Cancun travel guide, from a local!

Cancun is beautiful, and it’s also the place I’m lucky enough to call my home.

Having lived here for the last 21 years, it’s safe to say I know it well!

You might think the people that live here spend all their days at the beach getting that ‘golden tan’. Or checking out one of the hundreds of insane Cenotes! But the truth is, most of Cancun’s population just don’t have the time. Working really really hard, a lot of them don’t know the paradise that awaits them just outside their door.

Playa Forum Beach, in the Hotel Zone

As for me, I consider myself a ‘pata de perro’. Which literally translates to ‘dog’s paw’ and is used to describe a person that can’t stay in the same place. I’ve spent a lot of my time travelling and look to explore as much of an area as possible when I’m there, my hometown is no exception.

So if you are planning on visiting Cancun, or you are one of the lucky people who have settled here and are after some inspiration.

Hopefully this guide will help you experience the full beauty that Cancun has to offer.


WHERE TO STAY:

There is no shortage of options of where to stay in Cancun. The Hotel Zone is the most popular, renowned for its luxury hotels and resorts. Located right on the beach it is perfect for soaking up the sun. As for myself, I’m more of an independent traveller, I like to be around the local scene and experience different cultures. If you are the same, getting a place in Cancun Centro might be the best option.

There are a lot of hostels available in Cancun Centro, also known as ‘downtown’ offering good rates, and they are close to all amenities.

The main beaches are all located in the Hotel Zone, but they are all easily accessible from downtown by either bus or taxi. Another option is to rent a room or an entire place using Airbnb. This way you can stay with a local offering advice and travel tips, or have an entire place to yourself fairly cheap! I personally have used it in numerous countries and have found the hosting site to be one of the best ways to learn about a place, as normally the hosts are very knowledgeable about the area. Not to mention some listings are great value for money (Some places even have their own pool!).

The map below shows the best zones in the city center to stay.

From here you’ll find everything you need quite easily such as: supermarkets (or Oxxo which is a 24/7 convenience store), bars, restaurants, markets, downtown buses, and the ADO bus station (inside the red circle).

Map of Cancun Centro

If you stay in the hotel zone. Better known from Google Maps as Boulevard Kukulcán, then expect a more luxury vacation. The map below shows the beaches and plazas in the the Hotel Zone, with free access to some of the nicest beaches in Cancun.

 

Hotel Zone, showing access to beaches

TRANSPORT:

There are many different forms of transport when exploring Cancun. We have cheap buses that run almost all day and night, minivans, taxis and of course you could hire a car.

Just be prepared for the Mexican style of driving!

The bus station is called ADO and can be extremely helpful if your plan is to travel around the Yucatán peninsula. All buses feature air-con and reclining seats and are surprisingly comfortable, totally worth the low fare.

You can find ‘downtown’ buses  driving around the city for easy access to the Hotel Zone and other areas for as little as $12 Mexican pesos. These buses virtually run all day and night so really handy for getting around on a budget.

Taxis here are everywhere, you’ll notice the white and green cabs as there is only one taxi company in Cancun. The drivers here are smart, they especially recognize fresh meat. so make sure to negotiate the price before getting into to cab!

For more local tips check out The 8 things nobody tells you about Cancun


WHAT TO DO:

CHICHÉN ITZA

Surely you’ve came across a picture of it somewhere. It is the biggest Mayan complex around and is located in Yucatán, just 3-4 hours drive from Cancun. It is part of UNESCO’s world heritage sites aaaaand one of the 7 wonders of the world!

My advice is if you want to know about the Mayan history and culture,or just be impressed by the sheer size and design of temple, then take a tour. There you will come across small villages, cenotes, the tropical food and of course the stunning Chichén. Tours can be arranged at most hotels or public places.

The Kukulcán Pyramid, during the equinox!

The Mayan people were true pioneers. You can explore and learn more about them in places like Uxmal, Palenque (at the beautiful Chiapas), and Tikal (Guatemala). I have visited all these places too, so feel free to ask for any advice!


CENOTES

Check out my list of favorite cenotes!

