Sure, Spring Breakers love it, it necessitates health and safety precautions, and it often lacks local character, but Cancun is one of the most popular Mexico beach destinations for a reason. Millions of honeymooners, families, and friend groups travel here each year for the beautiful beaches, sunny skies, amenity-packed all-inclusive resorts, and convenient location within a nonstop flight from many U.S. destinations. As someone who has traveled all over the Cancun region, I’m here to tell you to believe the hype: Cancun is amazing.
Not feeling Cancun? Check out our counterpoint article, Unpopular Opinion: Cancun is Awful.
- The weather is warm and typically sunny year-round – a perfect escape from NYC winters
- I love lounging on or walking along the beautiful white-sand beaches
- Whether I want a budget-friendly family hotel or a luxe adults-only romantic all-inclusive resort, there’s no shortage of hotel options
- Easy excursions – exploring Tulum’s Mayan ruins and swimming in cenotes are my favorite!
- I can buy cute handicrafts at local markets or window shop at designer boutiques like Hermes
- Abundant guacamole, chips, and margaritas — need I say more?
- Majority of tourism workers speak English, so my limited Spanish isn’t an issue
- My hometown of NYC (and many other destinations) offers direct flights to Cancun International Airport
Not feeling Cancun? Check out Cancun’s cons in our counterpoint article, Unpopular Opinion: Cancun is Awful.
Cancun’s All-Inclusive Hotels and Resorts
Most people imagine Cancun’s hotels to be rowdy all-inclusives where Spring Breakers binge drink from sun-up to sundown, and foam parties are the norm. To each his own, but that’s not my style. Fortunately, that rowdy scene is really only found at a select few party-oriented hotels. And sure, many hotels and all-inclusive resorts can be packed, crowded, and have mediocre food, but I’ve also stayed at some of the most impressive Cancun beach properties. From the adults-only Le Blanc Spa Resort in Cancun’s Hotel Zone where I’ve experienced phenomenal service — think pool attendants that provide cucumbers and chilled towels for eyes and butlers that draw baths — to the 109-room, boutique Beloved Playa Mujeres north of Cancun where a peaceful vibe permeates and mobs of tourists feel world’s away. There are numerous stellar all-inclusive Cancun resorts to be found for every style of traveler.
My favorite getaway is a beach vacation where I can split my time between the pool and refreshing ocean. All-inclusive resorts make those trips more affordable and truly uncomplicated. I love the freedom and ease of being able to head to the coffee shop for a latte, down to the beach to lounge in the sun, for a drink at the swim-up pool bar, and to an a la carte dinner restaurant — all without needing to pull out my wallet. I can only imagine how much more convenient this would be for families traveling with kids! Plus, whether I want to take a morning yoga class, simply relax by the ocean, or take part in a lineup of daily activities and nightly entertainment, the majority of Cancun all-inclusive resorts offer it all for free. Did I mention most rooms are huge and have big whirlpool tubs, ocean-view balconies, and free minibars loaded with soda, water, and tequila?
Cancun’s Restaurants, Bars, and Nightlife
Having grown up in San Antonio, Texas, I love Mexican food – delicious guacamole with lots of lime, street-style carne asada tacos, and grilled fish topped with a spicy sauce are just a few of the many reasons I love Mexican cuisine. While Mexico City and Oaxaca might fight for the title of the country’s ultimate foodie destination, Cancun and its restaurants — both on- and off-property — offer seriously delicious local cuisine. And if I somehow get tired of eating the wide range of Mexican dishes, most resorts have high-quality a la carte restaurants serving cuisines such as Japanese, Mediterranean, and Italian.
In my opinion, the margarita is the perfect cocktail, and unsurprisingly, they’re ubiquitous in Cancun. Of course, frozen drinks like piña coladas, all types of mixed drinks, wine, and beer are also available in area restaurants and bars. Plus, all-inclusive resorts have cocktails built into the price, so you can sit by the beach ordering Coronas to your heart’s content. While some of the more affordable resorts only include local-brand liquor, many more luxe properties serve top-shelf alcohol at no extra cost. And yes, the drinking age in Cancun is 18.
Visitors who don’t want to leave their resort at night will likely still have nightlife options such as music and dance performances from the entertainment staff, nightclubs with DJs, or casual open-air bars that stay open late. For the more adventurous or those suffering from cabin fever, numerous nightlife spots fill the tourist-packed Hotel Zone. Favorites include foam parties at Señor Frog’s, the incredibly fun performance- and confetti-filled Coco Bongo, and craft cocktails at Porfirio’s. Basically, the variety of Cancun’s restaurants, bars, and nightlife mean every type of traveler can find the party scene they want.
Cancun’s Flights and Airport
One of the biggest pros of Cancun is that several U.S. cities have nonstop flights to Cancun International Airport. Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Miami, and Charlotte all have nonstop flights within three hours, while New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago also fly to Cancun, Mexico within four or five hours. For me, just an extra hour in the air gets me from NYC to Cancun versus NYC to Miami. This makes it nearly, if not more, convenient than Caribbean island destinations or even domestic beach spots. Sure, you need a passport, but Mexico doesn’t require visas for U.S. tourists visiting for under six months — a much more generous travel policy than most countries that limit travelers to between one and three months.
Cancun International Airport is located south of downtown Cancun, and within an easy 20- to 30-minute drive of all resorts in the Hotel Zone. I suggest arranging transportation with your hotel ahead of time, because the dozens of taxi drivers and tour operators eager to get your business on arrival can be a bit overwhelming. Like with any international destination, you should get to the airport with enough time to spare, and expect to spend a bit of time getting through immigration on arrival, but overall, Cancun security and immigration process runs quite smoothly. The one thing you cannot forget to do, however, is keep the tiny immigration departure form they give you upon entry, as you’ll need it to leave. Take it from someone who ditched it their first time in Mexico, getting a new one is quite a hassle.
