Heading to this Yucatan Peninsula hotspot? Here are a few essential things you should know before you go to Cancun.
1. Yes, Cancun has Culture
Cancun is known as the Vegas of Mexico – a non-stop high energy destination that is all about nightlife, beaches and all-inclusive resorts. However, that’s not all that Cancun has to offer.
There is also a different side – it’s chilled out, sophisticated, artsy and filled with interesting local culture. You can visit the Museo Maya de Cancun, where you can learn about the Mayan civilisation that reigned in the Yucatan and throughout Mexico until the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century. Or, you can get a thrill by climbing ancient ruins or ziplining.
Go outside of the tourist area and find a local restaurant where you can find Mexican food that is cheaper and more authentic. Venture out to some of the local music venues and listen to traditional Mexican tunes. You can even shop some of the local boutiques and pick up something that is unique and crafted in Cancun. Cancun isn’t just cookie-cutter chain resorts – it has its own unique identity.
2. No, It’s Not That Dangerous
If your friends and family are making horrified faces when you tell them you are going to Mexico, reassure them that it is not as dangerous as you might think. Most of the time you will be in the popular areas frequented by locals and tourists and they are generally quite safe.
Of course, Cancun is a large city so it has its share of street crime like any other large city. It is always important to be aware of your surroundings, don’t wear ridiculous amounts of bling or carry lots of cash and avoid walking around in unfamiliar, dark areas at night. But again – that’s good advice no matter where you go.
3. What’s the Best Time to Go?
Visiting Cancun at the ideal time of year means traveling slightly out of season so that you can avoid the crowds, but not too out of season so that you end up visiting during a hurricane – as that might put a bit of damper on your fun.
The cheapest time of year to go to Cancun is from September to October, which is the high point of the rainy season. Hotels are cheaper and beaches are not crowded, but make sure that you check the weather forecast for any approaching storm warnings before you book your trip.
If you want the biggest party atmosphere, visit during spring break in March. This is when you will get the best nightlife scene and the most opportunities to have fun with other young and adventurous travelers. If the point of your trip is to relax and recharge and NOT to drink tequila shots out of a stranger’s belly button – then you might want to avoid this time of year. Whatever floats your boat. 🙂
If you want the best weather, visit between November and April. It might be the most popular and crowded time of the year, but you are guaranteed to be bathed in plenty of sunshine.
For the best balance between pleasant weather and less expensive prices, the ideal option is to visit during shoulder season which is in November and December. This is when people are starting to visit the area, so it is still not so expensive but the rain is pretty much gone.
4. Buy Sunscreen at Home Before You Go
It will be a lot cheaper to stock up on sunscreen (as well as after-sun aloe vera lotion) in the pharmacy at home before you go to Cancun. The sunscreen in the hotel shops and drug stores is mega expensive. Bring a couple of bottles – you are going to need it as the sun is strong!
5. Pay Attention to the Shape of Your Ice
You shouldn’t drink the water on your trip, especially if you venture outside of the tourist zone in Cancun and into the jungle. But what about the ice cubes in your cocktail while you lounge by the pool?
The hotel or restaurant should be using purified ice – so how can you tell? The best way to tell is if the ice is in a cylindrical shape with a hole in the middle. This means that the ice is definitely purified. However, purified ice can sometimes come in other shapes too, so if you aren’t sure you can always ask.
6. Chichen Itza Isn’t The Only Amazing Mayan Site
When you go to Cancun, taking a day trip to Chichen Itza is an absolute must. This stunning pre-Columbian city is pretty incredible and will give you a glimpse into how powerful and advanced the Mayan civilisation once was.
However, if you are really geeky about Mayan history you might find that Chichen Itza isn’t enough. Don’t worry, there are many other fascinating Mayan ruins to visit – each with their own captivating stories and history. Here are a few of the best Mayan archeological wonders that you can visit near to Cancun.
7. You Can Get Around on the Bus
During your stay in Cancun you don’t HAVE to rent a car or rely on taxis to get around, there is actually an excellent bus system that visits locals all throughout the Hotel Zone and Avenida Tulum. You simply flag down the driver along the strip and then use the stop-request button that is located above the handrails.The buses in Cancun charge a flat rate of 8.5 pesos per ride. They are generally on-time, safe and clean.
There is also an air conditioned slightly more luxurious bus option in the Hotel Zone called Bus One, which costs 11 pesos. To get to further away destinations such as Tulum, Playa Del Carmen and Chichen Itza you can take the regional buses, which leave from downtown at the intersection of Uxmal and Avenida Tulum.
There are also shuttle buses and buses that are specific to different tourist destinations.You may want to use taxis or hire a car for the convenience or to get to other places off the beaten track, but just knowing that the bus is an option can be really helpful for getting around on a budget.
8. You Can Use Dollars or Pesos… But Pesos is Probably Better
Most tourist destinations will accept your US dollars, but you will likely be paying a premium for the convenience. If you change your money into pesos, you will be getting a better deal. The exchange rates are not regulated, so each retail outlet will be setting their own rate if you pay in dollars and you can bet that it is not in your favour.
Also, you will be less likely to be targeted for scams and shortchanging. Besides, you will be getting all of your change in pesos anyway, so using pesos means that you will only need to worry about one currency. The best way to get a cheap rate is to get some pesos from your local bank before you go to Cancun – most banks will do this for free and will give you the best available exchange rate.
9. Spend the Day at Isla Mujeres
If you want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, there is a beautiful and peaceful island only a 20 minute ferry ride from Cancun. It was a Mayan sanctuary to the goddess Ixchel for about a thousand years and now it is a tranquil retreat where you can sip drinks in the shade of the palm trees.
There are many things to do at Isla Mujeres, including snorkeling with whale sharks, swimming with dolphins, playing beach volleyball or simply lying on the beach and doing absolutely nothing at all.
Lauren from Never Ending Footsteps fell in love with Isla Mujeres and wrote this beautiful post about her adventures there.
10. Learn a Bit of Basic Spanish
Cancun is tourist friendly enough that if you don’t speak a word of Spanish, you’d still get around fine. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good idea to at least try to pick up the local vocabulary.
A little bit of Spanish goes a long way and you’ll get a smile from the locals if you can say “Hola” and “Gracias” instead of “Hello” and “Thank You.” For tips on important Spanish phrases to learn first and suggestions for language learning resources, check out this blog post.