Cancun holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
Spanish is the official language of Cancun, Mexico; however, many of the locals speak Mayan as their first language, with Spanish as their second language. Those working in the tourism industry typically speak English so communication in the main tourist spots isn’t an issue. French, Italian and German is also commonly spoken by tour operators.
Although the official currency is the Mexican peso, American dollars are also accepted everywhere. ATMs are widely available in the big tourist spots, including in many hotels, and they accept foreign cards. It’s possible to change money at any bank although banks tend to close mid-afternoon. There are also exchange houses across Cancun that stay open later than banks. Credit cards are widely accepted for large purchases and in hotels and restaurants, but cash is often preferred.
Although a visa is not required by most nationals, including British, US, Australian and Canadian citizens, for stays of less than 180 days, all tourists need to show a valid passport and purchase a tourist card on arrival. Tourists need to keep a section of this card in their passport until departure.
Cancun has year round sunshine, so it’s ideal for a winter break. From October to March, temperatures hover between 25ºC and 30ºC, and from April to September, it is slightly warmer, between 22ºC and 33ºC. July and August is peak season when Cancun is inundated with American tourists. The ideal time to visit is around September for good weather and fewer crowds.
There is one airport in Cancun, Cancún International Airport. It is the second busiest airport in Mexico, with a number of services arriving daily from numerous global destinations including London-Gatwick and Manchester. It’s possible to fly into other airports in Mexico and then on to Cancun; however, many flights from the UK and Europe fly direct, with a number of weekly services.
Virgin Atlantic and British Airways offer direct flights to Cancún International Airport from London-Gatwick, while Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomson Airways both serve Manchester. Seasonal flights to other UK airports are also available. Interjet and Volaris both have daily domestic flights to Cancun from Mexico City. During the summer months, flights to Cancun become more frequent, although the cost of fares also rises around this time. A direct flight from London to Cancun takes around 10 hours, 20 minutes.
The Mexican government charges a travel tax to leave the country by air. Some airlines include this tax in the ticket price, but it’s best to check as it can only be paid in Mexican pesos, so it’s important to have the right currency. July and August is the peak season, with many American tourists flooding the area at this time. Consequently, flights and hotel prices rise steeply. Visiting in the shoulder months of September or June means hot weather but less crowds and cheaper flights. The only taxi companies licensed by Cancun’s airport for transfer services are Gray Line and TTA.
It is possible to travel into Mexico by car from the US. However, if the car is an American rental, check the insurance is valid in Mexico and seek permission from the supplier to take the vehicle across the border in advance of travel. Trains run to the Mexican border at California-Baja from San Diego, while Greyhound buses and cruise ships also serve parts of Mexico from the US.
Cancun is easy to get around. The airport is in the south and the heart of the city is in the north. In between is the hotel zone where most of the luxury resorts can be found. Buses may not be very comfortable, but they are frequent and cheap. Taxi prices vary; they tend to be more expensive in the hotel zone, but relatively cheap in the city centre. There are no metres, but taxis have set rates for certain zones. Car hire is available, but not necessary for those who plan to stay within Cancun.
The bus is by far the cheapest and easiest means of getting around, both for locals and tourists. The main companies are the Riviera Express and Riviera Maya, although ADO has services to other areas of Mexico. These two companies have services to all the main attractions along the coast and will stop for passengers regardless of whether they are at a bus stop or not. The buses don’t have air-conditioning and the seats rarely have cushions, but the journeys are quick and local musicians sometimes provide entertainment.
It is possible to rent a car to get around Cancun; however, a car isn’t necessary if you only plan to stay within Cancun. The police here enforce driving regulation with on-the-spot fines, especially around spring break, so if you choose to drive, pay close attention to the rules of the road.
Cancun is famous across the world for its nightlife. This is largely thanks to the many clubs, bars and world-class resorts on the Yucatán Peninsula. The party here never stops, with world famous DJs and bands performing in peak season. Beach parties are common, but even if it’s not to party, a visit to the beach is a must.
For beginner swimmers, the best resorts are around Isla Mujeres in the north. The crystal clear waters here are calm and pleasantly warm. Many locals tout their wares along the beaches, meaning there are many things to be bartered over.
For a different style of shopping, La Isla is a huge, American style shopping mall. There are literally hundreds of shops here, with many American brand names along with a number or Mexican restaurants and fast food places.
For a more traditional shopping experience, there’s Market 28 in downtown Cancun. Here, tourists can pick up some great souvenirs and every price can be bartered down, so it’s an ideal place for bargains.
The wildlife in Cancun is amazing and varied. At Punta Este Marina, it’s possible to rent a boat or take a tour of the lagoon, stopping for snorkelling and scuba diving. Cancun is also known for its bird life. Oddly enough, the airport is the best place to bird watch, as it is located on the edge of the Cancun Rainforest.
At Xcaret Eco-archaeological Park on the Riviera Maya is another amazing place to spot wildlife as well as partake in some amazing activities. It’s possible to snorkel in the underground rivers, visit the butterfly pavilion, see the fauna breeding farm and experience the traditional Mayan village here. Additionally, tourists can swim with dolphins and every evening there’s the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular Night Show, which features a variety of traditional Mayan performances, music and dancing.
Cancun has an amazing historical Mayan culture, with many ruins and historic sights to see. One of the best preserved is Tulum, a Mayan walled city. Here, there’s the Temple of the Frescoes where tourists can see figurines of the Mayan diving god. Tulum also has many freshwater underground rivers; in fact, it has the most extensive such system in the world. There’s also a stunning view of Boca Paila here.
