The ultimate Cancun travel guide

From beaches to bars, Cancun’s Caribbean vibe attracts visitors from around the globe. For some, Cancun is their destination. Others use the city as a means to visit different parts of the Yucatán, such as Playa del Carmen and Chiquila. Whether your version of an authentic Cancun experience means beach hopping, scarfing down street food, or partying it up, this guide will introduce you to the must-see hot spots in Cancun.

Downtown vs. Hotel Zone

You may have heard chatter about there being two versions of Cancun. It’s a valid observation since Cancun is split between downtown and the Hotel Zone.

The good news? It’s easy to decide where to stay. If beaches, nightlife, and a postcard-perfect version of a Cancun vacation is your style, pick a hotel in the Hotel Zone. Otherwise, if you want to live like a local, find a place in downtown.

Best beaches in Cancun

It’s no secret that Cancun is famous for its beaches, and each one has its unique characteristics. Even if you’re limited on time, it’s easy to travel between them, so don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to just one of the options below.

Playa Tortugas: Excellent for swimming and snorkeling due to minimal waves.

Playa Delfines: Quieter, hotel-free zone. Great for basking on the beach but not suitable for swimming.

Playa Gaviota Azul: Party beach that’s close to the Coco Bongo and Mandala nightclubs.

Playa Langosta: Shallow water, plenty of public amenities, and a safe place to swim.

Although most of Cancun’s best beaches are in the Hotel Zone, consider hopping on a 20-minute ferry to check out Playa Norte on beautiful Isla Mujeres. You can also take a bus south to visit Tulum’s beaches. Aside from being free of high-rise resorts, there are plenty of things to do in Tulum, including visiting the oceanfront Tulum National Park. 

Water activities in Cancun

If you’re looking for things to do in the Cancun Hotel Zone, you can’t go wrong with choosing a water activity. Some of the most popular water sports in Cancun include:

  • Snorkeling
  • Scuba diving
  • Flyboarding
  • Jet skiing 
  • Paddle boarding

Taking a catamaran tour is also an excellent option for a more relaxed outing on the water. If you’re traveling with your partner, try booking a dinner cruise at sunset—it’s by far one of the most romantic things to do in Cancun for couples. 

Cancun cultural attractions

Despite being famed for its beaches, Cancun offers various options for people interested in culture and history. 

©allenran 917/Flickr

Start your cultural journey with the ruins in El Rey, which sit at the southern end of the Hotel Zone. You’ll get to see over 40 Mayan buildings and tombs from A.D. 1200. While the ruins are impressive, their iguana inhabitants steal the show! If El Rey isn’t enough to satisfy your ruins-seeking soul, head over to nearby El Meco or take a day trip to Chichen Itza. 

Then, expand your knowledge of Mayan culture at The Maya Museum in downtown. Visiting this museum is one of the best things to do in Cancun when it rains.

Free things to do in Cancun

There are plenty of things to do in Cancun for free, starting with the obvious—its beaches! Whereas many beaches along the Riviera Maya have entrance fees, free public beaches are plentiful in Cancun.

One of the more unique things to do in Cancun is strolling its streets and searching for street art, which often has Mayan and Mexican designs. 

You can also visit Parque de las Palapas in downtown, where local events and dances occur. Don’t be surprised if you can’t resist the temptation to purchase food from local vendors. Then again, with prices starting at a dollar or two, it’s a guilt-free splurge!

Things to do in Cancun with kids

There are many great things to do in Cancun for adults, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything for children. 

©Daniel Kwok/Flickr

The Cancun Underwater Museum (MUSA) is a kid-friendly activity that’s easy to tailor depending on your children’s ages. The underwater museum contains over 500 sunken sculptures with the purpose of fostering new habitat for coral restoration. You can visit MUSA via a bottom glass boat trip, snorkeling, or scuba diving.

Another option is to purchase a day pass at a different hotel so that your kids have new amenities and another part of the beach to enjoy. It’s especially fun to do this at a 5-star hotel; day passes are reasonable compared to the cost of a room.

Places to eat in Cancun

For every taco-craving tourist, there’s a Mexican restaurant in Cancun. Okay… perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but this much is true: You won’t go hungry. Below are some fantastic restaurant options in Cancun.

Hacienda Sisal

Choose from a variety of Mexican and Mayan inspired dishes at this hacienda-style beachside restaurant. 

Hours of operation: Sunday 8:00 – 2:00 pm, 5:00 – 11:00 pm. Monday-Saturday 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Address: km 13.5, Blvd. Kukulcan, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico

Parque de las Palapas

Street food lovers will swoon over the Mexican food options at this park in downtown Cancun. 

Hours of operation: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Address: 77500, Tulipanes LB, 22, Cancún, Q.R., Mexico


Famous for serving local lobster. For a full Mexican experience, order the jumbo lobster taco.

Hours of operation: Every day, 1:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Address: Kukulkan Km 10.5, Punta Cancun, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico


Eating at Casitas is one of the most romantic things to do in Cancun. Owned by the Ritz Carlton, you’ll dine in a private beachside cabana. 

Hours of operation: Every day, 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Address: Rtno. del Rey #36, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico

Cancun nightlife

Nicknamed the party capital of Mexico, there’s no shortage of things to do in Cancun at night. World-famous nightclubs like Congo Bar have acrobat shows while Mandala will make you feel like a VIP. Meanwhile, those looking for a gay scene in Cancun will love 11:11 Club.   

©Kirt Edblom/Flickr

Downtown Cancun doesn’t offer beach nightlife, but you can find some amazing local—and cheap—bars and clubs compared to the Hotel Zone. 

Cancun is waiting for you

Get ready to fill your camera roll with blue—Cancun’s coastline will have you saying, just one more photo. With few travel requirements, an energetic atmosphere, and an excellent base for exploring the Riviera Maya, Cancun is a go-to choice for thousands of travelers every year.

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