A note about Tulum hotels: Tulum’s hotels are simple and laid back. Don’t be expecting luxury amenities even if the price suggests that that’s what you’re getting. Service is on “Mexican Time” and might leave you disappointed if you’re expecting the sharp service of Cancun’s best resorts. That said, Tulum is my favorite beach spot along the coast (and has way better restaurants than Cancun or Playa del Carmen). Just be prepared for laid back, relaxed, and easy-going service and hotel staff.
Boutique, luxury hotel with 3 pools, beachfront service, and an exceptional restaurant. Their 2-bedroom Jasmine Penthouse sleeps up to 4 with 2 king beds, 2 bathrooms, an outdoor jacuzzi, ocean view terrace, and exclusive access to the hotel’s rooftop pool and bar. Located on an absolutely stunning, semi-private beach in Soliman Bay, about 10 km north of the Tulum ruins. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 875 4158 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
Rustic boutique hotel with spacious, family-friendly suites and a fantastic Mexican-Mediterranean fusion restaurant on a wide stretch of white sand beach. Spacious rooms offer up to 2 bedrooms and sleep families of 4 to 6, while the villa features 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a private pool. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 146 7737 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
Located near the far end of the beach road. It’s quieter here but you can still walk to a few restaurants. Presidential suite is luxurious and perfect for family of 4. Small pool just back from the beach. Hotel phone: +52 984 119 3484 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
A beachfront hotel that is beautifully decorated and centrally located. Family villa has 2 bunkbeds and a queen bed (in separate rooms). Beach here is beautiful. Good restaurants nearby. Hotel phone: +52 984 159 1696 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
Luxury, all-villa hotel in the Pueblo offering 1 to 3-bedroom suites sleeping families of 4 to 8, all with stocked kitchenettes and outdoor showers, some with outdoor bathtubs. Facilities and amenities include a gorgeous pool, in-room yoga and massage, free bicycles, and a cozy breakfast and lunch restaurant. Private dinners and tequila and mezcal tastings are available on request. Hotel phone: +52 984 240 5231 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
The best budget hotel in the beach zone, offering air-conditioned, open-plan family suites with 2 king beds and 1 sofa bed or 1 king and 1 queen, sleeping up to 5 guests. Their tiny restaurant serves breakfast until 3:00 p.m., plus they have a large communal kitchen for guests’ use. The hotel is on the jungle side of the road, a 30-second walk to the beach with free beach access at partner beach clubs. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 214 8914 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
Amazing, condo-style, boutique hotel with spacious 2 and 3-bedroom apartments, all with full kitchens and in-unit washers and dryers. There is a shared pool in the garden area, and guest have free access to the famous beach club at their sister property Coco Tulum. Located in the Pueblo (downtown), within walking or biking distance to several of Tulum’s best restaurants. Hotel phone: +55 4169 2072 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
Beach-chic, luxury hotel on a wide stretch of white, sandy beach with a rooftop infinity pool, playground, and free, weekly salsa dancing lessons. All open-plan suites are designed for 4 with a king-sized bed and a double twin trundle bed, a dual shower, and dual vanities; many suites include private plunge pools. Amazing food and drinks, a small spa, and friendly, attentive service round out the experience here. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 115 4726 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
Affordable, upscale, pet-friendly studio, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom condos, most with full kitchens, some with outdoor soaking tubs. This gated hotel in the Pueblo offers a pool, garden, free bicycles, complimentary breakfasts, and discounts at nearby beach clubs. The hotel partners with a Mayan collective to arrange jungle retreats with Mayan healing rituals, cooking classes, tours of Sian Ka’an, and more. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 115 4726 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
Rooms and suites are large, great for families, and steps from the sea. Centrally located on the beach road and an easy walk to several restaurants. Hotel phone: +52 984 879 0772 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
Large bungalows sleep a family of 5. Great location (closer to town than most hotels) with restaurants and ice cream shop steps away. The beach here is not great but it’s an easy bike ride to great sand. Hotel phone: +52 984 145 2602 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
Stylish boutique hotel in the brand new Aldea Zama neighborhood, halfway between the Pueblo and the beach. Spacious 1 and 2-bedroom suites sleep up to 6 guests. The main highlight is the hotel’s rooftop, which boasts an infinity pool, kids’ pool, infinity jacuzzi, and an outstanding bar and restaurant with jungle sunset views. Hotel phone: +52 984 231 1241 Hotel website • Check prices on Booking.com
Where to stay in Cancun: Isla Cancun (also known as the Hotel Zone) is shaped like a 7. Most resorts are on the back of the 7 and the beaches face east. The top of the 7 faces north and is semi-protected from direct ocean waves and has the most kid-friendly swimming. (The Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach is located along this stretch of protected beach.) Ciudad Cancun (or downtown Cancun) is located inland and is where you’ll find the cheapest hotels and the best local food.
The best kid-friendly tour in Cancun is the Cenote Day Tour which takes you to 4 amazing cenotes (see photo of my boys below) where you will swim, snorkel, and zipline. (Kids need to be 6 years or older.) Swimming in a cenote (a sinkhole filled with cool fresh water) is the highlight of any trip to the Yucatan and this is an easy way to see 4 really unique ones. Tour includes hotel pickup, lunch, snorkel gear, and life vests.
Looking for something less touristy? Try either Isla Mujeres (which has one of the most kid-friendly beaches in the Caribbean) or Tulum (90 minutes south of Cancun, great beaches, laid back boutique hotels).
Best time to visit: Cancun is a good year-round destination but the best weather for a family vacation is between December and April.
Upscale resort with an enormous pool, extensive spa, and award-winning dining. Suites can sleep families of 4 to 6 and range from junior to two-bedrooms, all with balconies and ocean views, some with jetted tubs. The Presidential Suite adds a rooftop plunge pool and full kitchen. The kids’ club for ages three to twelve boasts a water park, theater, game room, and night camp. The Grand Fiesta sits in a protected cove with the finest white sand and calm, turquoise water. Hotel phone: +52 998 881 3200 Hotel website • Check prices for Grand Fiesta Americana
Contemporary resort with an oceanfront infinity pool and a whirlpool. Rooms and one-bedroom suites all feature a private balcony. One-bedroom suites can comfortably fit a family of 4 or 5. The Presidential Suite adds a second balcony and an outdoor Jacuzzi. The active kids’ club for ages four to twelve has a pool and is shared with neighboring JW Marriott. Located on a wide, white stretch of swimmable beach with moderate waves. Hotel phone: +52 998 848 9600 Hotel website • Check prices for JW Marriott
Great for tweens and teens. All-inclusive, rock-themed resort with cascading infinity pools, three whirlpools, and a sandy, swimmable beach. Unique perks include complimentary guitars, mixing stations, record players, and use of a recording studio. Anyone over twelve can access the Music Lab, with professional instrument, DJing, and vocal lessons, culminating in a live performance at the end of their stay. All rooms have a private balcony and two-person Jacuzzi tub. Two-bedroom Family Suites can sleep a family of 5 to 7. Hotel phone: +52 998 881 3600 Hotel website • Check prices for the Hard Rock
Contemporary, all-inclusive resort with dolphins and three infinity pools. Some room and suites feature soaking tubs, swim up access, or club level perks. King suites can sleep a family of 4 or 5. Family amenities include a kids’ club with a mini-water park. Restaurants and bars offer international flavors and 24-hour room service. Located in a protected cove with soft sand and mild surf. Hotel phone: +52 998 848 7000 Hotel website • Check prices for Hyatt Ziva
Spacious suites in Puerto Morelos have up to four bedrooms and sleep up to thirteen guests, all with kitchenettes and whirlpool tubs. Some add washers and dryers, outdoor Jacuzzis, or private pools. The resort features an oceanfront pool, kids’ club, and spa. Choose the all-inclusive, breakfast plan, or room only to customize your stay. The beach is gorgeous and swimmable, though a tad rocky with occasional strong surf. Hotel phone: +52 998 872 8148 Hotel website • Check prices for Grand Residences
All-inclusive resort with five pools on a gorgeous beach with white sand, bright blue water, and moderate surf. All rooms come with balconies, while spacious Family Suites feature triple bunk beds and can sleep a family of five. Club level upgrades add Jacuzzis (indoor or outdoor) and a lagoon cruise. Family amenities include a baby club with a playroom for ages eighteen months to three years and a Kids’ Club for ages three to twelve, with a pirate ship and a castle pool with nine waterslides. Older kids and families have access to a small waterpark, billiards, video games, and mini-golf. Hotel phone: +52 998 848 9000 Hotel website • Check prices for Crown Paradise
Beachfront resort boasting two pools, stellar dining, and a tranquil spa. Their immersive kids’ and teens’ clubs offer a range of activities all day with night safaris on weekends and a video game area for teens. All rooms and suites include balconies and soaking tubs; some add private pools or Jacuzzis. Located on a swimmable white sand beach with crystal water and moderate waves. Hotel phone: +52 998 881 0808 Hotel website • Check prices for the Kempinski
