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The Best Things to Do in Cancun (Like a Local)

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What are the best things to do in Cancun? Look this up and chances are you'll find the same info. Many times you will find pictures of people chilling at a huge pool in a resort, or young adults partying in the famous clubs. But we're here to tell you that there is so much more to do!


Read this, and we'll show you that Cancun has so much more than all-inclusive hotels & expensive events. You can do tons of fun things, with just a few dollars per day. You just need to find the right places!


So, here you are: the best things to do in Cancun, having fun like a local!

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Where is Cancun Mexico on the Map?

Cancun is located along the Yucatan Peninsula on the southern tip of Mexico. This city is situated along the Caribbean Sea, and is one hour north or Playa del Carmen, and 2 hours up the coast from Tulum.

where is Cancun on the map

Cancun is on the southern tip of Mexico.


How to Get to Cancun in Mexico

Cancun is one of the most popular destinations in the country, and definitely one of the easiest to get to. Here are the different options for visiting Cancun.


Flying to Cancun

This is the most popular way to visit Cancun. The US has tons of cheap flights to Cancun, making it the perfect starting point to any trip in the Yucatan Peninsula.


US cities that fly to Cancun include Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Mexicali, Miami, Minneapolis, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, St Louis, Tampa, and Washington.


We've found flights from the US to Cancun for as little as under $100, making it very accessible to visit, even for a short trip. Want to know our little trick? We use Skyscanner's explore option to see the cheapest dates to fly each month.

Domestic cities that fly to Cancun include Aguascalientes, Chihuahua, Ciudad Juarez, Culiacan, Guadalajara, Queretaro, Mexico City, Monterrey, Puebla, Reyes Acozac, Reynosa, San Luis Potosi, Silao, Tampico, Tijuana, Tuxtla Gutierrez, and Veracruz.

 

Other international cities that fly to Cancun include Belize City, Bogota, Brasilia, Brussels, Calgary, Caracas, Edmonton, Frankfurt, Guatemala City, Havana, Kelowna, Lima, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Medellin, Montreal, Panama City, Paris, Quebec, San Jose, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.


Other Ways to Get to Cancun

If you plan on being in another part of Mexico first, there are plenty of buses that connect to Cancun. Here are the most popular routes that you can book:


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Entry Requirements for Mexico

Whenever traveling to another country it's important to know exactly the requirements for entering. Here is all you need to know for what to do in Cancun when it comes to entry requirements.


Visa Entry Requirements

Back in the day, Americans were able to travel to Mexico without passports. It's been a while since that has changed, but I think it's important to address since I have met hundreds of travelers thinking they could visit without a passport. Whether you are visiting Mexico via cruise ship or on your own, you will in fact need your passport to enter.


Covid Entry Requirements

From day one Mexico has been much more accepting to accepting people in during times of Covid. Luckily conditions around the world have kept getting better, and there aren't any restrictions to enter Mexico due to Covid.


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Local Adjustments

Whenever traveling somewhere new, there are things that you may forget about, that could differ from the place that you are coming from. Here are a few of the local adjustments to keep in mind while traveling to Cancun, Mexico.


Language

The official language in Cancun is the same as the rest of Mexico, which is Spanish. It definitely helps to learn a bit of the language beforehand when it comes to bargaining. However, if you do not speak Spanish it's nothing to worry about. Being such a highly touristic area, many people do speak English as well.


Currency

The currency used in Mexico is the Mexican peso. Currently (October 2023) the exchange rate is 18 Mexican pesos for every 1 USD. In Cancun it is very common for places to accept USD around the hotel zone. However, if you have Mexican pesos things will actually be much cheaper. We always go to the ATM to take out local money, and there are plenty around the city that you can go to.


Outlets

Mexico uses the same outlets as the rest of North America, which are for plug types A & B. The standard voltage in Mexico is 127 V and the standard frequency is 60 Hz. If you are from the US you will be able to use your electronics without needing an adapter or energy converter.


