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Cancun Visitors Guide

How to Get There, Things to Do & More

Updated May 2024 ⋅ Written by Laura Schulthies ⋅ Edited by Daniel Mode

Cancun Visitors Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
Cancun Visitors Guide: Things To Do In Cancun Mexico

Welcome to Cancun Mexico

Cancun is one of Mexico’s largest and most popular vacation spots. It attracts millions of visitors from all over the world each year. Cancun all inclusive resorts are the biggest draw, but the beaches, the water, and the nightlife make Cancun a top Caribbean destination. Are you looking to plan the perfect Cancun vacation? Our complete guide to Cancun has everything you need to know for your stay. From the best things to do and the top attractions, to travel tips and when to visit. So start planning your dream Cancun vacation with Island Life Mexico!

Cancun is one of Mexico’s largest and most popular vacation spots. It attracts millions of visitors from all over the world each year. Cancun all inclusive resorts are the biggest draw, but the beaches, the water, and the nightlife make Cancun a top Caribbean destination. Are you looking to plan the perfect Cancun vacation? Our complete guide to Cancun has everything you need to know for your stay. From the best things to do and the top attractions, to travel tips and when to visit. So start planning your dream Cancun vacation with Island Life Mexico!

Cancun Map

Cancun Map

Contents

Cancún quintana roo mexico
Cancun Sunrise
Cancun History

A Bit Of History

Like many towns in the Mexican Caribbean, Cancun was once a Mayan cultural center. This particular piece of land was essential for the Mayan fishing and maritime trades. After the Mayans left the area and prior to the 1970s, Cancun was all but forgotten. Surviving with just 100 residents.

Fast forward to the 1970s, when the Mexican government deemed Cancun the best place to build the next Caribbean tourist destination!

The Mexican government actually had to finance the first few resorts themselves because it took a lot of convincing to get investors interested. Yet by the mid 1980s, Cancun had achieved its goal. It was the IT destination in Mexico.

Cancún Quintana Roo Mexico

Cancun Today

Since 1989, Cancun has seen significant changes and growth. It has become Mexico’s liveliest city, drawing millions of visitors each year. The rise of all inclusive resorts has made it a popular choice for vacationers seeking convenient and comprehensive experiences. Cancun’s pristine beaches, known for their soft sand and warm blue waters, have become iconic symbols of this coastal paradise. The city offers a range of adventurous attractions, such as water sports and eco parks, adding to its appeal. With a bustling nightlife and a diverse culinary scene, Cancun offers something for everyone. It has truly become one of the most sought after destinations on the Caribbean.

Is Cancun Safe?

Is Cancun Safe?

Cancun is widely considered a safe city, especially compared to other cities in Mexico.

While gang related crime has risen a bit in recent years, it typically happens well outside of tourist areas and doesn’t target tourists.

With tourism the heartbeat of the Cancun economy, locals and government officials do their best to keep the crime rate low and the city safe. As long as you don’t go looking for trouble, use common sense, and are generally aware of your surroundings, Cancun can be enjoyed greatly and safely.

Where is Cancun?

Cancun On A Map

Cancun is located on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula by the Caribbean Sea. It is approximately an hour north of Playa Del Carmen and two hours north of Tulum. A flight from Houston or Miami is a quick two hours as well.

Adjacent to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the second-longest coral reef system in the world), Cancun is in a perfect spot for turquoise Caribbean waters, white sand beaches, and world-class diving and snorkeling. This is DEFINITELY the island life!

The Best Time to Visit Cancun

Looking for the best time to go to Cancun? The tropical climate in Cancun is quite predictable, and easy to make plans around. Without much of a temperature difference throughout the year, (the average temperature lingers around 83° F) it’s the rainy season that most travelers pay attention to.

Looking for the best time to go to Cancun? The tropical climate in Cancun is quite predictable, and easy to make plans around. Without much of a temperature difference throughout the year, (the average temperature lingers around 83° F) it’s the rainy season that most travelers pay attention to.

