Cancun is known throughout the world for Spring Break. This has given the coastal Mexican city a reputation for good times and partying. And accordingly you will find a lot of opportunities to let your hair and party late into the night in Cancun. But it’s not all about that.
Having been on the map since the 18th century, with its Maya origin name, Cancun only sprang up into life in the 1970s. The Mexican government financed the first hotels of what would become this incredible resort town – and at the time, only three people lived in the area, who were caretakers of a coconut plantation. The land that now makes up Zona Hotelera, with its precarious shape, clearly looked like the perfect place for paradise.
Map of Cancun
1. Zona Hotelera · 2. El Centro · 3. Punta Cancun · 4. Isla Mujeres · 5. Puerto Morelos
So it may not have the colonial architecture that other Mexican towns boast, but Cancun has its own selling points. It’s considered the entry point for the start of any journey to explore the Maya past of Mexico – with ruins like El Meco and Yamil Lu’um to whet your appetite for further discovery. Cancun is also famed for its diving and snorkeling, complete as it is with its very own underwater museum of sculptures.
Where exactly you base yourself when you decide to visit this city could mean the difference between an exciting, vibey trip and a chilled, tropical getaway. Do you want to be where all the action is? Or would you rather spend your holiday somewhere with a slow pace of life so you can unwind? Here is a rundown of what to expect in different areas of Cancun to help you make your mind up.
As the name of this area in Cancun may suggest, this is where you will find a large portion of Cancun’s exclusive resorts and all-inclusive hotels. All of these are set along a 14 mile stretch of beautiful white sandy beach jutting out into the glittering turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea. Here is where most tourists spend most of their time in Cancun – and who can blame them? It’s a stunning stretch of coastline with all the amenities you could ask for on holiday.
As well as an array of international restaurants, nightclubs, and lively bars along Kulkukan Boulevard, there are plenty of opportunities for swimming, with calm waters perfect for a dip. You’ll even find history, too; lose yourself in the 13th-century ruins of Yamil Lu’um complete with a small Mayan temple, or explore the El Rey Archaeological Zone further south.
Where to Stay in Zona Hotelera
- Royal UNO – An all-inclusive 5-star resort gifted with breathtaking views and a private beach on the Caribbean coast, the Royal UNO is possibly one of the finest hotels in the city. With premium facilities and services such as outdoor pools, a water sports center with PADI certified diving courses, and complimentary sailing and kayaking on the Nichupté Lagoon, this lavish resort is all you need for a magical vacation. Embellished with original artwork and mahogany furniture, the rooms here have ensuite bathrooms and private balconies.
- Emporio Cancun – Nestled on a private beach with the mesmerizing Caribbean on one side and the spectacular Nichupté Lagoon on the other, this stylish 4-star hotel is only a stone’s throw away from San Miguelito Archaeological Site. During your stay at the Emporio Cancun, you can enjoy premium amenities such as a refreshing swimming pool, a shared lounge, a kid’s playroom, and two delightful restaurants with beachside dining arrangements. Sporting a bright décor and beautifully tiled flooring, the contemporary rooms offer private seating and dining areas.
Across the water from the spit of land that is the Zona Hotelera, El Centro – while its name implies it’s the center of the city – feels like more of a downtown area. This district is Cancun’s residential hub and boasts excellent transport links, well priced and affordable accommodation, and plenty of local life. All of this just a bus ride from the beach.
In the vicinity, visitors will find the city’s main park, Parque las Palapas, often busy with local families out for a stroll and enjoying the street food stalls. There is also Market 28, a lively and colorful market with an array of trinkets for sale. Worlds away from the international feel of the Zona Hotelera, El Centro is the place to go to feel a slice of real life in Cancun – something for the more adventurous traveler.
Where to Stay in El Centro
- Adhara Hacienda Cancun – Tucked away in Cancun’s residential area, Adhara Hacienda Cancun is known to offer its guests the utmost peace and quiet while never being too far away from the popular attractions in the city. An outdoor swimming pool, a world-class fitness center, and an on-site diner serving the best local and international delicacies are some of the perks on offer. You can spend your holiday relaxing in the comfort of your cozy room or take the free shuttle to the beach to soak up some sun.
- Nomads Hotel Hostel – Set in the heart of Cancun’s bustling downtown area, this funky and energetic hostel offers some of the best budget-friendly accommodation options in the area. With a playful rooftop pool and a massive bar, a common hangout area to meet other like-minded travelers, and an enthusiastic party vibe to lift your spirits, Nomads Hotel Hostel is a great play to stay. What’s more, the hotel hostel has both dorms with bunk beds as well as private rooms.
Punta Cancun refers to the northern end of the Zona Hotelera and is the place to be if you are a fan of nightlife. Heading out for dinner, dancing, and drinks here is great. But aside from the party vibe that gets underway after dark, the water here is particularly calm, something that is helped by the lagoon on the spit’s western side. That means good kayaking and windsurfing are on offer.
There is also a grand total of 15 reefs in Punta Cancun, so if you’re a keen snorkeller – or even if you’ve never donned a mask before – it’s a great place to see some submarine tropical life. Even scuba diving isn’t out of the question. Accommodation here is much the same as in the Zona Hotelera, if slightly cheaper, edging into the affordable, mid-range bracket. And if you like golf, there’s a large golf course here, too.