Water Potability

The water is pretty notorious for not being super safe to drink in Mexico. While I've drank the tap water, and had ice in my drinks with no issue, it is always advised to stick the bottled water here.


Tipping Culture

The tipping culture in Mexico varies a bit, but is pretty similar to the US. Especially in Cancun, where there is a high influx of Americans, it is common to tip between 15-20% in restaurants, and for services such as massages.

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The Best Things to Do in Cancun, Mexico

There are so many things to do in Cancun. While many people stick the hotel zone, some of our favorite things to do in Cancun are in the downtown area or in the surroundings. Here are all of our favorite things to do in Cancun for different types of travelers.


Best Things to Do in Cancun #1: Visit Playa Delfines

Looking for those turquoise waters and white sand beaches that the resorts so often post? Well, let us tell you that you don’t need to spend a fortune in a fancy, overpriced hotel to get it.


The public bus that goes to the hotel zone (Bus ADO line 1 and 2) can drop you at Playa Delfines. This beach is public, spacious, and beautiful. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Cancun.


A lot of locals choose it because it really has that Caribbean vibe, with crystal clear waters that will make you want to stay forever. Also, get ready to swim, because the temperature in the water here is perfect.

Playa Delfines, best thing to do in Cancun
Playa Delfines, best things to do in Cancun
the best things to do in Cancun

Playa Delfines is the best public beach in Cancun.

Best Things to Do in Cancun #2: Enjoy the Sunrise by the Old Lighthouse

Did you know that there is a light house in Cancun? Most people don't know, because it is located within resort limits. However, you can actually reach here by going along the beach.


Lighthouses have a special charm for us. Maybe it’s because we’ve worked on ships for a while now, and they’re a very iconic symbol for sailors. Or maybe it’s just because they offer great views of the sea. Whatever the case, this old lighthouse is a spot chosen by travelers and fishermen who want to connect with the water for a bit.


Faro de Cancun, Things to do in Cancun

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Located just before entering the hotel area, the lighthouse blends beautifully with the sky during the sunrise. And although the stairs to go up are broken, you can still have enjoy the surrounding area.

Best Things to Do in Cancun #3: Catch the Sunset at Playa Langosta

If you’re anything like us, you probably enjoy every rise and set of the sun. And the same way we recommend you to go to the lighthouse in the morning, Playa Langosta is a great spot for the afternoon.


Located nearby the hotel zone, the water here may not be as clear as in Playa Delfines, but when the sun sets, the water turns golden, creating a magical atmosphere blending with the pink skies.

Playa Langosta, things to do in Cancun

Playa Langosta is the perfect spot to escape the crowds for sunset.

Best Things to Do in Cancun #4: Go Cenote Hopping

In case you’re just starting your research about Yucatán & Quintana Roo, there’s a strange natural phenomenon that only occurs here. And when we say “only here” we don’t mean in Mexico, but in the whole world!


Cenotes are sinkholes that were formed millions of years ago. There are around 6,000 of them, from all different sizes and ages (we explain more about them in this article).

cenote la noria, things to do in Cancun
Kin Ha Cenotes, things to do in Cancun
Kin Ha Cenotes, Best cenotes in Mexico

Kin Ha Cenotes (top right and bottom) and La Noria (top left) are both right outside Cancun.

Just a half hour south of the city you will find Puerto Morelos. This small town is nearby the so called “ruta de los cenotes”. This is a long road with several cenotes along the way.


Scroll down to the day trip section of this article to see how to get there! 

Did you know that there are a few thousand cenotes in the Yucatán península? With so many to choose from, which are the best cenotes in Mexico to check out? Well we're here to help!First things first: What is a cenote? Well it's something that is truly unique and that

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Want to book a tour to visit some cenotes? Here are a few that you can sign up for:

Best Things to Do in Cancun #5: Check Out The Street Art

If there’s anything we always look for it's color. Unlike museums, the streets usually show artists that express current problematics & styles of art. So, in a way, this is a great history lesson for all travelers who want to understand a bit more about local culture.