January – April

Perfectly warm and clear weather-wise, but sees the highest influx of tourists. If you are not a people person, consider this. The ocean, cenotes and swimming pools that aren’t heated can still be a little chilly for some.

May – October

The hottest and most rainy months of the year but still plenty of sunshine and fantastic warm water for snorkeling & diving. Also, the hurricane season peaks in September and October, so keep an eye on the forecasts and definitely get travel insurance just in case. Fewer tourists mean you can typically expect lower rates at hotels, resorts and tour companies during this time.

November – December

The autumn-winter months are considered by many to be the best times to visit Cancun. The hurricane season has passed by this time, and the humidity is low. It can be a little “cool” in the evenings.

January – April

Perfectly warm and clear weather-wise, but sees the highest influx of tourists. If you are not a people person, consider this. The ocean, cenotes and swimming pools that aren’t heated can still be a little chilly for some.

May – October

The hottest and most rainy months of the year but still plenty of sunshine and fantastic warm water for snorkeling & diving. Also, the hurricane season peaks in September and October, so keep an eye on the forecasts and definitely get travel insurance just in case. Fewer tourists mean you can typically expect lower rates at hotels, resorts and tour companies during this time.

November – December

The autumn-winter months are considered by many to be the best times to visit Cancun. The hurricane season has passed by this time, and the humidity is low. It can be a little “cool” in the evenings.

  When Is Cancun Hurricane Season?

Cancun hurricane season begins in late May and lasts until early November, with the peak occurring between August and October. The odds of a hurricane hitting Cancun are low (less than half a dozen hurricanes have hit the Yucatan in the past 40 years), but hurricanes traveling near Cancun can still cause inclement and severe weather. Be sure to check weather reports ahead of time, and we always suggest getting travel insurance during these months just in case.

Hurricane Season

Live Cancun Webcam

How to Get to Cancun & Around

There are a few ways to get to Cancun and around the city.

Mexico Airport

Arrival By Air

Most people fly directly to Cancun as numerous international flights arrive in Cancun daily. Cancun International Airport (CUN) is located in Cancun City (Centro) and is around 13 miles from the Zona Hotelera. It is the largest airport in the region and greets more than 20 million visitors a year.

  Search for great deals on flights here.

Island Life Mexico

Airport Shuttles in Cancun

Private or Group Shuttles can be pre-arranged to pick you up at the airport and take you to your accommodation. Group shuttles may stop at numerous hotels before yours, so this method could take much longer than a private shuttle (while being a bit cheaper).

Shared shuttles are around $10 per person, while a private minivan shuttle can be booked for around $30-$40 per van. We recommend getting a private shuttle if you are in a group of 2 or more people.

  You can easily book ground transportation from the airport to your hotel here.

Taxi in Mexico

Taxis in Cancun

Taxis are everywhere and will take you straight from the airport to your accommodation. The price is highly regulated so ask at the taxi stand for the price. Typically $40-$50 dollars to locations in Centro or the Hotel Zone. We recommend pre-arranging an airport shuttle instead (see above).

Taxis are a convenient way to get around Cancun for sure. Within the hotel zone or within Centro, prices are around $4-$7 dollars. Traveling between the Hotel Zone and Centro is $10-$15 one way. Your hotel can typically call a taxi to pick you up when you’re ready to depart your hotel.

Taxis between Cancun and Playa del Carmen or Tulum are an easy option but can be quite expensive. Be sure to discuss the prices in advance of taking the ride, so you don’t get overcharged.

Island Life Mexico

Rental Cars in Cancun

Renting a car may be the most convenient choice depending on how much exploring you plan to do on your own. It is an easy and affordable option with rental cars costing as little as $15 a day. Be sure to check if your hotel has parking available.

The roads between Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum are very straightforward and safe. Having a rental car will give easy access to Cenotes and other sites outside of town. Watch out for Topes! (speed bumps).

