A Guide to Cancun

On the easternmost tip of Yucatán, reflections of a turquoise sea merge with echoes of a Mayan past. The sea’s treasures, the land’s delights… The largest hotel boom in recent years, linked to the charm of the Caribbean. Cancún: Mexico’s exotic Eden.

By the numbers

Population: 722,800

Elevation: 10 meters / 30 feet

Time Zone: GMT -5; Eastern Standard Time


Average Annual Precipitation: 1300 millimetres / 51.2 inches

Average January Temperature: 24.1°C / 75.3°F

Average July Temperature: 30°C / 85.2°F

Did you know?

Before the city acquired its current name, Cancún was called Ekab, meaning “Black Earth”.

Cancún is the Mayan word for “pot of snakes.”

Cancún is located on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in southeastern Mexico.

District Guide

Cancun’s tourism industry underwent rapid growth during the 1980s, made possible by enthusiastic foreign investment. Large hotels began to flourish, offering complete services and amenities, abounding in luxury and exclusivity. This also applied to shopping centres, which started incorporating some of the finest boutiques, jewellers and restaurants. These factors boosted the area’s status. Already considered a paradise of sun and sea for the colour of its waters, the delicate beauty of its powdered sand beaches and the exuberant vegetation of its ecological reserves, Cancún was still improving its reputation.

Large Tropical Beach with Palapas

Cancún can be divided into three main areas: The Hotel District, the Town, and the Ecological Reserve, blessed with incredible lakes and mangrove swamps.

Hotel District
The Hotel District is comprised of the so-called gran turismo hotels (four-and five-star luxury hotels). Hotels and shopping centres are distributed along the main Boulevard Kuculkán, which runs the length of the 21-kilometre (13-mile) island. This district undoubtedly generates the greatest revenue and has the greatest economic impact on the nation, as compared to the rest of the state. This area is where the trendiest, most popular discos, the finest international restaurants and the largest entertainment venues are situated. Among the top sights in this zone, the Playa Delfines, La Isla Shopping Village, Dolphinaris Cancun, and Museo Maya de Cancun stand out.

Town of Cancún
The Town of Cancún changes the scenery, albeit not too drastically. Peaceful provincial life here is more picturesque, folkloric and the simplicity of some of the shops provides a stark contrast to the million-dollar hotel chains. Restaurants in this district serve typical local food and snacks, providing a real opportunity to taste some genuine homemade Mexican dishes. There are also a lot of shopping opportunities in town. For additional entertainment, theatres and cinemas are located on the main streets. El Parque de las Palapas is a great place to observe a slice-of-life snapshot of the city while Market 28 is the best place to soak in the sights and sounds of an authentic Mexican market first hand. If you’re in the mood to shop, the Plaza Las Americas with its brand-name stores and plethora of restaurants is a great pick.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Last, but certainly not least, the third district is in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve where nature still reigns supreme in the history of this area. Occupying hundreds of kilometres, it constitutes Mexico’s largest genuine ecosystem, home to a diverse number of plant and animal species. The government and non-profit organizations do their best to preserve this area as a wildlife refuge containing many species in danger of extinction.

Archaeological sites can be found in the vicinity, extending towards the four cardinal points. Structures tell the history of the settlements of the Mayan people on this peninsula, and just about every rock reveals traces of the historical and cultural legacy which these inhabitants left behind.

Cancún combines the elegance and gamut of entertainment choices in its Hotel District, the traditions and serenity of its pueblo, and the natural beauty of its ecological reserve, coral reef and history of its peoples. From a city brimming with all of this, what else could you ask for?

Dining and drinking

Nestled in the heart of the Mexican Caribbean, this natural paradise is referred to by many as a Garden of Eden. No doubt, the first explorers to arrive found a splendid and beautiful land of promise that included fine powdered sand and sapphire waters and emerald-green vegetation all bathed by a brilliant sun in the celestial sky.

Lobster on the beach

Today’s Cancún was born in the 1970s as a popular tourist destination, boosted by massive foreign investment in the hotel industry. The city has continued to grow into a perfect combination of natural beauty and man-made facilities. It is an ideal place for visitors to come, year after year, later returning home with unforgettable memories and experiences. Cancún exists today as a mixture of its a pre-Hispanic past, a vanguard culture, unlimited entertainment, and enclaves of unspoiled nature.

