Caribbean Travelweb

Guide To Cancun


Just over 30 years old, Cancun is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. Situated at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, the area is equally famous for both the modern and the ancient. All of the tourist related areas on the beaches are brand new. The Yucatan, however, has been known for many years as the site for ancient Mayan ruins.

Shaped in the form of the number seven, the area’s Hotel Zone, is lined with deluxe hotels, restuarants and nightclubs, and the downtown area, offers shopping, a theater and convention center. Over 2 million people flock to the shores of Cancun annually, and there is good reason for this. The local environment is stunning; the beaches are pristine and the sea here is perfect for swimming and water activities; added to this, within a short traveling distance visitors can find themselves at the heart of some of the most amazing and breathtaking archaeological wonders of the world.

Just outside of Cancun, you can tour the Mayan Riviera and check out Playa del Carmen, Xcaret and Xel-Ha, ancient Mayan ports that have been converted into modern-day paradises. Also nearby is Tulum, a fascinating archaeological site perched on the shores of the Caribbean. It was the only walled city built by the Mayans. Also nearby and easily enjoyed as a one day trip are Isla Mujeres and Cozumel where you can enjoy the experience of snorkeling and scuba diving along the coral reefs.

Getting There

Cancun’s international airport is the country’s second busiest airport after Mexico City. There are direct flights to practically all the world’s major cities and connections to other cities in Southeast Mexico and Central America.

Cancun occupies a strategic geographical position on the continent and, being the premier Caribbean tourism destination, Cancun’s airport has become very important to the region. Twenty-one airlines arrive and depart from Cancun for domestic and international flights and four airlines have formed a regional flight network linking cities in the Maya World.

Located just eight kilometers (5 miles) from the city, five kilometers (3 miles) from the Hotel Zone and 379 kilometers (235.5 miles) from state capital, Chetumal, the airport covers an 800-hectare area (1977 acres).

Airlines Servicing Cancun

Airlines that fly to Cancun from Mexico City include: Aero Mexico, Interjet, Volaris; from the USA: American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Jetblue, and from Europe: AirBerlin, Air France, British Airways, Air Europa and Aeroflot.

Entry Requirements

Note: No brief account of the complex Mexican Passport/Visa regulations is likely to be fully successful and visitors are advised to use the following for general guidance. Non-compliance with visa regulations will result in fines and transportation (at the carrier's expense) to the visitor's country of origin.

PASSPORTS: Passport valid for at least 1 year after date of entry is required by all

Tourist cards: Available only to people entering Mexico on vacation, for reasons of health, or to engage in scientific, artistic or sporting activities which are neither remunerative nor lucrative. Valid for the holder only. Other persons (including minors) travelling on the same passport must have their own card. The card is a single-entry document and is issued free of charge. The Consular office retains the right to request further evidence of the applicant's intention to visit Mexico as a tourist whenever such intention has not been established to the Consul's satisfaction. The same right applies with regard to evidence of the applicant's financial means to sustain him/herself while in Mexico.

Note: (a) Visitors eligible for Tourist Cards (see below) can be issued with Tourist Cards by any Mexican Consulate, on board the plane or at the point of entry in Mexico. (b) Tourist Cards must be kept by the visitor during the entire length of stay as they will have to be presented and stamped on leaving.

Nationals of the following countries are eligible for a Tourist card: (a) 1. EU countries for stays of up to 180 days (except nationals of Austria, France, Greece and Luxembourg who can stay for up to 90 days);
(b) 2. Australia, Canada, Japan and the USA for stays of up to 180 days;
(c) Andorra, Argentina, Bermuda, Chile, Costa Rica, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Switzerland and Uruguay for stays of up to 180 days;
(d) Czech Republic, Israel, Monaco and Poland for up to 90 days;
(e) Korea (Rep. of) for up to 60 days;
(f) Brazil and Venezuela for up to 30 days.
For requirements and regulations relevant to other nationalities, contact the Mexican Embassy.

VISAS: Required by all except holders of a Tourist Card or visa-replacing document. Nationals of the following countries require a special authorisation from the Ministry of the Interior in Mexico: Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, China (PR), Croatia, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, India, Jordan, Korea (DPR), Lebanon, Libya, Macedonia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Turkey (unless permanent residents of UK), Vietnam and Western Sahara region. Authorisation takes approximately 3 to 4 weeks.

