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 $5 USD but $15 USD is a more realistic price. $40-60 USD is normal for a double private room in a hostel.
Budget hotel prices – There are plenty of budget hotels in Cancun with prices starting at around $30 USD per night.
Average cost of food – By purchasing food on street stalls or in markets you can expect to spend around $20 USD per day or less. Fast food here is much the same price as in the US so by eating instead in local restaurants, you’ll pay around $40 USD.
Transportation costs – Taxis aren’t metered, but $1.50 USD is a good guideline for city center travel. The bus service is 24-hours and very efficient and for less than a dollar a ticket, probably the best option for traveling around the city.
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-November as accommodation is significantly reduced.
Top Things to See and Do
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.
Visit Tulum – Tulum is famous for its Mayan ruins and is Mexico’s third most popular architectural attraction. Admission is $5.50 USD. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Check out Cancun Underwater Museum – Shortly after a detrimental storm hit the marine world of Cancun, an artist set out to aid in the reconstruction process. This ‘museum’ features over 400 sculptures, which are platforms for coral growth. Since its founding in 2009, a lot of growth has occurred and every spring, more plants bloom.
Go diving – Cancun lies along the Great Mesoamerican Reef, the largest reef in the western hemisphere. The area has over 100 types over 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 daytrip 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.