First Impression: Cancun embodies Caribbean splendor, historical riches and the exotic joys of Mexico. Even an apprehensive traveler nervous about visiting foreign soil will feel completely at ease, given Cancun’s reminiscence of an American beach-resort town. Cancun’s combination of breathtaking beauty, rich Mayan culture and endless adventures make it an ideal destination for couples, groups and families alike. Its magnificent blend of beauty, ancient Mayan treasures, architectural charm, elegant cafés and endless adventures are sure to satisfy the cravings of every personal interest. There’s so much more to do in this Mexican Caribbean jewel, so do a little advance research and preparation to learn about all your options and ways to keep yourgetaway to Cancun stress- and worry-free. Thiis tropical oasis appeals to everyone in one way or another. Beach lovers, water-sports enthusiasts, nature/outdoor adventurists and cultural/history aficionados can seize ample opportunities around every corner. Intrigue and adventure await everyone in the family in Cancun, and visiting several days gives visitors the time to really enjoy the cultural, laid-back lifestyle and endless adventures of this indulgent retreat.
Documentation: Proof of citizenship is necessary to cross the border into Mexico. A current passport will suffice. Upon arrival, visitors are given a tourist card that must be turned in upon departure at the airport; at that time a departure tax is payable in U.S. dollars or Mexican pesos. Many airlines now include this tax when ticketing, but call the airport ahead of time to be sure.
Transportation: Airfare won’t vary much but hotel costs can make a huge impact on your travel budget, especially with a family of four or more. That’s where your promotional getaway package’s complimentary accommodations can save you hundreds of dollars on your travel budget. The Cancun International Airport (Aeropuerto de Cancún) is a maze of vendors selling expensive transportation to the Zona Hotelera, or the “hotel zone.” Be prepared with pesos on hand before your arrive in Cancun, and know the exchange rate well. Pesos are needed for both taxies and buses, as American coins are often not accepted. Taxis are plentiful and cost about $35 per person, A shuttle or shared ride, “Linea Verde,” runs about $9-$14 per person. Both drop you right at the hotel door steps, but the bad thing about the shuttle is that it can take you up to 2 hours to get to your hotel. The good thing is that they’re cheap if you have only 2 people. If you have 3 or more, you’re better off with a private transfer. The ADO Bus system is the most economical—by far the cheapest—ride back and forth to the Cancun Airport from the Downtown Bus station. Tickets may be purchased 24 hours in advance, and costs around 75 pesos or about $7.50 American dollars. The first-class bus is air conditioned, with a bathroom, and plays a movie during the 25-minute ride to downtown Cancun. Bypass all the taxis and head to the bus stop and take any one of the buses marked “Zona Hotelera,” which is almost any bus. Pay the driver about 6.50 pesos, tell him the name of your hotel, and he will get you as close as possible without going to the hotel front door. These buses do make frequent stops, and tend to fly down the streets, which can be dangerous with young children. You can also pre-arrange for private transfer service with direct hotel drop-off before your arrival in Cancun. The driver will meet you outside the airport building, holding a sign with your name on it. Just make sure the company is watching your flight arrival for any delays and will be there when you actually arrive. The convenience comes from knowing transportation is secured and waiting, you’ll be taken directly to your hotel, and there will be no long and crowded shuttle van rides. The cost for 2 people is ok, but if a family of 4, it’s more economical than a shuttle. Some recommended companies include Entertainment-Plus /USA Transfers, Cancun Valet, CancunVista, AGI Tours and Cancun Cheap Transfers. If you want more convenience and intend to go beyond Cancun to Chichen Itza or down 307 on the Riviera Maya, you’ll want to rent a car. All the big-name agencies are at the airport but plan to book well in advance of your arrival to ensure one is available. Wait for the shuttle buses that take you to the rental car lots. On your return flight home, it is highly recommended that you arrive at the airport 3 hours BEFORE your time of departure. Unless you typically fly first or business class, the lines for coach class tickets can be very long, especially on a Saturday afternoon. You should also schedule the pickup to the airport at your hotel or your car-rental drop off to include the 3 hours plus the travel time from your hotel to the airport. Doing this will make for a stress-free return home!