Application requirements: Tourist Visa: (a) Passport with minimum of 6 months' validity. (b) Application form. (c) 1 passport-size photo. (d) Original return ticket. (e) Fee (payable in cash only). (f) Proof of sufficient funds (US$50 per day) to cover length of stay. (g) Postal applications must be accompanied by a covering letter specifying the purpose of the trip and the dates of entry and departure. Applications should be made in a stamped, self-addressed envelope with recorded or registered delivery.
Business Visitors Card: (a)-(b) and, (c) 2 passport-size photos. (d) Letter from applicant's employer accepting financial responsibility to cover the applicant's stay, which also states the nature of business to be undertaken and the name and address of the business contact(s) in Mexico. For visits of more than 30 days, a multiple-entry card is needed, as well as a letter from the local Chamber of Commerce (or Department of Trade and Industry) confirming the sponsoring company is a member of either body. (e) Fee (payable in cash, postal order or company cheque). (f) Postal applications must be accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed envelope with recorded delivery.

Note: 3. If intending to undertake business or work of a technical or scientific nature, normal visa regulations do not apply, and it is necessary to obtain a Visitors Card. It is vital to contact the local Mexican consular representative well in advance of the intended date of departure in order to secure the necessary authorisation (see address section). Non-British Nationals seeking to visit Mexico on business are advised to check with the Consulate regarding visa requirements and fees.

Helpful Visitor Information

Getting Around
Tourist information is available at most of the resort hotels. You'll also find the tourism office in Cancun City on the east side of Avenida Tulum between Avenidas Coba and Uxmal. It's open daily 9 am-9 pm.

You can explore the Hotel Zone on your own by taking a public bus or taxi along Paseo Kukulkan, the main thoroughfare (and almost the only street). The distances between resort hotels can be long, however, so walking may not be practical. You'll definitely need transportation to get from the Hotel Zone to Cancun City.

Both the Hotel Zone and Cancun City are considered safe to walk around,

While it isn't necessary to rent a car while in the Cancun Downtown / Hotel Zone area, you may decide to venture further south to the Mayan Riviera, Playa Del Carmen, Chichén Itzá, etc. Rental cars, primarily standard-shift sub compacts and four-wheel-drive vehicles, are available at the airport and throughout Cancun. The standard rate is about $50 USD per day for the car, tax, and insurance. You can also rent an automatic car with air-conditioning at a much higher price. You can also hire a big, late-model car with air-conditioning and an English- speaking chauffeur at many hotel travel desks. You must have a license and be at least 21 years old. Driving in the Yucatan is on the right. Streets and roads outside Cancun are not always up to the standards you may be used to. If you drive on the mainland, keep your tank filled-gas stations are scarce.
- Rental Car and Driving Tips
- Look over the rental car and have the rental agent write down anything that is wrong with it, no matter how small. When you return the car you may be charged for even the most minor scratches (even on the bumper) if they aren't noted on the paperwork. Also, make sure the lights and wipers work. You can't be too careful with this process - they will get you for anything not written down.
- Buy the Mexican insurance. Yes, sometimes rental car insurance comes with your credit card, but this doesn't work the same way in Mexico. Although your own insurance says it covers you in Mexico, they generally mean they will reimburse you for damages. If there are problems and you do not have the Mexican insurance you may be required to pay the damages before you are allowed to leave the country, and can be held in jail until the money arrives. Even with Mexican insurance, there is often a $1000 deductible you have to pay if the car is damaged.
- Pass with caution. Passing is a major cause of car accidents around here. Other drivers are probably going much faster than you realize - so don't pass unless you have more than enough room. Oncoming traffic will sometimes pass when they are heading straight at you - and they are expecting YOU to move onto the shoulder to give them room to pass! If you pass without enough room, the driver in your lane and the one coming the other direction will not make it easy for you to pull back in.
- Avoid driving at night whenever possible. Things appear in the road without warning (cattle, people, etc.); some highways are poorly lit; some drivers don't even turn their lights on.
- Remember... Distance and speed limits are posted in kilometers instead of miles. To convert kilometers to miles, multiply kilometers by .62. (Something 100 kilometers away is 62 miles away; 100 kilometers per hour is 62 miles per hour, etc...)
Military Check Points. There are military check points at all state borders and sometimes just South of the Cancun airport and in Tulum, often looking for illegal drugs. The soldiers working there are generally very polite. They ask where you are coming from and going and what you did there. Tell the truth. If you are at a state border, they will also ask about agricultural products like fruit or chickens.
- Speed Traps. Around Cancun there are several speed traps where local police wait for rental cars to come speeding by so they can stop them and try for a bribe. Here is your best defense - do not speed in and around Cancun, particularly in the hotel zone and between Cancun and the airport.
If you run out of gas or break down, don't leave the vehicle; Mexico's "Green Angels," part of the Tourism Department, patrol the main roads and will lend you assistance.
- Gasoline is sold in liters (3.78 liter=l gallon). Nova (blue pump) is leaded; Magna Sin (green pump) is unleaded. Only cash is accepted. Most stations close by 10 PM. There is no self-service, and it is customary to tip your attendant with a few coins.

