greens of the spectacular sea here; the pristine beaches, the Mayan ruins and much more – from the air.

Horseback and ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) Riding

Experience the thrill of horseback riding and visit some of the most scenically pleasing areas around Cancun, including Mayan ruins, caves, natural springs and stunning beaches! These packages last about 5 or 6 hours and provide an exhilarating way to experience the area around Cancun. Check with your local hotel for details.

Xel-Ha National Park

Day-trips to Xel-Ha are readily available and very convenient from Cancun. Xel-Ha is a national park which has been converted into a water theme park built around a collection of natural lagoons and inlets. The park offers a range of water activities, primarily based around snorkeling, although you can also float down the river in a ring, dive under water without tanks (they connect hoses to a helmet) and swim with dolphins (this costs extra and space is limited, so arrive early if you want to do this). There are also five restaurants and a bar where you have unlimited food and drink if you paid the all-inclusive price.

See Also: Xel-Ha Picture Gallery on Mexperience.

Golfing in Cancun

Cancun has some spectacular golf courses and offers the ideal climate for golf. Many people travel to Cancun for the great golf available here; many courses are affiliated with, or owned by, key hotels in the area.

Archaeology Parks

Nearby Cancun you’ll find an extensive choice of Mayan ancient cities, converted into archaeology parks open to the public. Nearby parks include Tulum, which overlooks the turquoise Mexican Caribbean, Coba, and Chichen Itza, voted as one of the “new wonders” of the world.

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Getting There & Around

By Air – Cancun’s international airport is one of the busiest airports in Mexico, receiving frequent flights from the US, Canadian and European cities. From Mexico, you can fly to Cancun from Mexico City. The airport is 9 miles (16 km) south west from the city center and 6 miles (10 km) from the hotel zone. Ground transportation options, including taxis, rental cars and shuttles, are available from the airport. For detailed information about flights and flying, see the Mexperience guide to Air Travel in Mexico.

By Bus – You can travel to Cancun on a luxury bus from Mexico City – but the trip will take around 24 hours. Flying is the most sensible way to get to Cancun, unless you are on a budget and don’t mind the wait (and want to see the sights along the way). For local bus transportation within Cancun, see paragraph below. For detailed information about bus transportation read the Mexperience guide to Bus Travel in Mexico.

By Car – Driving to Cancun from Mexico City is recommended only if you have a good reason to go by road – for example, you want to stop and see places on the way; the drive from the capital to Cancun takes 24-30 hours and will require at least one overnight stop en route. A fast and efficient toll road connects Cancun to the colonial city of Merida, and there is an excellent road network around the Yucatan region enabling you to explore this unique and vibrant region of Mexico beyond the commercial beach resorts of Cancun and Riviera Maya. See additional information about Driving in Mexico and Mexico’s Toll Roads on Mexperience.

Car Rental – To explore Mexico’s provincial towns and cities—including its beach locations and the scenery and attractions nearby them —consider renting a car for your visit. Having your own car will give you more flexibility than using public transport options and, in some cases, offer you access to places which are otherwise difficult to visit without the use of a car. Read our guide to Car Rental in Mexico to learn what you need to know about car rental in Mexico and connect to the Mexperience Travel Center to reserve your Rental Car.

Local Buses – Local buses run a 24 hour service up and down the main Avenida Kukulcan; they are regular, clean, comfortable and very efficient; they are also air-conditioned and very inexpensive. You can also ride executive style minibuses and vans to nearby places like Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Chichen Itza; these options work out considerably less expensive than hiring a taxi to these areas.

Taxis – Taxis from Cancun Airport into town or other destinations can be quite expensive compared to comparable rides in other parts of Mexico. Check prices before getting in. In most of Mexico’s beachside towns and cities are not metered, so agree your price before you get in. Taxi travel is very affordable in Mexico, in comparison to the USA, Canada and Europe, and so provides a viable means of public transportation in Mexico. Your hotel can arrange taxis for you; some post their rates on a board in the lobby; taxi hotel rates are usually higher than cabs you hail off the street. If you speak Spanish, you will have a distinct advantage and be able to negotiate a price with the driver. For detailed information, read the Mexperience guide to Taxi Travel in Mexico.

Warning About Mopeds – Mopeds can zip you around Cancun, but beware – they can be dangerous too. You may want to consider a safer alternative (like an open air Jeep) which will be more expensive, but safer. See car rental, above, for details.

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Local Events Calendar

Cancun is host to a wide variety of conferences and exhibitions, including world conferences like the World Economic Forum. Cancun has one of Mexico’s most extensive and modern conference centers; one of the few conference centers in Mexico capable of hosting large, international events.