The Mayan culture is known for its pyramids, and Chichen Itza is an amazing place to see them. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Kukulkan Pyramid can be found here. This 24 meter high pyramid is an elaborate construction with temples, a jaguar carved throne and many other things to discover. This site is one of the best places to discover the ancient Mayan culture and really appreciate the structures this civilisation created.
Cancun is also the place to find the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. This UNESCO World Heritage site has a number of different habitats, with flora, fauna and 23 Mayan archaeological sites. Some of these sites date as far back as 2,300 years ago and are amazingly well preserved. All of the profits go towards conservation programmes.
For those who want to add a touch of luxury to their holiday, a visit to Exotic Rides Mexico is a must. Here, tourists can race laps on the private racetrack in some of the most expensive cars ever made.
Off the coast of Cancun is Isla Mujeres. This tiny island, only five miles long, is a great place to get away from the crowds and there are some idyllic beaches, shops and restaurants. It’s possible to snorkel on the Manchones Reef here and the Cancun Sea Turtle Sanctuary is here, too.
Cancun provides a diverse range of activities for all tastes. Bullfighting is hugely popular in Cancun, and the Plaza de Toros bullring is one of the oldest bullrings still in operation. Bullfights are held here throughout the year, but visitors should be aware that although the atmosphere is electric, the show can sometimes be quite violent.
One thing that Cancun is renowned for is its nightlife and there are a number of clubs on the Yucatán Peninsula. Dady’O is one of the most elaborate dance clubs around. This five-level club is designed like a cave, with light beams and strobes adding to the atmosphere. It caters to all music tastes, from Latin and trance to hip-hop and techno.
Coco Bongo Club may be famous for being the main party place during the American spring break, but throughout the rest of the year it’s still a great place to visit. There are celebrity impersonators and circus acts most nights along with guest DJs.
For a slightly more sophisticated night out, there are a number of bars built into the famous Plaza de Toros bullring. Many of these bars have live music and tend to draw locals as well as tourists.
Many places in Cancun play live music. Sabor Latino in the Chinatown Plaza is a live music venue-cum-club and a great place to try Dominican salsa and other style of dancing which are popular in Mexico.
Cancun has a lively gay scene, and the Backstage Theatre-Cabaret is part of this. Fun for anyone, the cabaret includes drag queens, fashion shows and musicals.
The cinema in Cancun, Cinemark, often shows current Hollywood blockbusters in English, although with Spanish subtitles. There are a number of children’s films on during the day, although as these are sometimes dubbed so it’s best to check before going.
Cancun has a wide variety of cuisines and restaurant styles, from five-star gourmet meals to a quick bite in one of the many fast food places. Many of the luxury resorts have amazing restaurants, but it’s important to book in advance as many don’t allow non-guest diners without reservations.
The Mexican cuisine is renowned worldwide for two things: the spice and the portion sizes. The cuisine served in Cancun is big on both heat and quantity. There are many Mexican restaurants offering the best of the local food. Tacos (folded tortillas) feature heavily and are usually filled with Mexican sausage, beef, potato and some form of spicy sauce. Quesadilla, a soft tortilla stuffed with cheese and potatoes and then fried, is mouth-watering and usually garnished with spicy jalapeños.
For those not keen on spicy food, tamales (steamed cornmeal stuffed with chicken, pork or beef) tend to be sweet. Nachos (corn tortilla crisps) can be found pretty much everywhere, with a variety of toppings available. For those wanting to try something different, there’s eggs motulenos. This is egg served on a fried tortilla which is smothered in tomato sauce, peas and fried bananas. Lima soup, a chicken broth with lime juice, chicken and tortilla chips, is good to try as well.
Cancun is a great place for seafood, and there’s no end of lobster restaurants along the coast offering beautiful views alongside delicious food. There are other restaurants in Cancun offering international cuisines, too. There’re Chinese, Italian, Caribbean and French eateries along with Spanish and Greek restaurants. The standard fast food chains are all present, too.
Many traditional Mexican restaurants have a happy hour for drinks, with a flamenco show later in the evening. Customers should expect to join in with the show, and one or two shots of tequila can help visitors get into the spirit of things.
Cancun can be split into northern and eastern beaches. The northern beaches are more protected from the elements and so are ideal places for snorkelling, swimming and those holidaying with children. Playa Las Perlas is one of the best beaches. The eastern beaches have no buffer from the wind, meaning stronger currents and a lot more waves. This makes the likes of Playa Tortugas a haven for jet-skiers and parasailing enthusiasts.
There are many luxury resorts in Cancun for couples to stay. However, it’s also possible to stay on the much quieter and more romantic Isla Mujeres. This little island just off the coast is much more secluded, meaning couples will have more alone time, but without ever being more than a short boat ride away from all of the action. Scuba diving is great here, as is simply relaxing together on the beach.
Staying in the north of Cancun means easier access to the more family-friendly beaches. The waters here are calm so it’s a great place for kids to try snorkelling. A popular outing for families is the Xplor Adventure Park. Here, there are zip lines, amphibious vehicle rides and a number of water rides which are suitable for the whole family. Cancun also has the Cancun Interactive Aquarium where kids can get close to the sea life and learn all about the inhabitants of Cancun’s crystal clear waters.
Staying along the eastern shore means having access to a huge array of water sports, from scuba diving and snorkelling to jet-skiing and parasailing. One of the best places to dive is the water around the small island of Isla Mujures. It’s also possible to take a safari jeep trip through the jungle and even zip line when you’re there. Adventure tours are popular and can incorporate a number of different adventure activities.