Explore Cancun, Mexico
There are two possibles meanings of Cancun, according to the Mayan language; the first translation is “nest of snakes or pot.” The second version (and less accepted) is “place of the gold snake”.
Peak season in Cancun tends to run from December to April. Prices in both airfare and hotel increase dramatically during these times, while dropping in the summer and early autumn months.
Resting on the northeast corner of the Mexican Caribbean, Cancun was built on a site selected as the ideal spot for a new tourist development by the Mexican federal government. The state of Quintana Roo was still a federal territory and the area had few inhabitants when construction started in 1970. It is composed of 21 kilometers of pristine white beaches shaped like a number “7”, home of the Mayan archaeological wonders, turquoise seas, a bountiful underwater world, and world-class vacation amenities. It is still considered the gateway to the Mayan World (El Mundo Maya). Mayan temples and ritual sites are everywhere, some smothered by lush jungle, others easily accessible.
The Cancun hotel zone is almost entirely built around the tourist industry. It abounds with all-inclusive resort hotels. Stay there if you don’t mind spending your vacation with many other tourists. Most tourists are primarily from English-speaking North America and there are also many tourists from Europe, but many tourists also come to Cancun from the rest of Mexico.
Downtown Cancun, especially once you get away from the ADO bus station and nearby hostels and hotels, is where most residents live. There are many restaurants all of them are really good restaurants, and the best much cheaper than Hotel Zone, and Mexican cousin), shopping centers (Plaza Las Americas, Plaza la Isla in Hotel Zone, Plaza Outlet), markets (Mercado 28 y 23) and clubs in the downtown area that you can visit during your stay (Cocobongo, Dady’O, Palazzo, Mandala).
Those mostly seeking beaches and scuba diving, or who are a bit adventurous, can easily find rooms on equally beautiful and less crowded beaches along the coast just an hour or two south of Cancun. Some Spanish language skills may aid in finding better deals.
Those looking for a base of operations who want good or luxury hotels and the advantages of urban life but prefer more local flavor may wish to stay in the Yucatan’s main city of Mérida. Many international flights in to Cancun continue on after a stop to Mérida’s International Airport.
The climate in Cancun is tropical, with consistent hot and humid weather throughout the year, and very warm sea temperatures.
By Car Rental
It is convenient to use a car rental if you want more freedom when touring the city, or more destinations in the Riviera Maya.
Cancun is very easy to navigate. To the South is the airport, to the North is the city and in between on the stretch of land between the sea and the Nichupte lagoon are all the hotels, beaches and bars, referred to as the hotel zone or Zona Hotelera. Downtown is where most residents live and it stretches in on the mainland behind the lagoon.
What to see. Best top attractions in Cancun, Mexico.
The Interactive Aquarium Of Cancun, Right in the middle of the hotel zone, this small but modern aquarium lets you get up close and personal with aquatic life. You can pet rays, nurse sharks, touch starfish, etc. There is also a chance to swim with dolphins in a large pool.
Water and sand, Cancun is possibly best known for its beautiful turquoise waters and powdery white beaches.
Isla Contoy, is about 30km (19 mi) north of Isla Mujeres and apart from its natural beauty it is considered to be the most important nesting place for sea birds in the Mexican Caribbean with more than 150 different species.
What to do in Cancun, Mexico.
There are several activities you can do in Cancun and the rest of the Riviera Maya. You can either buy them from the provider or through an agency. Most of the agencies offer extra value at the same price. Here is a list of the most popular activities in Cancun:
Ocean and beaches. For the more advanced swimmers, the edge of the open ocean can make for a challenging and fun swimming experience. For less advanced swimmers, or those with little ones, pick a resort facing Isla Mujeres for a gentle and relaxing aquatic experience. Be aware that the island becomes extremely hot during day and there are few, if any opportunities to cool off. The sand found here is ground up coral and doesn’t get hot like you might expect. The beaches are absolutely gorgeous and the water is crystal clear and warm. Most beaches along Kulkulkan boulevard in Cancun are public. All along the Kulkulkan boulevard you will see “Acceso publico a la playa” (public access to the beach). Under them you will often see rules of that beach – some beaches do not permit alcohol or vendors, for example. Hotels bordering the beach will generally not allow you to use their facilities, though if you order at their restaurant (if they allow that) they may allow you to use the washrooms. For change from the beaches bordered by hotels, go to Playa Delfines (Dolphin beach), which has only change rooms and no commercial buildings in sight. It is located near the end of Kulkulkan at Km 17.5.
