10 Things to Know Before You Go to Cancun

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

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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

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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.

Plus, as I always recommend when it comes to travel safety – read up on the most common scams so that you know what to watch out for before you go to Cancun.

3. What’s the Best Time to Go?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Have you been to Cancun? Any essential tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.

Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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  1. This should be updated as yes Cancun is quite dangerous outside the tourist zone and resorts due to Trump’s administration there has been active cartels in these areas and kidnapping of US citizens if you venture off into local areas. Ignorance is a bliss, if you visually appear that you don’t belong one should use their judgement to selectively venture off especially if you do not speak Spanish.Google Cancun safety especially specific resorts as some are known to be run by cartels for drug trafficking with previous murders on resort grounds.

    1. There has been an increase in violent crime recently in Cancun. The State Department has recommended exercising caution, and you can read their recommendations for Quintana Roo on the state.gov website. I recommend using taxis from your hotel, and asking for them to wait for you while you shop, or return at a certain time to pick you up.

      In regard to sunscreen, if you are planning on swimming in natural bodies of water, you will need to use bio-friendly sunscreen. Regular suncreen can kill coral and other sea life and is prohibited.

    2. You’re out of your mind. Please explain why Cancun is now more dangerous due to the Trump administration? I may not be a Trump fan, but you’re obviously crazy. Grow up. Cancun, is mildly dangerous if you get involved with the drug trade. If you don’t want illicit drugs and stay in the hotel zone, travel during the day. You’ll be fine.

    3. Wow!

      I don’t know how you came up with this info, probably you just read it at a “hot news” site or something.

      I was born and raised in Cancun and worked in the Hotel Industry for 8years and counting, been a Concierge and Butler and I can tell there is not such an issue related to Trump’s administration. It is true that lots of things depend on US actions, but the Cartel’s operations in Cancun has nothing to do with it.

      With all respect, those bad people from the drugs cartels don’t mind or are interested in kidnapping tourist, wether they are from US or any other country.

      All of the people that were murdered in the last 3 years they were involved in someway with selling drugs, or refusing to sell drugs. It is a shame but that’s what is actually happening.

      Most of the Hotel Owners are not Mexican, and their are administered from outside Cancun. Never heard of a Violent situation inside or around Hotels, at least not related to Drugs Cartels attacking tourist.

      However, there is a lot Police presence. Local, State and Federal Police and also Marines all around the Hotel Zone and Cancun Downtown.

      Our recommendations will be always book in advance pretty much everything you would like to do on your vacations because the most “dangerous” people are those who are trying to get you into a Timeshare Presenation promising Free Tours, Spa treatments or Transportation Services. Those people are really the ones you should be aware of.

      I run a Private Transportation Local Company, any visitor who plans to come to Cancun or Riviera Maya I can get you the very best deals and real time information about whats going on in Cancun!

      Greetings from paradise!

      1. Raphael Hello ! I am sasha, how do i get in contact with you ? I’m coming to cancun and would like to see if i can get some information from you. You sound very knowledgable. Thank You !


      2. Rafael, I’m coming to Cancun Jan 5th 2020 can I contact you for info and maybe transportation?
        I’m coming to work on a boat at the V&V marina

      3. HI,
        I have to say I have been to Cancun 3 times and each time has been the best holiday I have ever had. The people are so lovely, the Beaches are amazing, Isla Mujeres,, Xcaret, Tulum are all fantastic stunning places to visit. there is so much to see and do and the food is amazing too. If only I could be lucky enough to live there I would.
        Paradise it is for sure

    4. I’m usually travelling around Mexico with local buses,palenque,San cristobal,Merida ,Cancun ,never ever got any problems,again going next february

  2. I’m kinda glad people are starting not to go. Now hotels will be cheap again. I will always keep going to Cancun.

    1. Right on! That is exactly what I thought, that maybe things would be cheaper because I’ll never quit going over there, especially Tulum Tulum Tulum. LOL

  3. Fake news lol! It’s a fun but rather controversial read. Cancun, like any other city, has its bad spots to stay away from but from my experience earlier this year, still more on the safe side than dangerous.

  4. I enjoyed your blog. It’ll be useful because I go to Cancun every year. I love it there. From the beaches to the excursions and so on. If you ever visit Austin Texas, be sure to check out my blogs for things to do.

  5. Seems like you actually experienced Cancun just like locals. Marvelous guide! Soon I’ll do a solo-travel to Tulum, but also I am planning to stay a few days in Cancun Hotel Zone, so this will be extremely useful. Still a bit curious about how you figured out the ice-cube thing. Anyways, I have drunk water in Mexico each time I travel there and haven’t experienced any illness (luckily). Nice eye you’ve got!

    1. Within Cancun proper, the water is processed and fine to drink, ice cubes and all. Don’t be deterred if your ice cube doesn’t have a hole in it. 🙂
      Can’t wait to go back to the Westin at Lagunamar!

  6. Hi Kelly, awesome blog!! I’m going to Cancun next week with my family and this are awesome tips. Thankfully my wife speaks Spanish so that won’t be a problem. We already book a day trip to Isla Mujeres on a catamaran. I can’t wait to swim on those beautiful reefs and to visit Playa Norte! Btw I think you have to use some sort os special sunscreen so you don’t damage the reefs!

  7. Good points!
    I totally agree on Chichen Itza not being the only amazing Maya site. Ek Balam and Uxmal are majestic.
    And yes, sunscreen is a lifesaver. I do not recommend laying on the beach for more than 20 minutes without it lol.

    Thanks for the post.

  8. No doubt, Cancun is a place that goes beyond the party and the hotel zone. Nobody wants to be in Cancun without spending the day on one of its beaches, I have been living in Cancun for more than eight years, and I have learned a couple of things. First, as you mentioned, it is better to pay in pesos. Locally with the exchange rate, your money loses the same value. Among other things, there are plenty of quieter beaches that everyone visits as soon as they get to Cancun.

  9. Cancun is a beautiful place, and like every city in every country, you have to be careful as a tourist. You made some good points in this article. I love Cancun!

  10. Great tips!

    I think the point that I would highlight is changing Dollars into Pesos. I started with Dollars and it wasn´t regulated at all.
    My trip was way cheaper once I change to pesos.


  11. The place is the ideal place to spend the best beach experience in Mexico, especially for Father’s Day or traditional vacations. Both in the city and in its surroundings you can enjoy a great variety of beaches and attractions to spend a relaxing time.

  12. I just back from Cancun, and my trip was completely worth it, I followed some of these tips and they helped me a lot. My and family enjoyed a beautiful endless paradise on pristine beaches. We also recommend you to visit the surroundings such as Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Isla Mujeres you are gonna love them! The bus now costs 12 which is very affordable, and it takes to alongside the Cancun Hotel Zone.

  13. Year after year the infrastructure of Cancun’s airport is improved, so that travelers who visit us feel at ease, as well as more air routes with airports around the world for faster and more direct flights. We are waiting for you in Cancun with open arms.

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