Best Places to Stay in Cancun- Areas that Fit Your Budget and Travel Needs
Traveling to Cancun? Hotels are only part of the story. After all, the definition of the best places to stay in Cancun varies based on your needs! In this Cancun Mexico travel guide, we’re providing an overview that includes what to expect based on the type of property you choose.
We’re also offering a look at some things to do in Cancun, as well as some essential transportation tips for getting around this incredible 14-mile long island.
Are you in a hurry? Here are our top recommendations at a glance:
• Best area to stay in Cancun for beach vacation: Zona Hotelera
• Best Places to stay in Cancun for first-time travelers: Zona Hotelera
• Where to stay in Cancun, Mexico on budget and backpacking: El Centro/Cancun Downtown
• Best area to stay in Cancun for families: Isla Mujeres
• Best place to stay in Cancun for nightlife: Punta Cancun
• Where to stay in Cancun for Honeymoon: Puerto Morelos
• Best area to stay in Cancun for couples: Zona Hotelera
• Best area to stay in Cancun for spring break: Cancun Downtown
Best Areas to Stay in Cancun, Plus Things to Do!
Where to stay in Cancun? What kind of hotel deals will I find? These are among the first questions to cross most travelers’ minds. You should know that this amazing destination is divided into two main areas, each with its unique feel and a variety of attractions. Learning about the city’s main neighborhoods can help you find the best places to stay in Cancun based on what each area has to offer, your interests, and your budget, of course.
Hotel Zone: Home to Many Top Hotels in Cancun
Most tourists opt to stay at one of the beachfront properties in the Hotel Zone. The Zona Hotelera, as it’s locally called, is located on the narrow strip of land that’s shaped like the number 7, and it’s separated from the mainland and downtown Cancun via the Nichupte Lagoon.
The lagoon itself is a fascinating mangrove ecosystem, which you can explore via boat-based jungle tours. Expect exciting encounters with various birds and animals if you opt for this adventure, which provides a nice contrast to the Hotel Zone’s exciting atmosphere.
The Hotel Zone is famous for being “party central,” particularly when the spring break crowd arrives. Vibrant nightclubs like Mandala, La Vaquita, Senor Frog, and the famous Coco Bongo offer everything from glow parties to incredible shows complete with acrobats.
It’s home to many of the best places to stay in Cancun too, from all-inclusive family-centric resorts to adult-only spaces. Located right in the middle of all this goodness is Selina Cancun Laguna. Set around a kilometer away from Coco Bongo and around 1.9 miles from La Isla shopping mall, Selina Cancun Laguna makes an excellent choice if you want to access all the key areas around Hotel Zone before retreating to a quiet haven at night. This competitively priced facility offers all caliber of accommodation from studio apartments for 2 people to 10-bed community rooms that cater for large groups.
If you love to lounge on the beach during the daytime before partying and dancing the night away, then you’re probably going to love everything the Cancun Hotel Zone has to offer!
• Novice travelers and first-timers– the alluring Hotel Zone is exclusively designed to lend almost everything a modern tourist wants. Its proximity to the airport, beach areas, and Downtown Cancun make it extremely hassle-free and convenient for first-timers.
• Families and couples– if all you need is an easy time on the beach as a family with kids, you’re in luck as most of the resorts here are within walking distance to the beach areas. Couples will also enjoy the magnificent views of the picture-perfect Caribbean beaches on one side, and the cool sparkling waters of the Nichupte lagoon on the other.
• Water sport vultures– if you’re into crazy water sports, Cancun’s Hotel Zone is lined with marinas with plenty of options from jungle tours, snorkeling, and jet skiing. For adrenaline-seekers, jetpack flying and high-speed wave-running are among the trendiest water activities that should top your must-do list.
Highlights of best things to do in Hotel Zone, Cancun
• Swim, relax and sunbathe on the beaches, particularly Playa Delfines at kilometer 8.
• Book a parasailing tour over the bright blue shallow waters of the Caribbean.
• Chill and take photos for the gram at Cancun lighthouse. The colored giant word “CANCUN” at Playa Delfines is not to be missed by anyone.
• Have a romantic sunset date while trying some local fresh seafood at any of the restaurants at La Isla shopping village.
• History and culture bums shouldn’t go without visiting San Miguelito, Yamil Lu’um, and El Ley archaeological sites.
• Have an unforgettable encounter with the sharks at Cancun Interactive Aquarium (Kilometer 11.5).
