Cancun, Mexico

Located along the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Cancún has two sections: El Centro (downtown) and Zona Hotelera, the main tourist district. This travel guide lets you explore the places to see in the Hotel Zone and stretches down to the last resorts before reaching Puerto Morelos.

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1 Wintertime Joy in Cancun, Mexico

It is easy to understand why this woman is happy: she is vacationing in Cancun. During the winter, the average daytime highs for sea and sunshine are 80 °F, the Caribbean Sea glistens as it laps along pristine beaches, plus air and hotel packages are abundant and reasonable. In addition, the nightlife is legendary yet the resorts cater to whatever style of R&R you seek. No wonder about five million tourists annually visit the northern part of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Playa Delfines, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 18, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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2 Torre Escénica at Xcaret Park in Cancun, Mexico

Xcaret Park Cancun is an exciting attraction at about 3.5 KM of the Hotel Zone. It features water activities and an underground river ride for the kids, a recreated 19th century hacienda and a Mayan village, plus caves and archeological sites. Included in your admission is a ride on Torre Escénica de Cancún. The Scenic Tower of Cancun quickly elevates you to a height of over 260 feet. Then the observation platform slowly rotates during its descent, providing panoramic views of the Caribbean, Laguna Nichupté, the Hotel Zone, downtown Cancun and, on a clear day, Isla Mujeres. You will want to bring your camera on this towering attraction.

Xcaret, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 3.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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3 Pirate Ship at Xcaret Park in Cancun, Mexico

During the golden age of piracy (1650 – 1730), buccaneers and later privateers terrorized the Caribbean while plundering Spanish colonies and ships. They favored the Yucatán Peninsula as a hideout haunt and to bury their treasures. Some people believe Isla Mujeres, meaning Women Island, was named because it was a favorite place to shelter their womenfolk between voyages. It is also where a statue of the Mayan goddess of love was discovered in 1517. If you want to live the legendary marauder experience, then salute the Jolly Roger as you walk up the gangplank at Xcaret Park in Cancun. The Captain Hook Pirate Ship will provide you with a swashbuckling good time on their sightseeing cruise.

Xcaret, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 3.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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4 Ferries to Isla Mujeres in Cancun, Mexico

Isla Mujeres is an enchanting, unspoiled island about eight miles off the eastern coast of Cancun. This slender, 4.3 mile long islet is defined by sandy beaches, rocky shorelines and surrounded by a thriving reef. It is ideal to explore by golf cart or scooter during a daytrip or to stay as a tropical haven. The main UtraMar ferry terminal is Gran Puerto Cancun in Puerto Juarez near downtown Cancun. Other boats leave from EL Embarcadero located here at Playa Linda next to Xcaret Park. Additional options depart from Playa Tortugus (KM 6.5) and Playa Caracol (KM 8) at Punta Cancún.

Xcaret, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 3.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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5 Accommodations in Hotel Zone of Cancun, Mexico

This is the Hotel RIU Palace Las Americas, one of five RIU Hotels in Cancun and among the 75 resorts, hotels and rentable condos stretching along the twenty kilometer coastline of Zona Hotelera. Among the best (and most expensive) hotels are Ritz-Carlton, Le Blanc Spa Resort and Hyatt Zilara. Other hotels cater to families, the budget conscious or spring breakers. If these 35,000 rooms do not provide enough choices – and the number grows each year – countless more resorts are available on Isla Mujeres (a ferry ride away) and down the coast along Highway 307 in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya.

RIU Palace Las Americas, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 8.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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6 Spring Break Destination at Party Zone in Cancun, Mexico

Cancun is always listed among the top ten destinations for spring break. Among the endless reasons are warm sunshine, tropical beaches, low air fares, seaside hotels and an 18 year old drinking age. So expect to mingle with throngs of students who sleep in late, suntan by day and then party hardy into the wee hours. La Vaquita Cancun is one of many nightclubs eager to accommodate the crowds within the Party Zone clustered around KM 9.5.

La Vaquita Cancun, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 9.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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7 Plaza Forum by the Sea at Party Zone in Cancun, Mexico

Plaza Forum by the Sea is a shopping mall chockfull of retailers selling beach attire and souvenirs including Mexican crafts. It is located at the epicenter of Cancun’s Party Zone with a Caribbean overlook. At sunset, the center’s restaurants and nightclubs such as the Hard Rock Café begin swelling with nightlifers. Don’t expect to find any bargains. Do expect to have a lot of fun in this lively environment. Nearby at KM 8.5 is Plaza Caraco, an inside mall with 200 shops and more taverns such as Señor Frog’s.

Plaza Forum By The Sea, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 9.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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8 CoCo Bongo at Party Zone in Cancun, Mexico

Fans of the 1994 movie “The Mask” will immediately recognize this garish, green-faced character played by Jim Carrey at the CoCo Bongo nightclub, owned by his archenemy, the gangster Dorian Tyrell. This less-than-subtle marque only hints at the entertainment inside of this bar and disco at Plaza Forum. The highlight is the acrobatic show featuring movie favorites who fly and gyrate among heart-pounding music, a bedazzling lightshow, fluttering confetti and theater smoke. This is a rocking good time!

CoCo Bongo, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 9.5, Plaza Forum By The Sea, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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9 Playa Gaviota Azul in Cancun, Mexico

Next to CoCo Bongo is a walkway along the outer edge of Plaza Forum By The Sea leading to the Caribbean. The archway declares it is Mandala Beach. Yet maps identify it as Playa Gaviota Azul (Blue Seagull Beach), Playa Lagarto and Playa de Cancún and locals often call it City Beach or Forum Beach. A few bare-foot steps to the south is Playa Chac Mool, named after the famous reclining figures discovered at Chichen Itza. Confused? Don’t be. This crescent-shaped, public beach adjoining the Party Zone is why you came to Cancun. So simply call it gorgeous and enjoy the day of sunshine with a friend!

Playa Gaviota Azul, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 8.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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10 Beach Clubs at Playa Gaviota Azul in Cancun, Mexico

All of the beaches from Cancun down through the Rivera Maya are public. You are free to swim and stretch out a towel where you want, even in the shadows of a hotel. Of course, the amenities are reserved for their guests. If you want the services – loungers, umbrellas, cocktail service, restrooms – at a very reasonable cost, consider a day pass at a beach club. The most popular is the Mandala Beach Club behind the Plaza Forum By The Sea. The price of admission includes a party atmosphere around the pool accompanied by DJ music.

Mandala Beach Club, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 8.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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11 La Isla Shopping Village in Cancun, Mexico

Most shopping centers around the world are mundane and predictable. That is the opposite of what you will experience at La Isla Shopping Village. Located at KM 12.5, the complex of over 160 stores is an open-air mall set among picturesque canals and footbridges reminiscent of Venice. The retailers range from department stores, boutiques and souvenir shops. There are also plenty of restaurants across the price spectrum. Many of the eateries have views of Nichupté Lagoon, a perfect setting to watch a glorious sunset.

La Isla, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 12.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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12 Fashion Harbour at La Isla Shopping Village in Cancun, Mexico

Fashion Harbour is the moniker for the luxury brand section of La Isla Shopping Village. Among the boutique retailers are Louis Vuitton, Emporio Armani, Cartier, Tiffany & Co., H. Stern, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo and Lacoste. This sign for Fashion Harbour is a great place for a photo opportunity to share with your winter-bound friends back home.

La Isla, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 12.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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13 Interactive Aquarium at La Isla Shopping Village in Cancun, Mexico

The word “Interactive” perfectly describes what to expect at the Interactive Aquarium at La Isla Shopping Village. You will be enthralled by the 140 species of marine life. Your children will enjoy the tactical feel of the Touch Tanks and watching the sea lions. The Delphinus Trek lets you feed schools of colorful fish. You can also sign up to swim with the bottlenose dolphins. There are educational programs available in the auditorium. Plus the Aquarium Trek lets you go underwater wearing a unique diving helmet.

La Isla, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 12.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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14 Lagoon Waterfront at La Isla Shopping Village in Cancun, Mexico

Nichupté Lagoon borders the outer edge of La Isla Shopping Village. The boardwalk along the shore is a scenic place to take a break. Or if the man in your family is bored, then let him rent one of the water toys moored along the dock. The most unique and exhilarating option is the Seabreacher. The 260 horse-power engine inside of this shark-shaped craft is capable of incredible feats. It propels you across the water at adrenaline-pumping speeds, dives below the surface then jettisons into the air. This ride redefines exciting!

