12 Things To Know Before You Go to Cancun

Cancun, in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, is renowned for its glorious beaches
Cancun, in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, is renowned for its glorious beaches | © Fernando Garcia / Unsplash
Cancun is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. Why? Well, it may be because of the fantastic lodging options, the world-class dining, the shopping-for-all budgets or the endless activities. Here are the things to know before visiting.

White-sand beaches, the warm tropical weather, the swaying palm trees and the turquoise Caribbean. Once you visit Cancun, you’ll want to return over and over. Here is what you need to know before traveling to the ultimate beach vacation destination.

Airport transportation options

When you arrive in Cancun, you’ll want to get to your hotel as quickly as possible so you can start enjoying the pool and the beach. There are many options available for all budgets. The ADO bus leaves from Terminal 2 and will take you to either Downtown Cancun or Playa del Carmen, and is the least expensive option. Once you’re there you can take a taxi to your final destination. Collectivos (shared vans) are available at the airport, and are reasonably priced as well. There are also many companies that offer transportation that you can book online before your trip, while renting a car will give you the freedom to explore the area. There are luxury options, including private limos, Town Cars and Suburbans.

Where to stay

Cancun offers so many different types of options, from a humble place to lay your head to luxury all-inclusive resorts. Generally the most economical choices are located in Downtown Cancun, and include hostels, Airbnbs and small hotels, which also offer a taste of local life. There are all-inclusive resorts in various price categories in the Hotel Zone and along the coast in the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen and beyond, that offer everything you need in one place. Resorts in the Hotel Zone tend to be smaller, while those in the Riviera Maya can be sprawling and offer amenities including golf or waterparks. Some even offer shuttles to get around.

Beach safety

Cancun’s beaches are fabulous, but they can also be dangerous. There are flags on the beach to indicate conditions. A black flag means it’s very dangerous and no swimming is allowed. A red flag also indicates dangerous conditions and visitors should swim with caution. A yellow flag means conditions are a bit more favorable but swimming with caution is still recommended. A green flag means it is completely safe to swim. However, you will almost never see a green flag because the authorities and lifeguards always want visitors to be careful.

Where to shop?

From open-air markets to upscale malls, Cancun is a shopper’s paradise. For handicrafts try Market 28 downtown or Coral Negro in the Hotel Zone. If you don’t like to haggle, Plaza la Fiesta carries every Mexican souvenir under the sun in many locations, plus the stores are air-conditioned. The largest mall in Cancun and a local favorite is Malecon Americas – Plaza Las Americas. The Hotel Zone offers Plaza Kukulcan and Luxury Avenue, La Isla, Fashion Harbour and a few other smaller malls. The newest place to shop till you drop in Cancun is Puerto Cancun Marina Town Center, an open-air mall near the entrance to the Hotel Zone.

Stay connected

If you want internet access during your stay, there are various options. If you’re staying in an all-inclusive resort, most include free wifi, as do many Airbnbs and hostels. However, if you plan to be out and about, you may want to check the out-of-country options offered by your cellular service provider, or buy a local Telcel SIM card. The clerk can help you get the Amigo Ilimitado package, which costs about US$2.50 (£2) for one week and offers unlimited use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, free calls within Mexico and to the US and Canada, plus some data.

Safety

In general, Cancun is extremely safe, but there are still precautions that you should take. Most importantly, never allow yourself to become inebriated, which could make you very vulnerable to crime or accidents. It’s fine to partake, but you should always be aware of your surroundings. Another tip: always keep your valuables in the safe in your hotel room, including electronics, cash and jewelry. Pedestrians do not have the right of way in Mexico, so be extremely careful when crossing the street. Many drivers do not even stop at crosswalks.

Money matters

Dollars? Pesos? Cards? What currency should you use in Cancun? Pesos are your best bet, as most stores offer an exchange rate that is much lower than the official daily rate. Withdrawing pesos out of a bank ATM will get you the best rate, but check your bank’s foreign ATM charges before you leave home. It is important to only use ATMs that are located in a bank, because there have been some incidents of phishing in non-bank ATMs. Most resorts also offer currency exchange at reception with a decent rate. When shopping, credit cards will give you an excellent exchange rate.

Where to dine?

Cancun offers countless dining options, from taco stands and trucks to AAA Five-Diamond restaurants. For authentic Mexican street food, visit Parque las Palapas in Downtown Cancun and order from the booths or stands with the longest line. Downtown is also home to mid-priced and upscale restaurants concentrated on Nader Avenue, Malecon Americas and Marina Town Center. In the Hotel Zone, fabulous restaurants serving cuisine from all over the globe line Nichupte Lagoon. Make your reservation for just before sunset and enjoy the view.

Buy travel health insurance

Have you seen those news stories about people who set up a GoFundMe page so they can pay their hospital bill and return to their home country? This cannot be stressed enough, if your insurance company won’t cover you when you are outside of your country, buy travel insurance. The top hospitals in Cancun are private, and are businesses, so you have to pay the bill before they will allow you to leave. If you have travel insurance, you’ll be reimbursed by your insurance company. The good news? The medical care is very good in Cancun and the cost is much lower than in many other countries.

Local transportation options

In the Hotel Zone, which is basically just one long boulevard, the bus is the cheapest and most convenient option to get around. They run all day and night and the fare is equivalent to less than $1. Taxis are available downtown and in the Hotel Zone. While they are quite economical downtown, in the Hotel Zone they may charge $20 to go just a few kilometers, so take the bus. Uber is available but scarce downtown. For the freedom to explore beyond the Hotel Zone and downtown, your best bet is to rent a car.

Help protect the environment

There are a few things you can do to help Cancun fight again the environmental damage caused by tourism. Instead of sunblock, wear a rashguard. If you do wear sunblock, use a biodegradable version, which can be purchased online or at a store before your trip, or once you arrive in Cancun. There is also biodegradable insect repellent available. Resorts go through countless amounts of small bottles of water, so bring a reusable water bottle, or even better, buy one as a souvenir and ask the bartender to fill it. Don’t worry, they’ll fill it from 20-liter bottles of purified water.

Check for seaweed

In the past few years, sargassum, a type of seaweed, has been a problem on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula during certain times of the year. Much of the year there isn’t any seaweed at all, while at other times, such as late spring-early summer, there may be a lot washing up on the beach every day. This phenomenon does not occur every year and the Mexican government is working on ways to stop the sargassum before it reaches the shore, but unless you don’t mind swimming with seaweed, do your research before you book. The live webcams many resorts have on their websites are a good resource.