In simple terms these are basically holes in the ground, filled with clear water. They are natural sinkholes, which occur due to the erosion of limestone (popular here). Once the limestone has eroded, it ends up leaving a void which eventually collapses, revealing the paradise underground.

We call them ‘Xibalba’ the underground world.

There are thousands of cenotes in the Yucatán peninsula to choose from and you must at least visit one if you are visiting Cancun. The beauty of them is breathtaking! Every single one is unique and some even include activities such as zip lining and abseiling!

Here I am at Sahamal Cenote, just one of over 2500 cenotes in the Yucatán area!


ISLA MUJERES

Also known as the Island of Women, it is located 30 mins from the coast of Cancun and is the place to relax, wander and eat fresh fish ‘tikinchick’ style. Transport to this stunning island ranges from a catamaran tour to a ‘water taxi’ which is a fairly cheap small ferry located in the Hotel Zone or at Puerto Juárez . Once there, a popular option is to rent a golf cart to explore the island from coast to coast. All you need is a driving license.

My personal highlight of the island is ‘Playa Norte’. A beach that seems to be a natural pool with soft waves and crystal clear waters. It’s located a short walk away from the dock and often has yachts anchored in its shallow waters playing music to give the place an extra good vibe! Don’t forget to bring a few drinks with you. It’s always a good time to try the local beers, like Tecate or Indio.

Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres


PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Becoming more and more popular every year, this is a town that’s definitely worth a visit (especially is you like shopping!). Here you can walk along the 5th avenue and get a delicious tequila-passion fruit ice cream, or maybe two. My favorite place is called ‘Tepoznieves’. Located at the crossroads Av. Constituyes and 5th avenue. This shop has refreshing homemade ice creams (or ‘artesanales’ which means made by native people) and is sooo important in a country full of Häagen Dazs and Basqkin Robbins).  If after that pleasant experience you want to shop around but are undecided whether to shop colorful handicrafts or brand accessories, stay calm, find some sales and you’ll find the perfect deal and even get both.

Playa del Carmen also boasts a great party scene. Just a short ride from Cancun, and with ADO buses running until the early hours of the morning. It’s well worth a day trip and night out. It’s also renowned as an expats home, you’ll find people from all over the world living here. If travelling, I recommend you stay in the town and you can easily make some new friends.

My favorite place to hang out is Playa Mamitas beach club, here you can chill while you keep experiencing the effect of tequila in it’s different presentations. Playa del Carmen is the perfect place to be if you want to party, enjoy nice drinks and a have good time.

La Vaquita, Nightclub

TULUM

 

The hippie town. Located 40 minutes away from Playa del Carmen and 1:30 from Cancun. The best way to get there is taking an ADO bus or even a minivan, which drives faster and sometimes can be a better price than the bus.

The town itself has a really friendly vibe and is a backpacking hotspot, full of trendy bars and hostels. Also here you can visit the amazing ruins. A stunning setup as it is the only Mayan complex with a beach in the backyard, lucky them!

Tulum Ruins

I know sometime a healthy lifestyle can be hard to get while you travel, I’ve been there before.  So a good option here for you can be to rent a bike and ride to the local fresh market or all along the bike paths which guide you around the town and to the mini hotel zone. Because bikinis and bicycles go together right?

My last advice for Tulum is go to visit the beaches (any of them will leave you breathless). Then at night visit the main square and enjoy a delicious marquesita (ask for Dutch cheese and Nutella!) Thank me later =)

XCARET

This eco park is one of the biggest in Latin America, and one of my favorite parks around. It reminds me of Disney Land but a sort of jungle version! Xcaret which means ‘small inlet’ in Mayan, will guide you to a full nature experience, meeting for the first time amazing animals and trying the delicious Yucatán tradicional dishes.

As a local I recommend to get the ‘Xcaret Plus’ entry, which includes meal and drinks, safety lockers and access to more underground rivers.

They have such a wonderful Mexican performance at night that is just out of this world!