• Shop like crazy at Marina Town center at the beginning of the Hotel Zone or La Isla shopping mall at kilometer 12. Luxury Avenue Boutique and Kukulcan Plaza, a short distance from La Isla, are other incredible shopping points.
Downtown (El Centro) Cancun- Best for Traveling on Budget
Downtown is the second main area where you’ll find Cancun Mexico hotels. This section is located on the mainland, closer to the airport and a short distance from the beaches and the Hotel Zone.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed yet festive vibe, then you’ll find that this is among the best places to stay in Cancun. You’ll find ferry docks on the waterfront, plus there are beaches where you can enjoy some of the best surfing Cancun has to offer, lots of restaurants, and more than a few fascinating historic sites.
Once the sun sets, things heat up. Cancun’s downtown area offers a vibrant nightlife that’s loads of fun but a little more intimate than the typical Hotel Zone club. Expect lots of live music ranging from Latin to classic rock covers, or if you’re a sports fan, go check out La Taberna, where big screens air a variety of sporting events.
If you’re looking to stay productive while connecting with people from all over, Selina Cancun Downtown boasts the perfect environment for that. Selina Hostel Cancun Downtown is located next to the ADO bus station and a short drive from the airport, and can accommodate all types of travelers from couples to families and large groups.
For music in general, you have lots to choose from. Since Cancun, Mexico, is a major party destination, it attracts musicians and entertainers of every kind. Bigger acts tend to start late here, so you have time to relax for a while after dinner before heading out for a round of late-night entertainment. Most bars stay open until about 4 a.m., and more than a few are open until dawn.
It’s well worth noting here that you can enjoy everything this amazing city has to offer, no matter what area you decide to call home for the duration of your stay!
• Culture bums– if you’re longing for the Mexicans’ authentic cultural charm, the local bars, grocery stores, and creameries at El Centro will put you right in the middle of it.
• Budget-conscious travelers and backpackers– anyone looking to see more of this little paradise while spending less is better off sticking to Downtown. This area is jammed with bargain hostels and bedrooms that go for a few pesos. If you’re lucky, the rate may also include breakfast. Most of the budget hotels here are very close to the main road, so grabbing a bus to a supermarket, affordable restaurants, or the Hotel Zone will be a breeze (winning).
• Party animals– it’s true that the Hotel Zone has the best nightlife. But most of the famous places there (think of Coco Bongo and La Vaquita) can be very expensive. It also gets annoyingly overcrowded, especially during spring break. Downtown, Cancun is the perfect place if you want $1 beers while enjoying local bands.
Highlights of the best things to do in Downtown, Cancun
• Experience the folklore and everyday life of the locals by visiting Market 28 and Market 23. The first one is the most popular and has a more touristic element, complete with restaurants, souvenirs, and crafts. Market 23 is less touristy, and the items here are relatively cheaper.
• Try out some typical Mexican food as you watch some local public events in the evenings at Parque Las Palapas- the main park.
• Take a relaxing walk on Nader Avenue. One of Cancun’s historic neighborhoods, this is a quiet strip with an eclectic combination of candle and lantern-lit gorgeous restaurants, hipster bars, and vibrant street art.
• See what Malecon Americas Shopping Center has to offer. This is Cancun Downtown’s largest mall and has a modern open-air atmosphere complete with restaurants, department stores, and ice cream shops.
• Go for a street art tour. Downtown streets are covered in murals, allowing you to explore and dig into this gem from an artistic perspective. Whether you choose to stroll solo or engage a local artist (we recommend the latter), don’t leave your camera behind. Trust us- you’ll need it.
Before getting into other Cancun neighborhoods, let’s talk about the different types of accommodation that you can consider.
Types of Accommodation
There are so many Cancun hotels to choose from; it can be tough to decide which of the best places to stay in Cancun is right for you. This mini-guide breaks down the most common accommodations, making it a bit easier to sort out your options based on your preferences.
Hint: if you’re looking for Cancun hotels near beach hotspots, you’ll have plenty to choose from. Most resorts and hotels are either right on the beach or a few minutes away. There are even some fairly cheap hotels in Cancun hotel zone!
i) Vacation Rentals
If you’d like to rent a villa or a luxury residence instead of at one of Cancun’s hotels, you can do so! You’ll probably pay a little more for a luxury home rental or a large condo. All things considered, this is one of the best places to stay in Cancun if you’re traveling in a group and you’d like a variety of rooms all together as well as a kitchen, living room, and other common spaces. Do your homework and read the fine print if you choose this option. Vacation rentals are available Downtown as well as in the Hotel Zone.
ii) Top Resorts in Cancun & Major Cancun Hotels on the Beach
There’s no shortage of Cancun resorts, where you’ll find everything from onsite bars and restaurants to pools, patios, and different room options to choose from. Some resorts are family-centered, with fun options designed to keep kids entertained. Others have a romantic, couple-centric feel. In the Hotel Zone, resorts tend to offer nice beach and ocean views. Many are ranked among the best places to stay in Cancun, but you’ll still want to do a little bit of research to ensure that you’ll be happy with your choice.
