11 Cancun Travel Tips To Know Before Visiting

cancun travel tips header image

Traveling to Cancun for the first time can be a daunting experience. 

Unlike visiting Hawaii, you are traveling out of the country, which requires more planning and more awareness.

While filled with pristine white-sand beaches, palm trees, sunshine, and plenty of cervezas (beer), traveling to Cancun in Mexico can be daunting.

We’ve been countless times, and each time we’ve learned a new tip to have a better travel experience, stay safe, and enjoy all of the beauty that Cancun has to offer.  

Here are 11 of our best Cancun travel tips you should know before you visit. 

1. Stay in The Right Location For Your Trip Plans

Cancun is a very diverse section of Mexico located on the Yucatán Peninsula, which borders the Caribbean Sea: 

 

Cancun is mostly known for two distinct things: 

  1. Stunning tropical beaches

  2. Nightlife and partying 

The beaches in Cancun are some of the best in the world, comparable to beaches in Hawaii: 

beaches in cancun mexico

Beyond those two main reasons why people visit Cancun, the area is home to some amazing cultural sites, from pyramids to cenotes (natural swimming holes) and ancient rainforests: 

cenote in playa del carmen

Staying in the right area of the greater Cancun area can have a dramatic impact on your all-around experience. 

Whether you are solely there for a spring break party trip or want to experience greater Cancun, the culture, and food, picking the right location for your trip goals is key.

Here is where you should stay based on what you want your trip to be.

Where to stay for beaches and night life

If your trip plans include swimming at pristine beaches, a resort hotel, and great nightlife, staying in the “Hotel Zone” is the place to be.

The hotel zone, otherwise known as Zona Hotelera, is the stereotypical vision of Cancun, including giant resort hotels on a beachfront strip: 

cancun hotel zone

Here you can find countless restaurants, bars, clubs, and big hotels to stay at that offer all-inclusive packages for unlimited drinks and food. 

How to book: we recommend booking in the Hotel Zone of Cancun via Booking.com. They offer some of the best package-deal discounts in Cancun. 

Where to stay for families, adventure, and cultural landmarks

If loud parties and nightlife just isn’t your scene, don’t fret:

You can still find stunning beaches, cultural landmarks, and adventure just south of Cancun. 

Personally, we’ve stayed in Playa Del Carmen multiple times, which is located just one hour south of Cancun. 

With a vibrant city center filled with incredible food and culture, Playa Del Carmen helps you escape the crowds of Cancun. 

It’s family-friendly and much closer to landmarks like the ruins at Tulum, Chichen Itza, and countless cenotes.

Looking to also relax on the beach? Playa Del Carmen has miles of white-sand beaches and warm water, too:

beaches at playa del carmen

If your vacation is looking to be centered around family, relaxation on the beach, and adventures at the top landmarks, staying in Playa Del Carmen is a great option. 

How to book: We recommend staying at the Mahekal Beach Resort in Playa Del Carmen, and booking via Booking.com, as you get a free airport shuttle from Cancun!

Kelly and I have personally stayed here on multiple occasions. They feature some of the best food, drinks, and beaches that Mexico has to offer. 

Learn more about Mehekal Beach Resort here.

2. What You Should Pack For a Trip to Cancun

Packing for Cancun is relatively easy, as the climate is nice year-round. 

The summer months are very warm and humid, with temperatures averaging 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and mid-’70s during the night. The Winter season of December to April is slightly cooler, with temperatures in the mid-’80s during the day. 

When visiting Cancun, we recommend you bring: 

  • Portable phone charger

  • Plenty of sunscreen, especially high SPF

  • Light clothing (temperatures rarely dip below 70 degrees at night, year-round)

  • Multiple swimwear options

  • Flip-flops and close-toed shoes for adventures or nightlife 

  • Bug-spray for adventures

Need more? Check out our full list of travel accessories we always bring on every trip.

3. Get Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check Before Visiting

While it may be a short round-trip flight, Cancun is still traveling abroad and out of the country. 

Meaning you will wait in long airport lines at your international terminal and will be forced to go through customs screenings.

Even in uncrowded lines, these can be long, annoying, and a hassle. 

If you don’t already have TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry, acquiring it before your trip can help you breeze through both airport security and customs without waiting in any lines. 

We acquired both of these from the American Express Platinum Credit Card, which currently offers a 60,000-100,000 rewards point sign-up bonus, equaling $600-$1000 of travel credit! 

american express platinum bonus

Getting this card will help you get both TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry for free, as well as enough sign-up bonus miles to get free round-trip flights to Cancun.

Not bad, huh? 🙂

4. Use Travel Credit Cards to Get Discounted (or Free) Flights 

Airline credit cards can help you score some amazing deals if you haven’t purchased flights just yet. 

For instance, using the Delta Skymiles Card, you can get 40,000+ bonus miles and a travel credit when signing up: 

delta skymiles card info

With a $0 annual feed the first year, that’s enough miles for an entirely free round-trip flight to Cancun from the United States. 

Plus, your first bag is checked free, meaning you bring sunscreen, bug spray, and your toiletries without having to repurchase them for 2x the price in Mexico.

Learn more about travel and airline cards here to score some free flights to Cancun for your vacation. 

