Complete Quick-Start Guide to Traveling Cancun, Mexico
When you live on the East Coast and someone says “Mexico”, most people think Cancun. What they are really picturing is The Yucatan Peninsula. It’s most definitely a popular vacation spot. The media typically likes to show spring break in Cancun, look at all of the Americans having fun! If you’re looking at Cancun for a family style Getaway, I’d say it’s still a good choice and here’s why:
Cancun is a destination built around a ton of choices for everyone young old and the in between. There is a ton of different activities, tours, shopping and beaches everywhere. If you want party at night or just vegetate on the beach and eat, then do that. There’s a bit of something for everyone’s situation.
Things you need to know about Traveling to Cancun
Way of life: Most everyone works hard day and night 6 days a week and then off on Sundays. You might not see them moving fast, they are very laid back and lack any urgency when it comes to time. That’s okay, you’re on vacation so go with it, don’t be early but be on time.
Tipping: Most people that are working in the tourism community around Cancun are bi-lingual and rely on their tips. If someone helps you don’t forget to tip somewhere between accordingly and generous so we can continue to receive great service.
Money: If you need an ATM use the ones located in a bank, less chance of having card fraud.
Safety: Cancun is one of the safest places in Mexico. Use the same caution as you would any city with 1 million people and you’ll be fine. Probably safer because trust me they don’t want to mess that up. Don’t walk alone at night, stay in a well lit area with other people around.
Value: You can stretch your Vacation dollar. Anyone that has been to Mexico knows that the cost of 1 week in Mexico compared to 1 week at Disney. Disney is 3 probably 4times more the price!
Planning: The most important Travel Tip I will always give is: The amount of effort you put into planning your vacation ahead of time, will be directly associated to the level of success and joyous memories you will be making.
Even if you stay at a resort that is an all inclusive, you have to plan packing, flight and transportation at the very least.
Cancun Airport (CUN): Cancun airport drive to Playa del Carmen 45-60 min
Cozumel Airport (CZM)
Ultramar Ferry goes to: Cancun / Hotel Zone / Cozumel / Playa del Carmen / Isla Mujeres
WinJet Ferry goes to: Cozumel / Playa del Carmen
Transfers (private or shared)
Everything is easy to get around to. The International airports are close by. There are plenty of private and public transportation available. I suggest taking the shuttle if your hotel provides one or plan your transportation to and from the airport ahead of time. If you just show up there is a good possibility of being price gorged.
I’m not one to drive unless I plan on taking a road trip in that case I might rent a car. If you do want to take a road trip, the best way is to rent a private tour driver for the day. The will be able to take you to more authentic sites and make the best recommendations of where you should eat.
Cancun Packing List
Pack light, that’s the way to go. My motto is, if it can’t fit into a carry on, I don’t need it! I’m saying carry-on for people that take the large suit cases and then has to cross fingers for it to be under 50lbs. That used to be me (Yes, 1 time I was over the weight limit).
If you’re going to Cancun the dress is very casual, light & airy. Therefore everything is more compact. For 1 week I usually take a back pack and a large beach tote, no luggage. Maybe it sounds absurd to you but, it’s truly amazing how free you feel
You won’t have to : Wait for the luggage belt, Stand in line at the airport check-in, lug something heavy and awkward around and through customs, there is a high chance of it being lost or late.
If you can’t resist over-packing or you have large sports equipment such as golf clubs, my best suggestion is to contact Travel without Bags-LugLess to take care of it for you.
Places to Stay Cancun
Most people stay in the “Hotel Zone”, not downtown. This tourist area runs 15 miles long, is full of resorts, on an island strip along the Caribbean Sea. The “Hotel Zone” begins 6 miles straight out of Cancun and goes all the way down to The Nichupte Lagoon.
Back 20 years ago I always used an agent. Since she had traveled to a lot of different resorts [she went by the name Gina Jamaica] she always did well with choosing the best ones for me. If you do go through a travel agent to setup your accommodations, you have to communicate to them what you’re looking for.
I suggest you take some of these hotel links to look at their amenities. See what they have, determine what you can’t live without or will be important part of the hotel stay.
For me I like an all-inclusive, boutiques size resort. I must be on the beach, Free wi-fi and an in room coffee maker. Don’t assume that all resorts or hotels will offer all the same amenities. The options are truly unlimited: budget, mid-range, luxury, something for everyone.
Reviews, do read the reviews…on a review site, not the hotels site. Sometimes reviews are skewed. They can be bought (black hat reviews) and at the other end of the spectrum is that some people are plain miserable and nothing gives them as much pleasure or control as giving a bad review.