La Isla, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 12.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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15 Upscale Shopping at Luxury Avenue in Cancun, Mexico

Here is all you need to know: this boutique mall includes Cartier, Fendi, Coach, Burberry, Swarovski, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Paul & Shark and 18 more upscale retailers. If shopping at Luxury Avenue Cancun does not max out your credit card, then visit the adjacent Kukulcan Plaza.

Luxury Avenue, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 13, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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16 Service Options at All-inclusive Resorts in Cancun, Mexico

The majority of hotels and resorts in Cancun’s Hotel Zone are all-inclusive, such as the AAA Four Diamond Award winning Paradisus Cancún shown here. Their packages include all food, alcoholic beverages, room service and entertainment … an incredible bargain versus consulting your budget every time you sit down at a restaurant or bar. But some vacationers are more adventurous. They want to sample the local restaurants and seek out their style of nightlife. If that is you, then ask about the hotel’s European Plan. Your room rate will be much lower but everything will be ala carte. Another option is the American Plan. These typically include breakfast but little else. At least you will be starting your day in the sun with a full stomach.

Paradisus Cancún, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 16.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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17 Aquaworld Snorkeling and Diving in Cancun, Mexico

If sitting on a beach and watching your freckles sprout is not your idea of enjoying the Caribbean Sea, then head towards Aquaworld. They offer a variety of snorkeling and diving tours to swim among schools of colorful fish in various locations. The most unique experience is exploring the 470 submerged statues at the Cancun Underwater Museum (MUSA). You can also book a fishing excursion. Does your attention deficit disorder crave more adrenaline? Then rent from a myriad of water toys including waverunners, underwater scooters, speed boats, flyboards, hoverboards and parasailing.

Aquaworld, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 15.3, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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18 Steak Restaurant Recommendations in Cancun, Mexico

If eating steak on one or more nights is essential to a perfect vacation, then several restaurants in Cancun will satisfy your taste buds. Meat lovers know what to expect when they sit down at Ruth’s Chris. There are a few excellent South American style places including Bovino’s, Cambalache, Mr. Pampas, Bandoneon, La Capilla Argentina, Terrazas Parrilla Libre and, probably the best, Puerto Madero. Captain’s Cove is known for their Caribbean cuisine featuring steaks and seafood. Their brunches, lunches and dinners are served facing Nichupté Lagoon. The highest rating typically goes to Harry’s Prime Steakhouse. And you wanted to avoid making decisions during your vacation.

Captain’s Cove, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 16.5, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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19 Waterpark at Seadust Cancun Family Resort in Cancun, Mexico

With so many accommodations within the Cancun Hotel Zone, you are bound to find one fitting your requirements and budget. If you plan on bringing your children, consider the all-inclusive Seadust Cancun Family Resort. This coastline hotel has all the amenities you need plus – for the kids – several pools, a children’s club and La Isla del Tesoro (Treasure Island), a pirate-theme waterpark.

Seadust Cancún, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 17, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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20 Golf Course Alternatives in Cancun, Mexico

Cancun has six golf courses with prices ranging from $35 to $100 for 18 holes. The cost may be higher at courses connected to a resort for non-guests. Several offer great views of Nichupté Lagoon, the Caribbean or both. Two of them have the best reviews. The Puerto Cancun Golf Club (7107 yards, par 72) opened in 2013 based on a Tom Weiskopf design. The Riviera Cancun Golf Club (7,060 yards par 72) was designed by Jack Nicklaus in 2008. This is the Iberostar Club, part of the five-star Iberostar Cancún resort (formally the Hilton). After experiencing all of the links at Cancun, consider driving down to Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya for additional courses.

Iberostar Cancun Golf Club, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 17.7, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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21 Playa Delfines in Cancun, Mexico

At the KM marker 18 is Playa Delfines, a stretch of gorgeous sand with moderate surf. It has all the accoutrements needed for a glorious day in the sun – thatched umbrellas (palapas), lifeguards, restrooms, snack vendors, playground – yet less crowded than the northern beaches because there are no hotels lining the coast. The name means Dolphin Beach. If you are lucky, you might see a pod swimming offshore. Perhaps this is why it is also called El Mirador meaning The Lookout.

