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 part two of our three-part 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 magnificent 14-mile long island.

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. The first thing you should know is that this amazing destination is divided into two main areas, each with its own special feel and a variety of attractions. In fact, there are so many things to do here that we’re dedicating part three of our series to the subject! For now, enjoy a quick glimpse. Knowing 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.

Hotel Zone: Home to Many Top Hotels in Cancun

Most tourists opt to stay at one of the beachfront properties in the Hotel Zone, which is located on the narrow strip of land that’s shaped like the number 7, and which is 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 a variety of 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 home to many of the best places to stay in Cancun. It’s 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. 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!

cancun beaches

Cancun’s beaches, shopping and attractions are moments away from most hotels.

Downtown Cancun Mexico

Downtown is the second main area where you’ll find Cancun Mexico hotels. This portion is located on the mainland, closer to the airport and a short distance from beaches and the Hotel Zone. If you’re looking for a more relaxed but still 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 for dancing, try the Han Social Room or Grand Mambo Cafe.

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!

Types of Accommodations

There are so many Cancun hotels to choose from, it can be tough to make a decision about which of the best places to stay in Cancun is right for you. This mini-guide breaks down the most common types of 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!

Vacation Rentals

If you’d like to rent a villa or a luxury residence instead of at one of the hotels in Cancun, 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.

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.

In the Downtown area, you’ll enjoy easy access to everything from bustling markets to wonderful restaurants with local cuisine. 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 Cancun hotel zone.

cancun hotels

Smaller Cancun hotels offer greater intimacy.

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!

Studio Apartments

Staying for an extended period? Want access to a kitchen? If so, a studio apartment might be the perfect option and a good 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.

Hostels

Cancun might not be a backpacking destination, but its location right on the Riviera Maya and its proximity to Mayan Ruins including Chicen 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, along with secure lockers for stashing your gear.

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 simply 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.

Now that you’re familiar with the best places to stay in Cancun, it’s time to think about the rest of your itinerary. In part three of our Cancun travel series, we’re providing a guide to local attractions and activities. There’s no shortage of things to do – in fact, you might find yourself booking subsequent trips to this magical, relaxing piece of paradise.

< Read part 1

> Read part 3

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