Top Resorts Cancun
All-inclusive Plan: Moon Palace (palace resorts), Bahia Principe Grand Tulum, Ocean Riviera Paradise, Iberostar, Hacienda Tres Rios Resort Spa Nature Park
European Plan: ( Meals, Drinks & Tips are not included) JW Marriot Cancun Resort & Spa, Mariot Cancun Resort, The Westin Resort & Spa Cancun, The Westin Lagunamon Ocean Resort Villas and Spa
Honeymoon Hotels: ( luxury and elegance): Le Blanc Spa Resort, Sun Palace Cancun, The Royal Cancun, Bel Air Collection Hotel & Spa
Boutique Hotels: Habitas (Tulum), Chable (Merida), Punta Caliza (Isala Holbox), Casa Las Tortugas (Holbox), Cancun Beach Hideaway
#1 Top All-inclusive Resort:
Best Public & Private Beaches
Top Yucatan Public Beaches
Akumal Beach: Akumal
Maya Chan Beach: Mahahual
Playa El Cielo: Cozumel
Playa Norte: Isla Mujeres
Playa Delfines: Cancun ( has the Cancun sign)
Punta Coco Beach: Holbox Island
Xpu-ha Beach: Xpu-Ha
Best Yucatan Beach Clubs with activities:
Mr Sanchos Beach Club: Cozumel
Ziggy Beach: Tulum
Paradise Beach: Cozumel
Kool Beach Club: Playa del Carmen
Martina Beach Club: Plat del Carmen
La Playa Xpuha: Xpu-Ha
Yaya Beach: Mahahual
Mandula Beach: Cancun
The Kay Club: Puerto Morelos
Pez Quadro Beach Club: Mahahual
Taste of Cancun
You can’t travel to Mexico without enjoying some authentic Mexican Food. It’s all around you Restaurants, Street Vendors, Food Trucks, Roadside food stands, Farmers Markets. A must have is a good variety of tacos from a restaurant that locals frequent or if you like food trucks.
Probably about 10 years ago I spent a New Year Day with a traditional Mexican Family. They celebrate with homemade Tamales and a soup called Menudo (hangover soup). That’s when I found out what a true tamale is supposed to taste like. Now I always look for Tamale’s. I like to compare them AS IF I’m an expert tamale connoisseur. I will honestly say, “I found some good tamales but I haven’t found any as good as the ones I had that day”!
Recommended Traditional Cuisine
Ceviche /səˈvēCHā,-CHē/ : Raw fish marinated with citrus juices, with onions, peppers and seasonings. The acids from the lemons & limes actually cook the fish. Sometimes served on tacos, tortilla chip or by itself.
Queso Relleno /ˈkāsō/ /rəˈyānō/ : Stuffed Cheese, topped with a white Mexican Sauce and baked. Edam cheese can be filled with pork, nuts, raisins, seasonings.
Cochinita Pibil /ko-chin-ee-ta / pee-beel / : Pork cooked underground. Slow cooked pork, marinated in achiote and orange juice. This can be served on a corn tortilla or on rice with toppings.
Marquesita / mar-kay-cee-ta / : Served a dessert. Thin crunchy waffled crepe filled with notella or edam cheese and then topped with caramel sauce.
Shopping:Malls, Markets, Shops
Heavenly finds for a foodie. Visit roadside food stands for the fresh local finds that you can’t get elsewhere.
Markets & Shops
Mercado 28 Flee Market: Downtown Cancun
El Pueblito Farmers Market: Mayakoba
Food Truck Village: Playa del Carmen
5th Ave Playa del Carmen, Day or night
Quinta Alegria 16thst, Playa del Carmen
Plaza Las Americas Mall, Cancun
Calle Corazon (Playa del Carmen)
Puerto Cancun Mall
Tours /Activities /Attractions
If you like water activities such as snorkeling or want to take diving lessons this is the place to do it. Of course nothing will ever meet your standards after that. The Mesoamerican Reef [also called The Great Mayan Reef] is 620 miles long and is the 2nd largest reef in the entire world. It begins north of Cancun and runs south along 4 other countries Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. It’s an amazing experience view the colorful coral and fish in bright blue waters. Jacques Cousteau said, “It’s one of the finest dive spots in the world”. You can look all you want but don’t touch. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System is considered critically endangered ecosystem
Xcaret: (Adult and Children. Underground rivers and cultural attractions)
Xxplor Fuego: (Nighttime Adventure Park)
Xavage: (Adult and Teen, Children area for age group 5-11)
Xel-Ha: (Adult and Teen, Children area. Mostly water activities, Natural environment system practiced
Xenses: (Fun for everyone. Outdoor theme park, sense themed activities & optical illusions)
Xoximilco: (Heritage carnival style Park. Floating fiesta party)
Xenotes Oasis Maya: (boats,zip line, rappel and more adventure in 4 different cenotes)