Spending the day on the beaches of Cancun is not only an opportunity to relax, but to shop as well. Many of the native people of Cancun make a living by selling different items to the tourists on the beach. There are a variety of items to be purchased from these vendors, items such as sarongs, jewelry, sea shells and more. However, as in the markets, you have to be willing to bargain to get the right prices.
Museo Maya de Cancun, It’s the largest structure built by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). After 6 years in the making they opened the doors in November 2012. The building itself is a modern piece of architecture and really quite nice to walk around in. There is a nice view of the surrounding areas from the top level. The building is air-conditioned.
Chichen Itza was a large pre-Columbian city built by the Mayan civilization. This archaeological site is world famous, because of the Kukulkan pyramid and designated by UNESCO as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”. The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are one of the places you shouldn’t miss when traveling to Cancun or the Riviera Maya.
Parque de las Palapas, This Square in downtown is considered a classic place to meet for most of the residents, thus it is the real heart of the city of Cancun. There is a main stage perfectly visible where the shows are easily enjoyed. The shadows cast by the new palm trees are sweet relief from the striking sun and in the evenings the well illuminated square has a wonderfully romantic air. An open-air food court with 14 stands is located at the northern extreme of the park, and a few wooden carts with palapas covering them are distributed throughout, used by the artisans to sell their products.
MUSA Museo Subacuatico de Arte, In 2009 this monumental underwater contemporary museum of art was formed in the waters surrounding Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Punta Nizuc. The Museum aims to demonstrate the interaction between art and environmental science and form part of a complex reef structure for marine life to colonize and inhabit whilst increasing biomass on a grand scale. All of the sculptures are fixed to the seabed and made from specialized materials used to promote coral life. The total installations occupy an area of over 420 square meters of barren substrate and weighing in at over 200 tones.
Markets, Bring your haggling skills and get ready for a vast shopping experience in any of the city markets. Great buys can be found, so stick to your price resolve.
The Lobster Dinner Cruise. Take a trip out on the calm lagoon on a beautiful boat with friends you have not met yet. The staff allows you to take part in the fun or settle back and watch the sunset. Steak and lobster is cooked on the boat and is extra tasty when eaten out on the high seas.
Jeep Adventures. Experience some of the most beautiful parts of Cancun in a self-drive jeep safari. Tour prices usually include an experienced guide, and the chance to swim or snorkel in underground caves, explore Mayan ruins and visit a jungle reserve.
Water activities & tours
Aquaworld Cancun. Offers snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing tours, water activities, day trips and more in Cancun, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and Riviera Maya.
Cancun and the surrounding area offer amazing possibilities to get out of the touristy areas and get close to nature. You find caves, underwater rivers, pristine jungle, botanical garden, national parks all close to the city. You also have world class diving, but if you are not certified you can also snorkel on the second largest barrier reef in the world, or with Whale Sharks, Manta Rays, and Sea Turtles or with huge groups of Sailfish. The Yucatan peninsula is packed with natural wonders; you just need to know where to look.
Many companies are offering one day trips but you need to be aware, the easier a tour looks, the less nature oriented it is. In many cases the best option is to rent a car and visit the parks and places on your own (or with a local guide). Some activities, like the Whale Sharks or Sailfish can be organized only through a licensed operator. Look for the specialized Eco-Tour operators there are a few but still not too many in Cancun.
When shopping in Cancun, you can either go into downtown or the hotel zone. Downtown is much cheaper.
Market 28. This is the local market in downtown Cancun. Great shopping for souvenirs. It also has some great Mexican outdoor restaurants. Very cheap and good shopping. Don’t forget to bargain.
Market 23. This is more of a ‘locals’ market. Doesn’t have the same range as Market 28, but is worth a visit.
La Isla Mall, KM12.5 hotel zone. Beautiful mall in the hotel zone. Offers many boutiques and designer stores plus a wide range of restaurants and bars. mid to high.
Plaza Las Americas, Av. Tulum 260. Plaza Las Americas is one of the biggest shopping center in Cancun mid to high.
Cancun is one of the premier spa destinations in the world with a choice of more than thirty Cancun Spa Resorts that promise to transport your mind, body and spirit to a nirvana of pure bliss. Spas in Cancun offer treatments combining native, ancient mayan healing rituals, modern stress-reducing techniques.
Try a traditional Temazcal steam bath or a full-body massage on the beach overlooking the turquoise blue waters. Indulge in a thalassotherapy treatment and relax as expert therapists provide natural body wraps made with local plants and flowers.
What to eat and drink
For cheaper but still very good eats, one should go inside Cancun proper. However there are a number of restaurants in the Hotel zone as well.
Cancun’s nightlife is unlike any other destination on Earth. For some, a day in Cancun doesn’t start until tasks like a noon breakfast, nap on the beach, and siesta are arduously completed. This is your place to shine.