For fun and satisfaction, there is an unlimited variety of bars and restaurants in the city catering to a visitor’s every whim. It is impossible to leave here without visiting at least one of the popular spots that the island’s nightlife has to offer.

Hotel Zone
Italian cuisine can be enjoyed on the island at Gustino Italian Grill, Casa Rolandi, La Dolce Vita which has been in Cancún for years, and the moderately-priced Fantino among many others.

For children and adolescents, there is nothing more entertaining than theme restaurants like Hard Rock Café Cancún.

Among other popular eateries is the restaurant El Cambalache, which specializes in Argentinean cuisine. Seafood lovers should go to Lorenzillo’s, Sushi Itto and the Crab House. For those seeking a cut of prime rib can turn to Ruth’s Chris Steak House Cancún and La Capilla Argentina Steakhouse. There are also many restaurants offering a wide range of international dishes such as Señor Frog’s, Harry’s and Puerto Madero.

When the daytime fun has ended, it is time to venture out into the nightlife, in this city that never sleeps. The “in” crowd gathers at Bulldog and Daddy’O. For a real crazy time, you can go to one of the most popular clubs in South America called Coco Bongo.

Spots that definitely should be included in any after-hour itinerary include, Señor Frog’s, where the atmosphere gets hotter as the night transpires, and Carlos & Charlie’s, where people party until dawn. Some places have open-air dance floors overlooking the ocean, all of which have a bilingual staff.

Outside of the hotel zone there are other establishments that have the same excitement and interest as the hotel zone, although there are less of them. Japanese food can be splendid at Yamamoto. For a little bit of international cuisine, there is Casa Rolandi, which serves up moderately-priced Italian food. Romantic dining can be found at Habichuela, where romance takes center stage upon the cozy, delightful patio. This splendid island city not only preserves its natural beauty, but also offers an array of activities to enhance a visitor’s stay. Don’t forget to bag up a slice of the Mexican Caribbean to take back home.


Boredom simply does not exist in this beautiful resort area of the Mexican Caribbean. There are a wide assortment of attractions, which can keep you engaged for even the lengthiest of visits. Whether you want to relax on the beach or explore an ancient ruin, there is something for everyone in Cancun!Couple playing at the beach

The city comes alive after dark. When it comes to bars with a lively atmosphere, try Carlos and Charlies and Señor Frog’s. If you are creature of the night, enjoy partying, live music and staying up all night having fun, Cancún offers a wide variety of choices as to what you can do until the early hours of the morning. If you’re into club atmospheres, the best options in Cancún are Cocobongo, The City and Daddy’O.

If what you are really after is good live music venues, the Hard Rock Café is an obvious option, offering the best rock and roll in town. You are bound to take back memories of Mexico’s music, people and relentless mood for partying. Admission prices vary, but most of the discos and clubs include drinks in the price. What to wear? Generally, people dress quite casually in bars, although they do tend to dress up a little more in discos. With all of the colour and variety that exists in this paradise, the possibility of a boring night is impossible. Enjoy your stay, and get dancing! ¡Buen provecho!

Historical Sights
Many points of interest are around Cancún for those that want to adventure outside of the main district. Excursions are easy to reach from the majority of hotels. The archaeological ruins of the lost Mayan civilization at Chichen Itzá are located 200 kilometres (124 miles) away from the island (three hours by bus). The renowned Tulum Archeological Zone is nearby and well worth a visit, as is the Mayan site of Cobá. Isla Mujeres is a natural and exotic sanctuary with great opportunities to snorkel and only five miles from the island. A visit to the ecological and archaeological park of Xcaret is a must, offering underground rivers and caves, a dip with the dolphins or an evening multimedia show recounting Mayan history. A few hours from Cancún by car, you will be at Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras and also Xel-Ha, a natural aquarium where snorkelling and swimming are the main activities. For the intrepid spirit and jungle explorer, excursions are available to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to discover native wildlife or mangrove swamps in this semi-virgin place.

Arts & Culture
If you are a rodeo enthusiast or would like to battle a bull without the fear of being trampled upon, go on to the Plaza de Toros, where events are offered every Wednesday at 3p from December through April. For the adventurous, travel out to the Centro Ceremonial Kohunlich, an area of immense beauty and a place to see Mayan ruins underground. On the other hand, stay indoors and visit the Interactive Aquarium Cancún, where you can feed some sharks and swim with the dolphins. You can also visit INAH Museum which is a Anthropology and History museum that changes its exhibits often. The Museo Maya de Cancun offers insight into the region’s rich Mayan legacy.