Getting Around: While in Cancun, you’ll need to learn how to travel around the area, and you’ll want to be prepared with suitcases with rollers. Many buses will drop you as close to your hotel as possible but some not at the front doors, and you could be walking a distance with your luggage. There are really two Cancun’s: Ciudad Cancún (Cancún City) and Isla Cancún (Cancún Island). Ciudad Cancún, on the mainland, is the original downtown area where most of the local population lives. It’s home to traditional restaurants, shops and less expensive hotels, as well as a wide variety of restaurants, banks and businesses—all within an area about 9 square blocks. The city’s main thoroughfare is Avenida Tulum. Heading south, Avenida Tulum becomes the highway to the airport and to Tulum and Chetumal; heading north, it intersects the highway to Mérida and the road to Puerto Juárez and the Isla Mujeres ferries. By far, buses are your cheapest bet for getting around, if you don’t have a rental car. However, it may not be the best option for families, since a bumpy, fast bus ride with no seatbelts can be dangerous for small children. When on the bus, find a seat quickly because the driver will not wait for you. The driver probably will not speak English—and probably not many passengers either—so use the button at the back of the bus to alert the driver when you want to stop. If you don’t, there are no guarantees that the bus will stop at every marked bus-route stop. Taxies are another option. Make sure that you have pesos for both taxies and buses, as American coins will often not be accepted. Also be very careful and cautious when walking in Cancun. CAUTION: Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way, so forewarn your children before you arrive. Fast-driving buses and taxi drivers will not stop for you, so either wait for the speedy vehicles to pass safely, then briskly walk with enough time or run when you cross the street. Also be careful after dark, especially if you find yourself in a secluded area. It’s always safest to go out in groups. Cancun truly is a wonderful place to travel, and by keeping these tips in mind, you can have an unforgettable experience in Cancun.
Currency: The currency used in Cancun is the peso. It’s critical that you know the exchange rate for pesos, so you don’t get ripped off. Many vendors will try to sell items at higher prices to tourists. Bargain with them. This is expected and not at all rude when you are in Mexico. Remember that English is a second language for most people there, so speak clearly and use simple words to ensure mutual understanding. Most places accept American bills, but few accept American coins. It is best to have American dollars instead of Euros, if not the Mexican currency. The exchange rate at a business will be much higher, so exchange your money at a bank first. Prepare before your trip and have pesos on hand upon your arrival in Cancun. Your bank will be most helpful in educating you on the exchange rates as well. Ask for an exchange rate card you can keep with you, or print one off the Internet.
Weather & Water Visibility: Cancun boasts fantastic year-round weather—high temperatures average in the 80s (degrees Fahrenheit), with lows only in the 70s, and making sunscreen with a high SPF a year-round staple. The rainy season runs from May through October, while the dry season is November through April. May and June can be sweltering, with high temperatures (record temps reached 102 degrees F), humidity and rainfall, while the winter months are generally pleasant with clear blue skies—it’s perfect for golfers looking to get away from snow and get on the greens. Cancun’s tropical climate makes it vulnerable to hurricanes, as seen with hurricanes Emily and Wilma in 2005. Research shows that Cancun gets hit directly by a hurricane approximately every 12 years, and brushed by a hurricane every 2.5 years. Hurricane season in Cancun runs from July through November, with September and October being the most likely. Cancun water temperatures are bathtub warm, varying from 78°F-80°F in the winter months to 82°F-84°F in the summer months. Underwater visibility is best near Cozumel, where it can reach up to an amazing 200 feet. Visibility near Cancun is usually 50-100 feet—a major draw for snorkelers and divers. In Cancun’s famous cenotes, the visibility often exceeds an incredible 300 feet.