Ventura Park: Wet-n-wild (waterpark), Aaah! Ventura (Zip Lines and Suspension Bridges), Fun World (Carousel, Flying Chairs, Roller Coaster)
Loltun Caves [tun=stone]
Grutas Loltun [lol=flower]
Fundadores Park: (Playa del Carmen Community Seaside Park with beach, vendors, entertainment)
TortugranjaTurtle Farm: (indoor/outdoor Turtles, Crab, urchins, conches, gator)
Crococun Zoo: (All animals are rescues, touch hold feed during the interactive guided tour)
Garrafon Natural Reef Park: Isla Mujeres (reefs, cliffs, turquoise waters)
Isla Contoy National Park: (uninhabited island with secluded beaches nesting sites for sea birds/turtles)
National Reef Park: of Puerto Morelos
Coba Wild Monkey Reserve:
Punta Laguna: Nature reserve
Calakmul Biosphere Reserve
Celestun Biosphere Reserve: (migrating flocks of birds, flamingos, pelicans, others)
Sian Ka’a Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO Site) “gate of heaven”
Rio Lagartos Reserve
Eco Colors Tours
Living Dreams Mexico
H & L Tours
Absolute Adventure :Private Tour
Absolute Adventure: Special Event
All Tour Native
Living Dreams Mexico
Interactive Aquarium Cancun
Sea Turtles: Akumal
Swim with Dolphins, Manatee and Sea Lions
Snorkling (Reefs of Cozumel)
Boat & Dinner Cruises
Catamarans Sailing Activities
Captain Hook Pirate Ship Tour with Lobster & Steak
Jolly Roger Pirate Ship Tour with Surf & Turf
Lucha Libre Show
Torre Escencia Cancun Senic 360* Tower: (View of Caribbean coast and Cancun)
Bicycle (Tours & rentals)
ATV Jungle Trail Adventure
Jungle Hike: Informative hike with Dr Alfred Barrera Marin
Las Coloradas [Pink Lakes] Viewing only, not for swimming
Dinner Show: Rauxa
Food & Drink Tours
Golf Cart Bar Crawl of Isla Mujeres
Taco and Local Beer Tour
Top Museum & Art
Steet Art Tour: Isla Mujeres
Street Art: Mayakoba, Tulum
Museum: Musa Museum: see underwater statues by scuba, snorkel or glass bottom boat
Museo Museum in Cancun: Mayan History
Casino Palace: Cancun
Golden Island Casino: Merida
Dudai Palace Casino: Cancun
The Mayan Spa: Isla MujeresMayan Themed: Body Mind & Spirit Treatments
Nichupte Destination: Holistic Spa
Matrix Spa & Massage: Cancun
Baby Spa Cancun
Best Golf Clubs
Golf Vacation Packages
Top Golf Clubs
Iber0star Club Playa Paraiso: Playa Paraiso
El Camaelon: (Mayakoba PGA course) Play del Carmen
Moon Palace Golf Course: Cancun
Riviera Maya Golf Club: Akumal
Cozumel Country Club: Cozumel
Grand Coyote Golf: Playa del Carmen (formerly Grand Coral Golf Riviera Maya)
Scenic Air Tours
Scenic Tours: Airplane, Cancun
Scenic Tours: Airplane, Cozumel
Scenic Tours: Airplane, Playa del Carmen
Scenic Tours Helicopter, Cancun
Scenic Tours: Helicopter, Playa del Carmen
Parque de las Palapas Cancun, town square outdoor hub
Mandala: Outdoor bikini party
Coalina Daylight Club
Club Bongos: Dancing night club
DG: rooftop lounge
CoCo Bongo Club: Stage show, entertainment- 4 hour show must be 18
La Bodeguita: Latin dance
The City Night Club Lounge: Occasional celebrity performance
Dady O Club: Techno & House music, pro dancers
Communities /Villages /Islands
You have many Nearby Communities, Villages and Islands to stay on the Yucatan Peninsula. From Cancun’s favorite scenic Island of Isla Mujeres, all the way 92 miles south to Tulum. The hotels are lined up even beyond that. Instead of Cancun’s Hotel Zone maybe you’d prefer something more of an authentic like a quiet colonial town.
The Yucatan peninsula has had a melting pot of traditions. We usually think of the Mayan heritage when we think of Cancun. It’s true they began populating the area before anyone else came. There is also Spanish, Caribbean and American Indian influences. Each town is noticeably different and if you stay in Cozumel you can still take a day trip out to any of these locations.
Akumal: (Place of the turtle)
Bacalar: (Lake of seven colors, “Pueblo Magico”)
El Cuyo: (Fishing village. Popular for eco tours and kite surfing)
Espita: (Small photogenic, non-touristy, authentic Colonial village)
Holbox Island: (Beautiul island with Fishing, Shark tours, snorkeling, bird watching)
Isla Blanca: (You guessed it, gorgeous white beaches)
Isla Mujeres: (Touristy yet charming.15 min north of Cancun)
Izamal: (“The yellow city”, “City of Hills”. Small colonial tow with remnants of pyramids)
Merida: (Spanish Colonial City, largest population and Capital of Yucatan)
My Favorite Towns are Playa del Carmen, Akumal and Merida
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