Cancun’s Beaches and Seaweed
Undoubtedly Cancun’s biggest asset is its beaches. Cancun’s Hotel Zone is one long, wide, stretch of stunning white sand against stunning blue water. Beaches are public here, and I love taking morning and sunset strolls past all the different resorts — people-watching families playing in the sand and couples bobbing together in the ocean. Those resorts located along the beach in Cancun will have free loungers and umbrellas set up for guests, and staff come around to take drink orders, making sure tourists have a relaxing vacation.
The ocean in Cancun is generally calm enough for swimming, and flags in specific colors to alert beach-goers to the water’s safety are set up in the sand. One unfortunate hiccup to ocean swimming is that the Caribbean has been dealing with record-high levels of sargassum seaweed. On the upside, projections for 2020 have seaweed numbers less than those in 2019. Additionally, the region is hit hardest between the months of April and August, so those who visit outside this time frame may find even less seaweed present. Staff at higher-end resorts typically rake and clean the beaches daily as well.
Cancun’s Activities and Excursions
Cancun excursions and activities are varied and suitable for all types of age groups and preferences. Tours and excursions can be booked through the hotel staff, or done on third-party websites such as Viator.com and TripAdvisor. Hands-down my favorite was swimming in a stunning cenote (swimming hole with fresh water) followed by a blessing from a Mayan shaman. After a day in Cancun’s hot sun, a refreshing dip in a cool natural swimming pool hits the spot. Better yet, travelers can book a day trip to nearby Mayan ruins — both Tulum’s and Chichen Itza’s are within easy reach — that includes a jaunt to one of the many area cenotes. And yes, Chichen Itza can be packed and feel a bit commercial, so I recommend heading to Tulum or the less frequented Coba — which is one of the few remaining ruins travelers can climb!
Snorkeling trips with sea turtles and tropical fish, sunset cruises on catamarans, or zip-lining and ATV riding are some other fun things to do in and around Cancun. Whether you want a party-hearty or romantic excursion, Cancun offers everything under the sun.
If, like me, you prefer warm and sunny weather to cold and rainy, you’ll be happy with a trip to Cancun. The temperature doesn’t vary too dramatically during the year, though the most comfortable time is certainly from November to April, when temps are in the 70s and there’s little rainfall. This does mean that hotel and flight prices are higher during this time period. May through October see higher temperatures, with the hottest being in the dead of summer, and significantly more rainfall. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I’ve been to Cancun in the summer and it’s HOT, but that’s what the ocean, expansive swimming pools, and cool cenotes are for. While Cancun is largely unaffected by hurricane season, it does take place from June to October, with August through October being the most likely months for tropical storms and hurricane activity.
Is Cancun safe? Cancun had a rise in murders in 2017 that were gang-related, but as of 2020 the U.S. Department of State has issued Quintana Roo (which includes Cancun) at a Level 2 travel warning, meaning travelers should exercise increased caution. The warning states that, “While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens.” For some perspective, other countries with a Level 2 warning include the Bahamas, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Like with any travel, foreign or domestic, as long as tourists stick to popular areas and act with common sense, they’ll likely feel extremely safe. I personally took cabs all around the Cancun area by myself and never felt unsafe. Hotels and resorts will call reputable taxi companies, and make a note of the driver’s name and license number and where travelers are departing to or arriving from. Resorts also have ample security systems in place to keep guests safe while on property.
The Thing I Love Most About Cancun
While numerous destinations can offer a beautiful beach setting, affordable resorts, and delicious food, what sets Cancun and the larger Riviera Maya region of Mexico apart are the genuine, friendly locals. Whether it’s the hotel’s front desk staff or beach chair attendants, or local tour operators and guides, I’m consistently amazed at how kind, relaxed yet attentive, and excited to share the local culture the people are in Cancun. Some of my favorite memories from my trips to Cancun include talking with the incredibly knowledgeable guide who took me around the Coba Mayan ruins and taking part in a tequila tasting with the fun staff at the Panama Jack Resorts Cancun.
Now That I’ve Convinced You to Go, Here Are My Favorite Cancun Hotels
Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun
The luxurious, 260-room Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun is undoubtedly the best adults-only all-inclusive in Cancun, set along a beautiful white-sand beach in the heart of the Hotel Zone. Top-notch features include a decadent spa where guests get free access to a hydrotherapy area, outdoor pools (two with swim-up bars), and pampering service that consists of butlers who will unpack your clothes.
Excellence Playa Mujeres
Actually located in a private resort community north of Cancun, the 450-room Excellence Playa Mujeres is a beautiful adults-only all-inclusive resort with luxury amenities. Huge rooms have big whirlpool tubs and balconies, and some have ocean views, plus swim-up suites are available. An array of features includes seven swimming pools, a high-end spa, non-motorized water sports, and numerous restaurants and bars.
Hyatt Ziva Cancun
The all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva Cancun is a family-friendly luxury resort in the Hotel Zone that’s suitable for both families and couples. Guests of all ages are catered to with three infinity-edge pools (including an adults-only one), extensive spa facilities, daily entertainment, and several dining and drinking options. Rooms are spacious and chic, equipped with modern amenities, luxe marble bathrooms, and private furnished balconies.
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- Unpopular Opinion: Cancun is Awful
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