Whatever your vacation needs, you are certain to find fulfilment in Cancun.
Travelers craving relaxation, can swim in warm turquoise seas, sunbathe on beautiful beaches or simply relax by the pool sipping a refreshing cocktail.
Active vacationers can explore the magnificent historical and cultural sites, while party animals can go crazy during Spring Break!
Read on for the ultimate guide to vacationing in Cancun.
Why is Cancun a Popular Tourist Destination?
Cancun is a popular tourist destination for its:
- Nightlife: Cancun is a fantastic party destination. The world-famous nightlife in the city draws young adults in droves for Spring Break and other holidays. Listen to the hottest music hits as you sip on a delicious cocktail. Or dance the night away into the early hours of morning.
- Beaches: Cancun boasts miles of some of the world’s finest, stunning and pristine beaches, along with a rich coral reef. Cancun also attracts beach lovers with its remarkably calm weather featuring perfect temperatures and a mild, gentle ocean breeze year-round.
- Adventure: Cancun offers plenty of activities for those who seek thrilling adventures. Swim with massive whale sharks, go snorkeling or scuba-diving at the magnificent Great Mayan Reef or take a boat tour to the spectacular Underwater Museum to see over 400 sculptures.
- Convenience: Cancun is especially popular among American tourists because it is very accessible and easy to get to. Located south of the United States, it takes just a few hours to reach Cancun, with many airlines offering direct flights at reasonable prices.
- Live Music: Cancun boasts amazing clubs that host live bands playing an array of genres including Cuban piano, salsa, and reggae. There are also live jazz spots, where you can listen to the relaxing sounds of blues and jazz; and high-tech clubs where you can dance all night long.
- Festivals: No matter what time of year you visit, you are bound to find a festival happening in Cancun. Take part in Cancun’s festivals and witness all the excitement they bring. Popular fetes include Day of the Dead, the Jazz Festival and the Cancun-Riviera Food & Wine Festival.
- Fantastic City Life: Although popular as a beach destination, there is much more to Cancun than sun, sea and sand. Explore the resort town and discover a vibrant metropolis with many restaurants, cafes, shops and souvenir markets to visit.
- Accommodation: Cancun has hotels to suit every budget, with many luxury, mid-range and budget hotel options to choose from. There are also hotels to meet the tastes and preferences of all travelers, including all-inclusive, family-friendly and adults-only hotels.
- Tourist-friendly: English-speaking visitors need not worry about communicating in Cancun, as English is widely spoken by locals and hotel staff. Moreover, Cancun has an overall ease of travel, and provides easy access to home comforts such as specific snacks and medicines.
What is Cancun Best Known for?
Cancun is best known for its:
- Spectacular beaches
- Vibrant nightlife
- Rich Mayan culture
- Perfect tropical weather
- Abundant activities
What is Unique about Cancun?
Cancun is unique for its:
- Archaeological Ruins: One of Cancun’s main attractions are the archaeological sites that were inhabited by the Mayans centuries ago. Today, these sites are filled with ruins such as pyramids that showcase the magnificence of the Mayan civilization.
- Food: Cancun is famous for its delicious cuisine and world-renowned chefs. If you love fresh seafood and local produce or want to try some tantalizing Mexican flavors, you are certain to find a dish to satisfy your appetite in Cancun.
- Beaches: Cancun boasts some of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches, which provide a great spot to relax and enjoy life. White sands, clear seawaters, perfect weather and a rich natural diversity all combine to make Cancun a unique destination.
- People: Anyone who has visited Cancun will tell you that Mexicans are a very friendly and welcoming people, who love to live, eat and party well. Everywhere you go in Cancun, the locals will treat you in a way that will leave you feeling right at home.
What Should We Do in Cancun?
Here is a list of activities that you can do in Cancun:
- Visit Chichen Itza: Chichen Itza is a Mayan ruin that was formerly a large ancient inhabited city. Mexico’s most visited tourist site, Chichen Itza comprises several structures, the most iconic of which is the 5th century El Castillo step-pyramid, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan.
- Tour Coba: The Coba archeological site offers great insights into Yucatan history and culture. Take a day trip to Coba where you can climb the tallest of all Mayan ruins, or rent a bike and cycle around the site to see dozens of other historical structures.
- Explore the Underwater Museum: Truly a one-of-a-kind experience, Museo Subacuático de Arte is an underwater art museum comprising 500+ sculptures. The museum is designed to draw snorkelers/scuba-divers to less-worn parts of the reef so that other disrupted parts can recover.
- Wander Avenida Kukulkan: A bustling and dynamic walkway, Avenida Kukulkan is the hub of all there is to see and do in Cancun. Situated within the Hotel Zone, the street boasts a vibrant array of restaurants, street food vendors, bars, live music venues and shops.