You’ll enjoy easy access to everything from bustling markets to wonderful restaurants with local cuisine in the Downtown area. There are more resorts and hotels in Cancun’s Hotel Zone than there are Downtown.
In terms of amenities and all-inclusive hotels in Cancun, many package deals include at least some of your meals and drinks. Hotel Zone resorts tend to offer more than those located Downtown. Still, Downtown does offer some of the best hotels in Cancun, Mexico, so do some checking around if you think you’d like to stay here instead of at one of the busier hotels in the Cancun hotel zone.
iii) Budget-Friendly Hotels
There’s no shortage of cheap hotels in Cancun, Mexico; in fact, most options – even some that might be considered luxurious – are pretty affordable, particularly if your travel dates fall outside the high season. Be sure to do some investigating since cheaper hotels can vary in terms of quality.
Most Cancun hotels feature swimming pools and air conditioning. Some of the best places to stay in Cancun have restaurants, small bars, and even small nightclubs onsite. Some cater to families, while others are more popular with couples and groups of friends. Some are even pet-friendly!
Staying for an extended period? Want access to a kitchen? If so, a studio apartment might be the perfect option and an excellent alternative to even the best all-inclusive hotels in Cancun, particularly if you’re interested in saving money. Just like standard hotel rooms and suites, these are available in Downtown as well as in the Hotel Zone.
Cancun might not be a backpacking destination, but its location right on the Riviera Maya and its proximity to Mayan Ruins, including Chichen Itza, make it the perfect stopping-off point. You can find quite a few inexpensive hostels in Cancun, which might be the best places to stay in Cancun for solo travelers, couples, and small families on a tight budget and larger groups traveling together. Dorms give you a comfortable place to spend the night and secure lockers for stashing your gear.
Puerto Morelos: A secret gem without unnecessary noise!
Puerto Morelos is a small and rather laid-back town perched right in the middle of Cancun city and Playa del Carmen. This charming little village is a 25-minute drive away from Cancun International Airport along the Federal Highway 307, and 15-20 minutes from Cancun Hotel Zone.
Basically, it’s possible to stay at a hotel in Puerto Morelos and explore all that Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the island of Cozumel have to offer.
There are tons of things that make the classic city of Puerto Morelos dream-worthy. But its population of around 10,000 people is what qualifies it as a perfect getaway for honeymooners, couples, and digital nomads.
Notably, Puerto Morelos has successfully kept its accommodation low-key by shunning long chains of resorts and huge hotels. Most of the hotels at PM are isolated and are owned and operated by the locals. As you can imagine, this goes a long way in cutting the hustle and bustle that mark Spring Break at Cancun Hotel Zone.
Despite its distinct small-town vibe and sedate nature, though, Puerto Morelos is far from boring. This groovy little town boasts one of the largest barrier reefs in the world, which makes its beach water very warm and calm for the entire family. You’ll also find a coral reef and marine park a short distance from the town square and around 400 yards from the shore.
• Newlyweds and couples– the warm and dazzling blue waters of Puerto Morelos beaches without large crowds make it a once-in-a-lifetime destination for two.
• Families– Puerto Morelos is rarely packed with tourists, so it’s the ultimate family destination if you prefer maintaining a low-key.
• Nature enthusiasts– the coral reef and Marine Park (a.k.a Mesoamerican Reef) is a must-visit for snorkelers and divers. You’ll also find Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marin Botanical Gardens, which boasts a wide array of plants and over 220 animal species, including iguanas and spider monkeys.
Spoiler: this reef is home to 3 of the most critically endangered turtles in the world.
• Modern-day adventures– the charming small-town style of Puerto Morelos, coupled with its rich culture and flora and fauna, make it perfect for travelers looking for off-the-beaten-track spots in the Riviera Mayan.
Highlights of the best things to do in Puerto Morelos
• Swim with dolphins at Delphinus Puerto Morelos.