Water Quality & Electricity: Cancun has a large purification plant, purified water is standard in all hotels and restaurants, and the municipal water system has been certified for almost two decades. But heed warning that all water ingeneral has some bacteria in it, though some people may be more sensitive to foreign tap water than others. So be vigilant and drink bottled water when there’s the option. Use extra caution with children, but for all means and purposes, the water should be fine in this popular tourist town. Mexico operates the same 110-volt current as in the U.S. and Canada, so electrical adapters are not needed if traveling from those destinations. If traveling from Europe, you’ll likely need them and can call your hotel ahead of time to find out exactly what you need to bring or ask your travel representative.
Retail Therapy: The shopping options in Cancun are limitless and of great diversity. Street-side or boutique style vendors will try to sell items at higher prices, but they’re open to bargaining. It’s not rude to do so in Cancun and is actually expected—just be sure you know the exchange rate well. Most places accept American bills, but few accept American coins, so have pesos. With a number of shopping centers containing all of the world’s finest retailers, you’re usually able to find everything you’ve seen in magazines at lower prices than you’d find at similar U.S. stores. The Plaza Caracol – the largest of these shopping centers – houses over 200 boutiques and galleries with everything from unique local arts and crafts to European couture. After browsing the racks at Ralph Lauren and Gucci, settle down in one of the complex’s many elegant cafés for lunch or a quick snack. The most luxurious shopping center in Cancun is probably the 500,000 square-foot Plaza Kukulkán. In addition to all types of great local products, several of the best stores like Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo and Rolex are located within this sprawling mall. La Isla Shopping Village is one of Mexico’s most appealing malls—a wonderful open-air complex that borders the lagoon. Walkways are lined with quality shops and restaurants that cross little canals—boat rides are offered through the canals—and there’s a boardwalk along the lagoon, as well as an interactive aquarium and dolphin swim facility. For some fun, one-of-a kind jewelry, Maraf was established in 1981 by a Mexican family that opened a jewelry store in Cancun’s first shopping center. Its designs bridge the gap between the traditional and avant-garde, and items include custom-made jewelry, classic timepieces and leather fashion accessories. Mercado 28 is a shaded open-air flea market in downtown Cancun. Wide aisles allow you ample wandering room and a good look at all the traditional Mexican gifts and souvenir handicrafts that are on sale. There are also some eateries in the center for typical Mexican food. When you’re ready to get off you feet, they are a number of great restaurants and bars to relax.
Nightlife: Nightlife in Cancun has quickly taken over its Mexican Riviera competitors. The wide range of nightly entertainment options offered at the Cancun resorts and clubs have made it one of the most favored destinations for night owls, partiers, spring-breakers and those looking to let loose. Cancun nightlife includes live music, comedy, discos with a great variety of rhythms, restaurants and more for you to fully enjoy your stay. Some of the most popular hotspots include Bulldog Café, a preferred place for hard rock and Latin rock lovers, as well as tropical drinks, spirits, extraordinary ambiance, laser shows and special contests. Dady Rock, the little brother of Dady’O, is the hippest restaurant/bar in Cancun with live music, karaoke, contest and extravagant shows. When you come to Dady Rock, dinner is just the appetizer. The City—located right in the Hotel Zone next to the Plaza Forum By the Sea—is the biggest night club in Latin America, with a 4,000-plus capacity and incredible shows, and rock, rap and pop music all night long. Basic Nightclub, Cancun, is Cancun´s only nightclub over the lagoon and features an innovative concept in nightlife. Its music style includes a wide variety of musical genres, including top 40s, the latest in house and reggae, a famous 80’s night every Saturday, bikini contests and more. In front of Chac Mool beach in the Hotel Zone, Señor Frogs is a spectacular restaurant by day and vibrant nightclub by night that’s always hopping, especially after 9 p.m. There are live music/bands, karaoke, the famous sawdust dance floor and silly contests that make this a seriously fun night out in Cancun. Amid the Tex-Mex-style décor, the staff entertainers keep the party going with games, free drinks, confetti, balloons, charro hats and anything else they can imagine for the patrons. It even offers its own transportation, a bus completely covered in—what else?