Scooters and mopeds can be rented for about US$25-$30 a day anywhere in the Hotel Zone. But be aware that speeding traffic, particularly along Avenida Kukulkan, makes this a dangerous way to travel. Helmets are required by Mexican law.

Taxis are available at all of the resorts. Expect to pay US$4-$6 for a ride along Paseo Kukulkan. Be prepared to bargain, and settle on the fare before entering the vehicle.

Public buses run along Paseo Kukulkan in the Hotel Zone and stop at paradas (bus stops), which are marked with kilometer posts. Buses also connect to the commercial area along Avenida Tulum in Cancun City. You can take the bus anywhere along Kukulkan for less than US$1

Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 3 pm, some until 5 pm. A few open on Saturdays from 10 am to 1:30 pm, and there are banks and ATMs in the Riviera Maya.

Duty free shops can be found at the forum by the Sea Plaza, La Isla Plaza, Cancun International Airport and Puerta Maya.

If you want bargains, head to the mainland to Cancun City's outdoor markets lining the east side of Avenida Tulum-but note that while prices may be lower there, the quality can be, too. Market vendors may not accept credit cards; even if they do, you can often get a better price if you offer cash instead of credit cards. Almost all stores take U.S. dollars as well as pesos-often you'll find prices marked in both currencies-or even just U.S. dollars! Bargaining is expected in the markets in Cancun City, but plan to pay the marked price in shops in the Hotel Zone. Almost all the shops in the Hotel Zone take major credit cards. Shopping is a popular pastime in the Hotel Zone, but don't expect many bargains in the shopping malls. In fact, you can expect prices to be higher than in other parts of Mexico. The shopping malls contain everything from souvenir shops to internationally known boutiques-resort wear and handicrafts are among the best buys. Handicrafts include handwoven fabrics, blown glass and jewelry. The largest shopping malls are Plaza Caracol, Plaza Kukulkan (midway along Paseo Kukulkan) and Plaza Flamingo.

During the day Cancun is pretty laid back. That changes at night when both the Hotel Zone and downtown start rocking with music. It’s all here: salsa, meringue, flamenco, reggae, jazz, classical, disco, rock and roll, hip-hop and techno. Many restaurants do double duty as party centers with “all you can drink” specials and waiters who don’t hesitate to get up on stage and dance in between serving drinks. Cancun Discos and dance bars usually have taped music accompanied to high tech laser light shows with the occasional live band thrown in for good measure. The Cancun nightclubs, especially the Latin Clubs, all have live music and import some of the hottest bands from Latin America. Barhopping during happy hour (4 PM – 7 PM) is a great way to check out the different hotels and evening cruises have a high-energy, party atmosphere. For a taste of how the locals like to party head to one of the Salsa clubs or check out the clubs in the downtown area. There is usually a free evening concert in the downtown Parque de las Palapas and close by are some excellent jazz clubs featuring local musicians. Just choose your spot and you can dance until the wee hours of the morning.

110 volts, same as in the U.S.