Huge, all-inclusive resort featuring a water park, two pools, and a lazy river. Suites include whirlpools and private balconies; Grand Family suites are double-sized with three beds, a kids’ minibar, and an Xbox. Their expansive kids’ club houses a splash pad, black light mini-golf, and bumper cars. Excursions, dolphin swims, and more are covered by their resort credits program. The beach here, though, is not swimmable; instead, guests have access to the beach at their sister property Beach Palace. Hotel phone: +52 998 193 2010 Hotel website • Check prices for the Moon Palace
Family-friendly all-inclusive pick with three cascading pools, located on a sandy, swimmable beach. Spacious rooms and suites all have private balconies, some with jetted tubs or full kitchens. Villas have three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a full kitchen. Five to twelve-year-olds can join in the kids’ club activities, while all ages can sign up for dance and scuba lessons. Hotel phone: +52 998 881 0600 Hotel website • Check prices for the Omni
Beachfront, all-inclusive resort with two pools and a Maya-inspired spa. The kids’ club offers a pirate pool and creative activities all day, while the teens’ club features video games, billiards, and sports. Rooms vary from standard-sized to two-bedroom suites with attached studios, some with sofa beds, terrace Jacuzzis, and full kitchens. The beach boasts perfect white sand and medium surf; probably too rough for beginners, but excellent for more experienced swimmers. Hotel phone: +52 998 881 4200 Hotel website • Check prices for Fiesta Americana Condesa
Five-star, all-inclusive with amply sized suites, two infinity pools, and gorgeous beach next to a dolphinarium. Suites include private balconies and Jacuzzis. Their kids’ club for children aged three to twelve features activities, arts, and adventures; the teen club hosts breakdancing lessons and video games. Located near Puerto Morelos, the beach is beautiful, though a little rocky and sometimes rough; walk just five minutes south to find better swimming. Hotel phone: +52 998 872 8888 Hotel website • Check prices for Dreams Jade
All-inclusive resort with dolphins and golf on a quiet beach with soft sand and gentle waves. Suites and villas include private balconies and sofa beds, some with swim up access, private pools, and Jacuzzis. Club Level upgrades grant access to the lazy river, spa hydrotherapy, and a private lounge. The kids’ club hosts daily activities, a small water park, and weekly campouts; the teens’ club features dance nights, video games, rock climbing, and weekly bonfires. Hotel phone: +52 998 283 3600 Hotel website • Check prices for Dreams Playa Mujeres
Active, all-inclusive resort with three pools and two hot tubs. All rooms and suites include whirlpool tubs and private balconies, many with private plunge pools, some with kitchenettes and outdoor Jacuzzis. The kids’ club is open for children as young as three years, with a playground, splash pad, and weekly campouts. Family activities include Euro bungee, cooking classes, and dance lessons. Located near Puerto Morelos, the beach is well-maintained, super clean, and great for swimming with mostly calm surf. Hotel phone: (866) 237-3267 Hotel website • Check prices Dreams Riviera
All-suite resort with two pools and a kids’ club on one of Cancun’s best beaches, featuring powdery white sand and calm waves. Sailboats, kayaks, and snorkel gear are free for guest use. Suites are all two-bedroom units that sleep up to six, with full kitchens and private balconies. Guests can choose between an all-inclusive (with added perk of 24-hour room service) or room-only package, as preferred. Hotel phone: 1-888-838-7842 Hotel website • Check prices for the Royal Cancun
Charming resort with two free-form pools, massage cabanas, and an active kids’ club for ages four to twelve. Rooms include private balconies, while one- and two-bedroom suites add full kitchens. Their main restaurant, Tradewinds, offers dining all day, with different nightly themes, plus there are two bars, a coffee shop, and a well-stocked market onsite. The beach is gorgeous, with white sand and turquoise water, but the water can get a little rough for swimming. To make up for it, they offer a complimentary shuttle to the beach at their sister property, Royal Cancun. Hotel phone: 1-888-387-4755 Hotel website • Check prices for Royal Uno
Beachfront resort with excellent dining, a small kids’ club, and two free-form pools. Rooms and suites all feature soaking tubs. Rooms come with a Juliet balcony, while suites add a full-sized terrace and kitchen. Four restaurants and bars serve a solid selection of local and international cuisines and refreshing cocktails, with El Conquistador being the most popular, especially when the bands are playing. Perks include loaner bicycles, sailboats, and golf clubs (they’re right across the street from a golf course). The Royal Islander shares the beach with the Royal Caribbean and also offers shuttle service to the Royal Cancun’s beach. Hotel phone: 1-888-387-4755 Hotel website • Check prices for the Royal Islander
Eco-friendly, boutique hotel with a small pool, hot tub, and kid’s playhouse set in a jungle garden with native plants and birds. Unique for their environmental concept, the hotel collects rainwater, uses solar heating, and composts everything; they also train students and community leaders in eco-technologies. All rooms are junior suites with kitchenettes and two-burner stovetops. Onsite amenities include yoga twice a day, a massage studio, and a breakfast restaurant serving healthy meals (no soda or alcohol on the menu). The hotel is in Downtown Cancun about ten minutes by bus or taxi to the beach (Playa Tortugas) and walking distance to good local restaurants. Hotel phone: 1-888-387-4755 Hotel website • Check prices for the El Rey
Family Villas and Apartments in Cancun
Apartment rentals and villas for families in Cancun. All units have kitchens. Most have washer/dryer and free-wifi.
The big decision first-time visitors need to make is whether to stay in the Pueblo (affordable hotels, delicious restaurants, fun bars, and dance clubs) or on the beach (posh hotels, stylish party scene, fine dining restaurants, and boutique shopping). The beach itself is made up of 4 areas all with unique feels: the Beach Town and the North, Middle, and South Beach Zones. It takes about 15 to 45 minutes to cycle from the heart of the Pueblo to the Beach, depending on your destination (if walking, this can take an hour or 2). Most hotels offer free or cheap bicycles to guests, making it simple to stay in one spot and enjoy the other (about a 10-minute bike ride from the Pueblo to the beach). There are no street lights or bike lanes on the road that runs alongside the beach, so cycling there is best during the day.
The best places to stay in Tulum for partying are the Pueblo, Beach Town, or the Middle Beach Zone, for families, it’s the South Beach Zone or Aldea Zama, and for romance and honeymoons stay in the North or South Beach Zone (though pretty much every part of Tulum is perfect for a honeymoon holiday).
Where to stay in Tulum? Beach or town?
Most travelers to Tulum stay in one of two main areas: the Pueblo (downtown or the town) or the beach. It’s about 5 km from the Pueblo to the nearest stretch of beach.
The best luxury hotels, fine dining restaurants, outdoor nightlife (beach and jungle parties), and boutique shops are on the beach. Most hotels on the beach have limited air conditioning.
The beach is wide and mostly sandy, though there are a few rocky patches here and there. The beach hotel zone is roughly divided into 4 areas: the North (quiet, romantic, near the ruins), the Beach Town (the most affordable beach area), the Middle (restaurants, beach clubs, and nightlife), and the South (family-friendly, lots of yoga, wide sandy beach, near Sian Ka’an bio-reserve)
The Pueblo offers a mix of midrange and affordable hotels with a walkable center, offering authentic Mexican restaurants and fantastic nightlife (all-night dance clubs, fun bars, and street parties). All hotels in the Pueblo have 24-hour air conditioning.
Just south of the Pueblo is a new luxury development called Aldea Zama (about halfway between the heart of the Pueblo and the beach). This is a quiet neighborhood with a suburban feel and a couple of boutique hotels and restaurants. Much of Aldea Zama is still under construction.
The North Beach Zone is the strip of beach running along the edge of Tulum National Park, where the Mayan ruins are. This generally means from the ruins in the north down 4 km south along Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila (the beach road) to its intersection with Avenida Coba (the road to the Pueblo) at the tourist police station. Unofficially, the North Beach Zone extends a little farther north to the Tankah neighborhood. This is the quietest area in Tulum, with just a few boutique hotels, restaurants, and beach clubs. Most hotels are on white sandy beaches, though there are a few areas of rocky coastline. Among the best beaches here are Playa Paraiso and Playa Pescadores (picturesque, soft, sandy beaches), Playa Maya (lots of cheap snorkeling trips here), Santa Fe (Tulum’s original hippie hangout – strong swimmers can swim the 500 meters to the ruins from here), and Ruins Beach (the beach right underneath the Tulum ruins). Just north of the beach zone, there are several gorgeous cenotes (natural swimming holes connected to underground river systems) with especially great swimming at Casa Cenote and Dos Ojos.
Beach Town is a cluster of hotels, restaurants, and shops from kilometer 4 to about kilometer 5.5 between the North and Middle Beach Zones. The beach is sandy and swimmable in the north end, with rocky patches for the southern 500 or so meters. In general, dining, drinking, and shopping are more affordable here than in the other beach areas. Most of the restaurants and shops are on the jungle side of the road, including Mateos, a fun 3-story restaurant with hammocks, and Tunich, a fantastic breakfast spot. Beachside dining is best at Zamas and Mina. Across from Zamas are 3 boutiques featuring Mexican clothing, crafts, and gifts: Mixik, Hilo Rojo, and Shalom. A little bit north of the Beach Town, you’ll find Kin Toh (a treetop restaurant/lounge) and Zak Ik (fashion boutique), both at stylish Azulik Resort. North of Azulik is Papaya Playa Project, the which hosts the wildest late night beach parties.
