Cancun is known across the world as a hard-partying, fun-loving city of nightlife where beach parties rock the sands until the early hours of the morning when students descend for the infamous spring break. While Mexico’s most famous holiday city does have a huge party scene, there’s much more to coastal Cancun than just drinking and clubbing, although if partying is what you are looking for there’s plenty to be found!
Cancun is home to some of Mexico’s most pristine beaches, and while the city can be busy in peak season, there’s always a secluded spot of white sand to find somewhere. In the Caribbean Sea off the coast, there’s epic snorkeling and diving to be had, while in the jungles Mayan ruins are waiting to be explored. Nature, wildlife, culture, and sunshine are in line for vacationers looking to visit this spectacular and interesting part of Mexico, and to help you plan your trip, here’s our guide to the best things to do in Cancun.
Don’t leave home without your copy of Top 10 Cancun and the Yucatan (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)
How to Travel to Cancun
Cancun is found right at the northern end of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, overlooking the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. Cancun is a busy and popular place, especially in peak season, and because of the demand from visitors, it’s a well connected and easy to reach city.
It’s the gateway to the entire Yucatan, including the beautiful Riviera Maya to the south, and as such Cancun’s large international airport has flights across the world, including many direct flights to major North American cities and many European destinations. There are regular scheduled airlines flying in throughout the year and during peak season, even more charter flights and package holiday companies travel here too.
The city is well connected domestically too, with regular flights to other large Mexican cities and an extensive bus route operating across the Yucatan, and particularly along the coast to the south, to popular destinations such as Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
Getting Around Cancun
Cancun is a fairly large city, however, most visitors will only need to concern themselves with the Hotel Zone, a specifically touristy area that’s full of hotels, bars, and restaurants that’s focused around the huge lagoon and the seafront, at the forefront of the city. A large avenue, Boulevard Kukulcan, runs along the main tourist strip and can be easily navigated on foot, although it is rather long. Buses run up and down this boulevard too, and taxis are always plentiful.
Best Time to Visit Cancun
Cancun’s peak season runs roughly from December through to April and this is when things get really busy in the city. If you don’t mind a few crowds, then this is the best time of year to visit, as the weather is beautiful. The skies will be clear, the weather will be at its coolest, but still hot and there will be little, if any, rain. July to October is when the weather is at its worst, although if you don’t mind the unpredictable nature of the storms and the odd downpour, then prices are much cheaper in the off-season and everything is much, much quieter.
Things to do in Cancun
There is plenty to do in Cancun during a visit and while there are plenty of beaches, bars and clubs to spend your vacation at, there are also plenty of adventurous activities to get involved with too. It really comes down to choosing things that best interest you during your trip. Our advice is to pick one or two things for each day that you are there. some of the tours that we suggest will take you to multiple places, so this can also enhance your experience in Cancun. Lastly, don’t be afraid to try something new.
Enjoy the Beaches
Cancun is best known for its beautiful, sandy, tropical beaches and there are plenty to choose from along the city’s coast. The best, but busiest beaches are situated along the main boulevard and in the Hotel Zone. Many hotels look directly out over golden sands. There are plenty to choose from, but the favorites closest to the city are Playa Delfines and Playa Tortuga, at opposite ends of the Hotel Zone. Those looking to party should go to Playa Forum. Have a look at this beach tour in Cancun: Beach and Water Sports Private Boat Tour
Some of the best beaches in Cancun:
- Playa Delfines
- Xcacel Beach
- Forum Beach Cancun
- Playa Caracol
Go Shopping on Boulevard Kukulkan
Boulevard Kukulkan is the place to be in Cancun. This is the main street, where the Hotel Zone is found and where the best resorts, restaurants, and bars catering to tourists are all located. The boulevard is long and always bustling, with many shops and malls offering an air-conditioned escape from the Cancun heat. Many market stalls and local sellers will pop up along the length, selling souvenirs to visitors, while street performers put on the entertainment.
Entertainment you shouldn’t miss in Cancun:
- Cancun Nightlife Tour: Open Bar at Coco Bongo and Dinner at Carlos ‘n Charlie’s
- Cirque du Soleil® JOYÀ at Vidanta Riviera Maya
- Cancun Mexican Cooking Experience and Local Market Tour with Transportation
- Cancun Shopping and City Tour Including El Meco Mayan Ruins
Go Snorkeling or Diving
The warm Caribbean Sea is perfect for those looking to scuba or snorkel. There are a multitude of companies offering scuba lessons, excursions, and snorkeling trips out to the nearby reefs and further along the coast of the Riviera Maya too. The waters are home to some of the best marine life in Mexico and at the right time of year, you may even be able to travel out on specific whale shark watching trips to snorkel with of the world’s most majestic marine creatures.
Explore some of Cancun’s most stunning underwater worlds:
- Reef and Shipwreck Snorkeling Tour in Cancun
- Isla Contoy Day Trip: Snorkeling at Ixlache Reef and Eco-Paradise Tour
- Sightseeing, Snorkeling, and Dancing Catamaran Cruise from Cancun
- Half-Day Sailing Trip to Isla Mujeres from Cancun
- Swim with Whale Sharks in Cancun: Small-Group Eco Friendly Snorkeling Tour
- Cancun Resort Scuba Diving Course
See the Underwater Sculptures
Cancun’s most unique and interesting sightseeing spot is, strangely, not found on land, but below the water. The Cancun Underwater Museum is an incredible collection of sculptures, statues, and artwork that has literally been sunk below the surface of the Caribbean Sea. There are over 500 sculptures resting on the sand and more are added frequently too. This unbelievable sight can be snorkeled or dived to immerse yourself in this strange, underwater world.