  Search for great deals on rental cars here.

Buses in Mexico

Buses in Cancun

The most affordable and increasingly popular form of transport, buses go to most places you want to go, and some are even air-conditioned. Keep in mind that this is the slowest and least comfortable way to get around.

From the airport, there are frequent public buses available into the city. From Tulum and Playa del Carmen, buses are also widely available. Consult your hotel for pickup/dropoff locations.

Things to Do in Cancun

Cancun's Top Highlights

There is so much to do in Cancun! From live shows to sailing cruises and more, it’s really easy to make each day in Cancun a special experience. Here are just some of the activities you can enjoy!

Cancun Beaches
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Have A Beach Day
Cancun Beaches
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1. Have A Beach Day

The Hotel Zone beaches go on for miles and are sandy and fantastic. Most resorts have their own stretch of beach with loungers and day beds but feel free to walk down the beaches to find your favorite stretch of sand.

Playa Delfines is the most popular (and beautiful) public beach and is a great place to take a swim and lay out for a tan. The water can get a little choppy at times, so it’s not ideal for small children. Delfines is home to the famous colorful “Cancun” sign too for those looking for that classic Instagram shot. For better swimming, try Playa Chac Mool which is also in the Hotel Zone. Gentle, quiet and tranquilo.

 For more Cancun beach info and great beach recommendations, be sure to check out our Cancun Best Beaches Guide.

*Note: Since 2008, Sargassum (seaweed) has regularly arrived on the Caribbean coast of Mexico (Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, etc.) from April to August. Many resorts and beaches remove the seaweed from the sand daily, but it can pile up by the water’s edge and be stinky in places where it’s not removed. For this reason, we suggest getting a hotel with a nice pool area for swimming or spending some time on the islands of Cozumel or Isla Mujeres which are largely protected from the seaweed.

Visiting The Adventure Parks in Cancun
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Experience The Adventure Parks
Visiting The Adventure Parks In Cancun
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2. Experience The Adventure Parks

About an hour south of Cancun are a cluster of world famous adventure parks that are unlike anything you’ve probably experienced before.

The most famous is Xcaret, with its meandering canals you can swim through, incredible beach coves, cultural shows, jungle hikes, and so much more. They are a little pricey, but the adventure parks are widely considered a must-do in the area.

Other very popular parks include Xplor with its caves, ziplines, rafting and ATVs, Xel-Ha with its waterslides, snorkeling, mangrove tubing and other water activities, Xplor Fuego a nighttime torchlight adventure, Xenotes cenote experience, Xoximilco floating fiesta and the oddly popular Xenses optical illusion park.

  ISLAND LIFE TRAVEL TIP : GET TRAVEL INSURANCE

Travel Insurance is a must in our opinion. Standard health insurance likely doesn’t cover you while outside of the country so travel insurance will cover any emergency medical needs as well as trip cancellation, lost or stolen luggage (it happens), flight delays, missed connections and more. You can easily compare the top-rated travel insurance plans here.

Chichen Itza near Cancun
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Take A Day Trip To Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza near Cancun
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3. Take A Day Trip To Chichen Itza

If you’ve never been to a Mayan ruin, why not start with one of the best! Chichen Itza is an epic collection of temples and monuments that are worth the trip to get there.

Around a two-hour drive from Cancun, many people combine the adventure with a swim at a cenote on the way back to cool off.

You can rent a car and do the drive yourself, but most people book either a private tour or take a group tour for simplicity. This also allows you to zonk out in the van on the way back! Note that group tours typically do not include the park entrance fee of $30 USD adult or $5 child.

  This top rated group tour to Chichen Itza includes buffet lunch, a trip to Valladolid, and swimming in a cenote on the way back. Here’s a great private tour.

  Don’t mind getting up early? Check out this awesome sunrise tour to Chichen Itza!