The Middle Beach Zone is the heart of Tulum’s beach area, with upscale dining, high-end boutiques, and stylish open-air nightclubs, especially chic Casa Jaguar and Gitano. Outside of the party scene, there is a plethora of ambitious restaurants serving fine-dining and creative menus. Among the best restaurants here are Hartwood, Arca, and Safari. Plenty of yoga studios and casual beach clubs also dot the strip. The Middle Beach Zone sits roughly between kilometers 5.5 and 8 on Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila, from the narrow, rocky Sunset Beach at the north end to just past Arca restaurant in the south end. The beach is long, wide, and mostly sandy though there are some rocky patches between km 5.5 and 6. There are no street lights, sidewalks, or bike paths, but even still most people get around this area by walking or cycling, and it’s fairly easy to flag down a taxi here.
The South Beach Zone is great for kids with a long, wide stretch of sandy beach with no rocky parts. Located near the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, hotels in the south end tend to be more eco-conscious than hotels to the north, which is reflected in the bohemian vibe and abundance of yoga and wellness studios here. The South Beach Zone tends to be quiet, away from the central party zone but still within walking/cycling distance to fantastic restaurants and nightlife. This is a great place to stay for active families and couples who want to explore more of Tulum’s natural wonders, from beaches to jungles to cenotes. Amazing restaurants in the South Beach Zone include Nü, Charly’s Vegan Tacos, and Taqueria La Eufemia. The best yoga studios here are at Yäan Wellness, Sanara (beachfront yoga), Alaya, and SUP Yoga Tulum, with classes held in various locations in and near Sian Ka’an.
The Pueblo is the lively downtown area of Tulum, brimming with wonderful restaurants, bars, and clubs. Hotels tend to be in the budget or moderate range, though there are a handful of luxury hotels at a fraction of the cost of the beach resorts. The Pueblo is easily walkable and bikable with a grid layout, sidewalks, and street lamps in most parts. Food in the Pueblo is more authentic and affordable than what you’ll find at the beach; among the best are Taqueria El Carboncito, Antojitos la Chiapaneca, and La Gloria de Don Pepe, though there are many amazing spots to try. The nightlife is anchored by Batey Mojito Bar, with several great bars and clubs on that same block or along the main street, including Pasito Tun Tun and Kiki. Two of Tulum’s best yoga studios are here: Yoga Dicha (yoga with puppies every Monday morning) and Tribal Tulum (a yoga studio/dive shop). Though the Pueblo is a vibrant, urban area, it is completely surrounded by jungle, with lots of nature to explore just a short bike ride away. Several amazing cenotes are within a 5 to 25-minute bike ride north along Avenida Coba, including Cenote Calavera, Gran Cenote, Cenote Santa Cruz, and Cenote Zacil-Ha (with a zip line).
Aldea Zama is a new luxury development in between the Pueblo and the Beach Zone. This neighborhood is primarily high-end homes, condos and Airbnbs, though there are a couple of boutique hotels, restaurants, and a playground – all connected by walking and cycling paths. Much of the development is still under construction, but there are plans to add luxury boutiques, restaurants, and bars. At the moment, this area has a bit of a sterile feel and hasn’t found its own personality yet. However, the location is perfect, offering easy access to the Pueblo and beach, while remaining calm and quiet at night.
Los Cabos means “the capes,” and is made up of two towns, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, along with the coral reef marine park, Cabo Pulmo. Most of the hotels and attractions are in Cabo San Lucas, San Jose, and the Corridor (the stretch of Highway 1 linking the two towns). Cabo and San Jose are close in distance, about 30 km apart, but each town has its own distinct feel. Cabo is the livelier town, known for its nightlife, while San Jose is a more tranquil area, known for its Arts District. The Corridor is home to several golf courses and many of the area’s swimmable beaches.
Los Cabos is known for beautiful beaches, all of which are public, but few of which are swimmable due to a dangerous undertow. Those beaches that are swimmable also have some of the best snorkeling in the world; Jacques Cousteau has called the Sea of Cortez “The Aquarium of the World”. The best beaches for swimming or snorkeling are: Medano Beach, Playa Empacadora, and Lovers & Divorce Beaches in Cabo; La Playita in San Jose; and Chileno Bay, Playa Monumentos, Old Man’s Beach (aka Playa Acupulquito), Tequila Cove, Santa Maria Beach, and Palmilla Beach in the Corridor.
Taxis are expensive in Los Cabos, costing around $50USD one-way from the airport to the hotels. Round trip fare from Cabo to San Jose is usually between $80 and $100USD. Car rentals are fairly cheap here, while tours and some hotels offer their own transportation.
Pay in pesos whenever possible. Many hotels, restaurants, and tour operators accept payment in U.S. dollars. However, travelers will almost always overpay if using dollars, as the exchange rate for tourists favors the peso.
Awesome location on Medano Beach and a short walk to downtown Cabo San Lucas. Two heated pools, three hot tubs, top notch fitness center, spa, pool bar, and one of the best restaurants in town. One-bedroom units are great for couples. Two and three-bedroom apartments are great for families. This is a fantastic place to stay. Hotel phone: +52 624 163 3100 Hotel website • Check prices for Hacienda
On the beach just down from the Hacienda is the four-star Casa Dorada. Not quite as lux but still a super hotel and one of my favorites. Great value with a gorgeous beachfront pool. Swimming on the beach is wonderful and town is an easy walk along the sand or through the backstreets. One and two-bedroom suites are available. Hotel phone: +52 624 163 5700 Hotel website • Check prices for Casa Dorada
Romantic, ocean view suites front a virgin beach in this luxury, boutique resort. Their award-winning spa features hand-made, indigenous treatments and is complemented by cascading infinity pools and a beachfront whirlpool. Breezy casitas, suites, and villas all feature local, artisanal furnishings, hammocks, and soaking tubs. Along with plenty of adults-only spaces (it’s a great honeymoon resort), amenities for children here include a kids’ club with cooking classes, mini-golf, and games. Though the beach here is rocky, the resort is only a short drive to several sandy, swimmable beaches. Located southeast of the Cabo del Sol complex in the Corridor. Hotel phone: +52 624 145 6400 Hotel website • Check prices for Esperanza
The most visually striking hotel in Los Cabos, the Viceroy’s architecture resembles a futuristic pueblo on a gorgeous golden sand beach. Its interior courtyard paths are set amid reflecting pools, meeting up at a pod-like restaurant designed like an inverted bird nest, before continuing on toward a chic swimming pool and further to the beach club. Rooms are spacious with minimalist décor, electronic lighting, and shades, and all feature large terraces with oversized soaking tubs, daybeds, and a breakfast table. Dining is remarkable here, with organic produce and local seafood served daily in Nido (the bird nest) and Casero, their contemporary Mexican fine dining restaurant. Their spa offers massage and body treatments with a special focus on aromatherapy and music. Located in the San Jose Hotel Zone, a fifteen-minute bike ride (complimentary bikes) or short taxi to the Downtown Art District. Hotel phone: +52 624 104 9999 Hotel website • Check prices for Viceroy
This upscale yet casual, family-friendly boutique sits on a long, sandy beach in a cove with the best surf break in Los Cabos. Ideal for families, the hotel offers connecting rooms, and the largest suite has three bedrooms and a full kitchen. The attached surf school offers classes for ages six and up; peak surf lasts from March through November, but there are gentle waves all year long for beginning surfers or swimmers. With a cozy spa, all-day dining, two pools and two hot tubs, there is something for everyone here. Located on Old Man’s Beach in the Corridor, just north of Palmilla Beach, about five minutes’ drive to dining, shopping, and art in downtown San Jose. Hotel phone: +52 624 142 2666 Hotel website • Check prices for Cabo Surf Hotel
This five-star resort, a member of the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World consortium, is one of the few adults-only, all-inclusive properties in Los Cabos. All suites offer sweeping ocean views, Jacuzzi tubs, and private balconies; master suites and casitas include private pools, some with rooftop terraces and gardens. Superb restaurants feature local, seasonal menus in a variety of cuisines, including French, pan-Asian, and Baja, alongside local tequilas and artful cocktails. Three divine pools, a holistic spa, and direct beach access ensure an unparalleled guest experience. Located in the Corridor on Tequila Cove, a short walk to a calmer beach, and near golf courses. Hotel phone: +52 624 144 2000 Hotel website • Check prices for Marquis Los Cabos
Stylish, adults-only boutique with a rooftop pool, glass Jacuzzi, and a private beach club accessed by boat. With picturesque views of the marina and Sea of Cortez, along with chic décor, original murals, and live music by visiting artists and musicians-in-residence, El Ganzo offers a creative alternative to the usual beach getaway. Exceptional restaurants and bars feature ingredients grown onsite in the hotel’s culinary garden. Local elements feature heavily in their spa menu, with Baja flowers, mezcal, and agave incorporated into traditions from Bali, India, and Thailand. Located in Puerto Los Cabos near the San Jose Estuary, a fifteen-minute ride on one of their loaner bikes to the downtown arts district. Hotel phone: +52 624 104 9000 Hotel website • Check prices for Hotel El Ganzo