Festivals & Celebrations
If you happen to be in Cancún during September, you should definitely not miss the Autumn Equinox at Chichén Itzá, one of the greatest architectural achievements from the Maya and a chance to witness one of their religious and cosmological ideas. The Day of the Dead in the beginning of November is another festival that celebrates the dead, in which they return from the afterlife in order to celebrate and re-join the living. A holiday tradition that has been held for over a thousand years with decorations, parades and mariachis throughout the streets. Another day that honours the origin of the Mexican people is the Día de la Raza, where they celebrate the arrival of Columbus and the recognition of the mestizo, that is, the descendants from mixed European and indigenous indians. There are workshops, folkloric dance, concerts, dining, among many other events, needless to say, September may be the best month to visit Cancún.

Sports & Activities
The whole family can enjoy some great activities and attractions that are perfect for every age. For a real lift, let go and fly a kite from the vantage point of Dolphin Beach Viewpoint. You can also have an emotional and memorable experience by swimming with dolphins at the Xcaret Ecological Park, which will leave any traveler with something to write home about. Also try kayaking, skating or cycling along the Ciclopista.

Aquatic sports for the entire family are offered at Aquaworld.
Another option for adults include the Club de Golf Cancún located on Kukulcán Boulevard.

You can also go horseback riding on the coast for those that love horses, wind sailing, or go snorkelling into the coral reefs (specialized instructors are available for inexperienced divers), go fishing, or ride a jet-ski at high speed, these are just some of the activities that are within reach of those that would like to enhance their stay in Cancun.

In the outskirts of Punta Cancún there is the natural aquarium Xel-Ha, where you can snorkel with an amazing variety of species. Towards the south is the Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve, where you can explore forests and a mangrove swamp. Pay attention and listen to the sound of the birds and enjoy watching the small mammals coming out to have a good look at what’s going on.

In Cancun, there are around 200 restaurants and more than 400 stores in exclusive shopping centres nearby the hotel zone. La Isla Shopping Village and Plaza Las Americas are ideal for international and high street labels, while the Luxury Avenue Cancun caters to those with designer fashion on their mind. For bargain hunters the Las Plazas Outlet Cancun is a great choice and if you’re looking for an authentic Mexican market experience, Mercado 28 is hard to beat. Besides, there are a number of smaller boutiques selling local crafts and specialty goods that cater to tourists.

Movie lovers will be pleased to find the latest releases offered at the 10 fully equipped theatres in the plush cinema complex Cinemark, located in La Isla Shopping Center. Most of the large commercial complexes have a cinema showing Hollywood films alongside local releases.

Recommended Tours

Cancún is a natural paradise which not only has beautiful beaches with crystalline waters and fine white sand, but also boasts top attractions. Whether you explore the city on your own or go on a guided tour, you are sure to find fascinating and entertaining locations. One thing is for sure, there is something for everyone, whatever your tastes or budget.


Boulevard Kukulcán
Shopping in Cancún is made easier by the fact that most of the big shopping centres and attractions in the city are to be found on Boulevard Kukulcán. Located on the street are several shopping centres, such as Plaza Kukulcán, Plaza Caracol, Flamingo Plaza and the small traditional market Mercado Coral Negro. If you get hungry head to Señor Frog’s or Crab House. You should also stop by the Interactive Aquarium where you can admire rare sea life, swim with the dolphins and even feed sharks.

In the outskirts of Punta Cancún is the natural aquarium Xel-Ha, with the impressive colours of its waters and the amazing variety of species. South of Cancún has the Reserva de la Biósfera Sian Ka’an, where you can tour the rainforest. You should also head to Zona Arqueológica El Rey which is an archaeological site that offers a fascinating look into history. Also outside of Cancún is one of the best theme parks, Xcaret, best described as an archaeological and ecological site which has a light and sound show, visits to underground streams and areas to swim with dolphins.

Mayan Riviera
Mayan Riviera is a district that runs along the coastline and goes from Puerto Morelos to Tulum. This area includes beautiful beaches as well historic sites. You should visit Puerto Morelos, a fishing village where you can try authentic local cuisine and snorkel to view their underwater reef. If you want to practice your swing head to the Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club. The golf course is part of Iberostar Paraiso Maya Resort, where you can treat yourself to a relaxing day at the spa. If you get hungry stop by La Destilería, where not only can you have a meal, you can select a drink from over 150 brands of Tequila.

Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is an island that is a 20 minutes ferry ride away from the city. On the south end of the island is the Garrafon Natural Reef Eco Park where you can snorkel, enjoy their pool and go on a shopping tour. You can also swim with the dolphins at the Dolphin Discovery Cancun.

Cancún offers fantastic locations where you can tour attractions on your own so you can take your time. However, there are quite a few benefits on going on a guided tour. Your guide can give you a detailed explanation about attractions, plus several tours include transportation. If you want to go on a guided tour, you have a lot of options.

Adventure Tours
Aguatours ( +52 998 193 3360 / http://www.aquatours.travel/ )
Alltournative Off-Track Adventures (+52 984 803 9999 / http://www.alltournative.com/ ) Rancho Loma Bonita ATV (+52 998 887 5465 / http://www.rancholomabonita.com/ )
Wild Tours (+52 987 872 2244 / http://www.wild-tours.com/ )

Nature Tours
Grutas de Aktun Chen (+52 998 881 2745 / http://www.aktunchen.com/ )
Jungle Tour Cancun (+52 998 193 3360 / http://www.cancun-jungle-tour.com/ )

Romantic Tours
Lobster Dinner Cruise ( +52 998 193 3360 / http://www.thelobsterdinner.com/ )
Luxury Yachts Charters (+52 998 840 6413 / http://www.yachtse.com/ )

Boat Tours
Operadora Samba ( +52 998 892 8611 / http://www.marinacancun.com/ )
Paradise Catamarans (+52 984 873 5683 / http://www.paradisecatamarans.com )
Shotover Jet of Cancun ( +52 800 509 5992 / http://www.shotoverjet.com.mx/ )
Sailing Quest ( +1 800 727 5391 / http://www.aquatours.com.mx/ )


The Rivera Maya lies in the Southern part of the Mexican Republic, the Eastern area of the Peninsula of Yucatán, and on the Caribbean shoreline. It is called the Mayan Riviera due to the influence the pre-Hispanic civilization exerted throughout the region, extending from Punta Brava to Punta Allen. The Northern coast boasts an impressive development of its tourist infrastructure, while the Southern shore is dotted with small picturesque villages surrounded by unspoiled beaches. Gran Arrecife Maya, the world’s second largest barrier reef is found off these shores and along with the tropical forests of exotic vegetation and mangroves, they constitute a veritable window into the biodiversity of Mexican wildlife species. The South is also well known for its underground rivers, sacred reservoirs, deep-sea caves and caverns.

Chichen Itza, Columns in the Temple of a Thousand Warriors

The Mayans were the original inhabitants of this peninsula. Advanced in the sciences, their civilization is recognized for the intelligence and precision of their calculations as well as the complexity of their religious rites. The peninsula was an important center of commercial and religious activity during the post-classical period, which dates from approximately 1000 CE to 1500 CE. The Tulum Archaelogical Zone was a fortress on the Caribbean shores, Playa del Carmen was then known as Xaman-Ha, and what is now the Xcaret Ecological Park was known as Puerto Pole. Cobá Ruins, with a population of 50,000 inhabitants, was the most important city.

With the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519, the principal Mayan cities, such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal had already been abandoned. The wars and conquests of other peoples, harsh climate and the dangers of the tropical forest, combined with the frequent threat of hurricanes, made it difficult for the civilization to prosper. Xel-Ha went down in history as the first European settlement. Even so, during the colonial period, population growth was hampered due in part to the frequent pirate attacks at sea. These assaults hindered access to firm ground, even when reached, the dense forest provided further troubles, and thus the peninsula remained unexplored for several years.

In 1967 the Mexican Government recognized the importance of the tourist industry as an active ingredient in the country’s economy. Given its natural beauty, which would tempt any traveler, this paradise was poised as a strong candidate for foreign investment towards the development of a hotel and entertainment infrastructure. The Palacio Maya and Club Med were the first hotels built in the 1970s, both blessed with exaggerated exclusivity.

Considered a strong tourist attraction during the 1990s, it wasn’t until that decade in which Cancún experienced significant growth with the construction of hotels, American-style shopping centres and an array of entertainment facilities.

Cancún is presently divided into three districts: The town of Cancún, with a population of approximately 300,000 and a simple, practical infrastructure; the Ecological Reserve with its incredible lakes, rain-forests and mangroves; and the Hotel Zone, an island of hotels and shopping centres.