Swim In A Cenote in Cancun
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Visit A Cenote
Swim In A Cenote in Cancun
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4. Visit A Cenote

Talk about healing properties. The cenote choices in the Cancun area are vast and diverse as there are literally dozens of incredible locations nearby. A cenote is typically formed when a cave has collapsed on itself and then fills with rainwater or natural underground spring water. You can swim, scuba dive, snorkel or just walk through one of these breathtaking and powerful forces of nature.

  Explore cenote tours from Cancun here.

 For more cenote info and great cenote recommendations, be sure to check out our Ultimate Cenote Guide.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Cancun
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Go Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Cancun
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5. Go Snorkeling or Scuba Diving

Hire a tour company to jet you around the lagoons or go with a dive shop and see what lies beneath.

The Underwater Sculpture Museum at MUSA has become quite a popular attraction in recent years. Over 500 sculptures were built and installed in the shallow blue waters in an attempt to rebuild the reef system.

The Island of Cozumel, just a short ferry ride away, is known to be one of the best places in the world to dive and snorkel, so if you have the time, we recommend you try it! But there are plenty of other diving and snorkeling options as well! Get in the water and explore. A true treasure awaits.

  This is one of the more popular snorkeling tours that visits several reefs and a shipwreck not to far from Cancun.

  Check out a variety of scuba diving options for beginners and experienced divers.

Vibrant nightlife in Cancun
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Enjoy The Nightlife
Vibrant nightlife in Cancun
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6. Enjoy The Nightlife

You are in the Mexican Caribbean’s party center, after all! The northern part of Zona Hotelera is called Punta Cancun and is the nightlife party area with plenty of clubs and tourist bars. Some say the best club to dance and drink the night away is Coco Bongo but don’t let us sway your decision. There are many places to party on offer, mainly in the Zona Hotelera.

  This VIP Admission package to Coco Bongo comes with skip-the-line VIP entry (the lines here can be crazy), excellent seats for the shows, 15 premium drinks and more.

  This Gold Pass to Mandala Club Cancun includes admission and $50 of food and drinks.

Rio Secreto Nature Reserve in Cancun
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Explore The Rio Secreto Nature Reserve
Rio Secreto Nature Reserve in Cancun
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7. Explore The Rio Secreto Nature Reserve

This wild little day trip isn’t what you usually think of when you think of Cancun, but don’t let that stop you from taking a break from the sunshine and trying out a new adventure!

Rio Secreto (The Secret River) is an underground cave/cenote system filled with stalactites, stalagmites and beautiful fresh water that you’ll spend the day wading and swimming through.

Small group tours include a guide, transport, lunch, wetsuits, hard hats, water shoes and more. This is widely considered an unforgettable experience.

  This is definitely one of the most popular tours and has an option for hotel pick up for convenience.

The neighboring islands of Cancun
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Visit The Islands
The neighboring islands of Cancun
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8. Visit The Islands

Just off the coast of Cancun are the magical islands of Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy. If you don’t have the time to spend a few days on the laid-back Isla Mujeres, be sure to take a day tour to visit.

There are a wide variety of catamaran and snorkeling tours available departing from Cancun. If you feel like getting a little more “wild,” include a stop at the Isla Contoy nature preserve.

  Here are a number of excellent day tours to Isla Mujeres.

  These are the top rated tours to Isla Contoy.

Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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Check Out Cancun Centro
Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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9. Check Out Cancun Centro

If you skip downtown Cancun (Centro), you’re missing a quintessential Cancun experience.

For a glimpse at the local culture, check out the public square Parque de las Palapas. The square comes to life at night with free concerts, dance performances, and street artists working the crowds with slapstick routines.

For a traditional market experience, don’t miss browsing the aisles at Mercado 23 for colorful crafts and unique Yucatecan garments you won’t find anywhere else. You will also find a plethora of fantastic dining options in Cancun Centro.

