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12 Crucial Cancun Travel Tips for First-Timers

12 Crucial Cancun Travel Tips for First-Timers

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Are you planning a trip to Cancun Mexico for the first time and don’t know what to expect? Keep scrolling to check out my top Cancun travel tips!
This list of Cancun travel tips was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

White sand beaches, nightlife, water sports, Mayan ruins, nature, and some of the best all-inclusive resorts in the world can all be found in Cancun, making it a fantastic travel destination. 

It’s no wonder Cancun is one of the most visited cities in the world, with 8.5 million international tourists arriving here every year!

If you’re visiting this incredible destination in Mexico, there are a few things to consider, so I decided to put together the ultimate list of Cancun travel tips for first-timers.

Cancun Travel Tips for First-Timers

Don’t Spend All Your Vacation at the Beach

Even though Cancun is known for its striking white sand beaches, there is a lot more to see and do in the city.

For that reason, I recommend creating an itinerary that involves beach time, but also time spent exploiting the city and its surroundings.

There are plenty of fun tours in Cancun that will show you the city, be it through its attractions, natural wonders, and even your taste buds, so make sure not to miss out.

Moreover, Cancun is surrounded by incredible natural wonders and archeological goodness – don’t forget to plan a few day trips here and there!

Visit Mayan Ruins

Taking time out of your schedule to check out a few Mayan ruins is a must-do activity when you’re in Cancun. 

Not only are these ruins pretty impressive, but they also act as a gateway to the Yucatan Peninsula’s past as a Mayan civilization. 

Closeup of a head sculpture in the Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico
Do a day trip to Chichen Itza.

Some of the most popular Mayan ruins to visit near Cancun include Chichen Itza (one of the 7 New World Wonders), Tulum Archeological Site, Cobá, and Ek Balam.

Keep in mind that Mayan ruins are fragile, irreplaceable, and incredibly important. Please don’t climb or even touch the structures to ensure we can keep enjoying them for years to come. Follow the rules and regulations to help preserve the ruins for future generations.

Avoid Visiting Cancun During the Hurricane Season

Cancun is located in a region prone to hurricanes, especially between June and November.

All in all, Cancun is a pretty sunny destination year-round, but hurricane seasons may bring heavy rains and strong winds, which is the perfect recipe to ruin a trip! 

If you’re willing to take the risk, though, airlines and hotels usually offer discounted rates during the hurricane season, so it is a great opportunity to visit Cancun on a budget. Hurricanes are a possibility, but they don’t happen every single year.

If you’d rather not take any chances, the dry season in Cancun runs from December all the way to May. 

Learn Basic Spanish Phrases

Most people in Cancun speak English pretty well, but knowing a few basic Spanish phrases can go a long way!

Here are some essential Spanish phrases to get you started:

  • Hola: Hello
  • Adiós: Goodbye
  • Por favor: Please
  • De nada: You’re welcome
  • Gracias: Thank you
  • ¿Cómo estás?: How are you?
  • Estoy bien, gracias: I’m good, thank you
  • No hablo español: I don’t speak Spanish
  • ¿Hablas inglés?: Do you speak English?

Learning a bit of Spanish will help you navigate through Cancun in a better way and interact with locals. It’s also a great way to show respect towards the place you’re visiting.

Drink Bottled Water

Tap water in Cancun isn’t safe to drink, so you will need to buy bottled water in order to stay hydrated.

Bottled water is readily available in Cancun. You can find it at supermarkets, small convenience stores like Oxxo or 7/11s, and hotels.

Because Cancun is very hot and humid, staying hydrated is key, so make sure you carry a water bottle with you at all times. If you prefer not to waste so much plastic, you can also consider purchasing a purifying water bottle.

Be Aware of Common Scams in Cancun

Like any big tourist destination, Cancun has a fair share of common scams to be aware of. Here are a few ones to watch out for:

Timeshare Scams

One of the most common scams in Cancun is the timeshare scam. 

It goes like this: Tourists are approached by someone and get offered a free gift or tour in exchange for attending a presentation. Once there, you’ll be heavily pushed to purchase a timeshare in Cancun.

These sellers know what they are doing and they can get pretty aggressive, so many people end up signing a contract they didn’t even want in the first place.

Even if you do want a timeshare, it’s better to get one through reputable agencies that don’t feel the need to try these hard-sell strategies, anyway.

Taxi Scams

Taxis in Cancun are known for overcharging ridiculous amounts to tourists (even Mexicans from other parts of the country!).

Make sure to book your taxi with a reputable agency through your hotel or resort and get a price beforehand. If you must take a taxi from the street, negotiate the price before you hop in.

ATM Scams

You will see lots of ATMs around the streets in Cancun and while many are harmless, skimming devices that can steal your can information are common.

