Cancun Travel Guide
Mexico has become one of our favorite places to visit for so many reasons.. the warm weather, amazing beaches, delicious food, and the kindest people. We try to make it to Mexico at least once a year. (Unless you’re Emma who is visiting Mexico for the third time this year, next month) ;)
The nice thing about Mexico is that it’s easy for us to get to. We live in California where there are tons of flights all day, every day. As a matter of fact, Jeff went to San Diego State which is yards away from the Mexican border and frequently traveled down to Tijuana and Rosarito for tacos and surfing while in College. Sounds wonderful!!
Even though Mexico is very close to California, it took us awhile to discover how special it really is. Hawaii has been our main vacation spot for many years for a variety of reasons.. mainly because we had family who lived there. I grew up on the East Coast so my idea of a beach vacation consisted of Florida, Texas, and the Caribbean beaches. Our first trip to Mexico was in 2011 where we spent a week in Cabo. (Cabo is on the Pacific side of Mexico) We fell in love! After that, I was able to visit Mexico many times as a flight attendant on work trips. Cancun was where we laid over and that was my first introduction to the Yucatán peninsula.
Cancun rests on the Caribbean sea and it’s located very close to the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, the water has the most beautiful turquoise color and it’s also very warm. Unfortunately, over the last few years Cancun has been experiencing an influx of seaweed called, Sargassum washing up on shore in huge amounts. It’s a problem that the Mexican government is currently trying to take care of. We were so lucky however because on this trip the seaweed wasn’t as bad as what we’ve heard it can be. I just wanted to make sure to share this as it’s important to know before you book a vacation.
- Make sure to book airport transportation to your hotel a few days prior to arrival.
- Depending on when you’re going, try to make dinner reservations at least 1 day before you want to go. If you’re in Cancun during peak season, try to make a reservation before you leave home. This has saved us on many nights.
- Bring at least $100 USD with you. In case an ATM is broken (ours were broken at the hotel) you have fall-back cash to exchange. Make sure to only use ATMs that are guarded or inside a bank/hotel & never on the street for safety reasons. If you’re planning on using USD make sure to check the exchange rate for that day.
- Take sunscreen with you – it can be expensive at hotels
- If you’re staying at a popular resort – book a cabana ahead of time.
- Don’t drink the water.. ever. It’s not safe – don’t even brush your teeth with it. Purchase as many bottles of water at Oxxo/7-11 as possible. Montezuma’s revenge is NOT fun.
- Oxxo is similar to 7-11’s in the states. They sell snacks, waters, beverages and more! Great inexpensive option.
- Taxi’s are a good way to get around – but make sure they are legal taxi’s by checking out the name & legal placard inside the car. Make sure to ask how much it will cost to get to your destination before getting in the car. Uber is new-ish in Mexico – it’s a great option in Mexico City & Cabo. It’s brand new in Cancun so I would look online to see if the uproar between Taxis vs Uber has settled down.
- If you’re more adventurous, the local bus is extremely easy to use. It’s 24-hours and very efficient. Emma is more comfortable using this than I am.
- Visit between June-November if you want to get the best prices with less crowds. We went mid-June and never had a problem with crowds or rain. Hurricane season begins in June (technically) but more-so in August so keep that in mind & watch the weather!
Learn the Language:
The majority of people in Cancun speak English however here are a few terms in Spanish that I think are polite to use:
Hola – Hello
Gracias – Thank you
Como Estas – How are you?
Muy Bien – Very good
Cuanto Cuesta – How much is this?
Buenos Dias/Tardes/Noches – Good Morning/Afternoon/Night
Dónde está el Baño? – Where is the bathroom?
Some of you have expressed concerns about traveling to Mexico because of stories in the news. We feel fine about visiting Cancun & Cabo. We do our research and visit places that are known to be safe for tourists: the Hotel Zone, Isla Murjeres, etc. When visiting anywhere new, you need to always be vigilant and smart about your surroundings.
- Don’t drink excessively.
- Never walk alone at night.
- Never flaunt valuables.
- Never use ATMs outside or at night. We always use the ATMs in hotels or inside banks.
Where to Stay
There are two areas that we recommend staying in the Cancun area.
The hotel zone is a long landing strip full of all-inclusive resorts, amazing restaurants, and soft sandy beaches. It’s a safe area catered to tourists featuring tons of beach activities, luxury shopping, and nightclubs.
- The JW Marriott – (We booked this hotel directly through the Marriott website!) If you want to experience the luxury feel at a lower price, then the JW is your best bet. They just finished a complete renovation of the entire property and we were so impressed. There’s nothing like walking into a beautifully updated room with new amenities. The bathroom was my favorite part.. Ours had a beautiful free-standing tub & a huge walk in shower with the biggest rain shower head ever. We booked a premium ocean view room on the club 91 level. Club 91 is a high-end lounge located on the top level of the hotel. It includes breakfast, lunch, “discovery” – aka dinner, happy hour & dessert every day. This was a great deal for us. We stayed at the resort in June which is the shoulder season – so we paid $250 a night for a room on the Club level. The price of the room included access to the Club for 2 people – we paid an additional $125 a day for Emma to have the same access to the Club. With the room, the hotel also gave us $100 resort credit per day as a special deal. We only left the hotel for dinner on 2 of the 5 nights because the food at the Club was that good. One of the favorite amenities that we indulged in was to rent the ‘Bali Bed’ Cabana next to the pool every day. We were able to relax, work, swim, and house everything in one area. Click here to see a little post about our cabana days. We love this hotel and highly recommend it for the customer service alone! From the minute you walk in the door… the pool staff, spa, concierge, bellmen, Club 91 staff.. everyone was amazing. They learn your name and make an effort to personalize your stay.