Mexico Moderno architecture lends an urban vibe to this intimate hotel, featuring an infinity pool, saltwater pool, and Cabo San Lucas’ only rooftop lounge. Contemporary rooms all boast views of the ocean and El Arco, along with copper soaking tubs and craft cocktail bars. Spacious one- to three-bedroom villas add full kitchens, while penthouse villas include private, rooftop plunge pools. Its spa is carved into the stone cliffs with a signature massage matching the sound and intensity of the ocean waves in real time. Fantastic dining options include Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) and Baja-American cuisine, as well as poolside and beachfront bar service. Located in Cabo Bello on Monuments Beach, a popular surf break in the Corridor, just fifteen minutes from downtown Cabo San Lucas. Hotel phone: +52 624 163 0000 Hotel website • Check prices for The Cape
A collection of spacious villas, each with its own private pool and hot tub, in a gated community overlooking the Sea of Cortez and Sunset Beach. Elegantly appointed units all have three bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, a full kitchen, two living rooms, and sleep up to ten people. Butler service and grocery shopping service are both complimentary. The common area features a free form infinity pool, tranquil spa, and a sports bar. Rates include shuttle service to Quivira Golf Club and all sister properties, offering access to twenty more restaurants and a private area on Sunset Beach. Located in the hills just above Downtown Cabo San Lucas. Hotel phone: +52 624 142 9971 Hotel website • Check prices for Montecristo Villas
A contemporary, family-centric resort, the Hilton offers exceptional pools, rooms, and plenty of activities for kids, families, and adults. The kids’ club for ages 4-12 hosts piñata parties and Mexican craft activities, while adults can take up mixology and cooking classes. Two fantastic, 24-hour pools overlook the only swimmable beach in the area; swim-up bars in the pools, swing bar on the beach. Rooms are spacious, beginning at 50 square meters, all with private balconies and some with outdoor Jacuzzis. Located in the Corridor next to Tequila Cove, exactly in between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose. Hotel phone: +52 624 145 6500 Hotel website • Check prices for Hilton Beach & Golf Resort
Luxury all-inclusive resort with four pools surrounded by shady cabanas, a kids’ splash playground, a teen game room, and nightly entertainment. Spacious rooms and suites all include a private balcony or terrace; connecting, swim up, or club level options available, the latter with access to an exclusive lounge and upgraded room amenities. Sixteen unique restaurants and bars offer flavors from around the world, including Mexican, French, and Japanese, along with a tequila bar and 24-hour cantina. Its Zen Spa features peaceful massage palapas surrounded by water. Located in the San Jose Hotel Zone, near an amazing swimming beach, Palmilla. Hotel phone: +52 624 163 7730 Hotel website • Check prices for Hyatt Ziva
Family-friendly, all-inclusive resort, boasting six pools, four whirlpools, and fifteen bars and restaurants; truly something for everyone! Its unique spa specializes in “vinotherapy,” wine-based massage and therapeutic treatments. The resort offers a variety of rooms and suites, all with balconies, and some with private pools or gardens. Direct beach access fronted by a reef makes this an ideal spot for snorkeling. The Grand Fiesta sits in the Corridor, right next to the Cabo del Sol Ocean and Desert golf courses. Hotel phone: +52 624 145 6200 Hotel website • Check prices for Grand Fiesta Americana
Elegant colonial-style resort with five pools, located between two golf courses in the Cabo del Sol complex. Its “Old Mexico” vibe is its most distinctive attribute, with ornamental cupolas, Catholic artwork, antique gold, red tile roof, and hand-painted tiles. Enormous suites from one to four bedrooms and two floors can sleep up to ten. Their amazing kids’ club features time in the kids’ pool with waterfalls and slides, Spanish lessons, and even camping. Spa days and romantic dining round out the experience. Hotel phone: +52 624 145 8000 Hotel website • Check prices for Hacienda del Mar
Exquisite adults-only, all-inclusive resort with two dazzling pools, an award-winning spa, and a private golf course. Sophisticated rooms and suites all include private terraces, some with personal plunge pools. Tower rooms and suites add 24-hour butler service, upgraded amenities, and access to an exclusive lounge. Sumptuous dining here focuses on contemporary Baja flavors using local, organic produce, fresh seafood, and fine meat cuts. The Pacifica’s design and style celebrate its desert surroundings with sand-colored buildings, cactus gardens, and raked sand landscaping. Located on Sunset Beach on the Pacific side of Cabo San Lucas, about ten minutes’ drive to the marina and downtown nightlife. Hotel phone: +52 624 142 9696 Hotel website • Check prices for Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Golf & Spa Resort
Fashionable boutique hotel with a free-form pool and beach club on the edge of downtown Cabo San Lucas. This chic hotel is home to two of the top restaurants in Cabo San Lucas: Bar Esquina, known for its seasonal Mexican-Mediterranean menus, and SUR Beach House, with its craft cocktails and Asian-Peruvian-Mexican flavor fusions. Newly renovated rooms feature modern Mexican décor with rich woods, tree stump tables, and lots of natural light. Bahia Hotel is only one block from Medano Beach and walking distance to nearly every bar and restaurant in town. Hotel phone: +52 624 143 1890 Hotel website • Check prices for Bahia Hotel & Beach House
This sunny boutique hotel with creative flair and a fountain-fed pool is home to one of the city’s best restaurants, Mi Cocina. Casa Natalia embodies the artistic vibe of San Jose, with colorful rooms featuring Mexican textiles, original artworks, and bold accent walls and furnishings. All rooms feature bright terraces with hammocks, while spa suites add outdoor whirlpools. Superior suites and above include complimentary, private breakfast delivered to your terrace. Complimentary transfer to the Beach Club at El Ganzo. Located in Downtown San Jose on the main square, walking distance to the town’s famous Art Walk, historic church, and restaurants. Hotel phone: +52 624 146 7101 Hotel website • Check prices for Casa Natalia
Gorgeous resort on sandy, swimmable Medano Beach, with cascading, sea-facing pools and five Jacuzzis. This hacienda-style resort with Spanish colonial décor is home to well-appointed rooms and spacious suites that include up to three bedrooms. An oversized spa offers a wide menu: from romantic, couples massage and hydrotherapy packages to kids’ services in the Mini Spa. Guests may dine at the casual, poolside grill and upscale, Italian restaurant onsite, or choose one of the many restaurant options at the sister properties next door. Full meal plans are available here, or guest may take the short walk to Downtown Cabo San Lucas to check out the local gastronomy scene. Located on Cabo’s most popular beach, near nightlife, dining, and shops. Hotel phone: +1 877-897-1951 Hotel website • Check prices for Villa la Estancia Beach Resort & Spa
Gorgeous all-inclusive, family-friendly resort carved into a cliffside boasting three pools, a kids club with activities, a nightclub, and a spa with hydrotherapy. Rooms feature contemporary décor with balconies, some with private Jacuzzis. The common areas are decked out in a retro style, and take the rugged landscape into consideration, using the natural rocks as interior walls. Its high vantage point offers unsurpassed, panoramic views of the Pacific, Sea of Cortez, and Cabo. The resort is walking distance to the Cabo marina, bars, and restaurants, but guests will want to drive back up. Hotel phone: +52 624 145 6700 Hotel website • Check prices for Sandos Finisterra
Staying in Cabo San Lucas, Downtown
Cabo San Lucas, usually shortened to Cabo, was a tiny fishing village only forty years ago. But this sleepy town has been experiencing a tourism boom since the late ’70s, fast becoming one of the top beach destinations in the world. Downtown Cabo is best known for its lively bars and nightclubs, golden sand beaches, and relaxed attitude. The town is laid out in a C-shape, following the contours of the coast, beginning with Medano Beach to the northeast, the marina in the center, and wrapping around to Land’s End and the famous El Arco rock formation at the southeastern tip. All of the beaches in this area front the Sea of Cortez and are swimmable, including Medano (the most popular), Playa Empacadora (mostly locals), and Lovers Beach (accessible by water taxi). Beaches on the south side face the Pacific, such as Sunset Beach; these are closed to swimming due to the deadly current.
Just inland from the beaches, Downtown Cabo is home to casual and fine dining restaurants, and wild nightclubs and bars. The marina area includes Puerto Paraíso mall, water taxis to Lovers Beach and Divorce Beach, tour and fishing boats, plus more bars and restaurants, some that will cook any fish that travelers catch. A small main plaza with a historic church, local natural history museum, and souvenir shops sits to the southwest of the Marina. Everything is close; in fact, you can walk the length of Madero Beach, all the way around the marina, and to Land’s End in about thirty minutes.
The Sunset Beach area sits on the southern edge of Cabo, overlooking the Pacific. This is the latest area to be developed in Cabo, so the beach itself is fairly secluded and unspoiled. Though not swimmable, Sunset Beach is the perfect spot to unwind in the sun or hit the links; away from the raucous partying of downtown, but still accessible to its dining, marina, and conveniences. This area is home to a few luxury resorts, high-end residences, and Jack Nicklaus-designed Quivira Golf Club.
Staying in San Jose del Cabo, Downtown and Hotel Zone
San Jose is a relaxed town with a boho vibe. Romantic colonial architecture, fine restaurants, low-key cantinas, and its famous Art Walk are the town’s biggest draws. San Jose is greener than Cabo and the surrounding area because of an underwater river that flows through here, eventually surfacing to create a lush estuary. The wetlands here are home to a bird sanctuary with walking trails, a small beach, and observation platforms, and it’s a popular spot for bicycling or horseback riding. The nineteenth-century Spanish church, Parroquia San José del Cabo, is the historic heart of downtown, with the Art District’s main galleries just one block away on Alvaro Obregon.
Most of the activities are in downtown, but most hotels are just southwest in the Hotel Zone. This is a 3.5 km strip of beach beginning at Costa Azul beach to the southwest and ending at the far northeast of Playa Hotelera (Hotel Beach). This long stretch of golden sand is popular for sunning and beach sports, but is not swimmable. The only swimmable beach in San Jose is further northeast in Puerto Los Cabos.
Puerto Los Cabos is on the opposite side of the estuary from Downtown and is home to the Marina, the swimmable beach La Playita, and some of the newest hotels in San Jose. This area is generally quieter than downtown, though there are a few attractions here, including the Dolphin Discovery at the marina and the Wirikuta Cactus Garden, filled with sculptures, local flora, and hosting a nightly theater show. Puerto Los Cabos is less than ten minutes from Downtown by bike or car.
“The Corridor” is a roughly 30 km stretch of Highway 1, connecting Cabo and San Jose del Cabo. Many of the area’s largest resorts are here, alongside a few golf courses, swimmable beaches, and adventure parks. Resorts and attractions here are spread out, so those who plan on exploring much outside their resort grounds will need to rent a car or arrange for other transportation; there is nothing within walking distance of most hotels here.
The best surf breaks on the Corridor are at Old Man’s Beach and Playa Monumentos. The best snorkeling is at Santa Maria Beach and Chileno Bay. The best beaches for swimming are Palmilla and Tequila Cove.
Once a tiny fishing village with a population of 3 in 1970, Cancún is now the most popular beach destination in Mexico. And for good reason. Cancún boasts year-round warm weather; 22 km of white sand beach in its hotel zone alone; sunrise sea views over the Caribbean; a stunning location on the Mesoamerican Reef for snorkeling and diving; seemingly unlimited entertainment from theme parks, to nightclubs, to golfing; as well as a central location for visiting Maya ruins, colonial villages, and tropical islands.
This bustling oceanfront city offers accommodations of all types and in all price ranges. The majority of resorts are luxury and midrange all-inclusive properties, though there are plenty of luxury, midrange, and budget hotels and resorts that operate on a European-plan (room only, no food included), and self-catering apartment hotels.
The Hotel Zone or Zona Hotelera is where the majority of accommodations are. Running most of the length of Boulevard Kukulkan, the 22-km-long Hotel Zone is a strip of high-rise hotels, resorts, nightclubs, shops, and restaurants. Shaped like a number “7,” the Hotel Zone can be roughly divided into three areas: the North Hotel Zone (the top, horizontal part of the “7”) has the softest sand and gentlest surf and is near great dining and nightlife, the Middle Hotel Zone (the upper half of the vertical part of the “7”) offers great beaches, family-friendly attractions, and Cancun’s best nightlife, while the South Hotel Zone (the bottom half of the 7) is the most peaceful area with the quietest beaches and only a handful of restaurants and attractions.
From the North Hotel Zone, follow Boulevard Kukulkan westward to get to El Centro, aka Downtown Cancún, the best place in Cancún for a local vibe, fantastic dining, the large Mercado 28 outdoor market, and plenty of budget-friendly hotels and hostels. North along the coast is Playa Mujeres, the newest development in Cancún with pristine beaches, a remote feel, and calm waters with waves blocked by the island of Isla Mujeres due east. Heading south from the Hotel Zone leads to Riviera Cancún, a long stretch of coastline where Cancún’s largest resorts are found, boasting white sand beaches, eco-adventure parks, and cenotes (natural swimming holes) peppering the mangrove jungles.
Best Neighborhoods in Cancún for First Timers: North, Middle, and South Hotel Zone
Anywhere in the Hotel Zone makes a great home base for first-time visitors to Cancún. This 22-km-long stretch of beach offers a little of everything for any kind of traveler. This is where to find the bulk of Cancún’s restaurants, nightlife, attractions, and shopping, though most resorts here are like their own mini-cities with dining, nightclubs, enormous pools, and even a few with water parks – a lot of guests never leave their resorts. Within the Hotel Zone, the Middle is the busiest, with nightclubs, an aquarium, water sports centers, and a handful of malls. The North has gentler waves, softer sand, excellent nightlife, and easy access to the local flavor of El Centro. The South is the quietest stretch with less crowded beaches and close proximity to the Maya ruins of El Rey.
Best Neighborhoods in Cancún for Sightseeing: Middle Hotel Zone, El Centro
For local sightseeing, including the aquarium, the Maya museum, the San Miguelito and El Rey ruins, and snorkel and scuba tours, staying in the Middle Hotel Zone is the best, as everything is easily accessible on foot or by a short bus ride. Even for visiting Isla Mujeres, ferries leave the Middle Hotel Zone for the island more frequently here than from the port at Playa Mujeres. For visiting local markets, seeing lucha libre (Mexican wrestling), or for self-guided tours of farther-flung destinations, like the Chichén Itzá ruins, colonial Valladolid, contemporary Playa del Carmen, or bohemian Tulum, staying in El Centro is best for easy access to bus routes connecting downtown Cancún to the most visited Yucatecan destinations. However, if visiting Chichén Itzá or Vallodolid on a guided tour, most tour operators offer free or cheap pickup from anywhere in Hotel Zone, so where exactly you stay in that case is less important.
Best Neighborhoods in Cancún for Partying and Nightlife: Middle Hotel Zone, El Centro
Though many resorts have their own nightclubs onsite, Cancun’s main party zone is found in the Middle Hotel Zone at its juncture with the North Hotel Zone (the bend in the “7”), known as Punta Cancún or Uptown. This 500-meter strip is lined on both sides of the road with lively bars and nightclubs including popular chains like Coco Bongo, Señor Frog’s, Mandala, and La Vaquita. Most clubs here are multi-level mega-parties with live music and DJs, some with acrobats, gogo dancers, showgirls, and more. These clubs get incredibly crowded, especially during American and Canadian Spring Break times, usually from mid-March to mid-April. The largest club here, The City, has a capacity of 5000. Though there will be a few locals at the Punta Cancún area clubs, most of the partiers will be tourists. For a more local vibe, a wider range of music styles, and better cocktails, visit the casual bars and smaller dance clubs in El Centro, including Antique, Mambocafe, Amarula, Han Club, or Kaan Brewpub.
Best Neighborhoods in Cancún for Food and Restaurants: El Centro, Middle Hotel Zone
The best restaurants in Cancún are mostly found in El Centro. Cancún’s busy downtown core is filled with a number of outstanding dining options, from local Yucatecan fare to authentic Mexican favorites to fine French dining at a fraction of what you’ll pay in the Hotel Zone. And though the hotel zone is packed with overpriced, Americanized versions of Mexican foods, there are still a fair number of high-quality restaurants outside of the resorts, mostly in the Middle Hotel Zone between La Isla Mall and Aquaworld water sports center.
Best Neighborhoods in Cancún for Families: North and Middle Hotel Zone, Riviera Cancún
Cancún is a very family-friendly destination with a variety of activities to keep children of all ages entertained; most resorts here have kids’ clubs and excellent pools, many with water slides or small water parks on site. Families with younger children just learning to swim should consider the North Hotel Zone; due to its geographic location, the beach here is partially protected from the winds, making for gentler waves and easier swimming. The Middle Hotel Zone is great for families with older kids and teens with its easy access to local attractions, water sports centers, snorkeling tours, and shopping malls. Riviera Cancún is great for active families; here you’ll find the largest resorts with the most kid-friendly amenities plus close proximity to adventure parks, Croco Cun Zoo, and a handful of cenotes at the south end near Puerto Morelos.
Most Romantic Neighborhoods in Cancún: South Hotel Zone, Riviera Cancún, Playa Mujeres
Cancun is a top destination for honeymoons, weddings, and romantic getaways. Its long, white sand beaches are ideal for sunset strolls and toes-in-the-sand dining. Several luxury hotels are entirely adults-only and many others have adults-only wings and pools, or rooms and suites with private pools. The top romantic destinations are the South Hotel Zone, a quiet stretch of beach with easy access to Cancúns biggest attractions; Playa Mujeres, the newest development just north of the Hotel Zone with the most contemporary hotels, pristine beaches, and gentle surf; and Riviera Cancún, the most remote and natural area of Cancún with protected mangrove jungles, a botanical garden, and the most relaxing beaches.
Best Neighborhoods in Cancún for a Local Vibe: El Centro, Riviera Cancún
There are no residential areas in the Hotel Zone. All of the locals live in El Centro, which is where you’ll find the most authentic restaurants, nightlife, outdoor markets, and affordable shopping. The south end of Riviera Cancún as another great spot for a local feel, especially near the small village of Puerto Morelos. Though tourism has changed this village, there still remains plenty of good, cheap restaurants and local bars, especially in the inland pueblo away from the beachfront resorts and dolphinarium.
Safest Areas of Cancún
As a whole Cancún is a fairly safe city, and the safest parts are the beaches where the vast majority of resorts are located. Almost all resorts have gated entries staffed with guards around the clock; each hotel also employs guards to patrol their beaches. When outside the resorts, standard precautions apply as they do in all major tourist destinations: watch your bags, purses, and wallets; if clubbing, keep an eye on your drink; and stick to the main, well-lit roads when walking at night, preferably with a friend or group.
Unsafe Areas of Cancún
Cancún is among Mexico’s safest cities. But crime does happen, especially in El Centro north of Avenida Chichén Itzá. If you are heading downtown for dinner, it’s best to take a taxi to and from to avoid walking long distances in the dark and the small risk of petty crime.