Explore the Underwater Museum of Art on a snorkeling tour from Cancun:
- Cancun Underwater Museum
- Discover Scuba Diving at the Underwater Museum and Manchones Reef from Cancun
- Catamaran Tour to Isla Mujeres and Snorkeling in the Underwater Museum of Art
Head to Isla Mujeres
Just a short, 15-minute boat ride from Cancun can be found Isla Mujeres. This small island is only 13 kilometers long at its lengthiest point, but it’s filled with beauty and spectacular scenery. It tends to be much quieter than the mainland, as many tourists in Cancun are content with just relaxing on the beach by their hotels, but make the extra effort to travel by boat across to the island and you’ll be rewarded with excellent beaches, beautiful snorkeling and a vision of tropical paradise like nowhere else in Cancun.
During your time in Mexico, ensure you experience the white sands and turquoise waters of Isla Mujeres:
- Isla Mujeres All-Inclusive Catamaran Tour from Cancun
- Half-Day Sailing Trip to Isla Mujeres from Cancun
- Isla Mujeres Trimaran Cruise
- Isla Mujeres Sailing and Snorkel Cruise from Cancun
- Isla Mujeres Deluxe All-Inclusive Day Trip from Cancun
Visit the Mayan Museum
The Mayan Museum is a great chance to explore the ancient history of Cancun at this excellent museum that’s dedicated to the history of the local Mayan people who have lived in the Yucatan for thousands of years. There are many incredible Mayan artifacts on show at the museum and many relics and finds from nearby archaeological sites are waiting to be discovered. If you are bored of the beaches and bars, then the Mayan Museum is the cultural and historic change you are looking for.
Buy your tickets in advance:
Explore the Mayan Ruins of El Rey
Located right in the Hotel Zone next to the popular Playa Delfines, the El Rey Archaeological Zone is found in strange surroundings in the company of high rise hotels, bars, and sunbathers. El Rey holds the ruins of an old Mayan temple complex that dates back centuries. These ruins aren’t as impressive as the ones you’ll experience at Coba, Chitzen Itza or Tulum, but they are very accessible and shouldn’t be missed if you are staying in Cancun.
Don’t forget your Top 10 Cancun and the Yucatan (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)
Day Trips From Cancun
Cancun is an incredible base from which to explore the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula and the extensive coastline of the Riviera Maya. There are many possible day trips to be had from the city, and with easy connections and many tours available, it’s easy to travel along the coast to explore the beaches of Playa del Carmen or the Mayan ruins of Tulum. If you are really interested in the area’s local history then travel to Chichen Itza, the site of the most famous and most extensive Mayan ruins in the Americas.
Check out these top rated day trips offered by Viator tours:
- Viator Exclusive: Early Access to Chichen Itza with a Private Archaeologist
- Chichen Itza Day Trip from Cancun
- Full-Day Guided Tour of Chichen Itza Mayan Archaeological Site and Cenote Swimming from Cancun
- Cancun Super Saver: Tulum and Coba Ruins Including Cenote Swim and Lunch
- Xcaret Day Trip from Cancun
- Xel-Ha All-Inclusive Day Trip from Cancun
- Isla Contoy Day Trip: Snorkeling at Ixlache Reef and Eco-Paradise Tour
- Xplor Adventure Park from Cancun
- Xenotes: Adventure Tour at Mayan Cenotes
- Cenote and Tulum Experience from Cancun
Best Places to Stay in Cancun
Cancun has hundreds of hotels and resorts catering to tourists and there is sure to be a style and price range for everyone. The hotels are generally focused along the Boulevard Kukulcan and the surrounding area, which spreads out along the shorefront, with the lagoon on one side and the beautiful beaches and the Caribbean Sea on the other. In this Hotel Zone, there can be found everything you’ll need during your stay, from shopping malls to late night clubs. Here are a few great options for your stay in Cancun.
Top luxury hotels we recommend in Cancun:
Le Blanc Spa Resort ***** 2018 Traveler’s Choice Rating by TripAdvisor
The Grand At Moon Palace ***** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Top mid-range hotels we recommend in Cancun:
Marriott Cancun Resort **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun All Inclusive **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Top budget hotels we recommend in Cancun:
One Cancun Centro **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Hotel Margaritas **** Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Top hostels we recommend in Cancun:
Mayan Monkey Hostel ***** Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Senor Frogs Hostel ***** Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Is Cancun Safe to Visit?
Unfortunately, Cancun has recently experienced an upsurge in violence as gang warfare spills over into the city. The tourist areas are generally very safe, although a few incidents have been reported in the hotel area along the coast. The police presence is currently much heightened to ensure no incidents affect the tourism sector, but it always pays to be careful and to thoroughly check the current situation before you book your holiday to Cancun.
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Looking for more on the Yucatan in Mexico?
Resources for Planning Your Trip to the Yucatan
Recommended Guide Books For the Yucatan:
- Lonely Planet Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan (Travel Guide)
- Top 10 Cancun and the Yucatan (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Caribbean
Travel Insurance: We use Allianz travel insurance and have since our first trip to Mexico in 2003. They’ve been there for us on our adventures – and many friends and readers – multiple times over! If you want to book with Allianz Travel Insurance, simply use this link to get their travel insurance!
Search for Tours and Trips in Cancun we recommend:
- Viator offers several tours throughout Cancun.
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