If you need to withdraw money, it’s best to do so at ATMs located inside official banks, malls, and hotels.

Moreover, make sure you always cover the keypad when you enter your pin.

Book a Family Photo Shoot

Whenever we travel, we almost always book a family photo shoot with Flytographer. They are super easy, affordable, AND guarantee that I’ll be in some photos. You can get $25 off if you book through this link or use the code HAWAIITRAVEL.

Take Day Trips to the Rest of the Yucatan Peninsula

The Yucatan Peninsula is an extremely interesting region in Mexico and visiting Cancun is a great opportunity to get to know it!

There are tons of amazing destinations near Cancun that you can visit on a day trip. Even though it would be impossible to list them all in one blog post, here are a few popular ones:

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is one of the most famous Mayan ruins in the world. It’s one of the 7 New World Wonders and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so no trip to Cancun would be complete without checking it out!

Kukulkan pyramid in Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.
I highly recommend a day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun.

It’s located about a 2.5-hour drive from Cancun, but it’s definitely worth the trip. Tours are readily available as well in case you don’t want to worry about planning or driving. Check the latest rates and availability.

Tulum

Tulum is a beautiful beach town located about an hour and a half south of Cancun. 

Ruins of the Mayan fortress and temple near Tulum, Mexico
This is a temple near Tulum.

It’s known for its stunning white sand beaches, crystal-clear water, and the well-preserved ruins of an ancient Mayan city.

You can spend the day soaking up the sun on the beach, exploring the ruins, or swimming in the nearby cenotes (natural swimming holes). Check the latest day tour rates.

Cenotes

Cenotes are natural swimming holes that are unique to the Yucatan Peninsula. There are thousands of them all over the region, and many of them are easily accessible from Cancun.

Sunbeams penetrating at Ik-Kil cenote inlet opening, Mexico
Ik Kil Cenote.

Popular cenotes you can visit include Cenote Ik Kil, Cenote Dos Ojos, and Gran Cenote, to name just a few!

Isla Mujeres

If a relaxing day trip is what you’re after, Isla Mujeres is a wonderful choice. This island is located just off the coast of Cancun and is known for its laid-back vibes, beautiful beaches, and calm waters.

perfect tropical sea landscape. island Isla Mujeres (Women Island). Mexico, Yucatan
Isla Mujeres is a fun Cancun day trip.

It also has fantastic beach clubs that aren’t nearly as crowded as those in Cancun.

To reach Isla Mujeres, you can take a ferry from Cancun which takes 20-30 minutes to reach the island. The first ferry leaves at 5:30 AM and runs every half an hour until 9:30 PM. You can also do this affordable catamaran tour.

Book Your Airport Transfer in Advance

My number one travel tip for Cancun is always to plan ahead and pre-book your airport transfer if you’re not planning to rent a car.

While taxis are widely available at the airport, they can be expensive and you will have to negotiate the fare, which can be pretty stressful even for seasoned travelers. Prebooking your transfer will save you a ton of headaches and possibly money as well.

If you absolutely must take a taxi, ignore the taxi drivers outside that will swarm you as soon as you leave your gate. Instead, look for official taxi stands – this is a much safer and cheaper option.

Don’t Swim When the Flag is Red

There are tons of beaches all over Cancun. If you plan on swimming during your vacation, make sure to always pay attention to the flag system in Cancun.

dangerous red flag in beach with rough sea signal
Keep an eye out for red flags on beaches in Cancun.

It’s pretty simple: Green flags indicate the water is safe for swimming. A yellow flag means take caution and a red flag means the water is too dangerous for swimming at that particular time. 

Red flags can signify strong currents, high waves, or marine animals close to the coast. If you see a red flag, avoid getting in the water at all costs.

Choose the Right Area to Stay in Cancun

Choosing the right area to stay in Cancun is very important as the city is very big and traffic can get quite hectic.

These are some of the best areas to stay in Cancun in terms of tourism-friendliness, closeness to main attractions, convenience, and safety:

Cancun Hotel Zone

The Hotel Zone is the most popular area to stay for visitors to Cancun. It’s located on a strip right between the Nichupté Lagoon and the Caribbean Sea, which means you’ll always be near the water and have beautiful views!

Cancun aerial view of Hotel Zone in Playa Linda at Mexico
Cancun Hotel Zone.

Moreover, the Hotel Zone boasts some of the best bars, restaurants, and nightclubs in the city, so you’ll be close to everything.

Downtown Cancun

If what you’re after is to have a more local experience in Cancun, Downtown Cancun is the place where actual residents of the city live in.

Downtown Cancun
Downtown Cancun.

Here, you’ll find small shops, authentic marketplaces, local restaurants, and more. As a bonus, Downtown Cancun is a great option if you’re visiting Cancun on a budget as prices here are significantly lower compared to the Hotel Zone.