   If you want to explore the downtown area in a group setting, we recommend this Cancun City and Shopping tour.

Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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Experience a Temazcal Ceremony
Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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10. Experience a Temazcal Ceremony

An ancient Temazcal ceremony can take different forms depending on where you are in Mexico. Temazcal is a cleansing ceremony that is typically performed in a stone-walled hut similar to a sweat lodge. The heat ritual and the shaman’s guidance provide a unique mental and physical experience.

The Temazcal ritual dates back centuries and is deeply rooted in ancient Aztec traditions. Benefits of Temazcal include clearing the mind, relieving pain, and reducing tension and stress.

   There are a few highly rated Temazcal ceremonies in Cancun, including this Mayan Ceremonial Night and this Night Mayan Temazal Purification Ceremony.

Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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Visit The Mayan Museum
Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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11. Visit The Mayan Museum

If you want to add a little culture to your trip, you can get a Mayan ruin experience closer to Cancun’s Hotel Zone by visiting the Museo Maya.

The museum is an excellent place to learn about the history of the pre-Columbian Maya. If you are also planning to visit Chichen Itza, a stop at the museum will help you understand the Mayan history and culture before you go.

Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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Go Tequila Tasting
Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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12. Go Tequila Tasting

Tequila and tequila tasting are art forms in Mexico, so why not enjoy this age-old tradition? Learn the difference between Blanco, Reposado and Anejo, and try local brands you may not have access to back home. Many restaurants offer tequila tasting options or ask your hotel about a more involved experience.

There are plenty of options for tequila tastings in Cancun, but if you want more of a group tour experience, check out this Tequila Tasting Experience. Or this Taco and Tequila Tour in downtown Cancun.

Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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Hit The Golf Course
Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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13. Hit The Golf Course

It’s no surprise that a world-class golf scene has developed around Cancun thanks to the tropical weather and resort culture here. With numerous options, the biggest issue you will have is where to schedule a tee time!

From gorgeous coastal views to lush tropical landscapes, the golf courses of Cancun offer an enjoyable experience for players of all skill levels. Designed by renowned architects, these golf courses feature manicured fairways, challenging bunkers, and well-placed water hazards.

These courses are the perfect blend of natural beauty and exceptional design. Playing a round of golf in Cancun allows you to enjoy the breathtaking setting, all while creating lasting memories on and off the greens. The Jack Nicklaus designed Riviera Cancun Golf Club is one of the top rated courses in the area. The Puerto Cancun Golf Club is also highly recommended.

Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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Take A Sunset Cruise
Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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14. Take A Sunset Cruise

While sunsets are beautiful in Cancun, the area isn’t ideal for watching sunsets from the beach as the sun sets behind you. If you want to catch a magical Cancun sunset, you’ll definitely want to get out on the water. Sunset cruises are incredibly popular in Cancun and for good reason. They’re a great way to unwind after a day of adventure in and around the city. You can just sit back and relax, drink a margarita and watch a gorgeous technicolor Caribbean sunset!

   Cancun offers some fantastic sunset cruise tours, like this Luxury Sunset Sailing Cruise, where a light dinner and open bar are offered.

 Looking for something a bit more romantic? Check out this Romantic Sunset Dinner Cruise on a Spanish Galeon.

Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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Discover Nichupte Lagoon
Cancun Travel Guide: The Best Things To Do In Cancun
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15. Discover Nichupte Lagoon

Nichupte Lagoon is a natural wonder with beautiful mangroves and water systems to explore. The awe-inspiring color of the lagoon is thanks to the mix of fresh and saltwater. There are a number of ways to see the lagoons including, kayak, sailboat, speedboat and more.

One of the best ways to discover the Nichupte Lagoon is by kayaking. As you explore the mangroves, keep an eye out for birds, fish, and even small crocodiles. This top-rated Guided Kayaking Tour is a half-day tour with hotel pick-up. We highly recommend the sunrise tour option if you want to see crocodiles sunning themselves on the shore!

