Mexico's most famous resort, Cancun, is appallingly overbuilt but offers fine, white sand beaches,
warm shallow waters, cool strong drinks and everything else a tourist might need...
Click bottom image to see more Maya Riviera beaches, Cancun Map or Cancun Weather
Cancun comprises 14 miles of dazzling white beaches on a skinny peninsula, turquoise seas (in season!), a flourishing underwater world, world-class vacation facilities and is not far from an astonishing selection of Mayan archaeological wonders. Furthermore, Cancun and the Riviera Maya offer the best value-for-money beach holidays in the Caribbean Sea.
The Cancun resorts zone is based entirely on the tourist industry so stay here if you don't mind spending your vacation with other tourists in a sand-lined concrete bubble. Downtown however, especially once you get away from the bus station and nearby hostels and hotels, is a real Mexican city.
...except real ethnic
colour, style or unspoilt serenity.
More adventurous travellers can easily find rooms on beautiful and less crowded beaches down the coast an hour or two south for much lower cost. Rent a car or take the bus to Puerto Morelos (20 minutes) or Tulum (1 hour). Playa del Carmen (45 minutes) is between the two, but these days also specialises in all-inclusive holidaymakers.
Transport: Car rentals are not recommended . Some of the roads are well maintained, but others are sand or have potholes big enough to swallow a VW. Police may pull you over for a minor violation and demand a bribe. If you are pulled over, be respectful.
Unless you are plan to explore outside the 'Hotel Zone' or downtown, a car is not necessary and may be more of a burden than an asset, parking in nightlife areas can be a major pain. Alternative transportation is plentiful and inexpensive 24/7.
Buses are a better way to get around, cheap and frequent but beware pick-pockets. Most bus drivers are courteous but do not expect buses to have amenities such as air conditioning or seat cushions!
A clear view of the charms (and otherwise) of the Maya Riviera's top spot, Cancun
Cancun's Ruinas del Rey
Ruinas El Rey are small and not very exciting Mayan ruins of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in Cancun's Hotel Zone.
There's a bigger pile of stones, El Meco, outside the city on the road to Punta Sam as well as sites not far away such as Coba, Polé (now Xcaret, see below), and Kohunlich, Kinichná, Dzibanché, Oxtankah, Tulum, and Chacchoben, in the south of Quintana Roo state.
The real thing, however, and one of the world's best pyramid complexes is at Chichen Itza in the neighbouring state of Yucatán, a couple of hours drive.
View Larger Map
Cancun Map | Map of Mexico
Things to Do Nearby:
Isla Mujeres: To escape Cancun tourist overload, head for this little island is just a 20 minute ferry ride from the hotel zone or from Puerto Juárez Dock, 5 minutes from downtown Cancun.
Rent a scooter to get around the island fast and cheaply but do try not to come back with gravel rash. There is a terrific eco-water theme park, Garrafon, with grand land views as well as a magical underwater world.
Snorkelling with Whale Sharks: on the subject of underwater these massive creatures enjoy cruising the plankton-rich waters around Isla Mujeres, as do adventurous snorkelers who can swim beside these monstrous but harmless beasts of up to 18 metres long. Dozens of boats take tourists out to see the big fish daily during the Whale Shark Festival in June. To avoid disturbing the whale sharks only two swimmers are allowed in the water at a time and each boat gets 30 minutes.
Whale Shark Tours leave from Isla Mujeres, Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
Xcaret: an eco-archaeology park about 46 miles south of Cancun and less than 4 south of Playa del Carmen. Xcaret is home to tropical flora and fauna typical of the region as well as different expressions of the Mayan culture. There are underground rivers, a beach, a butterfly pavilion, an orchid greenhouse, a Mayan village, jaguar island and more.
Xcaret eco-park, Maya Riviera. Next, Maya Riviera Beaches
Xel-Ha: an outdoor water theme park that encompasses Mexican/Caribbean nature. There are natural, ecological attractions and water-based activities such as snorkeling and diving in lagoons, caves and creeks, as well as pricey swimming-with-dolphins experiences.
Also see: Cozumel | Tulum | Akumal | Golf
The best months are December - May.
Peak season in Cancun runs from December to April. Prices in both airfare and hotel increase dramatically during these times, while dropping in the summer and early autumn months. Late June is especially hot, so come prepared or try the off season. Hurricanes can be a major threat in the summer and early autumn. September is absolutely the worst month.
Cancun Video | Mexico Beaches Guide | Mexico Pacific Beaches
Mexico Travel Guide | Mexico Tours Photos: Merida | Mexico | Oaxaca | Chichen Itza