- Visit Parroquia de Cristo Resucitado: This is a beautiful Catholic Church and a spiritual retreat that offers peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. Highlights of the church include its breathtaking architectural design, and the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
- Explore Museo Maya de Cancun: Museo Maya de Cancun showcases Mayan influence over Mexican culture, both in the ancient world and the present-day. The cozy museum building houses some especially beautiful ancient Mayan architecture.
- Swim with Dolphins: Another great way to get close to Cancun’s marine life is by swimming with dolphins. A unique vacation experience, dolphin swims in Cancun offer a great way to interact with the gentle sea animals within a safe environment.
- Sunbathe at Playa Delfines: This picturesque beach offers a beautiful spot to spend a lazy day on vacation. Located away from the hustle and bustle of tourist hotspots, Playa Delfines boasts pristine white sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters.
- Sample the Nightlife: No visit to Cancun is complete without some party stories to remember it by. Cancun’s vibrant nightlife features a wide variety of bars and live music events. Sip cocktails at a local cantina, or visit a club with bands playing live Spanish music and dance all night long.
- Try a New Watersport: Offering plenty of watersports, Cancun is a great place to learn how to surf, sail on a speedboat or try your hand at jet-skiing. Or go snorkeling/scuba-diving in the clear, warm turquoise waters that teem with colorful marine life.
What Should I Avoid in Cancun?
Here’s what to avoid in Cancun:
- Choosing your hotel by price alone: If you choose your Cancun hotel by price alone, you may end up booking one that is too far away from all the action. Because many hotels in Cancun are situated over one hour away from the city center, it is recommended that you find out the precise location of the hotel before reserving it.
- Taking a taxi from the airport: Avoid expensive taxi fares by calling your resort in advance and booking their shuttle. This is because most Cancun hotels offer a free shuttle ride to and from the airport, as long as you contact them the day before with your travel details.
- Purchasing items at the listed price: Always bargain for a better price for food and souvenirs. Haggling is common practice in Cancun, particularly at street fairs, food stands and beach huts. Let the seller first give you their price before you offer them about 40% lower.
- Drinking tap water: Tap water is not safe to drink in Cancun, as it contains bacteria and other toxins that can cause an upset stomach. Instead, stick to filtered bottled water. For added precaution, use bottled water to brush your teeth and avoid using ice in drinks or eating fruits and vegetables if unsure of how they were washed.
- Booking tours with stand-alone tour guides: Most one-person tour operators are scams. Avoid booking tours with ‘representatives’ that stop you on the street offering prices that are too good to be true. Instead, stick to the brick-and-mortar agencies with many pictures, brochures and reviews that back up what they offer.
- Visiting during Spring Break: Avoid visiting Cancun during Christmas, New Year’s, and particularly around Spring Break. The best time to visit Cancun is from May to November, when hotel, food and tour prices are low and tourist crowds are fewer. Also try to avoid Mexico’s hurricane season which runs from July to October.
- Assuming that Cancun’s surrounding areas are safe: Although Cancun is safe to visit, it has some troublesome areas nearby. Unless you’re with a tour guide or knowledgeable local, stick to well-populated areas such as Downtown Cancun or the Hotel Zone, which is regarded as the safest area in Cancun.
- Visiting Chichen Itza alone: Although the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza are a must-see, Cancun has other landmarks worth including in your itinerary. Book a day trip to Playa del Carmen and Tulum for pristine beaches; or Cenote Zacil-ha to swim in crystal clear waters amid a lush jungle; or go snorkeling/scuba-diving at Isla Mujeres.
- Exchanging money at the airport: For a better rate, avoid exchanging money at the Cancun airport where the rates are always less than favorable. Instead, exchange your money at the smaller kiosks in town that will give you a better rate in Mexican pesos.
- Packing beach wear only: Avoid filling your luggage with swimsuits only. Remember to bring a light cardigan for nighttime activities such as outdoor dinners and late-night walks along the beach. Nights in Cancun can get chilly, and rains are common between August and February, so pack an umbrella.
What Can You Do for Free in Cancun?
Here is a list of things that you can do for free in Cancun:
- Mural art in downtown Cancun: Cancun’s local artist community is actively involved in street art that pays tribute to its Mayan and Mexican heritage. Take a stroll around the northern part of downtown Cancun to see colorful wall murals by notable Mexican and Brazilian street artists.
- Playa Delfines Beach: Escape the tourist crowds at Playa Delfines, a quiet beach located near Zona Hotelera. There are many thatch umbrellas along the beach for lounging. Swimmers must stay close to shore as the waves here are rougher than on most Cancun beaches.