—FROGS that conveniently picks you up at your hotel so you avoid pricey taxis and driving after imbibing! There’s also Congo, a small place but great fun. This bar, located in party center across Coco Bongo, is a big hit with 3 floors, the latest music and lots of dancing. One of the funnest and most enjoyable ways to see and experience Cancun nightlife is the Cuncrawl. This is not your regular “pub crawl,” and it’s what they call a “rockstar crawl” that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s been named the #1 nightlife attraction in Playa for at least 3 years in a row for its personalized experience of Cancun nightlife that’s all-inclusive, with an “all you can drink,” 5-hour open bar, VIP entrances, and reserved tables during the escorted bar crawl that includes 3 of the best bar/clubs in the area not to mention bottle service (unlimited bottles) in at least two of the venues of the night. Available 7 nights a week, the Cuncrawl is lead by local-savvy guides with the “inside scoop,” not only hitting the typical touristy spots but also the off-the-beaten-path hot spots in town. Looking for something more upscale? La Madonna serves more than 150 creative martini selections accompanied by ambient music, authentic Swiss-Italian cuisine and delicious desserts. Enjoy your red mandarin, lychee or green apple martini, or a glass of wine from its international wine selection as you rub elbows with Cancun’s beautiful people on the outdoor patio. Cognac and cigars are served upstairs. Very Wine also is a refined alternative to the typical rowdy bars and night clubs. The chic urban wine bar on the upper level of Casa Rolandi is a more sedate gourmet bar with a fine wine and liquor selection that’s perfect for pre-dinner drinks or nightcaps. It also offers an extensive tapas selection (and the full menu at Rolandi’s), fondue and desserts, as well as cigars. Families will also enjoy a night out at the popular Rain Forest Café. Whatever your pleasure, you can enjoy a sizzling, simmering or family-fiesta-filled night on the town in Cancun.
Eco-Parks: Ecotourism opportunities abound in Cancun, with several excellent ecological parks and preserves to visit. Each has excellent snorkeling opportunities, and most have beaches to relax on. Chankanaab EcoArchaeological Park: Cozumel’s most famous park is a haven for snorkelers, sun worshippers and nature lovers—a great place to spend the day, swim with dolphins, see iguanas and parrots, and much more! Garrafon Ecological Park: This marine reserve on Isla Mujeres is home to some of the best snorkeling in the Cancun area. Take a sailboat, catamaran or ferry to Isla Mujeres for a wonderful tour of the island! Isla Contoy National Bird Sanctuary: Cruise by boat about 1 to 1 ½ hours to Isla Contoy, the most important bird sanctuary in the Caribbean. The coconut lined beach looks like a movie set, and the sanctuary is home to 120 species of birds. Isla Holbox Whale Shark Adventure: Isla Holbox near Cancun hosts more whale sharks than anywhere else in the world. Whale Sharks, the largest fish in the world, are very rare. Here you can not only see them but snorkel with them as well! See beautiful flamingos and other birds, too. Punta Sur Ecological Reserve: A 2,000-acre preserve at the southern end of Cozumel Island, with archaeological artifacts and a wide range of ecosystem. White sand beaches and a lighthouse attract people to this area. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: Over 350 species of birds call the Biosphere home. In this 1-million acre coastal preserve live manatees, crocodiles and many other species of animals. It’s a true eco-tourist’s paradise. Xcaret Eco Archaeological Park: Perhaps the most-visited attraction in Cancun, Xcaret offers over 25 different attractions, from swimming with dolphins to snorkeling in an underground river. Definitely worth a full day trip! Xel Ha Ecological Park: Xel Ha is the most popular snorkeling location in Cancun. It’s a natural lagoon that is home to sea turtles and dozens of species of fish—a great, relaxing place to spend a day this vacation.
History & Culture: The ruins scattered throughout the area tell the story of an ancient Mayan civilization that once inhabited the land centuries ago. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that Cancun—a sliver of sand off the Yucatan Peninsula—was actually carved out of the deep jungle of the Quintana Roo region and developed by the Mexican Government into a resort town due to a rising outburst of tourism. U.S. Causeways were also built to connect the island to the mainland and an international airport constructed. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the island was carefully developed with hotels, resorts, restaurants and gardens until it was finally opened to tourism in 1974. Advertised as a tropical paradise, Cancun soon attracted tourists from Canada, the U.S. and Europe. More recently, Cancun was the site of interesting turns in history as the host of the controversial 2003 World Trade Organization talks. In October of 2005, Cancun also took quite a beating when Hurricane Wilma made landfall as a category 4 hurricane, causing at least three deaths and multiple disappearances, as well as millions of dollars in damages to homes and businesses. However, thanks to a strong public campaign and vigorous restoration efforts, much of the tourist industry has been recovered and many of Cancun’s major attractions are up and running again, proving its unbreakable spirit and willingness to take a licking but keep on ticking.
Spa Therapy: The beauty of the Maya Riviera is an exquisite backdrop for luxurious spa treatments that guests should experience at least once while in Cancun. The area’s spas and resorts blend traditional Mayan techniques with innovative technology. Cancun also boasts the largest spa in Latin America: The JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa has three levels and 35,000 square feet of ultimate Maya-inspired pampering. Many of the spas’ therapeutic treatment include thalassotherapy – the use of seawater to relax and rejuvenate—and a traditional hot stone massage. They also utilize an assortment of sea greens, herbs and minerals indigenous to the region in their treatments. For travelers looking for an exclusively native spa experience, Temazcal is an indigenous Aztec steam bath treatment—the ancient Maya equivalent of a sweat lodge—using herbal-infused waters said to renew the body, mind and spirit. Performed on hot stones with aromatic herbs, the Temazcal treatments are performed in scenic cloth huts on the beach at sunset. The small boutique hotel Ceiba del Mar’s holistic and aromatherapy spa’s signature treatment is a Top’Nikte massage (Maya for cocoon), which begins with a 50-minute relaxing massage followed by a body wrap of soft cotton soaked in an infusion of aromatic herbs. They also feature Temazcal. At the Heavenly Spa at the Westin, you can be pampered while lying comfortably under a charming hut right near the ocean. Aqua has raised the bar for quality, with a stunning, stylish and sensual new hotel and spa. Sophisticated travelers appreciate chic décor and the modern amenities. The intimate spa is among the hotel’s most notable attractions, offering a blend of Eastern, pre-Columbian, and Western health and beauty treatments. Outdoor Pilates, Tai Chi and yoga classes are held daily and massage cabins are available on the beach. One of Cancun’s most appealing spas is Le Meridien, which features the elegant Spa del Mar. The “Spa of the Sea” is a sophisticated European-style facility that includes steam and inhalation rooms, saunas, Jacuzzis, plunge pools, Swiss showers, a waterfall whirlpool and 14 specialized treatment rooms. With its laid-back and relaxed lifestyle, Cancun beckons guests to indulge in pampering amid the Maya Riviera’s mind-bending beauty to decompress at the beginning, middle or end of a spectacular Cancun vacation.
Local Flavor: Obviously, you’ll want to indulge in some adventurous Mexican cuisine, and dining in Cancun can be quite an experience. Many internationally trained chefs are employed in Cancun and are well-versed in both local cuisine and cutting-edge techniques. Within the Hotel Zone, you’ll find the most adventurous dishes, with many chefs offering Mayan flavors combined with a unique European flair. Most restaurants within the Hotel Zone and downtown Cancun will have menus in English, so there’s no need to worry about a culinary language barrier—only if you head off the beaten path. There are plenty of adventurous cafés both downtown and within the Hotel Zone, but fresh steak and seafood are always available as luxury staples. Take a stroll down the Avenida Tulum if you’re looking for a sidewalk café to enjoy some sun and people watching. With over 1,200 restaurants in Cancun, there’s certainly a lot to savor and please even the most discerning palates. A few top-notch places include Aioli, Le Méridien’s