The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18.
The Hotel Zone is a huge venue and gets top entertainers and DJs. don’t be surprised to see Vegas like shows spontaneously erupt while you are sipping your piña colada. These clubs can charge large covers, though the cover can include an open bar.
You may find yourself dancing in a conga line, laughing your cares away and speaking whatever Español you managed to pick up. A must for the first timers, and always good fun for returners also.
Also try the clubs at Yaxchilan Avenue, located in downtown Cancun, where all the locals hang out.
Buy bottled water and drink it frequently to avoid dehydration or heat stroke.
Otherwise, do not drink the water unless your hotel has a water purification system. Most of the resorts in Cancun have purified water at all of the facilities located inside the resorts including the bars and restaurants. The upper-scale restaurants usually have purified water as well, but the water outside of these areas is not safe to drink.
Nothing is free- Most important lesson. Someone comes up to you and says, “you want a shot of tequlia? Come on its fun!” This means you have not negotiated the price.
Don’t use ATMs not located in a bank- There are ATMs all over Cancun. Use only ones that are inside banks or your hotel. Pharmacies, stores, gas stations are to be avoided. You will become a victim of identity theft (There is security 24 hrs a day in hotel zone, but you never know, just common sense) or you will find big charges for the commission of using them.
Explore Cancun and its near by cities
Chichén Itzá Archaeological Site— the largest Maya archaeological site in Yucatan, Chichen Itza is often visited on a day trip from Cancun, but is rather distant and only a small portion of the site and attractions can be seen this way. If you find the ancient Maya of interest, spend a night at one of the hotels at Chichen so you can avoid having a rushed incomplete visit. You can take a public bus or a private vehicle, about 2.5 hours from Cancun by car. Also, close to the site is a cenote, which is a fresh water sinkhole, where you can swim. The Kukulcán Pyramid, one of the most impressive Maya structures and voted one of the World’s New Seven Wonders, is now closed off to climbing to preserve it from wear.
Tulum— The only major Maya archaeological site to overlook the Caribbean Sea is only 128km south of Cancun. Not one of the larger Maya sites, but the seaside location gives it a beautiful setting. Bus services from Cancun run around 2 hrs and cost MXN60. Tulum contains over 60 different structures and is believed to be one of the most important ceremonial sites for the Maya people. This archaeological zone that dates back more than 7 centuries shows the remains of a huge walled city with roads, homes and businesses by the sea. The major highlight of Tulum is El Castillo, which is a large pyramid that sits on a forty-foot cliff. El Castillo is thought to be a part of a series of lighthouses. The architecture is similar to Chichen Itza but on a much smaller scale; just like Chichen Itza, you are not allowed to go inside or climb on the pyramids.
Isla Mujeres— A great break from the Cancun tourist traps. This small island is just a 20-minute ferry ride from the hotel zone or from Puerto Juárez Federal Dock, located 5 minutes from downtown Cancun. Rent a scooter to get around the island fast and cheap. There is a beautiful ecological water theme park, Garrafon, with splendid vistas on land and a magical underwater world.
Cozumel— A very pretty island and the most inhabited in all of Mexico, it is also an important Caribbean port of call. Chankanaab National Park is located here. Well known for its watersport activities such as diving, snorkeling, sailing, boating and fishing.
Coba— A beautiful site; it was one the largest Maya cities in ancient times, but much is still hidden under lush jungle. It boasts the tallest pyramid of the Yucatan Peninsula, the Nohoch Mul. Muyil boasts a lake surrounded by many Maya constructions.
Valladolid is a small city dating from the Spanish Colonial era with lots of period local charm, between Cancun and Chichen Itza. The selection of hotels and restaurants makes it a nice base for a night or two; it’s a good deal closer to Chichen, and other impressive Maya ruins at Ek Balam are only about 15 minutes north of town.
Xcaret . Xcaret is an Eco-archaeological Park located about 76km south of Cancun and less than 7km south of Playa del Carmen, in the Riviera Maya. Here you can admire tropical flora and fauna typical of the region as well as different expressions of the Mayan culture. In its facilities you can find an archaeological site, snorkeling in underground rivers, beach, butterfly pavilion, orchid greenhouse, regional fauna breeding farm, Mayan village, Jaguar Island, among others. For additional cost visitors can swim with dolphins; enjoy the Temascal and Spa services. At night you can admire the unique night show “Xcaret México Espectacular” which features a variety of performances from ancient Mayan culture to traditional Mexican music and dances. In order to fully explore Cancun one will take more sun that one can handle…
Official tourism websites of Cancun
For more information please visit the official government website: