Soft white sands, dazzling turquoise waves, cold drinks, sun kissed days… Cancun is the kind of escape you envision when you’re wishfully thinking of a little getaway.
Cancun is Mexico’s top destination well known for its Caribbean touch in Mexican land.
Cancun has the expensive air around its name, with its Hotel Zone strip of high rise waterfront hotels, restaurants and famous nightlife. However, it’s downtown centre makes it possible to enjoy the best of both worlds – a traditional affordable stay in a luxurious destination.
This complete guide will tell you my personal recommendations on what to do, what to eat, how to get around, and where to stay in Cancun! Enjoy!
Your Travel Guru Guide to Cancun:
1. Soak up the sun in Playa Tortugas – Found in the the Hotel Zone, make your way to a public beach without staying in a beachfront resort. Need directions? Ask for the Ultramar Playa Tortugas ferry terminal that takes you to Isla Mujeres. It’s to the left of the beach and this is the spot to be to enjoy resort-like crystal blue waters without paying a penny for the experience. You can choose to enjoy a cold drink at the restaurants along the shore, or stop by Chedraui on your way to the beach to bring an insulated thermal bag with you with iced drinks of your choice.
Shop Amazon for a travel thermal bag here.
2. Explore Mayan Ruins at El Rey Archaeological Zone – Quite the introduction to pre-Colombian times without having to spend a full day on a tour to Chichen Itza. A $2 entrance fee to over 40 excavated Mayan sites – you can spend hours walking through the ancient Mayan World to admire stone structures, climb up to a Mayan temple and burial site and gaze at adorned stone walls.
If you have the time, an alternate experience is a full day excursion to Chichen Itza with lunch included. This is one of the 7 new wonders of the world and worth the trip!
3. Day trip to Isla Mujeres, The Isle of Women – This is where I found my most favorite beach in the entire month we spent traveling through the Yucatan Peninsula! With Ultramar, you can book a $20 USD roundtrip ferry and enjoy live music and entertainment aboard. Isla Mujeres is the perfect place for you if you want to get away from the developed Hotel Zone and enjoy the sun in a 5-mile long haven off the coast of Cancun. The Ultramar Puerto Juarez ferry is the closest one to downtown Cancun. From the ferry stop in Isla Mujeres, you can walk to Playa Norte for stunning white sand and a palm tree lined shore.
Looking for a more exclusive experience? Book an all inclusive full day catamaran tour with open bar and lunch buffet from Cancun. Hotel pick up included.
4. Swim in a cenote – You have many options here because the Yucatan Peninsula is home to over 6,000 cenotes, natural crystal clear water holes found underground and inside caves. Some of the closest ones to Cancun include Cenote Chaak Tun, Cenote Siete Bocas or Cenote Verde Lucero.
To make transportation hassle-free, book a tour that will take to three different cenotes (to include snorkeling gear)!
5. Snorkel in Puerto Morelos – Take a 35 min. air conditioned ADO bus to Puerto Morelos, where you can snorkel with your own gear from the shore if you stay behind the buoy line. If you’re interested in a tour – you can book with Buceo Xtabay or Brecko’s Snorkeling to the reef with a local guide. Need a break? Take a towel with you and spend the day there to enjoy the white sand and ocean sounds.
Don’t have time to go to Puerto Morelos? Snorkel in crystal clear waters in Isla Mujeres, you won’t regret it.
6. Parasail above the Caribbean – This one is for the thrill seekers! Rise 200+ feet in the air for the most phenomenal views of catamarans silhouetted against the sea. Take in the peacefulness from above where you can see the 15 mile long Hotel Zone and views of Isla Mujeres. We booked this parasailing tour and it was an experience of a lifetime!!
7. Browse through Mercado 23 – Not to get confused with Mercado 28. Mercado 23 will have less intrusive vendors, cheaper souvenirs and the same type of merchandise found in famous Mercado 28 or the Hotel Zome souvenir shops. Street tacos and various food vendors will welcome you for a fraction of the cost. A few blocks from the ADO bus stop in downtown Cancun. Cash only.
8. Experience Tulum – Choose between a half day tour with hotel pick up that will take your to the archeological site that sits between land and sea, or a full day adventure to Tulum, Coba and Dzonot Wayak cenoteDzonot Wayak cenote, lunch included. Tulum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, if you have time, don’t miss this!
9. Spend a day at Xcaret – This natural park has an underground river, natural pools, cultural performances and more. This Xcaret experience includes hotel pick up and entrance to the park.
10. Party all night long in Coco Bongo – This is a Vegas style night club and show, includes open bar & guarantees a good time all night long. Skip the lines & reserve your dancing ticket for Coco Bongo!
Local Eats in Cancun
- Tortas – imagine a toasted Mexican bread stuffed with cheese, avocado, and your choice of chicken/steak/ham/chorizo, you name it.
- Talames – corn based, steamed, and wrapped in corn husk. Try a new flavor every day!
- Elotes Preparados – The corn man will show up with his cart – try a corn on a stick with mayo, cheese and lime. It’s a Mexican street favorite everywhere in the country.
- Taquerias – My favorite are the mouth watering tacos al pastor with grilled pineapple or tacos de arrachera. You won’t be disappointed.
- Tequila & Mezcal – both from the agave plant and specialties of my country. Get ready to dance all night!
Unique Restaurants Only in Cancun:
Thai Lounge – Dine in a hut with dolphin views. Not kidding. This restaurant is adjacent to the Cancun Aquarium and you can enjoy spicy Asian infused dishes. We chose the treehouse experience, where you dine while sitting on cushions with the dolphin view. You could also reserve the huts above water to watch the sunset.
Tacos Oishi – This is one you can’t find elsewhere. Japanese owner and chef who has created an unique taco menu that merges Mexican and Japenese into one. Original flavor, easy going vibe.
Transportation – How to Get Around Cancun?
The R1 and R2 buses run every 5 minutes and make continuous stops throughout the main points of interest and the entire Hotel Zone strip. No need to mind the time – they run 24 hours. The buses will have signs in the front indicating the stops and cost under .50 cents one way.
From city to city transport through Quintana Roo, ADO bus is a safe and reliable option. For One way from Cancun to Playa del Carmen starts at $8 USD. Upon arrival to the ADO terminal, walk a few blocks to find better taxi fares.
Where to Stay in Cancun?
The Hotel Zone is the place to be if you want convenient access to the beach, night life & quick transportation to all your excursions. This part of Cancun is completely safe & full of all inclusive paradises.
An alternative and a more long-term option is Airbnb. We rented an apartment throughout our stay in Cancun. We chose Casita Isabella, a pet friendly home with a large patio since we travel with our dog, Brodie. I recommend this specific apartment to anyone traveling to Cancun, it’s one block away from Av. Xcaret where we took the R1/R2 bus stop and 5 minute walk to Chedraui supermarket.
- For Airbnb credit towards your first stay, sign up with this link.
Did you enjoy Cancun as much as we did? Tag me in your photos and tell me what you loved the most!
Signed while soaking up the sun in Punta Cana,
Salma Travel Guru
*Disclaimer: Affiliate links included on this page will help me generate travel funds at no cost to you. I only recommend tours that are truly value-added to their trip. Thanks for looking!
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