signature restaurant offering French and Mediterranean gourmet specialties in an exquisite French setting with live music. For starters, try the foie gras medallions and caramelized figs with a cherry brandy or the Caesar salad tossed with jumbo shrimp. Favorite mains include the red snapper with a Spanish sausage risotto and the tender rack of lamb with couscous. You can also watch the in-house pastry chef prepare desserts and decadent sweets, like the highly recommended “Fifth Element” with chocolate and a berry sauce. Situated adjacent to the Nichupté Lagoon, Harry’s is the most recent arrival to Cancún’s dining scene and the Hotel Zone’s top steakhouse. It’s also one of the few places serving kosher dishes, but no kids menu. The New York strips, rib-eyes and other cuts of beef are hot oven broiled, while the fish and seafood are grilled on a parilla. A la carte selections blend Mexican and Asian influences, such as the lobster pozole, crab wontons with spicy plum sauce and jasmine rice balls with tuna steak. Santos Mariscos is an unpretentious, homey type of place perfect for the whole family. The cheerful seafood cantina is decorated with local art on rustic adobe walls, and a small patio provides outside seating. Try the chips and strawberry jalapeño salsa with an ice-cold cerveza. Order tacos packed with seafood, chicken or beef, or try one of the cazuelos, a slow-cooked seafood casserole with local spices and garlic. Famous personalities, from international actors to Mexican presidents, have dined at Casa Rolandi over the years, and it remains one of Cancun’s best tables for Swiss-Italian, as well as their monthly thematic festivals that infuse the menu with creative selections and seasonal ingredients. Try the carpaccios, ceviches and seared scallops to start, followed by the veal cheeks in wine served over polenta, suckling pig served pibil-style, fresh seafood tagliolini draped in black ink or salt-crusted red snapper. Casa Rolandi also remains open later than most Hotel Zone restaurants for late-night suppers. The Ritz-Carlton’s Club Grill is one of Mexico’s top-ranked restaurants. The jazz and international supper club stands out as an outstanding hotel restaurant open to a wider audience. Recommended main courses include roasted duck with chipotle, herbed rack of lamb, crispy organic chicken breast and filet mignon accented with foie gras. Desserts include a pistachio crème brûlée or chocolate fondant. Sasi is one of two outstanding Thai restaurants in Cancun, and it’s the most family friendly. Start off with the Sasi Sampler, which comes with a selection of shrimp, pork, beef, and chicken dumplings presented in a domburi basket. The Sedona Grill features French-Southwestern American cuisine adaptations amid a subtle Southwestern décor, overlooking the JW Marriott pools and Caribbean Sea. Start with a light shrimp ceviche served with mango, Key lime and Navajo fry bread, or the roasted corn bisque filled with country flavor followed by the highly recommended chimichurri red snapper served with chile-lemon risotto, the “tequila sunrise” penne pasta with hickory-smoked chicken, or the seared filet mignon that cuts like butter. A partner restaurant to Thai, Elefanta is one of the trendiest dining spots on Cancun’s culinary scene. The exotic waterfront space has two open kitchens overseen by an Indian chef who focuses on fish, shrimp and chicken dishes. Elafanta is also one of the few places in Cancun that serves a substantial selection of quality vegetarian plates. It also serves some 30 exotic martinis, and a DJ spins music Thursday through Saturday nights. La Parilla is a downtown institution; a colorful place to eat, drink and be merry, despite no air conditioning. You’ll find authentic dishes from the garden and the Caribbean, as well as Mexican specialties like mole enchiladas or grilled Aztec steak wrapped in cactus leaves and stuffed with onions. There are also tacos of every variety, delicious grilled steaks and seafood, and Maya treats such as poc-chuc pork tenderloin. A meal at Labná is like a trip to a Yucatan home, a place that serves delicious Maya food and treats you like family. Specialties include a sublime lime soup, poc chuc (marinated, bbq-style pork), chicken or pork pibil (sweet and spicy bbq sauce served over shredded meat wrapped in banana leaves). A local trio occasionally plays in the establishment that features a vaulted-ceiling dining room that’s decorated with a mural of a pre-Hispanic Yucatán scene and black-and-white photographs of Mérida, the capital of the Yucatán, dating from the 1900s. Get online and check out the many restaurants and establishments of Cancun and know what to expect when you get there. You’ll find cuisine of every variety, from high end to casual and family friendly. If you’re a foodie, a journey to Cancun is a serious treat for the tatse buds.