The North Hotel Zone makes up the top of the “7” between El Centro and the Middle Hotel Zone. Unlike the rest of the Hotel Zone or Riviera Cancún, the beach here is partially shielded from hurricane winds by Isla Mujeres and the horn of Punta Cancún. Its unique geography give it three perks: the gentlest waves in Cancún, the least amount of seaweed in the Hotel Zone, and the softest sand (this is the original Cancún sand; the other beaches here lost their sand in a major storm and had to truck in replacement sand). The North is a great spot for a mix of relaxation, exploration, and nightlife with its sunny beach, proximity to local life in El Centro, and easy access to the nightlife in Punta Cancún (AKA Uptown, the bend in the “7”). If opting for a European-plan hotel, this area offers a good selection of dining and bars within a short walk or easy bus ride.
The Middle is the busiest stretch of the Hotel Zone, with Uptown at its northernmost tip, jam-packed with nightclubs, bars, upscale restaurants, and casual cantinas. Heading southward leads past a string of beaches, restaurants, malls, and water sports centers to finish up with two sets of ruins at its southernmost end: San Miguelito (at the Maya museum) and El Rey (where the South Hotel Zone begins). The sand is slightly coarser and the waves are bigger at this beach than in the North, but it is still very swimmable. Despite its lively atmosphere, sea turtles have made this strip of beach their nesting site, returning every year to lay eggs nightly from May through October. The babies hatch from July through December and make their way to the ocean under the moonlight.
The South begins with the archaeological site of the Maya ruins at El Rey and continues southwest to end at Punta Nizuc. This area is the best spot in the Hotel Zone for a quiet getaway while still offering easy access to local attractions and a handful of excelent restaurants. The beach is similar to that of the Middle (white sand, sea turtles, and moderate surf). The South is the best part of the Hotel Zone for snorkeling, especially at the far end near Punta Nizuc, where the reef is being revived by one of the three galleries of MUSA, the underwater sculpture museum designed to encourage coral growth.
The newest resort development, Playa Mujeres sits north of Cancún’s established Hotel Zone, immediately west of the island Isla Mujeres. A contemporary, leisure retreat, this area is almost entirely made up of large, all-inclusive resorts and golf courses. On the main beach, there is a dolphinarium as well as scuba and sailing excursions leaving from the marina. The Punta Sam ferry to Isla Mujeres is here, offering several trips throughout the day. Since the area is so new and designed around the all-inclusives, there are few dining options outside of the resorts. The beaches here have soft sand and gentle waves as Isla Mujeres shields Playa Mujeres from the strongest winds, but seaweed tends to collect here (the hotels are excellent at keeping it at bay with twice daily sweepers).
Part of the larger Riviera Maya, Riviera Cancún extends from Punta Nizuc (the end of the South Hotel Zone) south to the seaport village of Puerto Morelos. This area is where to find some of Cancún’s largest all-inclusive resorts, several adventure parks, freshwater cenotes, the Croco Cun Zoo, and botanical gardens. Beaches here are a mix of mostly white sand with rocky patches and moderate waves toned down by the Mesoamerican Reef which runs the entire length of the Riviera down to Guatamala. The sandy beach areas offer great swimming and body surfing, while the rocky and coral-heavy areas offer spectacular snorkeling and diving with a huge variety of colorful fish.
El Centro is the best spot in Cancún for living like a local, with outstanding restaurants, hole in the wall taco shops, vibrant nightclubs, trendy cocktail bars, shopping malls, and outdoor markets – all at a fraction of the prices you’ll pay anywhere else in the city. There are a couple of luxury resorts on the beach near Puerto Cancún, but most of El Centro’s lodging is made up of midrange, boutique, and budget hotels and hostels. This is an excellent home base for adventurous travelers who plan on exploring the Yucatan beyond just hitting the beaches and clubs. The ADO bus station here offers routes to Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and even Chichén Itzá, while the Puerto Juárez ferry terminal connects El Centro to Isla Mujeres.
Stretching for 20 miles from Cabo San Lucas to San José del Cabo, the Los Cabos Corridor is a stretch of coastline that’s still spectacular in places, though much of it has now been built up with all-inclusive resorts and golf courses. This entire area (including both Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo) is commonly referred to as Los Cabos.
At the east end of the Los Cabos Corridor, San José de Cabo is Cabo San Lucas’ quieter, classier twin, with an attractive historic center, fantastic dining scene, and some excellent hotels lining the white-sand beaches of the Zona Hotelera.
If heading north take the quieter coastal road. It’s some 60 miles from San José del Cabo to Cabo Pulmo, a tiny village that’s the gateway to the world-class marine park of the same name. The scuba diving and snorkeling is the best in Baja.
Northwest of Cabo Pulmo, the coastal road rejoins the Carretera Transpeninsular and passes through the appealing little town of Los Barriles, some 65 miles south of La Paz. It’s one of Baja Sur’s top spots for windsurfing and kitesurfing.
Rules of the road are similar to the U.S. Highways are well-maintained, and streets are well-mapped (though often not well-marked) and easy to follow via GPS. Two things that are different are topes and left turns. Topes (pronounced TOH-pays) are speed bumps, but there are no regulations on their height, steepness, or visibility; some are nearly impossible to see until it’s too late. Standard left turns are usually OK in downtown but not on highways. To make a left, drivers will often need to use a retorno, which is a U-turn overpass. To use a retorno, drive past the road you want to make a left onto, get into the far right lane to take the retorno exit, make the left onto the overpass, and finally merge with traffic going the opposite direction. You can then make a right at the desired street or destination.
Framed by the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortéz, and dotted with cordon cacti and boojum trees, the southern tip of Baja California is a place of considerable natural beauty. Arid landscapes aside, it’s been well and truly discovered by winter sun seekers, water sports enthusiasts, and spring breakers: Cabo San Lucas is renowned throughout Mexico for its spring break but sports fishing, scuba diving, and wind surfing off Baja’s southern shores is also world-class. Add some spectacular white-sand beaches, old-world colonial towns, breezy fishing villages, popular resorts, and a generous collection of hotels to suit every budget, and it’s easy to see why Baja California Sur is an all-round superb destination.
If you’re driving south from California via the Carretera Transpeninsular – the scenic highway that stretches the length of Baja – you will invariably pass through La Paz, the largest town in Baja Sur. A former colonial settlement with a beautiful historic center, waterfront malecón, and some excellent bars and restaurants, it warrants more than just a pit stop to fill up on gas. It makes a good base for visiting attractions in the surrounding area, too.
Facing Isla Ceralvo, a short detour southeast of La Paz along Route 286, La Ventana is a one-street village that draws kitesurfers from around the world between November and March with its steady winds. Other draws include scuba diving and wildlife watching.
If you drive the clockwise loop south of La Paz along the Carretera Transpeninsular, the first place you reach along the west coast is Todos Santos, Baja Sur’s most picturesque little town, some 50 miles farther south. Its cobblestone streets are dotted with galleries, good restaurants, and appealing adobe architecture, while the beaches and the surf breaks appeal to outdoor enthusiasts.
Continue south along the Carretera Transpeninsular for another 47 miles and you’ll get to Baja Sur’s premier party town, Cabo San Lucas. Here you can party all night at the raucous bars and clubs, hop on a cruise to the arching stone cliffs at Land’s End, sun yourself on one of the white-sand beaches, or partake in a huge array of water sports: banana boating, parasailing, and diving. Just up the corridor is the hip and trendy town of San José del Cabo.
Best Places for Sightseeing: Todos Santos, San José del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz
Let’s face it: few visitors come to Baja Sur primarily for sightseeing. But if you’re into colonial architecture, then the towns of San José del Cabo, Todos Santos, and La Paz all have plenty to offer: adobe houses, appealing centuries-old churches, and narrow cobbled streets that are a joy to wander. And while Cabo San Lucas may lack the colonial charm of its neighbor towns, it features Baja Sur’s biggest natural attraction: the natural stone arch at Land’s End, walkable from town and very popular at sunset.
Best Place for Nightlife: Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas is Baja Sur’s undisputed party town, with bottomless margaritas fuelling the revelry all day (and all night) long. The nightlife kicks up a notch when the spring breakers get into town, with dancing on table tops, jello shooters, and tequila conga lines. Some of the most popular bars and nightspots include the legendary El Squid Roe, Cabo Wabo, The Giggling Marlin, and the Happy Ending Cantina, with many of the watering holes clustered near the marina.
Best Places for Food and Restaurants: Cabo San Lucas, Todos Santos, San José del Cabo
Baja Sur has come a long way as a foodie destination in recent years, with dining hotspots being Todos Santos, Cabo San Lucas, and San José del Cabo. In all 3 locations, you’ll find anything from Mexican standards and taco stands to superb fusion and international dining. Standout restaurants include Sur Beach House and Baja Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Flora’s Field Kitchen and La Lupita Taco & Mezcal in San José del Cabo, and Hierbabuena and Carnitas Machin Pescadero in Todos Santos.
Best Places for Families: Cabo San Lucas, Los Cabos Corridor
Cabo San Lucas may be a party town, but it also has some excellent beaches on the its outskirts and a large number of family-friendly hotels. Hence, if traveling with kids, then all-inclusive options with kids’ clubs, plenty of water sports on offer, and other activities are an excellent bet. Los Cabos Corridor also features numerous high-end all-inclusive hotels, many with plenty to keep kids occupied and white-sand beaches out front.