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From graffiti to entire murals, the streets in Downtown Cancun are full of art. So make sure you walk around with your eyes wide open, so you don’t miss out on any of them!

downtown Cancun, colorful spots in Mexico

Downtown Cancun is full of fun street art!

Want to take a street art tour? Here are a few that you can join:

Best Things to Do in Cancun #6: Eat & Drink at Cervecería Chapultepec

After the sun sets, it's time to go out and have some fun! And what better than a place that can offer a wide menu of local dishes, beers & cocktails where everything costs 23 pesos only?! Yes, for the equivalent of $1 USD you can get anything on the menu.


We laugh when people talk about all-inclusive resorts being such a great bang for your buck. Why? Because the food and drinks in Mexico are so cheap! We had 5 small plates of food and 5 drinks for just $10. Not only that, but the food is actually Mexican (not that Americanized Tex-Mex).


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There are several locations of Chapultapec restaurants, all of them great in quality & service. Although this isn't specifically local from the city, it's one of the things to do in Cancun that we enjoyed the most (big food lovers here!).

Cerveceria Chapultapec, things to do in Cancun

Cerveceria Chapultepec is one of the best spots to eat for this on a budget.


Best Things to Do in Cancun #7: Eat local at Plaza Palapas

As we've said, one of the best things to do in Cancun (if not the best) is to try its food. There’s a reason why this article is called “like a local”. We don’t believe in overpriced food, and we usually don’t think the best local food can be found in a fancy restaurant.


So if you’re looking for true Mexican cuisine, Plaza Palapas is the place to be. With a stage in the middle of the plaza,  this place is ready for any social event or show that may occur. And our favorite is that there are A LOT of food stands around it. If you are a food lover like us, this is one of the best things to do in Cancun.

Cancun Street food, Plaza Palapas
Cancun marquesitas street food

You want to have savory, hot food? They got you. Maybe a cold dessert? You can also find it here. How about a hot blend of cheese & chocolate? Then a marquesita stand is something you'll want to check out.


Just to give you a little heads up, there are so many options here! Just a few of the things you need to ask for include tacos, burritos, gorditas, panuchos, salbutes, polcanes & huaraches. Although they may look like they are made with the same ingredients, we promise you each one is a different culinary experience. And the best part is that they aren't expensive at all!


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Best Things to Do in Cancun #8: Take One of These 7 Day Trips From Cancun

Cancun not only has so much to do inside the city, but it also has so many fun places around It! There are tons of great places in the Yucatan Peninsula to visit, and all of them are just an hour or two from Cancun. Here are some of the day trips from Cancun that you can do.


1. Chichen Itza (world wonder)

This trip will take you a few hours. So unless you have a car (or a lot of time & patience), a tour may be the best option in this case. Chichen Itza is an archeological site, and a highlight of Mexico. Here you can find the iconic pyramid that you see in Mexican advertisements, as well as many other pieces of Mayan architecture.


And if you are hesitating about if it's worth investing so much time in, just remember that there are only 7 wonders of the world. Visiting one of them could be a great highlight for your trip.

Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsula

Just two hours north of Cancun you can find a lovely island where a lot of magic happens. From diving with whale sharks to bioluminescence in the water, Holbox offers a wide variety of activities and landscapes that will captivate your attention.


From the cool street art, to it's long sand bar, it's no wonder Holbox is a backpacker's paradise.

Holbox, colorful spots in Mexico
Holbox Island, things to do in Cancun
Colorful town Holbox, things to do in Cancun

Holbox is a backpacker's paradise.

Also, if you'd know more about it, we wrote a whole article about visiting Holbox.

Welcome to Holbox! If we ask you to name a Mexican beach destination, there’s no doubt that Cancún will probably be the top answer. What a lot of people don’t know is that there’s so much more than just the city in the area.This cute island is just two hours

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This is another great day trip from Cancun. However, unlike Holbox, it is much easier! You can reach the port of Cancun in less than 20 minutes from the city center. Then from there, you're just a short ferry ride away from the island.


