10 Tips to Know Before Visiting Cancun, Mexico
The waters off of Cancun are even more spectacular in person!
I will admit that I didn't know much about Cancun when I began planning my vacation there. And to be perfectly honest, I was imaging crowded beaches filled with inebriated Spring Breakers downing beers and tequila - not exactly my cup of tea! But as it turns out, I was very pleasantly surprised!
Cancun has been trying to shed that image for some time now and what I discovered during my time there tells me that have succeeded in creating a more sophisticated Cancun - their reputation just needs to catch up now.
If you are looking to party, you can certainly find that, but if you are looking for relaxation, or adventure, you will find that too! You can learn more about where stay in Cancun by checking out Cancun Part I - Where to Stay?
But today we cover the things I wish I had known before I arrived to make the most of my Cancun getaway!
1. The Mayan Ruins
There are Mayan ruins all around the Yucatan including Cancun. The most popular and most accessible ruins around Cancun are Chichen Itza and Tulum. Concentrate your efforts on these two sites and decide if you'd like to visit one or both of them.
3. Chichen Itza Ruins
Chichen Itza is the larger of the two sites but is also more difficult to get to. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Cancun which makes it an all day activity. If you take a tour you can add even more travel time to accommodate the pick and drop off other tourists.
2. Tulum Ruins
The Tulum ruins are very well preserved and located along the water.
The views from Tulum are stunning!
Tulum is smaller but also closer and easier to get to from Cancun. It is only about an hour and half drive. As with any tour, travel time increases the more people are on the tour, but because it is closer to Cancun you may feel more comfortable driving yourself or hiring a private driver. Tulum is an easy day trip that can be combined with other activities such as a visit to Xel Ha, Playa Del Carmen, or Akumal.
3. Xel-Ha, Xplor, and Xcaret
Xel-Ha, Xplor, and Xcaret are aquatic and adventure theme parks set over archaeological sites. Imagine a beautiful waterfalls, rivers, and mountains with restaurants, zip lining, tubing and other activities available. They are advertised as all inclusive but often the more popular and fun activities cost extra. Learn about what each has to offer and decide if you'd like to visit any of these parks.
The indoor mall, Kukulcan Plaza, is located in the Hotel Zone
La Isla Shopping Village is an outdoor shopping center
Shopping isn't something I love to do on vacation but I do make a point to pick up something authentic from wherever I am visiting. I was worried I wouldn't be able to find anything that fit this description but after some searching I found some authentic Mexican goods in a unlikely place: The Fiesta chain of stores. Many of the clothes there were made in Mexico and I picked up a cute shirt. The Tanya Moss store is a bit more high end but features jewelry (some of it very affordable) by Mexican designer Tanya Moss.
5. The Hotel Zone Shuttle
The Hotel Zone is a great place to stay if you enjoy nice hotels but want the option of venturing out to do a little shopping and eating out. If your hotel isn't walking distance to the shops or restaurants there is a shuttle that runs up and down the main street. You can wait at a designated stop or flag down the driver. It costs one dollar or ten pesos for a ride and you never have to wait more then a few minutes to get on board.
La Destileria restaurant offers a wide variety of tequila tastings
Tequila is the libation of choice In Cancun, of course! Many restaurants offer tequila tastings so you can get to know the spirit as well as your own likes and dislikes and maybe even pick up a bottle to bring home. But remember that you must pack it in your checked bag! And if you decide to pick some up at the duty free store at the airport and have a layover, you must repack the liquid in your checked luggage. Its a bit of a pain but makes for a great souvenir! Also - you get free tequila tastings at the duty free store at the airport!
7. Isla Mujeres
There is no shortage of shopping opportunities on Isla Mujeres
The island is just beautiful and you can easily get around on foot
Isla Mujeres is a small island off the coast of Cancun and definitely worth a visit. You have a few options of getting there. You can take a tour that usually includes snorkeling or take a ferry on your own. On the island that are plenty of shops and restaurants and even massages on the beach!
We spotted a ray snorkeling in Akumal!
Akumal is a tiny village that is known for it’s amazing snorkeling. It’s located between Cancun and the Riviera Maya area, where Tulum is located, making it a great stop along the way. You can go out into the water on your own or with a guide for a small fee. You’ll spot sea turtles, rays, and all sorts of beautiful fish!
9. Playa Del Carmen
There are numerous shops, including chain stores and one of a kind shops, in Playa Del Carmen
Playa Del Carmen is a small town just south of Cancun. It is well known for it’s main shopping strip along “5th Avenue.” You won’t find Chanel or Prada here but plenty of shopping opportunities and restaurants. There are many great hotels located here as well. It makes for a nice day trip or a stop on your way to and from Tulum.
10. Animal Photos Ops
Animals posing for photos are all over Cancun, and depending on your own personal beliefs, you can choose whether or not you want to support this activity. I was very surprised to see all sorts of animals on leashes, or perhaps under the influence of something, that you could take photos with. These were not free animals that have become accustomed to humans. They are pets, or worse, used to make money off of tourists. Be aware of this activity and decide how you would like to proceed.
Yes the water really is that clear and warm too!
Whether you are looking to party, to relax, or to have an adventure, you are sure to find it in Cancun!