Most hotels and restaurants use purified water, but you should be safe and drink bottled water whenever possible - don't let yourself get dehydrated because you're afraid to drink the water.

Dress in Cancun is very casual with the accent on comfort. Remember to pack comfortable walking shoes. The activities at the hotels and the area dictate sporting clothes. In the evenings, you may want to dress up, but not too much. Rubber soled shoes are recommended for tours to archeological sites. Boots, long sleeve light cotton shirts and long trousers are best for those interested in jungle treks. A light jacket, shawl or sweater is advisable for the evenings of November, December and January.

Tips in Mexico are generally 15%, tipping cab drivers is not expected, and tipping the maid in the hotel a couple of dollars a day (per room) is greatly appreciated.

Time Zone
Equal to U.S. Central Time

Activities and Attractions

Historical Sights

Chichen Itza
Chichén Itzá, arguably the most impressive Maya site on the Yucatán peninsula, lies about three hours from Playa del Carmen. Its famous pyramid offers a challenging climb and a breathtaking view over the jungle...

This grand Mayan site lies less than two hours from Playa del Carmen, and is different from the other big sites in the Yucatan. First of all, it's situated by four natural lakes, which is a rare sight in the Yucatan. These lakes are believed to have given the city its name, which means Waters stirred by wind...

Ek Balam
This little gem of a Mayan city is rarely visited and you may very well end up strolling around all by yourself among temples and jungle. It's a bit off the beaten path since it's located about 20 minutes north of Valladolid.

Only a short drive south of Tulum, there's a nice little site with very few visitors. This site goes under two names, Muyil and Chanyaxche. It is not big, but there are a few interesting buildings and the historical significance is apparent.

The Mayan ruins of Tulum, only an hour from Playa del Carmen, undoubtedly has one of the most breathtaking settings of any city past or present. The only significant large scale Mayan ruin on the coast, it is perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.


For the Golf enthusiast Cancun is home to two beautiful 18 holes championship golf courses. One is the Pok-Ta-Pok course which runs along the island, between the main Boulevard and the Nichupté Lagoon. The second one is located next to Ruinas del Rey.


The food in Cancun is similar to that of Yucatan, the state neighbouring Quinatana Roo. The indigenous influence on cuisine is perhaps greater than in many other parts of the country. Corn is the staple food, and is made into tortillas, tamales, and an infinite variety of snacks. Tropical fruits are abundant, as are delicious varieties of seafood like shrimp and lobster.

A fiery type of hot sauce is made from habanero peppers, red onions, and vinegar, and a small amount goes a long way. Tamales are different from the small variety wrapped in corn husks that are served in most parts of the country; this southern variety is larger, often a meal in itself, and wrapped and steamed in banana leaves, with a filling of pork or chicken.

A traditional dish is cochinita pibil, in which pork is bathed in a mixture of bitter orange juice, achiote, oregano, onions and spices and cooked wrapped in banana leaves until the meat falls off the bone. The meat is then shredded and served in tacos.

Another unusual dish is papadzules, a dish where a brilliant green sauce is made from pumpkin seeds and other ingredients and served over tortillas filled with chopped hard boiled eggs.

There are several kinds of sauces typical of the region, which are bases for cooking meat of all sorts, and which are made from some of the dozens of varieties of chilis, nuts, seeds and spices available locally. Chirmole and pipian are two of these.

There is a traditional kind of fish prepared with achiote and other spices and cooked on a barbecue or in an earthen pit, and called tikinxic in Maya.

Of course, Cancun is a modern city, and you can find almost any kind of food there: bakeries selling fresh bread, supermarkets selling a variety of fresh and packaged goods, restaurants serving foods traditional in other parts of the country; open air markets selling fruits, vegetables and snacks; taco stands, tiny corner stores, restaurants preparing top notch international cuisine.


Cancun is a happening place with a busy night life. Some say the city comes to life after 10 p.m. There are discos, bars, and places to dance or listen to anything from rock to salsa to reggae.

Cancun has drawn people from all over Mexico, and has an eclectic variety of music to match its diverse population: sones from Veracruz, rancheras from the northern states, mariachis from central Mexico; as well as musical styles from all over Latin America: cumbias, calypso, salsa, reggae, merengue.