Not only does Isla Mujeres have some of the most beautiful beaches around, but it is also fun to travel through. Rent a golf cart and just drive next to the water, feeling the breeze in your face.

Isla Mujeres, best things to do in Cancun
sunrise Isla Mujeres, best things to do in Cancun
Selina, Isla Mujeres, best things to do in Cancun

Isla Mujeres is the perfect day trip from Cancun.

Another great thing to do here is the MUSA. This is an underwater museum with 500 statues that was first created to promote coral life. Tourism took over, and now it is one of the best things to do in Cancun & Isla Mujeres. Want to know more about this island? Check out the full article below!

Are you planning a trip to Isla Mujeres, Mexico? This incredible island has so much more than just paradise beaches, and is just a short boat ride away from Cancún!We visited for a few days and, let us tell you, it's very hard not to have a great time here.

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4. Playa del Carmen

If you want to visit another pretty beach town, then Playa del Carmen is a great option. Located one hour south from the city, its main street is full of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Also, there are plenty of massage parlors, and a lot of street artists.


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The vibe at night becomes very friendly, as all the bars raise their volume and the drinks start flowing. Although Cancun is known for its nightlife, Playa del Carmen offers more of a "bar-hopping atmosphere".

Playa del Carmen, places to stay in the Yucatan Peninsula

This not-so-little island is 45 minutes away from Playa del Carmen. Hop on a bus for a little under and hour from Cancun to the port. Just take the ferry from the main port and you'll be there in no time! 


The island of Cozumel is one of the most popular cruise ports in the world, and can be found on many Western Caribbean itineraries. There are plenty of things to do in Cozumel, making it a great day (or even weekend) trip from Cancun.

paradise resort in Cozumel, day trip from Cancun
Cozumel, things to do in Cancun
Cozumel, Mexico, day trips from Cancun

Cozumel is an island you can reach by ferry from Playa del Carmen.

Cozumel is also world known for being a great spot for divers. If you want to know more about what to do there, check out the Cozumel Travel Guide we wrote for you below.

Visited by several cruise ships each day, Cozumel, Mexico is one of the cruise industry's most popular destinations. Welcome to a land of crystal clear waters, tacos, & tequila! This small island has so much to offer.  Working on cruise ships ourselves, we have been to Cozumel, Mexico a combined

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If there's one place that has grown at an incredible pace, it's Tulum. Having been just a simple beach spot 20 years ago, it is now full of hotels. Tulum has grown to become a spiritual, "boutique" spot for travelers from all over.


Visit its hotel zone to find some breathtaking architecture (including Casa Malca, the former mansion of Pablo Escobar). Walk through the city center and see all the hand crafted souvenirs, or even go out for some tasty seafood.

Kaan Luum Tulum, best things to do in Cancun
matcha mama Tulum, best things to do in Cancun
Tulum Ruins, best things to do in Cancun

Tulum is two hours from Cancun, full of chic hotels, ruins, and beautiful cenotes.

Tulum has something for everyone, So if you are not on a tight schedule, we recommend you to take some time to visit here. We have 2 different travel guides for Tulum, so make sure to check out both!

There are so many things to do in Tulum, and it's becoming one of the biggest hotspots in Mexico! It's no wonder why when this trendy beach town is located just two hours from Cancun, and is surrounded with so much charm and beauty.This place is growing fast, so take

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7. Puerto Morelos

This tiny beach town is only 40 minutes away from Cancun. Puerto Morelos may not have beaches like Cancun, but it has a cute tilted light house, and some great souvenir shops. The best part? It's also where buses run all day into what's called "Ruta de los cenotes". This is a route where there are a lot of cenotes all over.