- The Ritz-Carlton Cancun – Quite a few of my friends have stayed here and love it! Definitely more of an ‘adult-vibe’ and gorgeous.
- Le Blanc Cancun – One of the most expensive properties in the Hotel Zone. It’s all-inclusive though, so you can factor that into pricing. Looks beautiful and has over 6,000 positive reviews with 5 stars on tripadvisor.
This island is 14 km off the coast of Cancun (20 min ferry ride) where the Caribbean Sea & the Gulf of Mexico meet. It’s a small island that is 4 miles long and it includes beautiful beaches, resorts, and has a small town vibe. At one end of the island is the famous Playa Norte (North Beach) and at the other is, Punta Sur (a famous lighthouse, sanctuary for sea turtles, and a mayan ruin). Rent a golf cart to get the full experience of the island. You can visit different beaches and restaurants this way and there is tons of parking available. We had an amazing time!
How to visit: Isla Mujeres is a 20 minute ferry ride away from Cancun. Take the Ultra Ferry from Playa Tortuga Port to the island for about $20 roundtrip per person. It drops you off directly in town.
TIP: Make sure to rent your golf cart from a reputable place. We did some research but unfortunately many places were sold out by the time we got to the island. It costs around $40-50 to rent a golf cart for 8 hours, or you can negotiate renting for a couple days if you are staying on the island. Make sure to take pictures of your golf cart before driving off in case of scams. Golf Cart Indios has solid reviews.
We only ate one meal on the island, and it was at the Mango cafe. Delicious & authentic Mexican food. Really unassuming place on the outside but don’t let that fool you! SO delicious! A few of you recommended it to us when I storied that we were heading there & it did not disappoint!
We visited the island just for the day and fell in love! Next time we go back, we’ll definitely stay a couple nights there. The beaches on the island remind me of the Virgin Islands with no waves & the water is crystal clear. Playa Norte is the most popular beach on the island with special spa services and beach clubs lining the sand.
One thing I will mention about the island is that on one side there is a large dumpsite with trash – not the prettiest view. I wouldn’t stay on the southern part of this street close to Punta Sur: Av. Perimentral Ote which is where the dump is located.
Places to stay:
- Zoetry Villa Rolandi
- Isla Mujeres Palace
- Casa Coco – 9 bedroom home.. absolutely gorgeous for a bigger group!
Where to Eat
Mexico has an abundance of options regarding food at all price points. We tend to eat at higher-end restaurants while traveling in general and Cancun has a bunch of great options. We hadn’t been back in a few years and many of you actually recommended some fabulous spots that we loved – thank you for you recommendations!
- Rosa Negra – For those who follow my stories, you may have seen our amazing night spent at Rosa Negra. The restaurant sits on the Nichupute lagoon in the Hotel Zone within walking distance from the JW Marriott. It offers a great indoor/outdoor experience with 2 bars, live DJ, live shows (at least on the weekends) and multiple seating areas. We were lucky enough to get a table on one of the docks with a chandelier overhead and directly in front of the live shows. We experienced amazing food, service, and surprise fireworks at the end of the night. Truly insane because we booked our reservation an hour prior! An average entree is around $25-30, but you can go up to $100 depending on what you want! For those with young children – go earlier in the evening, for those who want a fun vibe – go later in the evening. Ask to sit out on the docks if you would like a less crowded experience.
- Fred’s House – Great quiet restaurant directly across the street from the JW Marriott. Delicious food & drinks! Definitely sit outside at sunset for the best experience. Vegan, Vegetarian & Gluten Free dishes available.
- Mango Cafe – On Isla Mujeres several of you recommended this place to us to grab a bite for breakfast/lunch! They are known for their coconut mango french toast. The steak burrito that we had was amazing! Unassuming place from the outside (we almost passed it!) but don’t let that fool you.. the food is great. Must-stop in Isla Mujeres.
- Puerto Madero – We didn’t end up eating here but it’s highly rated as one of the best restaurants in Cancun! High-end experience and yummy latin food.
Things to Do in Cancun
There are TONS to do in this gorgeous region. Of course, there are the typical beach activities like parasailing, jet skiing, sunset boating, snorkeling, diving and more. More than just the beach, here are some fun activities:
- Visit Chichen Itza – One of the 7 new wonders of the world.. this mayan site is a must-see. About 2 hours outside of the hotel zone, it takes majority of the day so decide if it’s worth it for you. Book a private excursion for the best tour!
- Swim, Snorkel & Dive in Cenotes – The Yucatan Peninsula is home to over 6,000 cenotes which are amazing sinkholes in the ground full of bright blue swimming water. You can explore many of them by renting a car, tour, etc.
- Visit Puerto Morelos – Small fishing village around 40 minutes away from Cancun. More traditional Mexican town feel with delicious food and a place to explore for the afternoon.
- Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox – Visit one of these islands for the day! As we said above we visited Isla Mujeres for the day and loved it. 20 minute ferry from Cancun. Isla Holbox is a bit further (2 hours) but has beautiful beaches.
- Ancient Ruins – There are many famous ruins in areas around Cancun to explore & see if you love history.
- Zip-Lining & ATVing – There are tons of jungle activities and sports to take part in. As always, research the companies you book with for high reviews and safety.
If you’ve never visited Cancun or the Yucatán, we highly recommend it. Right now I feel like there is so much negativity surrounding Mexico via media that I worry that people are going to miss out on visiting this beautiful and special part of the world. Most of the Mexicans we met in Cancun have expressed a serious concern for the slow-down in Tourism. It affects their livelihood & it was upsetting to hear from them how it’s affected their lives. I love Mexico and the people and I’m so happy I’ve had the opportunity to visit!
Have you ever visited Cancun? If so – leave your opinions below!