- Parque Las Palapas: This is a sprawling park with a large central stage and plaza that hosts cultural fairs, music concerts, theatrical plays and street performances. The park is normally packed with cyclists, joggers and locals enjoying picnics and games.
- Kabah Urban Park: This park has a jogging trail that stretches through a lush forest reserve. Inside the park, visitors can spot native wildlife including birds, iguanas and spider monkeys, simply enjoy the playgrounds or have a picnic in the recreational areas.
- Mercado 28: Located in downtown Cancun, Mercado 28 is a local crafts market with over a hundred stalls. Visitors can browse through handicrafts made from glass, silver and leather, as well as sunglasses and t-shirts that make for great souvenirs.
- Playa Langosta: Playa Langosta is a beach with a beautiful garden known as Jardín Del Arte. Here visitors can explore sculptures by local artists or enjoy the outdoor playground and football field. Be sure to also take a photo in front of the vibrant ‘Cancun’ sign!
- Playa Tortugas Beach: Playa Tortugas beach is free to enjoy all year round. Moreover, its shores are shallow enough for kids to swim in. Be sure to check out the pier, where you can watch adrenaline junkies get their fix while bungee jumping from the top of a 25m high tower.
Is Cancun Good for Families?
Yes, Cancun is good for families.
Although once regarded as the “Spring Break Capital of the World”, Cancun has since evolved into a world-class holiday destination offering many family-friendly resorts, tours and activities for adults and children of all ages.
In any case, Spring Break happens only for a few months in the year (around mid-February to mid-April, with most of the “craziness” happening after 10pm).
For the rest of the year, Cancun is more or less like any other vacation town.
What is there to do in Cancun for Families?
Here is a list of things that families can do in Cancun:
- All Ritmo Water Park: This is a family-friendly water park that offers water slides, lounge chairs and umbrellas. Your all-inclusive entrance fee will buy you unlimited food and drinks, including alcohol. Towels and locker rentals are available.
- Captain Hook Pirate Dinner Cruise: Sail the high seas on a model of an 18th century Spanish ship and enjoy dinner, drinks, and an exciting pirate battle. Once aboard, your pirate hosts will welcome you with drinks, games and pirate fun, followed by dinner, and a thrilling pirate battle.
- Interactive Aquarium: The Interactive Aquarium offers dolphin swims and shows, as well as the opportunity to feed a shark! You can also touch the manta rays and sea turtles. At the gift shop, visitors can purchase photos of their experience, along with other souvenirs.
- Jolly Roger Pirate Show: This is a family-friendly tour on a pirate ship, which includes dinner and unlimited drinks. The Jolly Roger Pirate Show departs every day at 6.30 p.m. from Playa Linda Pier and is free for children aged 3-11.
- Croco Cun Zoo: This is an interactive conservation zoo that aims to protect and promote crocodiles through fun guided tours with insights on native flora and fauna. Highlights include feeding spider monkeys, holding baby crocodiles and walking through a crocodile enclosure.
- Xcaret: The eco-archaeological Xcaret park brims with Mayan and Mexican culture, food and music. The park has an aviary, butterfly pavilion, aquarium, and platforms for viewing wildlife. Children can explore Mundo de Niños, and the whole family will enjoy the unforgettable night show.
- Ventura Park: This is an adventure park that comprises of different attractions including the Underworld, Dolphinaris, Grand Prix, Aaaahventura, Fun World and Wet n’ Wild. There are kids’ areas for small children, water rides, a rollercoaster, zip-lines, go-karts and games.
- Isla Mujeres: A beautiful tropical island, Isla Mujeres is one of the most popular daytrip destinations in Cancun, loved for its dreamy remote beaches and laid-back vibe. Tourists can enjoy its restaurants and shops, go snorkeling, scuba-diving or sailing, and see Mayan ruins.
- Parque Las Palapas: Parque Las Palapas is a central hub of activity for the city. At the park, visitors can explore the city’s oldest Catholic Church, shop for local crafts, sample Mexican food or watch live performances. Kids can play in the playground, drive small cars or paint pictures.
- Dolphin Discovery: Take an exciting boat ride to Isla Mujeres over crystal clear turquoise seawaters. Upon arrival at Dolphin Discovery, you will be greeted by dolphins leaping joyfully in the air. Go on a dolphin swim and enjoy close encounters with your new marine friends.
Is Cancun Safe With Kids?
Yes, Cancun is perfectly safe to visit for families traveling with kids.
In fact, Mexican tourist areas like Cancun are generally safer than other parts of the country.