‘Los voladores de Papantla’ at Xcaret Park

PLAYAS

The beaches here are amazing. White sand and crystal clear water, they are like a page from a travel brochure. The weather is also pretty brilliant all year round. So let the sun kiss your skin and just chill, enjoy the paradise. Sounds like a hard job to do, right? The only items you need will be a beach towel, high factor sun cream, a little bit of oil and a coco loco on the beach.

My personal favorite is Playa Gaviotas (marked in the second map at the begging of the post). It is a long stretched beach where you can chill, rent a bed or have the full party experience at the nearby Mandala Beachclub. There are shops close by for supplies and also locals wandering the beach selling drinks and food. For free access there is a path between Cocobongo nightclub and Mandala beachclub, which guides you to this paradise. We call it commonly Playa Forum.

Forum beach, Cancun

NIGHT LIFE

The nightlife in Cancun is famous for a reason.

Good music, open bar, an amazing show performance, and the best party atmosphere in Cancun. All at the same place. Cocobongo is part of Cancun’s biggest attractions. And there is no way possible you won’t have a good time here. It has to be experienced so see the true madness that works so well, you won’t be disappointed.

I didn’t realize the difference between the time people go out to party in other countries until I visited them. Mexicans as you might know, are not really attached to an specific agenda. They start going out after 10pm. And Cancun never sleeps, so don’t worry about what time you start your night.

A little tip: Try new drinks like Paloma (lime soda and tequila) and Cuba libre (coke amd rum), popular here in Mexico.


PLUS!!!!… WHAT TO EAT

Because I’m sure most of you think we just have tacos and burritos on our diet. So wrong! Mexican cuisine is a fusion of indigenous and European cooking. It is true we love tortillas but we have so many different tradicional dishes across Mexico, its considered as an intangible heritage of humanity.

Our basics in the Yucatán peninsula are:

  • SALBUTES/PANUCHOS
  • CHOCHINITA
  • TIKINCHIK
  • ARRACHERA
  • SEAFOOD

‘El Jarocho’ Restaurant, Cancun

Marquesita at Valladolid’s main square

If you are planing a roadtrip to Yucatán here I got some good ideas and advices.

 


 

MUST PACK

These essentials are what I recommend you must bring if travelling to Cancun:

  • Camera/GoPro/Drone etc
  • Mosquito Repellent
  • A hat ( the sun has no mercy)
  • Swimwear
  • Flip flops
  • Snorkel mask

I know and love Cancun from head to toe, if you want to know more about Cancun and the surrounding area feel free leave your comment below and to contact me. I’ll be glad to share more of my experiences and help you plan your journey!

Best vibes!

 

 

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Author: thelocallatingal

Hola from Cancun! I’m Glen, a 21 year old Mexican girl. Currently trying to find the balance between my international business student life and travelling the world. If you want to know more, check

25 thoughts

  1. This is a great guide! I love your perspective and inside information. I’d love to share this on my website wandermore.store if that would be alright with you?

    Like

  2. I love Mexico!! Your guide is great! So so helpful. I really want to visit Tulum next time! Haha I love the sound of a hippie town. Hopefully we will be there in Feb next year.

    Like

  3. Nice read. I had done a lot of research on Cancun a few months ago, but i gave up on my wanting to celebrate my birthday there as i wanted to do too many things (Xcaret, Padi course, Xenses, Isla Mujeres) and couldn’t cut down on my To-Do List. So i put it off… 😦 until better days ($ wise)!

    Like

  4. I’ve never been to Mexico, but Cancun has been buzzing in my ear for several years now. I always hear great things from friends who are able to make it down there, and speak of what a great time they have. I would love to experience that for myself one day – to see the sights, meet the locals, and sample the food!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh 🙂 Who needs to travel if you live in a place like this? (joke)
    I just find it so lovely. 🙂 Thanks for the guide, fantastic job!

    Like

  6. I love guides from locals and this one does not disappoint. I would love to visit Cancun with this because I am an indpendent traveler and hate the crowds and inauthenticity of the tourist circuit. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am actually flying into Cancun in December and plan to spend some time in Tulum, enjoying the beach and the yummy food. I will make sure to include in my trip some of your recommendations as well. Xcaret looks amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

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