Cancun is the racy Mexican city that sits on the Caribbean Sea, about a cigar puff away from Cuba.
Incidentally, I’ve visited Cuba twice and written this post on 20 things to know before you go to Cuba, covering things like currency, wifi, shopping, and more about what to expect.
But back to Cancun! It’s famous for the long white sandy beach lined in resorts, a wild night life and day trips for exploring fantastic Mayan ruins.
The Cancun vibe
Cancun is the hive of activity as I write (I visited in April – pre Covid!) because the weather is not too hot, nor too cold, and it’s Spring Break.
Americans from the south, mid west and beyond have descended upon the all-inclusive hotels lining “The Strip”, aka Boulevard Kukulkan, which is a narrow strip of roadway and beach affording the hotels premium sea views.
I have listed three awesome things about Cancun below, but you might also like to read 35 things to do in Cancun if you’re spending more time here than I.
The great thing about Cancun’s all-inclusive resorts is the ease when travelling with friends – no awkward bill splitting. It’s already paid for!
Where to stay in Cancun
I stayed at Secrets The Vine. It’s an all-inclusive property for adults only and it really impressed me.
This would be my pick for a romantic vacation in Cancun – no kids allowed!
Don’t expect long lines at a buffet here! Instead they have six different restaurants and cafes catering to various tastes from steaks to Japanese to Mexican and even a sports bar and a piano bar.
An infinity pool is surrounded by sun loungers and cabanas, but the trick is to be up early to reserve your primo seat with a book. I’m talking about 6.30am!
In the evening, take a taxi down the Strip to the centre of the Cancun nightlife and shopping. Here you’ll find shopping malls with all the big names and labels, but also lots of local vendors selling souvenirs (I have a new found love of cushion covers to decorate my couch from around the world and got a cool one here).
You’ll find local bars, American chain bars and the old favourites from the Caribbean like Senor Frogs for a night on the Mayan tiles.
If you’re travelling through Mexico City, you can check out places to stay in Mexico City here.
Take a day trip to Chichen Itza
No visit to Cancun should be concluded without a visit to the famous Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.
In the state of Yucatan (which means “I don’t understand”), named by the Spanish when they met the Mayans, it’s a full day trip from Cancun (about two hours drive each way) and over one million visitors come to stare at it every year.
This is the site of the largest Mayan city built about 700-900 AD and was just abandoned one day. No one knows why for sure, but it wasn’t invaded. It might have had something to do with food supplies as this state is largely made of limestone and very difficult to farm.
Today the entire Chichen Itza site is surrounded by vendors selling souvenirs and haggling is expected. (You might like to read my post on 14 tips for how to haggle to get the best a bargain!)
I met this gorgeous 90-year old Mayan woman who embroiders handkerchiefs and sells them for a dollar. I had to buy five!
I was also fascinated by the stadium where two teams would play with a heavy rubber ball weighing about 4kg that they could touch only with their knees, hips and forearms and had to try and get it through an impossibly high and small concrete hoop in a scene that would not look out of place on Harry Potter’s Quiditch field.
But get this: It was the cruelest game in the world! The losing captain was decapitated by the winning captain at the end of the game. Apparently it was an honour to be sacrificed, and because of that some say it was the winning captain who was beheaded. Carvings in the surrounding stone walls depict the astonishing scene.
Spend the day swimming at Xel Ha
If you’re visiting Cancun with the family, then a whole day at Xel Ha Water Park will be one of the best things you can do. (Cost about US$75 per adult, half price for kids under 12 and free under 5).
Dismiss all thoughts of any water park with plastic slides you’ve ever been to and think natural lagoons, connected to the sea, filled with tropical fish which you can snorkel with. Or grab an inflatable tube and bob around the nooks and crannies of natural inlets to explore the sealife.
Xel Ha is about an hour south of Cancun, very near the ruins of Tulum, so you should plan to visit there too to see the best cenotes – water holes – that you can swim in as well as more incredible Mayan ruins.
Xel Ha is another all-inclusive attraction. That means all your food and drink (including alcohol) as well as access to all areas of the park including zip lines and cliff top jumps.
For an extra charge you can try “snuba”, a cross between scuba diving and snorkelling as you have a hose attached to oxygen from your snorkel so can dive down wherever you like. Swimming with dolphins and manatees and riding the zip bike through the air are also extra costs.
There are lots of cenotes, natural water caves in the limestone terrain, and bars are conveniently placed for that sudden daiquiri (bring US dollar bills or pesos for tipping).
They are very protective of their marine environment and will swap your sunscreen for their own sachets of biodegradable stuff (you collect your bottle when you leave) so as not to affect the water – too much.
I came to Cancun via a few days in fabulous Cabo on the Baja Peninsula, about two hours flight south of Los Angeles.