Best Places to Stay for First Timers: Cabo San Lucas, Todos Santos, San José Los Cabos, Los Cabos Corridor
First-time visitors to Cabo can’t go wrong with these 3 destinations. If you wish to combine a raucous nightlife with some quality beach time, then Cabo San Lucas would naturally be your first choice. If you’re looking for a hassle-free location away from Cabo San Lucas’ crowds but close enough to enjoy the nightlife and with access to world-class golfing, then Los Cabo Corridor is a good bet. Finally, if you’re after a more local vibe and excellent dining while staying within easy driving distance from Land’s End, then either Todos Santos or San José del Cabo make excellent bases.
Best Honeymoon Destinations: Los Cabos Corridor, Todos Santos, Cabo Pulmo
It entirely depends on what you want from your honeymoon. If you’re looking for an exclusive, adults-only, high-end hotel with a world-class spa and private beach access, then there are several excellent options along the Los Cabos Corridor (Esperanza Resort and The Cape are particular standouts). If appealing colonial architecture and romantic dinners are more your thing, then Todos Santos is an excellent place to stay. And if you want to get away from the crowds and enjoy sunset strolls along wind-swept beaches, then you could do worse than tiny Cabo Pulmo.
Best Places for a Local Vibe: San José del Cabo, Todos Santos
Baja Sur has been well and truly discovered by visitors, and crowds of sun-seekers converge on the likes of Cabo San Lucas, particularly during the winter months and during spring break. However, both Todos Santos, and San José del Cabo have managed to retain a relatively low-key charm and feel like proper Mexican towns.
Best Places for Water Sports: La Ventana, Los Barriles, Todos Santos, Cabo Pulmo, Cabo San Lucas
Cabo Pulmo is a world-class diving destination, with excellent access to the only Pacific reef in the Sea of Cortez. Visibility is best in October and November, and sightings include whale sharks. La Ventana and Los Barriles both attract windsurfers and kitesurfers; conditions are best between November and March. El Pescadero, a small village just south of Todos Santos, is a surfing hotspot. As for sea kayaking, banana boating, parasailing, and other activities, hotels in Cabo San Lucas, Los Cabos Corridor, Todos Santos, and other vacation hotspots can organize those. Cabo San Lucas is also renowned for its deep-see fishing charters.
Best Places for Wildlife Watching: La Paz, Todos Santos, Cabo San Lucas
Baja California is particularly well-known for whale watching, with grey whales regularly sighted from December to April. While the 3 best spots to see whales – Laguna San Ignacio, Laguna Ojo de Liebre, and Bahía Magdalena – are all located farther north than Baja Sur’s holiday towns, numerous boat operators in Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, and Todos Los Santos organize day trips to the whale watching hotspots. Sea lions and dolphins are frequently spotted en route.
Safest Areas: Baja California Sur is generally safe for visitors, particularly compared to other parts of Mexico. Tourist hotspots such as Todos Santos, San José del Cabo, La Paz, etc. are generally safe to walk around at any time of day, though standard precautions apply.
Unsafe Areas: There are no specifically unsafe places in Baja California Sur, though driving outside the towns at night is generally not recommended. Bag snatching and pickpocketing does occasionally happen in the likes of La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, so be on guard. Alcohol-related misbehavior is fairly common in Cabo San Lucas.
The Best Places in Baja California for Tourists
Staying in Cabo San Lucas
Sitting between a desert hinterland and a rugged cape after which it takes its name, Cabo San Lucas was a sleepy tuna canning village until tourism exploded in the 1980s. Now it feels more like part of the United States, with ‘snowbirds’ spending the winter here in their second homes, a popular cruise ship port, and spring breakers flocking here for the tequila-fuelled nightlife. Besides the natural stone arch at Land’s End, Cabo San Lucas is known for its beaches lined with luxury resorts, lively bars, and pretty much all water sports, including some excellent scuba diving.
The twenty-mile stretch of coastal highway between Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo is lined with exclusive luxury resorts and features several golf courses. The former natural beauty of the area has been rather blighted by the uncontrolled development, but there are still some wonderful beaches here (though access to many can be tricky unless you’re staying at one of the beachfront resorts), including Playa El Médano near Cabo San Lucas and Playa Palmilla near San José del Cabo. Of the beaches, Bahía Santa María is best for snorkeling and diving, Bahía Chileno is great for families, while Costa Azul is the best surfing beach in the area.
The quieter antidote to Cabo San Lucas, San José del Cabo is a former Jesuit mission turned port and agricultural center, centered on the attractive Plaza Mijares and dotted with some eye-catching 19th-century buildings. From the main square, Bulevar Mijares leads to the Zona Hotelera, where the majority of the town’s beach resorts are located. San José’s highlights include high-end boutiques and art galleries, an excellent dining scene, and a more low-key vibe than Cabo.
Halfway between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, Todos Santos is a beautiful colonial town with sensitively restored, centuries-old architecture. Its population is a lively mix of Mexicans and artistically-inclined expats, reflected in the relatively low-key vibe and a clutch of offbeat art galleries. Palm-fringed Plaza Todos Santos aside, attractions include the local cultural center and the white-sand beaches, though they tend to be better for surfing than for swimming. Todos Santos also features an excellent dining scene and some fine boutique hotels.
One of the highlights of the East Cape – some 80 miles of wild coastline, including some stunning, unpeopled beaches – is Cabo Pulmo, an off-the-grid village that’s the gateway to the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, renowned for its Pacific reef and excellent scuba diving. There is good snorkeling at Playa Los Arbolites near the village, but for even better marine life, head for the Playa Los Frailes cove, some 20 minutes’ drive south of the village.
The East Cape’s largest town, Los Barriles is renowned in windsurfing and kitesurfing circles (conditions are best for experienced surfers rather than beginners). There’s a low-key hotel scene and some decent local dining, ranging from taco joints to gourmet restaurants. Sport-fishing is another big attraction here.
A worthwhile detour to the east coast from La Paz, La Ventana is a blink-and-you-miss-it village. One of several windsurfing and kitesurfing hotspots in Baja Sur, it attracts visitors from all over the world between November and March.
The largest town in Baja California, La Paz boasts an attractive colonial center and a particularly attractive malecón (seafront promenade). It’s a busy working town, but there are enough attractions to keep visitors busy for a few days, from the cultural center and Museum of Anthropology to the string of beaches stretching to the port of Pichilingue, the best of which is Playa de Balandra, with calm, shallow waters suitable for kids. La Paz is also a jumping-off point for wildlife watching trips, from all-day whale watching to half-day trips to the nearby Isla Espírutu Santo, where one can spot manta rays, sea lions, and occasional whale sharks.