• Snorkel in the crystal-clear, warm, and inviting waters of the Mesoamerican reef (insider hint: you’ll need to book a tour for this as independent snorkeling isn’t allowed).
• Catch a lancha (boat) for a fishing trip beyond the reef. Most of these captains are very friendly, and the prices are low and negotiable.
• Simply lazy about on the beach and build sandcastles. The beach right off the town square is a perfect spot. You could also stroll away from it all on the uninhabited coastline north of town.
• Visit and swim in the cenotes nearby. Las Mojarras cenote is the closest to the town and has hammocks where visitors relax after swimming. KinHA is a little bit far (20km off the highway) but offers a lot for families, including diving platforms, restrooms, and ATV trails.
Isla Mujeres- Island of Women
It’s impossible to talk of the coolest places to stay around Cancun without mentioning Isla Mujeres. This magical Caribbean island is just a short ferry ride away from the northern coast of Cancun city and Hotel Zone: and it’s a true paradise with infinite attractions and activities for the curious traveler.
Hint: Selina Hotel Isla Mujeres was the very first hotel on this island. Over 4 decades after its establishment, the location of this accommodation facility plus its fully-equipped co-living apartments still make it a top recommendation if you want the best vacation spot near Cancun.
This 4-mile long island’s shallow bright turquoise water and white unspoiled beaches make it a must-visit destination if you want maximum relaxation. Its deep holiday sensation is further enhanced by a laid-back vibe and the fact that it’s not cluttered with resort hotels like Cancun’s Hotel Zone.
Most travelers come to Isla Mujeres because it’s home to some of the world’s most gorgeous white-sand beaches. In addition, this island is among the best places to swim with whale sharks in the world. If this is in your bucket list, you may want to plan your Cancun trip between June and September.
The underwater museum of art (MUSA) is another spectacular view that you really don’t want to miss, even if you’re not staying in Isla.
Families– golf cart rental services make it very easy to explore Isla Mujeres with kids. This tropical island paradise also has expansive, shallow, and clean beaches that are friendly for most children.
Beach bums– the soft white sand coupled with calm, crystal-clear water around this island makes it super perfect for relaxing, meditating, and relieving stress.
Snorkelers and divers– a year-round dive destination, Isla
Mujeres offers memorable encounters with whale sharks and mantas. Many of the diving sites are generally shallow and, therefore, ripe for family diving expeditions. Seasoned scuba divers and snorkelers can explore the Sleeping Sharks caves and several shipwrecks around the island.
Couples– if you’re looking for a more tranquil, relaxed, and romantic getaway with your spouse, Isla Mujeres has a couple of adults-only all-inclusive resorts awaiting.
Highlights of the best things to do in Isla Mujeres
• Rent a golf cart and explore the entire island
• Snorkel with whale sharks between June and September
• Sunbathe and soak in the sandy goodness of Playa Posada and Playa Garrafon on the southwestern shore
• Visit the tortugranja- a small but interesting turtle sanctuary that protects hawksbill, loggerheads, and green turtles from extinction.
• Enjoy snorkeling and wreck ship diving
• Experience the awe-inspiring sunrise and sunsets. The cliffs at Punta Sur are a romantic spot to catch an early sea breeze and spectacular sun rays. Close the day by sitting and viewing the sunset and the sky color change at Playa Norte.
Tips for Traveling to Cancun and Getting Around
You can find flights to Cancun International Airport from just about any point on the globe – it’s truly one of the world’s most popular travel destinations! Once you’ve arrived, you can easily take a taxi or one of the airport buses to your hotel, although some properties offer shuttles and prepaid taxis as part of their travel packages. Taxis can be pre-booked online as well, which is a fantastic idea, particularly if you’re planning to visit during the high season.
It’s true that you can rent a car in Cancun, but there’s really no need to. Parking isn’t easy to come by since almost everyone uses taxis or takes public transportation, and the local traffic patterns can be pretty challenging for those who aren’t familiar with them. The best option for traveling around is to take the bus.
Cancun’s Bus System
Cancun’s buses range from ultra-basic to fairly fancy (some have Wi-Fi onboard). All of them do a great job of getting you from point A to point B. If you opt to take a bus from the airport to the downtown bus depot, the trip will take about 20 minutes. From there, you can transfer to a city bus or take a taxi to your hotel.
The city buses are impossible to miss. Once you’ve arrived at your hotel, unpacked, and feel ready for adventure, you can walk down the street until you come to a sign with an image of a bus on it. Stand there and wait, and soon enough, a bus will come along. In the Hotel Zone, buses travel up and down the strip, making regular stops at beaches and shopping centers.