There are over 26,800 hotel rooms available, 200 restaurants, and several hundred shops in the city while paved and dirt roads enable access to the tropical forest.

Many facets of Cancun combine to offer the natural attributes of a Caribbean paradise framed within the vestiges of one of the most advanced and intelligent civilizations of the ancient world.

Getting there and getting around

Getting There

From the Airport
Shuttle: Shuttle buses connect the two terminals and depart from the main entrances every 10 minutes. An info booth is situated in terminal 2 near the main entrance. Restaurants including a load of fast food joints and shopping outlets are also scattered about both terminals. Business facilities are available in the FBO Building, which resides next to terminal 1. Short-term lots are located adjacent to both terminals.

Upon arrival, it is highly recommended to refrain from changing your money at the airport. The exchange rates border on criminal. Wait to get into downtown or in the Hotel Zone for a much better exchange rate at one of the local banks.

Car Rental: Rental car companies are located in terminal one and include:

Alamo (+52 998 886 0448/ +1 800 462 5266 http://www.alamo.com/)
Avis (+52 998 886 0221/ +1 800 230 4898 / http://www.avis.com/)
Budget (+1 800 527 0700/ http://rent.drivebudget.com/)
Hertz (+1 800 654 3131/ http://www.hertz.com/)
National (+52 998 886 0153/ http://www.nationalcar.com/)
Payless (+1 800 729 5377/ http://www.paylesscarrental.com/)
Thrifty (+1 800 847 4389/ http://www.thrifty.com/)

Shuttles and Taxis: GreenLine (http://greenlinetaxicancun.com/es/home.html) offer transportation from the airport. Hotels often have a car service that are reliable and affordable, check with your hotel to see if one is available.

By Bus
The main bus terminal (+52 998 884 8073) is located downtown at the corners of Avenida Uxmal and Avenida Tulum and is open 24 hours a day. Though small it is divided into two halves. The east section handles first class passengers on the Autotransportes del Oriente (+52 998 884 8073), while the west section caters to second-class passengers on the Autotransportes del Caribe (+52 998 884 4804). The ADO (http://www.ado.com.mx/wadod/compra.jsp) is a public bus that goes to the airport and drops passengers off downtown.

By Car
Route 180 begins at the Texas border and winds all the way through Mexico before approaching Cancún from the west. Route 307 pokes up from the south and provides easy access to the ruins of Tulum and to the ferries to Cozumel in Playa de Carmen. Kukulcán Boulevard bisects the Hotel Zone’s 22.5-kilometer (14-mile) stretch of island and can be reached by two bridges from downtown.

Getting Around

Public buses run non-stop from 6a-Mid between downtown and the hotel zone. Stops are frequent and service most major hotels. Rides only cost on average six pesos (USD60 cents).

Taxis can pick you up in front of all hotels. However, before entering, agree on a price, for the cab drivers are notorious for jacking up their rates without warning or precedence. To aid in your negotiating skills, all the hotels post taxi fare rates so as to provide a basis on what to expect to pay. Rates within the hotel zone average USD7.

Rental Cars & Mopeds
Rental cars are unnecessary if you plan on staying within the Hotel Zone and downtown. If you do drive, be forewarned that driving along the Hotel Zone can be a nightmare of speed bumps, pedestrians, and inordinately strict policemen who have a reputation for targeting tourists. Downtown, with its collection of traffic circles, poorly marked one-way streets, and potholes, is even worse. If you do rent be sure to purchase Mexican car rental insurance. Rentals average USD 25 a day. Due to the high accident rate, however, they are not recommended, especially since no insurance is offered.

Boats to Isla Mujeres leave every half hour (7:30a-7:30p) just north of Cancún from Puerto Juarez. Rides last 30 minutes and cost USD4. Caribbean Express (+52 998 877 0254) and Caribbean Miss (+52 998 877 0253) both offer air conditioning and bar service. Ferries to Cozumel (+52 998 872 1722) depart from Playa de Carmen, 67.5 kilometers (42 miles) south, every hour from 5a-11p and last approximately 45 minutes.

Tour Bus
For visits to the Mayan ruins in Tulum (130 kilometers/81 miles) or Chichen Itzá (203 kilometers/126 miles) consider a tour bus. Mayaland Tours (+52 998 887 2450) enjoys an outstanding reputation and features air-conditioned buses.