Puerto Morelos, Hidden Gems in Mexico, things to do in Cancun

So just hop on a bus (these buses go to the city of Leona Vicario) and get off at your favorite cenote around. If you want to know about some of the best ones, you'll love our article about the  best cenotes in Mexico.


Getting Around Cancun, Mexico

Cancun is a pretty big city, and while most people stick the hotel zone, you'll certainly want to explore all that it has to offer. Many people opt for taxis, but there are local buses that are just a fraction of the cost! They connect the airport, hotel zone, downtown area, and the different piers. 


The routes are pretty basic, and there are even bus stops outside some of the big resorts. Make sure to have cash on you (pesos) so that you can take advantage of the super cheap buses around Cancun.


If you'd like to explore other great spots in the area such as Puerto Morelos, Holbox, and Playa del Carmen, another great option is to rent a car, which can easily be done inside the city, or at the airport. We suggest doing so in advance, so that you can find the best deals and availability.


Where to Stay in Cancun, Mexico

When most people think of Cancun they automatically think of the giant all-inclusive resorts. But can we tell you a secret? The all-inclusive resorts in Cancun are not that cheap. Sure, they may seem super affordable compared to the US, but the reality is that the food and drinks are much cheaper outside, and are so much better on the streets or in local restaurants.


All-inclusive resorts invite tourists to relax at the pool and circulate their money inside the resort, rather than exploring the gorgeous surroundings. We stayed in downtown Cancun and seriously loved it! It was much more authentic, colorful, and a fraction of the cost. Want to check out some hotels? Take a look at the map below:

Booking.com

Is Cancun, Mexico Safe?

Mexico gets a really bad rep when it comes to safety, especially Cancun. There are terrible stories that flood the news about Americans getting kidnapped and killed. While we don't want to discredit the media completely, we do want to express that Cancun isn't AS dangerous as the media portrays.


The hotel zone is certainly a bigger target, which is another reason that we stay in the more local zones. We suggest staying in groups, and controlling your behavior while drinking to keep yourself extra safe. 


If you'd like to learn more about safety in Mexico, you should definitely check out our full article outlining everything you need to know.

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Other Things to Know About Visiting Cancun, Mexico

Now that you know the best things to do in Cancun, how to get around, and where to stay, let's share a few more details.


Weather in Cancun, Mexico

Cancun is in the Caribbean area of the country, so it gets very hot and humid there. It actually never gets cold at all here. However, there are two seasons in this area- rainy and dry. The dry season here runs from mid to late October til April. The rainy season runs from May to October, with the later months being prone to bigger storms such as hurricanes.

Playa Delfines, best thing to do in Cancun

Cancun experience hot weather year round.


The Best Time to Visit Cancun, Mexico

The best time to visit Cancun is definitely in the winter time, which is the dry season. Months like January and February have hot sunny days, and are the perfect time for a tropical getaway. Prices are also cheaper during these months, as Americans tend to flock to the Caribbean for either spring break or summer.


We definitely suggest avoiding the months of September and October, as the Caribbean is notorious for having hurricanes at this time.


What to Pack For a Trip to Cancun, Mexico

Cancun is a place to enjoy the beach, downtown, and islands around it. We definitely suggest bringing a bathing suit, towel, and a strong sunscreen to protect against the intense sun. We also suggest bringing a backpack that zips up securely to protect your belongings.


Also, If you want to experience the nightlife, we suggest bringing some club clothes and heels. 


Here are a few other go-to items that we use:

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We could write several articles talking about all the best things to do in Cancun, and Mexico in general. This is such a big country with a huge variety of possibilities for food, activities and even accommodation.


If you want to learn how to travel through Mexico like a local, you can check out over 30 different blogs about Mexican destinations. And if you're traveling around the Caribbean sea, then check out our Caribbean travel guides for some more fascinating spots around it.


Looking to book your next trip? We're here to help! Start exploring more and spending less by using Scratch Your Mapa Travel Planning. Want to learn more? You can either check out our different travel planning services, or schedule a free call today.


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