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Practical Information

Telephone: Connect to the Communications in Mexico page on Mexperience for detailed information about keeping in touch and the latest table of national dialing codes.

Exchanging Currency: Most of Cancun’s Banks with ATM machines are found on Avenida Tulum. During business hours, they and the Casas de Cambio will buy traveler’s checks and cash from you as well. For detailed information about exchanging and managing your money, read the Mexperience guide to Money in Mexico.

Travel Insurance: We recommend that you are adequately covered with travel medical insurance and/or travel assistance insurance when you are visiting Mexico. Read the Mexperience guide to Travel Insurance in Mexico for full details and links to specialist insurance suppliers.

Internet Access: Internet cafes can be easily found in towns and cities across Mexico and WiFi is increasingly commonplace–from cafes, shops, hotels, and some cities even offer free WiFi in some defined public spaces.

Safety in Cancun: Cancun is a very safe place at all hours. There is very little crime in Cancun, although petty theft on beaches is as common as in any other tourist spot – so don’t leave your gold watch on the beach for others to check the time with while you’re not looking! Car break-ins are becoming more common; once again, common sense (not leaving valuables in the car / in view) will minimize the already small risk of this happening to you.

Beach Safety: Some of Cancun’s beaches are exposed to the open sea, making some of the undercurrents particularly strong. Cancun’s hotels and beaches run a consistent flag color system to advise tourists of sea conditions. Observe the flags, act accordingly and you’ll be fine:

  • White Flag – Excellent Sea Conditions – go and have fun!
  • Green – Normal Sea Conditions – safe to swim!
  • Yellow – Changeable sea conditions – practice caution!
  • Black or Red – Unsafe / Danger – head for the pool!

Remember that sea conditions can change while you’re out swimming, so keep and eye on the flag colors back on the beach.

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Restaurants

Thai Lounge: Thai food. Plaza La Isla, Blvd. Kukulcan. Tel: (998) 8831401

La Habichuela. Mexican, International food. Margaritas 25,Cancun Centro. Tel: (998) 8843158

La Dolce Vita. Italian. Blvd. Kukulcan Zona Hotelera Km. 14.6. Tel: (998) 8850161

Los Almendros. Yucatecan food. Av Bonampak and Sayil, opposite the bullring. (999) 9227844

Hacienda el Mortero. Mexican food. Boulevard Kukulcan Km 9.5. Tel: (998) 8831133.

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When Night Falls

Locally Hosted Parties – Many of the Hotels host their own parties which include dinner, dancing, a show and all drinks for a fixed fee. Ask at your hotel to find out what is happening locally.

Nightclub SceneAcapulco, Mazatlan and Cancun are three of the biggest nightclub (discotheque) centers in Mexico, although Acapulco and Mazatlan are the busiest of the three. Nightclubs are a big part of the holiday scene in Cancun, and like their Acapulco and Mazatlan counterparts, they don’t stop till the sun comes up. Some night clubs charge an all inclusive cover fee; some a smaller cover and drinks on top. Drinks are served all night – don’t even consider going to a nightclub until about 11pm. Nightclubs keep going all morning and people will start to leave at around 5 am or 6 am.

Beach Clubs – A lot of hotels provide nightclub facilities in areas that lead out onto the beach… along with the music, dancing and drinks.

Night Bars / Restaurants – All over Cancun there is an ample selection of local, national and international names in late- night entertainment.

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What to Buy in Cancun

Shopping is a major pastime in Cancun – a man-made contribution to the natural beauty and wonder of the resort and surrounding areas.

There is an advantage to shopping in Cancun – especially for people living in Europe. Quintana Roo, the state in which Cancun is situated, is a duty-free zone in Mexico. This means that bargains may be obtained on luxury items like expensive perfumes, jewelry, cosmetics and the like. Large value items should be declared on your return to your home country – see Customs Allowances in the Mexico Essentials Section

There are lots of shopping centers, malls, open air markets, crafts centers, clothes and fashion stores and more in Cancun; you can literally shop until you drop… or shop until you get too tired and need to get back to your sun lounge on the beach.

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Local Climate

Cancun is hot and humid, but the humidity is not as drenching as it can be in some other places in Mexico. August through October is hurricane season in this part of the world and the weather becomes more changeable and less predictable during these months. The rainy season is May through October. November through February is the high season in Cancun and quite hot; evenings can be cooler, so a warm pullover may be a useful item to pack with you during these times.

Weather & Climates in Mexico

Learn more about the weather and climates through the seasons and regions by connecting to the Mexperience guide about Weather and Climates in Mexico

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