Playa Delfines, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 18, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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22 El Rey Mayan Ruins in Cancun, Mexico

El Rey is a small Mayan ruin within the Cancun Hotel Zone adjacent to Laguna Nichupté and across the street from the Caribbean Sea. The archeological site dates from the Late Postclassic period (1200 – 1539 AD) and has been identified as part of an Itza trade route. It was named Rey meaning king because of an excavated sculpture resembling royalty. El Rey takes about an hour to tour the remains of the 40 plus platforms, bases, walls and columns. Also consider visiting the Mayan museum about a mile away. Museo Maya de Cancún exhibits over 400 pre-Columbian artifacts. For a better Mayan ruins experience, rent a car or take a tour bus to Chichen Itza, Tulum and/or Coba. Travel guides for all three are available on this Encircle Photos website.

El Rey, Blvd. Kukulcan, KM 18, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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23 Rio Nizuc from Laguna Nichupté in Cancun, Mexico

The Hotel Zone is shaped like the number 7 defined by the Caribbean Sea on the east and the Laguna Nichupté on the west. The Laguna Nichupté is a system of seven lagoons comprising over 1,214 acres. The waterway has two connections with Mar Caribe: the Siegfried and Rio Nizuc, shown here flowing beneath Punta Nizuc. This channel is home to thick mangroves plus birds and reptiles including crocodiles. Tourists can explore the area by renting boats from companies such as Jungle Tour. Passive foodies can enjoy this same view from the hidden yet excellent Restaurant Rio Nizuc.

Kukulkán Boulevard & Rio Nizuc, Zona Hotelera, Cancún, QROO, Mexico
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24 Kiteboarding along Coral Beach in Cancun, Mexico

At KM marker 25 is Coral Beach at the southern end of Cancun’s Hotel Zone seen in the distance. This means it is unknown to most tourists. The locals love it and affectionately call it El Mirador II. The warm, clean beachfront and transparent aquamarine water earned it the coveted Blue Flag award. Playa Coral also has plenty of shade trees and a boardwalk for handicap access.
It is the only pet-friendly beach in Latin America. Nearby is Ventura Park. This family-oriented amusement park features several water slides, pools and other fun activities to cool off on a hot Mexican afternoon.

Playa Coral, Punta Nizuc, KM 25, Cancún 700, QROO, Mexico
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25 Hotel Zone Alternatives in Cancun, Mexico

Most vacationers to Cancun stay, eat, party and shop within the Hotel Zone. Seasoned travelers know there are more than a dozen other resorts south of the Zona Hotelera along Cancun’s 23 mile coastline ending just before Puerto Morelos. A great example – and my personal favorite – is the Now Sapphire Riviera Cancun. This AAA Four Diamond property has so much to offer that guests rarely leave the complex. A short distance away is their sister resort, the Now Jade Riviera Cancun.

Now Sapphire, Super Manzana 11 Manzana 9 Lote 10, Puerto Morelos Benito Juárez, 77580 QROO, México
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26 Quiet Beaches South of Hotel Zone in Cancun, Mexico

The beaches within Cancun’s Hotel Zone are incredibly beautiful but can also be incredibly crowded. That is an advantage if you love people watching and socializing. If you prefer relative solitude with your sand and surf, then opt for a hotel south of Zona Hotelera. At resorts such as this one – Ocean Coral & Turquesa – the accommodations are great and the scenery is equally dazzling without the throngs. So there is no waiting for your nap in a lounger below a thatched umbrella.

Ocean Coral & Turquesa, Carretera Cancún, Lotes 1-5, S.M. 12, Mza. 5, 77580 Puerto Morelos, QROO, Mexico
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27 Your Vacation is Waiting in Cancun, Mexico

Hopefully this Cancun travel guide has been helpful and inspired you to book your next vacation in this premier Mexican destination. Here is your final look at a groomed beach along Mar Caribe (Caribbean Sea) at the Excellence Riviera Cancun. Soon you could arrive in this tropical paradise where a tough decision during the day is whether to sit below the thatched gazebo (palapa) on the left or the right.

Excellence Riviera Cancun, Carretera Federal 307, Chetumal-Puerto Juarez, Mz 7 Lote 1, SM 11, 77580 Puerto Morelos, QROO, Mexico
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