That said, when visiting Cancun, it is important to exercise caution while at the beach and at restaurants, and to prioritize the health of your child at all times.
Can You Swim With Dolphins in Cancun?
Yes, it is possible to swim with dolphins in Cancun.
How Much Does It Cost to Swim With Dolphins in Cancun?
The cost of a dolphin swim excursion will depend on which tour operator you decide to book with, as well as the type of swim experience.
For instance, at Dolphin Discovery – one of the top tour operators in Cancun – dolphin swims range between US $139-199.
Where is the Best Place to Swim with Dolphins in Cancun?
These are the best places to swim with Dolphins in Cancun:
- Dolphin Discovery Cancun: Located at Isla Mujeres, Dolphin Discovery offers visitors 3 dolphin swim experiences. Swimmers can go on a high-speed ride on the nose of a dolphin; snorkelers can observe the dolphins above and below the water; and non-swimmers and kids can enjoy encounters with dolphins from a platform submerged in water.
- Delphinus Dreams Cancun: Delphinus World operates a dolphinarium at Dreams Cancun Hotel, where visitors can interact with dolphins. Learn about dolphin care and training or enjoy playtime with the dolphins while being propelled through the water. Go for an intimate dolphin swim adventure or simply experience the dolphins in a water ride or from a platform.
- Dolphinaris Cancun: Located next to Wet ‘n Wild waterpark, Dolphinaris Cancun offers dolphin swim experiences inside spacious lagoons rather than the sea. Interact with dolphins from a platform or snorkel and swim with the animals, and enjoy a belly ride or foot-push across the water. Or spend 8 hours with a dolphin trainer while swimming with the animals.
How Many Days Do You Need for Cancun?
The number of days you need for Cancun will ultimately depend on your vacation goals:
- 3 to 5 days: Is a good start for those who just want to explore Cancun’s major attractions.
- 5 to 7 days: Will enable you to see and do a bit of everything.
- 7 to 10 days: Gives you plenty of time to experience all that Cancun has to offer.
- 10 to 14 days: Will enable you to explore the region without feeling rushed.
What Can You Do in Cancun for 3 Days?
Below is a sample 3 day itinerary for Cancun:
- El Rey Ruins
- Playa Delfines
- Avenida Kukulkan
- Xel-Ha Park
- La Isla Shopping Village
- Isla Mujeres
- Playa Tortugas
- Forum Beach Cancun
- Isla Contoy
What Should I Do in Cancun for a Week?
Below is a sample one-week (7 days, 6 nights) itinerary for Cancun:
- Day 1: Arrive and Relax at your Resort
- Day 2: Lounge at the Beach
- Day 3: Chichen Itza & Valladolid (Day Trip)
- Day 4: Tulum & Xel-Ha (Day Trip)
- Day 5: Isla Mujeres (Day) + JOYA show (Evening)
- Day 6: Xcaret (Day/Evening Trip)
- Day 7: Lounge at the Beach (Day) and Depart (Evening)
How Do You Enjoy Cancun the Best?
Here are some tips to help you enjoy the best vacation in Cancun:
- Leave the Hotel Zone to experience local culture: In their effort to make tourists feel at home, the resorts in Cancun’s Hotel Zone have pretty much stripped the area of local culture. Visitors seeking a more authentic Mexican experience should stick to downtown Cancun or go on daytrips outside Cancun.
- Beware that beaches have a strong undertow: Visitors should always exercise caution when swimming in Cancun due to the strong undertow and rough surf. Always observe the flag system that alerts swimmers on water conditions. Never swim during a red/ black flag alert. Instead, stick close to shore as there are often no lifeguards on the beach.
- Use Mexican pesos: Although most Cancun hotels, restaurants, tour operators and taxis in Cancun accept U.S. dollars, it’s recommended that you always pay in pesos to avoid a hike in prices. Moreover, because you will be given back your change in pesos, it’s best to stick to one currency.
- Take the bus: Taxis are rather expensive in Cancun. Therefore it is recommended that travelers opt for local bus transportation, which is cheaper and generally reliable. Ask your hotel front desk to show you where to get picked up and dropped off. Uber services are also now available in Cancun.
- Go on day trips: For a good dose of local culture and authenticity, leave the Hotel Zone and take a day trip to Cancun’s nearby cultural sites. Explore Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and Tulum, swim in refreshing cenotes at Ik Kil or Selvatica and have fun at eco-parks such as Xcaret in Playa del Carmen.
- Avoid hurricane season: The hurricane season in Cancun stretches between June and November, with the highest risk of tropical storms occurring between August and October. If you absolutely must visit Cancun during hurricane season (to enjoy the lower prices and fewer crowds) be sure to purchase travel insurance.