Puerto Juarez

If you want to get away from the bustle and hustle, Puerto Jurez is a great spot. This is a very quiet neighborhood located just north of the Hotel Zone.

Puerto Juarez has a very low-key vibe and a much more local atmosphere, but it’s still close enough to the Hotel Zone that you can have the best of all worlds.

Playa Mujeres

Playa Mujeres is a pretty new development set north of the Hotel Zone where lots of luxury resorts have sprawled up.

Here, you can have a very secluded experience in Cancun, so much that you may forget you’re in a big city at all.

Exchange Money at an Official Bank

USD is widely accepted in Cancun, but if you prefer to carry Mexican pesos, knowing where to exchange your money is important.

hands exchanging  Mexican Pesos
You can get Mexican pesos at the bank.

If possible, the best place to exchange any currency for Mexican pesos is at an official bank. This is in order to ensure you get more value for your money, as hotels, airports, and exchange houses often offer unfavorable rates.

In order to exchange money, you’ll need to bring along your passport or another form of ID. 

Withdraw Money at Official ATMs

If you run out of cash and need to withdraw money, make sure to only do so at official ATMs. 

You will usually find them inside shopping malls, hotels, and banks. Look for logos of Mexican banks such as Citibanamex, BBVA, Scotiabank, HSBC, or Santander.

Withdrawal Mexican Pesos From The ATM
Use an official ATM in Cancun.

These ATMs are monitored and have security cameras, which means they’re much safer than the standalone ATMs you’ll find on the street. Moreover, standalone ATMs can be reliable, but fraud is also common on those and not worth taking the risk.

As a tip, most ATMs in Cancun offer both USD and Mexican pesos in cash. Another thing to keep in mind is that your bank or some ATMs may charge a fee for international withdrawals, so make sure to check if your home bank has partnerships with any banks in Mexico to avoid them.

How to Visit Cancun Mexico FAQs

How do I prepare for a trip to Cancun Mexico?

Prepare for your trip to Cancun by researching accommodations, transportation, and activities. It is also advisable to check travel advisories and familiarize yourself with local customs and laws.

What are the best months to go to Cancun Mexico?

The best months to visit Cancun are from December to April, when the weather is pleasant and the hurricane season is over.

How much money should I take to Cancun for a week?

The amount of money needed can vary greatly depending on your activities and dining choices. However, on average, you may spend around $500-$800 per person for a week, excluding accommodation.

Should I stay in the Cancun hotel zone?

Yes, Cancun’s Hotel Zone is popular for its proximity to the beach, restaurants, and nightlife, making it a convenient choice for many travelers.

What Mexican cuisine is worth trying?

Definitely try traditional Mexican cuisine such as tacos al pastor, cochinita pibil, and local seafood dishes. Don’t forget to try some churros for dessert!

Should I get travel insurance for visiting Cancun Mexico?

It’s always a good idea to get travel insurance for any trip, as it can provide coverage for unforeseen circumstances such as medical emergencies, trip cancellations, or lost belongings.

What is typical Cancun weather?

Cancun typically has a tropical climate, with average temperatures ranging from 20°C (68°F) to 30°C (86°F) year-round.

When is the rainy season in Cancun Mexico?

The rainy season in Cancun usually runs from May to October, with the risk of hurricanes highest between August and October.

When is the low season in Cancun Mexico?

The low season in Cancun is typically from May to November, coinciding with the rainy season.

Are there any archaeological sites near Cancun?

Yes, there are several significant archaeological sites near Cancun, including the Tulum ruins, Coba, and the famous Chichen Itza.

Do you need a rental car in Cancun?

Needing a rental car in Cancun depends on your itinerary; you may not need one if you’re staying within the hotel zone and using organized tours. However, if exploring further like Playa del Carmen or Tulum, a rental car provides flexibility and convenience.

Cancun Travel Tips for First-Timers Wrap Up

Overall, Cancun is a very standard city to visit and there isn’t a lot to keep in mind when it comes to safety or anything of the sort. The city is incredibly tourist-friendly, which means it knows how to cater to visitors.

As long as you keep these Cancun travel tips for first-timers in mind, you’ll pretty much be guaranteed an excellent vacation at this Mexican paradise!

Looking for more Mexico travel resources? Check out our list of all-inclusive Cancun resorts for families, list of quirky Mexico hotels, Cancun vs Cozumel, how to spend Spring Break in Mexico, Hard Rock Riviera Maya Resort review, best Cabo San Lucas resorts, best places to visit in Mexico, Cabo vs Cancun, best Cancun day trips, Cancun vs Tulum, top all-inclusive Mexico resorts for kids, and Hawaii resorts vs Mexico all-inclusive!

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