If paddling isn’t your thing, consider this Wildlife Viewing Boat Tour that allows you to explore the lagoon with an English-speaking guide. The boat sails around 5 pm daily, and you will see an epic Caribbean sunset and all of the beautiful wildlife that calls Nichupte Lagoon home.

Where To Stay In Cancun

There are all types of wonderful accommodations in Cancun. From all-inclusive resorts to boutique hotels and more. Location and amenities are the two top things to look for. For information about the different neighborhoods and great hotel recommendations, check out our Cancun Hotel Guide and our Cancun All Inclusive Resorts Guide.

Cancun Hotel Guide

For hotel recommendations for every budget, check out our Cancun Hotel Guide

What To Eat In Cancun

Cancun is famous for its stunning beaches, pristine turquoise waters, and exciting nightlife. But on top of being an electrifying destination to visit, you can also find a wide range of wonderful bites to eat. If you’re looking for a culinary adventure in Cancun, check out our Cancun Restaurant Guide.

15 Best Cancun Restaurants 

For great restaurant recommendations, check out our Cancun Restaurant Guide

What To Pack For Your Trip!

The Mexican Caribbean is an enchanting wonderland of relaxation and adventure, one can easily have the trip of a lifetime here. Packing for such a vacation shouldn’t be hard, so we’ve put together a list to help you pack and included some of our favorites as well. Check out our What To Pack For Your Mexico Vacation Guide.

What to Pack For Your Mexican Vacation

Check out our Packing List For Beach Vacation!

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This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Lehti Koron says:

    Wonderful guide. Thank you!

  2. Holly says:

    Great guide. Thank you for the excellent info! Can’t wait for our trip to Cancun next month.

  3. Anna says:

    I am looking to stay at the new resort, the beach is very important to us, could you please let me know if there is a seaweed problem on this part of the area????

    1. Daniel says:

      Hey Anna! I’ll reiterate what written above in case you didn’t see it. Since 2008, Sargassum (seaweed) has regularly arrived on the Caribbean coast of Mexico (Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, etc.) from April to August. Many resorts and beaches remove the seaweed from the sand daily, but it can pile up by the water’s edge and be stinky in places where it’s not removed. For this reason, we suggest getting a hotel with a nice pool area for swimming or spending some time on the nearby islands of Cozumel or Isla Mujeres which are largely protected from the seaweed. Hope that helps!

  4. Sammy and Family says:

    This visitor guide is making us even more excited to visit Cancun. We can’t wait to take a day trip to Chichen Itza. Thanks for the guide.

    1. Daniel says:

      You bet!

  5. Lindsey says:

    The cenotes look amazing! This was so helpful, thank you!

    1. Daniel says:

      Glad you like the guide!

  6. Bill McIntosh says:

    Thanks for the excellent site. Great info.

  7. Russ L says:

    The second photo from the top of this page… the caption reads “Cancun At Sunset”. This photo is actually of a sunrise. The Cancun shoreline faces East.

    1. Daniel says:

      Hilarious! You are totally correct! The sun sets over the lagoon from that vantage near the Hotel Zone. I’ve made the correction. Thanks for catching my goof!

  8. Mark and Jenny Myers says:

    The Secret River had such a magical feel. We loved the vacation, but this had to be my favorite part! I’d definitely go there again.

  9. Barbara says:

    Thanks for the helpful info!

  10. Jules Ritchins says:

    Oh man, as a first time visitor to Cancun I was completely overwhelmed and your guide just saved my life! Seriously thank you so much for posting this. It has made my visit so much more relaxed. I am going to read the Cenotes one next!

    1. Derek says:

      Lots of helpful information. Excited for our upcoming trip to Cancun!

  11. The Mitchell Family says:

    We LOVE the lucha libre show idea. We will definitely look into that when we visit next month.

  12. Louis Mendez says:

    Muchas Gracias! What a wonderful website!

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