5. Be Prepared to Tip, ALOT

If you are staying at the Cancun resorts, especially in the Hotel Zone, be prepared to tip for just about everything. 

If you thought the tipping culture in the United States was a bit extreme, you might have second thoughts after visiting Cancun.

Staying in the resort areas of the Hotel Zone, almost all are all-inclusive, meaning you aren’t directly buying food and drinks each time. 

With that, tips are often expected or even directly asked for. 

When you hear a hotel employee or bartender say “Propinas,” that means “tip” in Spanish. 

If you have an all-inclusive package, tipping is very common to hotel staff and bartenders.

Remember: you don’t need to drop $20 on each tip, just a few bucks can go a long way. 

This is something to be aware of and plan for in your travel budget when visiting Cancun. 

6. Make Sure to Have a Valid Passport 

Traveling to Cancun means traveling to Mexico. And unless you already live in Mexico, you will need a valid passport that does not expire during the time you will be there.

Make sure you triple-check your passport expiration date to ensure your passport is valid well beyond your visit. 

If anything should happen that strands you in Mexico (health, injury, storms), you don’t want to be stuck with an invalid passport. 

Here are some helpful links if you need to re-validate your passport or get your passport in a hurry if you dropped the ball: 

7. Book Excursions and Adventures Before You Get There

The Yucatán Peninsula is home to countless landmark locations, from the ruins at Chichen Itza to Mayan Pyramids to underwater caves that you can actually swim through: 

swimming in caves in mexico

This is one of the most amazing experiences we’ve ever had on a trip. Swimming in caves that are hundreds of feet underground. 

The ancient Mayan ruins along the Yucatán Peninsula hold a diverse history and stunning views, making them a must-see spot when you visit Cancun: 

mayan pyramids in mexico

When traveling to Cancun, it’s key to book these tours and trips in advance to help you save money.

When booking at the hotel, you will be charged heavily, potentially paying double for the day-trip. 

Here are three of our favorite excursions that we did in the Cancun area that was incredible: 

We highly recommend these as a great escape from the crowds at the beach to learn more about the history of the Yucatán Peninsula. 

8. Visit During the Summer or Winter

When is the best time to visit Cancun? During the Summer and Winter months. 

June to November is hurricane season in Cancun when the weather can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. 

If you are visiting during these times, be sure to read the latest forecasts and ensure there are no hurricane warnings. 

During the winter months of December to April, flights are often the most expensive. Temperatures cool down in these months to the mid-‘80s Fahrenheit, and holidays occur, making flights and hotels more expensive. 

Summer is another fantastic time to visit Cancun, but it’s often scorching hot and humid, with temperatures in the mid-’90s. 

While more expensive during winter months, you get a break from the heat. 

9. Skip the Taxis - Book a Hotel That Offers a Shuttle 

Taxis in Cancun are extremely expensive, especially if you aren’t staying close to the airport. 

Right when you land, taxi vendors will swarm you, shouting out their prices to landmark hotel spots nearby. 

Be aware: taxis have both a flat-rate fee and a mileage fee in Cancun. This means they are incredibly expensive. 

If the hotel you booked does not provide an airport shuttle included (or for a small extra cost), taxis will be your only option aside from public transportation. 

If you do decide to take a taxi, don’t settle on the first price! Be sure to befriend a nice taxi driver and haggle before jumping in the cab, you can often get some huge discounts. 

And whatever you do: don’t leave your bags unattended in the taxi. Some drivers will ask if you want to stop at the grocery store before your hotel to buy food, drinks, or sunscreen. If you can’t bring your bags in, make a second trip once you have checked into the hotel. 

10. Avoid Using Credit and Debit Cards (Bring Dollars or Pesos) 

While the right credit cards can help you score free flights to Cancun, using them abroad is often costly and riskier than using old-fashioned cash. 

Using credit and debit cards is potentially risky for comprising information, especially if you are spending money off the resort grounds. In addition to theft, foreign transaction fees are high in Mexico, and ATMs are limited (and often unsafe). 

Before visiting, head to your local bank and request to exchange money for Pesos. While in Cancun resort areas, American dollars are accepted nearly everywhere. 

Bring a mix of both US money and pesos for when you venture further away from the Hotel Zones. 

Using the safe in your hotel room, store almost all of your cash, only keeping small bills on your person at any given time. 

Avoid exchanging money at the airport or hotel, as the rates and fees are much higher.

11.  Don’t Be Afraid to Leave the Resort

Mexico often gets a bad rap for being dangerous and unsafe. While it’s not the safest country in the world, it’s also not the most dangerous. 

It can be daunting to leave the lush, luxurious, and protected resort areas, but leaving them allows you to better experience the culture and more authentic dining experiences. 

cancun mayan ruins pyramid

Don’t be afraid to leave the resort and walk into El Centro (downtown Cancun). If you are staying just south, roam the markets and streets of Playa Del Carmen morning and night, and you’ll be perfectly safe.

As always, sticking to larger groups is recommended, but not required by any means. 

Conclusion

Cancun is a magical place filled with stunning beaches, endless palm trees, and landmark cultural sites. 

Visiting for the first time can be intimidating, but you will surely have a stellar time. 

Put these Cancun travel tips to good use for your next vacation, and have an amazing trip! 


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