Where to Stay in Punta Cancun
- Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach – Boasting a world-class spa that spreads over 40,000 square feet and offers exceptional services such as hydrotherapy and full-body treatments, this glamorous 5-star resort oozes luxury and grandiose. If that’s not convincing, then there is the state-of-the-art fitness center with splendid views of the ocean, as well as six fine-dining restaurants – each offering an exquisite dining experience. Suites at the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach come with an ensuite bathroom, a private balcony, and an impressive view of the Caribbean.
- Real Inn Cancún – A few steps away from Tortuga Beach, this stunning 4-star property is a great choice for leisure or business travelers. Amenities and services at the Real Inn Cancún include (but aren’t limited to) a sizeable outdoor pool, a fitness center with avant-garde equipment, meeting and business facilities, and an international restaurant. Rooms at the hotel are designed in a sophisticated manner and sport wooden flooring. Each of them also comes with an ensuite bathroom and a work desk.
- Mayan Monkey Hostel – A funky and snazzy hostel within a short distance of Playa Chac Mool, the Mayan Monkey Hostel is most suitable for those who love socializing. With a groovy outdoor pool and a bar, a shared lounge, and a 24-hour front desk, the hostel has an extremely lively and quirky décor throughout. The artistic theme of the hostel reflects superbly in the way that their dorms and private rooms are decorated as well – colorful and eccentric.
A stunning sandy island about eight miles off the northern coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a surprising place. Even though it’s so near such a major and popular destination, there is a still a strong sense of island life and a laid-back atmosphere; don’t expect late night clubbing, Isla Mujeres is more about its beach bars and sea views.
On the island – which is only four miles long and less than half a mile wide, there are still plenty of things to keep you entertained. See turtles and other marine life at the Tortugranja, a turtle reserve where you can help release baby turtles into the sea! Or you can head to the Dolphin Discovery Isla Mujeres to learn about dolphins, manatees, and other sea mammals.
When it comes to accommodation, there are high-end resorts as well as local lodgings lining the beaches; and don’t worry about getting around, that’s all done via golf buggy!
Where to Stay in Isla Mujeres
- Izla Beach Front Hotel – Boasting several top-class amenities such as a gigantic swimming pool, a stylish bar overlooking the sea, a well-maintained garden, and a spacious sun terrace, this beachfront 5-star hotel is an excellent choice for luxury travelers. Located near to Pescador beach, Izla Beach Front Hotel has two restaurants that specialize in various local as well as international cuisines. Rooms at the hotel have a neat décor, with wooden furnishings and soft hues. They also boast an ensuite bathroom with twin vanity units.
- Hotel La Joya – Boasting a private beachfront, this ritzy 4-star hotel is located next to a natural reef park and has the most outstanding ocean-inspired décor. Accommodation options here include luxurious suites and opulent penthouse apartments, each with a private terrace and an unadulterated view of the Mexican Caribbean. During your stay here, you can enjoy kayaking or go snorkeling, but that’s only if you can get yourself out of the comfy hammocks. They even have barbecue facilities!
- Nomads Hotel Hostel – Planning on spending your vacation partying with fellow travelers all around the world or lying in a hammock looking at the sea without a worry in the world? Essentially a party hostel, Nomads Hotel Hostel offers a seaside pool with a bar, a hangout area with beach views, and exciting events and activities each day to keep your heart pumping. While the bunk beds at the dorms come with a privacy curtain, reading lamp, and a charging socket, the private rooms offer a balcony and ensuite bathroom.
Puerto Morelos is situated around 11 miles south of Cancun itself, and approximately a 25-minute drive from the airport. This sleepy fishing town couldn’t be more different from the lively resorts and late-night lifestyle of its northern neighbor. It’s got a charm of its own, but the main attraction here is Puerto Morelos’ white sandy beach, which comes with a scattering of beach clubs. There’s even an offshore reef.
Even though it is a relatively small town, there is a surprisingly wide selection of food on offer. As well as locally-owned restaurants which use fresh produce, there are also Italian, Asian, and other international cuisines on offer in this town. Staying here, you can choose from small bed-and-breakfasts and family-run guesthouses, or catch a bus from the town square to large resorts further out.
Where to Stay in Puerto Morelos
- Now Jade Riviera Cancun – A dazzling all-inclusive 5-star complex, the Now Jade Riviera Cancun offers you an opportunity to experience world-class amenities and heartwarming hospitality. Packed with premium facilities such as three heated pools, a hydrotherapy spa, a tennis school, and many watersport facilities, this voguish hotel hosts several cocktail parties and live entertainment shows to keep you entertained. Adorned with bright colors and tasteful furnishings, rooms here have an ensuite bathroom with a spa bath and a private terrace with views of the sea.
- Soho Boutique Puerto Morelos – A few steps away from two extremely famous beaches in the area, this remarkable 4-star hotel is a great place to spend some time with your loved ones. Soho Boutique Puerto Morelos boasts an efficient tour desk, an outdoor pool with sunbeds, a well-stocked bar, and a spacious sun terrace. Rooms at the boutique hotel flaunt a neat and elegant design, with contemporary amenities such as a work desk and a private bathroom. A delicious buffet breakfast is available each morning.