Downtown Cancun buses follow four basic routes with a variety of stops along the way:
• R-1 goes to the Cancun bus station, Mercado 23, Plaza 2000, Wal-Mart, and Puerto Juarez.
• R-2 and R-15 go to Mercado 28 and Wal-Mart.
• R-27 goes up and down Tulum avenue with a stop at Plaza las Americas. Plaza las Americas has a colectivo stand where you can catch a minivan to Playa del Carmen. The colectivo only runs between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., so you’ll want to pay close attention to the time if you use this option.
This is just a brief overview of the bus system – there are lots of stops and outgoing routes. If you plan to travel by bus, it’s a very good idea to get a schedule from your hotel and talk to locals who are familiar with the system.
Last but not least, be sure to keep a small supply of Peso coins with you while using city buses since this is the preferred form of payment. Some drivers will accept American dollars, but most won’t provide any change if you pay with U.S. currency.
5 Things to Remember When Traveling to Cancun
1. The resorts and hotels at Cancun are not all about booze-loving spring breakers. Others are geared toward families with kids, honeymooners, and couples who want a low-key vacation.
2. Most hotels, restaurants, and cab drivers will accept payment in the U.S. dollar. However, it’s wise to stick to pesos to avoid excessive exchange rates and unnecessary arguments.
3. While it’s critical to stay hydrated during your time at Cancun, keep in mind that you’ll need bottled water: tap water in Cancun is not safe.
4. Cancun hurricane season falls between August and November. If you plan to take advantage of the low hotel rates during this period, we recommend purchasing travel insurance.
5. Party animals looking for the best adrenaline-filled nightlife scenes should book their trip in March during spring break. If you’re planning to have quiet relaxation time, you may want to consider another time of the year. Alternatively, you could consider getting accommodation in another laid-back neighborhood, such as Puerto Morelos. Hotels here are less noisy and have slightly lower rates (win-win).
5 Tips when Traveling to Cancun
• Stock up on sunblock at home. It’s darn expensive at the tourist shops in Cancun.
• Grab the bus if you want to get around on a tight budget. They are safe, clean, and timely.
• Learn a few basic Spanish phrases. It will go a long way when interacting with the locals and gaining their respect.
• Cancun offers every caliber of accommodation. If you’re on a budget, you’ll be better off staying at Downtown, Cancun.
• Factor in a 10% tip in your budget when traveling to Cancun.
What to avoid when traveling to Cancun
• Walking alone at night- while the Hotel Zone is generally safe, you owe it to yourself to be in a group, especially when walking in the night.
• Drinking tap water- even if you’re assured that the water is filtered to safe standards, keep in mind that a change in water might trigger stomach problems.
• Exchanging dollars for pesos at the airport- avoid the money exchange booths at the international arrival terminals. Be wise and exchange your money at the bank-affiliated ATMs around the airport as they offer a standard rate.
• Losing your tourist card- you’ll receive a Migratory Tourist Form (FMT) when you arrive in Mexico. Store it safely together with your passport as you’ll need it when exiting the country. Losing it often attracts a fine of not less than $60.
Cancun safety- what should you know?
Mexico might have been on the spot for being dangerous due to drug-related crime. But we’ll tell you what- despite the bad rap, most touristic destinations in this artsy and colorful country are considered generally safe to travel.
Narrowing down to Cancun, you’ll realize that its crime rate is much lower than other Mexican cities. Precisely, Downtown and the Hotel Zone are considered very safe for tourists, although the latter is the safest.
Of course, some areas or instances will feel relatively unsafe, like every other touristic destination. But using your common sense, traveling smart, and being aware of your surroundings at all times should boost your level of safety.
Emergency phone numbers
In addition to staying out of trouble and sketchy situations, this reference list has some critical emergency numbers that may come in handy during your stay in Cancun:
• Cancun Hotel Zone Police 885-0569
• Tourist Assistance police 884-8073
• Police 884-1913
• Traffic police 884-0710
• Red Cross 884-1616
• Fire Department 884-1202
If you’ve come this far, we hope you’re now familiar with the best places to stay in Cancun. So, take your time and think about your itinerary and how to get the best out of your tour. As you’ve probably realized, there’s no shortage of places to stay near Cancun and things to do regardless of the type of traveler – in fact, you might find yourself booking subsequent trips to this magical, relaxing piece of paradise.