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.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Cancun
1. Relax on Isla Mujeres
2. Hidden Worlds Cenote Adventure Park
3. Explore Chichén Itzá
4. Check out Cancun Underwater Museum
5. Shop at Market 28
Other Things to See and Do
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1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Do the Selvatica Canopy Expedition
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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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).
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. Use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. 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!
- Stay at a Hola Hostel – Hola Hostels is a network of hostels predominantly in South and Central America. They offer a 10% discount to their members, as well as other discounts for restaurants, transportation, and activities. Joining is free, and their hostels are also committed to environmentally sustainable practices. They have locations in Europe, now, too!
- 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.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
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