Cancun is synonymous with luxury, parties, spring break, large resorts, and beautiful beaches. It’s often seen as an American playground. During spring break, college kids flock here to get drunk and tan. However, if you leave the main resort area of Cancun, you’ll find a very local city with few tourists and friendly people. There are also some Mayan ruins nearby the city. Don’t let the party reputation fool you – Cancun has much, much more than that, but you do have to go looking for it.
Hostel prices – Hostels are extremely cheap, probably because there are so many of them in Cancun. There are rooms for as little as 150 MXN but 200 MXN is a more realistic price. 600-1,000 MXN is normal for a private room that sleeps two in a hostel. Most hostels offer free WiFi and free breakfast.
Budget hotel prices – There are plenty of budget hotels in Cancun with prices starting around 230 MXN per night for a room that sleeps two. Hotels at this price have private bathrooms and offer free WiFi. You can also use Airbnb in Cancun. A shared room starts around 205 MXN and entire homes (including studio apartments) start around 615 MXN but you’ll find a lot more inventory starting around 825 MXN.
Average cost of food – Mexican food is very affordable. You’ll find a lot of rice, beans, fruits, and veggies like tomatoes, corn, avocado, and peppers in Mexican cuisine. By purchasing food on street stalls or in markets you can expect to spend around 320 MXN per day or less. A combo meal at McDonald’s costs around 85 MXN. A meal at a nicer sit-down restaurant is around 400-600 MXN. You can get some pretty bad-ass tequila for as cheap as 240 MXN. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 550 MXN per week for groceries that will include rice, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods.
Transportation costs – Cancun is pretty easy to get around. The bus service is 24-hours and very efficient and for less than 20 MXN a ticket, probably the best option for traveling around the city. Taxis aren’t metered, but 24 MXN is a good guideline for city center travel. Uber, the taxi alternative, operates in Cancun.
Suggested daily budget – 1,035 MXN / $50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out at the more local restaurants, cooking a few of your meals, limiting your drinking, and using local transportation. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out and drink more often, expect this to be higher! This is just a guideline.)
Money Saving Tips
- Eat local food – By buying food from the markets in Cancun, you can save plenty of cash. If you’re going on a day trip bring a packed lunch filled with cheap, local food instead of paying a premium at the tourist cafes.
- Travel off-peak – Try to visit Cancun in the off-season between June and November as accommodation is significantly reduced. Otherwise, you’ll be paying high tourist prices everywhere you go!
- Couchsurf – Don’t want to book a room at a resort? Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds and couches for free. Get a chance to meet great people too.
Top Things to See and Do in Cancun
- Explore Chichén Itzá – The large Mayan archaeological site Chichen Itza is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The site is 2.5 hours from Cancun, so it’s usually best to go very early in the morning or if possible, over two days. The most impressive structure on the site is the Temple of Kukulkan, or the Castillo as it is often known, but the elaborate wall carvings and columns throughout the entire site make this a world-class attraction. It’s open daily from 9am-5pm and entry costs 235 MXN.
- Visit Tulum – Tulum is famous for its Mayan ruins and is Mexico’s third most popular architectural attraction. Be warned, this place gets seriously hot, so you’ll need plenty of water and bug spray. Also, bring a towel – you can cool off in the beach at the site. It’s open daily from 8am-5pm and admission is 65 MXN.
- Go clubbing – Cancun has nightlife to rival any other big city. Most of the nightlife is concentrated around the Hotel Zone in an area known as “party central.” All music tastes are accounted for and the world’s biggest DJs make regular appearances in the many clubs. During spring break, things get far more crowded and more expensive.
- Relax on Isla Mujeres – Translated as the ‘Island of Women’, Isla Mujeres is just a short ferry ride away from Cancun. Originally a fishing village, the island still maintains its charming atmosphere, even with its bustling tourist trade. Kayaking, fishing, and sailing are popular here, as well as swimming with sharks.
- Shop at Market 28 – The traditional downtown area is home to most of the colorful local craft markets in Cancun. There are markets in the Hotel Zone but they are generally much more expensive. Market 28 in the downtown area is by far the largest of the marketplaces and a bit of a one-stop tourist shopping Mecca. Leather, silver, pottery, glassware, artwork and handicrafts are all popular, especially the traditional Mexican blankets. It’s open daily 9am-8pm.
- Do the Selvatica Canopy Expedition and Adventure Tour – It’s no surprise that Selvatica is Mexico’s number one tourist attraction. Within the park you’ll have the opportunity to ride ziplines over the rainforest canopy, go off-roading, quad biking, scuba diving and swimming in a cenote. Opt for the Night Flight adventure which includes zipping through the canopies, followed by a 3-course dinner. It’s open daily from 9am-5pm. The all-access pass is 4,125 MXN.
- Explore Hidden Worlds Cenote Adventure Park – In Cancun, you can find the world’s most widespread range of underwater caves and cavern systems. Several major documentaries have been filmed here. You can take a snorkel tour through the pristine waters, ride zip lines, or power through the trees on a SkyCycle.
- Hit the spa – Cancun is one of the top spa destinations in the world – and for good reason. There are tons to choose from, all offering varying treatments and package deals. Consider an ‘ancient Mayan’ healing session or go with a classic massage.
- Visit Museo INAH – This is a cool little museum is found on the south side of the Centro de Convenciones. Among various ancient artifacts and exhibits highlighting local history, there is a unique exhibit of deformed Maya skulls. It’s open daily (except Mondays) from 9am-7pm and costs 65 MXN.
- Check out Cancun Underwater Museum – Shortly after a detrimental storm hit the marine world of Cancun, an artist named Jason deCaires Taylor set out to aid in the reconstruction process. This Museo Subacuático de Arte features over 400 sculptures, which are platforms for coral growth to regenerate the damaged ecosystem. Since its founding in 2009, a lot of growth has occurred and every spring, more plants bloom. It’s open daily from 7am-8pm and costs 930 MXN.
- Go diving – Cancun lies along the Great Mesoamerican Reef, the largest reef in the western hemisphere. The area has over 100 types of coral and more than 160 types of reef-inhabiting fish. For even better opportunities, head over to Cozumel, or Playa del Carmen.
- Birdwatch at Isla Contoy – An easy day trip from Cancun, Isla Contoy is a small island nature reserve with stunning beaches and over 100 species of birds. Tours can be arranged through agencies and hotels, as the island is uninhabited, and regulations limit the number of daily visitors (permission is granted after visitors apply at the park offices – there is a branch in Cancun).