The hotels in Cancun are arranged along several miles of coastline in the Hotel Zone (zona hotelera.) Some of these beaches are public, belonging to the Mexican government, and some are resort beaches, for the guests at a particular resort. All the public beaches are accessible from the highway, though to get to some there will be a short walk. Most people plan their stay in Cancun according to what beach their hotel is on.

The best beaches for swimming are those along the north coast, because the water is protected by the island of Isla Mujeres. The beaches on the east coast are not protected, and strong winds and currents make swimming much more dangerous. The northern beaches are where you can catch boats (cruises, shuttles, water taxis) across to Isla Mujeres.

The sand on most beaches in Cancun is white powder, which sticks to wet skin but has the advantage of being less hot than coarse sand and easier to walk on – and the white against the turquoise of the sea is very refreshing to look at!
Water temperature is good for swimming all year round, with the hottest temperatures being reached in August and September when the water is decidedly warm.

Watersports and Outdoor Activities

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

Diving from the mainland of the Yucatan penninsula offers an array of choices. From the shallow and colorful reefs off Cancun and Playa Del Carman to the miles of cenotes that have made the Yucatan one of the top cave diver destinations. Farther south is the newest destination, the Chinchorro Banks, part of the second largest barrier reef in the world.

Offshore, visibility is an average of 100 ft. (30 m), inshore expect a little less. The cenotes offer crystal clear visibility at all times.


If you'd like to try deep-sea fishing, contact Club Lagoon, Wild Goat Marina (phone 83-0062) or Aqua Tours (phone 83-0227). Catch includes swordfish, blue and white marlin, dolphin (the fish, not the mammal), shark, wahoo and barracuda, depending upon time of year. Expect to pay about US$200-$300 for half a day and up to US$400-$500 for a full day.

Other Outdoor Avtivities

Reserva Natural Tres Rios, Cancun
This park, only 30 minutes away from the craziness of Cancun, offers horseback rides along the coast.
Attraction type: Nature reserve; Park

Aquaworld, Cancun
Waterpark featuring waterslides, snorkeling, swimming and scuba diving.

Playa Delfines, Cancun
Undeveloped beach provides a great view of Cancun's Hotel Zone.

Parque Nizuc, Cancun
Water park featuring slides, snorkeling and lots of dolphins: perfect for families.

Barco Pirates Night, Cancun
Billing itself as a "floating disco," this ship will take you on a dastardly and piratical night-time cruise.

Playa Tortugas, Cancun
This beach is lined with open-air cafes, restaurants and bars, making it a perfect place to scope out the crowd.

Wet 'n Wild, Cancun
Cool off after a hot day of touring at this family-oriented water park.

Playa Caracol, Cancun
The touristy center of the region, with prestigious hotels, clusters of shopping plazas and the convention center nearby.

Playa Langosta, Cancun
Take the ferry from this beach to Isla Mujeres.

Playa Las Perlas, Cancun
This beautiful beach has some of the safest waters in the region for swimming.

Playa Linda, Cancun
A ferry runs from this pretty beach to Isla Mujeres.

Playa Gaviota Azul, Cancun
This scenic beach is pretty to look at, but watch out in the water: the undercurrents can make it a dangerous place to swim.

Playa Chac Mool, Cancun
Take a dip in the warm waters of this beach.

Playa Marlin, Cancun
Lounge on the smooth, white, broad stretch of sand of this beach while gazing at the often rugged surf.

Playa Ballenas, Cancun
This pretty beach is conveniently located near some major resort hotels.

San Miguelito Beach, Cancun
Throngs of tourists horde this pretty beach, located near some popular hotels.

Playa Las Balinas, Cancun
Tourists flock to this beautiful beach.

Nautibus, Cancun
A cruise ship with an underwater viewing deck to see the beautiful Caribbean reef in dry, air-conditioned comfort.
Attraction type: Ship

Gran Marina de Cancun, Cancun
At this marina, you can hire your own yacht or simply gaze at others owned by various celebrities.

Subsee, Cancun
View marine life without getting in the water from this glass-bottom boat.

Crucero Cancun Queen, Cancun
A popular ship offering day cruises with dining and dancing.

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