Superb, oceanfront, boutique hotel with refined, economical ‘non-view’ rooms, sea view rooms, and master suites, all with mini bars, yoga mats, and coffee/tea baskets (delivered daily). The 2 master suites add coffee makers, soaking tubs, bluetooth speakers, lounge areas and large private terraces overlooking the beach. Mezzanine has a pool, Thai restaurant, bar, lovely long beach (steps from the hotel), and is a short bike ride from the Tulum ruins. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 131 1596 Review • Check prices for Mezzanine
Family-friendly, luxury boutique hotel with 3 pools (kids’, adults’, and rooftop adults’ pools), beachfront service, daily yoga, and a spa with shaman ceremonies. Their wide range of rooms and suites all include king-sized beds, welcome wine and chocolates, and private terraces; honeymoon suites and the penthouse suite add private pools. Their all-day restaurant Pandano offers a delicious Mexican-Italian menu with especially great lobster and handmade pasta along with creative and classic cocktails. Located on an absolutely stunning, semi-private beach in Soliman Bay near Casa Cenote and about 10 km north of the Tulum ruins. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 875 4158 Review • Check prices for Jashita
Stylish, art-focused hotel with 3 outstanding restaurants, a creative bar, a beach club, 2 pools (1 is underground), complimentary bicycles, and free sunset yoga on the rooftop terrace. Each design-forward suite features an eclectic mix of antique and contemporary décor and original artwork from owner Lio Malca’s extensive private collection. The hotel is kid-friendly all year long, except for the weeks surrounding New Year’s Eve when it becomes an adults-only spot during Tulum’s EDM festivals. Located on a white, sandy beach within a 10-minute walk of Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve and several of Tulum’s best restaurants and bars. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 167 7154 Review • Check prices for Casa Malca
Luxurious, boutique hotel with spacious rooms and a suite, 24 hour air conditioning, 2 heated plunge pools, and a gorgeous stretch of beach. Service is impeccable and highly personalized. Their onsite restaurant serves breakfast and lunch indoors or on the beach, while their sister restaurant Nü serves creative Mexican fine dining under the stars. Located on the southern end of Tulum’s hotel zone in a quiet beach stretch within walking distance of several fantastic restaurants. Hotel phone: +1 305 999 1540 Review • Check prices for La Valise
Beach-chic, luxury hotel on a wide stretch of white, sandy beach with a long rooftop pool, playground, and free, weekly salsa dancing lessons. All family-friendly, open-plan suites are designed for up to 4 with a king-sized bed and a double twin trundle bed, a dual shower, and dual vanities; many suites include private plunge pools. Amazing food and drinks, a small spa, and friendly, attentive service round out the experience here. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 115 4726 Review • Check prices for La Zebra
Wellness-focused, pet-friendly, beachfront hotel with outstanding food, eclectic rooms, and an extensive program of yoga, meditation, and healing rituals. Their onsite restaurants use fresh, organic, local ingredients in partnership with Mayan farmers and offer top-notch menus for vegans and meat-eaters alike. The beach here is amazing: sandy and swimmable, well-organized with beach beds and hammocks, well-served by the beach bar and grill, and with their own kite surfing school. Ahau is in the heart of Tulum’s beach zone, walking distance to amazing restaurants and nightlife. Hotel phone: +52 984 147 5225 Review • Check prices for Ahau
Family-friendly, wellness-centered hotel with a gorgeous pool, free daily yoga, and a well-kept beach about a 10-minute walk from Sian Ka’an biosphere. Luxury tents, suites, and villas fuse boho style with modern perks, including air conditioning in all units (even the tents), private pools, and outdoor showers. Dining is fantastic at their vegan/vegetarian restaurant Macondo and at their super fresh seafood restaurant La Popular. What sets this hotel apart, though, is its focus on incorporating Mayan culture into all aspects of the hotel, including the menus, healing rituals, ceremonies, and ever-changing events program. Hotel phone: +52 984 803 2243 Review • Check prices for Nômade
Rustic boutique hotel with spacious, family-friendly suites and a fantastic Mexican-Mediterranean fusion restaurant on a wide stretch of white sand beach. Spacious rooms offer up to 2 bedrooms and sleep 4 to 6 guests, while the villa features 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a private pool. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 146 7737 Review • Check prices for Cabañas La Luna
Family-friendly, luxury hotel in the Pueblo (downtown) offering studios and 1- to 3- bedroom suites sleeping up to 8, all with stocked kitchenettes and outdoor showers, some with outdoor bathtubs. Facilities and amenities include a gorgeous pool, in-room yoga and massage, free bicycles, and a cozy breakfast and lunch restaurant. Private dinners and tequila and mezcal tastings are available on request. Hotel phone: +52 984 240 5231 Review • Check prices for Una Vida
Adults-only, luxury boutique hotel with an infinity pool, upscale restaurant and bar, and a cozy 2-room spa. Rooms and suites are designed with couples in mind, all with king-sized beds, 24-hour air conditioning, and private terraces; ground floor rooms feature private plunge pools. Mi Amor is located in the Tulum Ruins national park at the north end of the hotel zone, walking distance to the ruins, a beach club, and a handful of restaurants. The beach here is rocky, but it’s just a 5 minute walk to sandy Playa Paraiso at their sister property Mezzanine. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 188 4273 Review • Check prices for Mi Amor
Romantic hotel with 8 spacious rooms, all with king-sized canopy beds and private terraces with hammocks. Dining is exceptional at their onsite restaurant and bar and at their sister restaurant Nü across the street (they share the restaurant with La Valise). Encantada is located on a wide stretch of white sandy beach at the quiet, south end of the hotel zone within walking distance of several amazing restaurants and bars. Hotel phone: +1 650 212 6782 Review • Check prices for Encantada
Chilled-out, beachfront, artsy eco-hotel with Mayan-themed, beautifully decorated suites featuring hand-painted tiles, outdoor sitting decks, hammocks, porthole windows, and solar powered electricity. The lone penthouse has sofa beds, a stone hydromassage jacuzzi, a terrace, and 360˚ views of the ocean, jungle and lagoon of the Sian Kaan Biosphere. Sueños Tulum also offers complimentary breakfast, a yoga studio, fire pit, pool, and restaurant. Hotel phone: +52 984 119 3484 Review • Check prices for Sueños
Adults-only, boutique hotel with an amazing Mexican-Mediterranean fusion restaurant, beach club, a pampering spa, and daily yoga. Romantic rooms and suites include 24-hour air conditioning and private terraces, some with private plunge pools. The beach here is one of the best in Tulum: sandy, swimmable, and protected by a reef, which makes for gentle waves. Hotel phone: +52 984 238 9529 Hotel website • Check prices for Dune
Super-stylish, beachfront, spa resort with 2 pools having a lineup of fantastic designer suites with cowhide rugs, leather chairs, and private balconies. Depending on the type, suites may have private plunge pools, indoor copper tubs, roof top solariums/terraces with pools, private gardens/pools, and small kitchens. Be Tulum also boasts two restaurants, a raw food bar, beach bar, yoga studio, meditation classes, and a spa. Hotel phone: +521 984 132 6215 Review • Check prices for Be Tulum
Cozy cabanas, rooms/tower rooms with ocean/garden views in a laid-back, beachfront, eco-hotel. Has budget cabanas with shared bathrooms, high-end tower rooms with splendid views with terraces, and a lone suite with jacuzzi. Has a beach bar, temazcal, yoga classes, Mexican-Italian restaurant and many good restaurants within walking distance. Hotel phone: +52 984 688 8592 Review • Check prices for Coco Tulum
Adults-only hotel with a river pool, jacuzzi, full-service spa, and 2 restaurants, including the well-loved Ziggy’s Restaurant and Beach Club. Rooms are minimalistic yet elegant, and all include a private jacuzzi or plunge pool. Perks include 24-hour air conditioning, free bikes, free yoga, live music nightly, and tequila, mezcal, and wine tastings throughout the week. The beach here boasts powdery, soft, white sand, and there is a little cenote onsite, too. Hotel phone: +52 984 157 9645 Review • Check prices for The Beach Tulum
Beachfront hotel offering a pool and a holistic spa. Its spacious rooms and suites feature up to 3 bedrooms; many include private jacuzzis. The sister property of The Beach Tulum, Cabañas Tulum shares the same fantastic swimming beach and Ziggy’s Restaurant and Beach Club, along with its own restaurant and beach bar Frescoes. Minimum age for hotel guests is 14. Hotel phone: +52 984 871 1132 Review • Check prices for Cabañas Tulum
Beautiful, beachfront boutique hotel with airy, light-filled beach cabanas/apartments, villas and suites having wooden floors, floor-to-ceiling windows with bi-folding doors and terraces. Apartments add small kitchens. Has a Latin American restaurant, outdoor eco gym, yoga lessons, kitesurfing and paddle surfing. The beach is a hotspot for sea turtles/nesting sites (during the season). Hotel phone: +52 984 159 1696 Review • Check prices for Alaya
Stylish boutique hotel in the brand new Aldea Zama neighborhood, halfway between the Pueblo and the beach. Family-friendly 1 and 2-bedroom suites sleep up to 6 guests. The main highlight is the hotel’s rooftop, which boasts an infinity pool, kids’ pool, infinity jacuzzi, and an outstanding bar and restaurant with sunset views over the jungle. Hotel phone: +52 984 231 1241 Review • Check prices for Naay
Adults-only hideaway north of Tulum with only 12 rooms sharing 3 pools, rooftop yoga, and a wonderful restaurant overlooking the beach. All rooms include king-size beds, 24-hour air conditioning, private terraces, and swim outs or jetted plunge pools; half of the rooms add indoor soaking tubs. The beach here is rocky, but the hotel is just a 10-minute walk (or a 2-minute ride on one of their free bikes) to the gorgeous, sandy, swimmable beach at Soliman Bay and about a 20-minute walk (5-minute bike ride) to Casa Cenote, one of the best cenotes in the Tulum area. Hotel phone: +52 984 231 1241 Review • Check prices for O’ Tulum
Charming boutique hotel in the Pueblo with 2 pools, a jacuzzi, a small spa, and a wonderful all-day Mexican restaurant serving an especially great brunch. Rooms all include 24-hour air conditioning and king-sized beds; Casitas add jetted baths and private patios with hammocks. Guests here have access to free bikes and discounted entrance to the beach club at their sister property Coco Tulum. Hotel phone: +52 884 688 8592 Review • Check prices for Coco Hacienda
Stunning, beachfront luxury hotel. Rooms are huge with large glass sliding doors opening to their own private plunge pools. The onsite restaurant offers a Mexican-Mediterranean fusion menu with indoor or outdoor, beachfront dining. The beach is well-maintained with an abundance of sun chairs and fantastic beach service. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 871 1310 Hotel website • Check prices for Tago
Trendy boutique hotel with a pool, bar, and in-room massage. Tiki Tiki is located in the Pueblo, walking distance to Tulum’s vibrant restaurant and bar scene. A design-forward hotel, the decor blends Art Deco, retro ’60s, and beach-chic styles in its 15 unique rooms. This hotel tends to attract a younger crowd, especially honeymooners, couples, and bachelorette parties. Hotel phone: +52 884 688 5005 Review • Check prices for Hotel Tiki Tiki
Family-friendly, luxury hotel with a pool, an excellent bar and restaurant, a shared kitchen area for guest use, and well-appointed rooms and suites on a small beach in a quiet bay. Most suites are 1-bedroom units that sleep up to 4 with a king-sized bed and a separate living area with a sofa bed and private pool. The beach itself is rocky, more popular for sunbathing and fishing than for swimming, but guests of El Pez have access to the beach at their sister property La Zebra. Hotel phone: +52 1 984 116 3357 Review • Check prices for El Pez
Elegant boutique hotel of contemporary luxury surrounded by lush greenery on the outskirts of the Tulum Pueblo. A large pool, excellent Milum restaurant and Kinky Room bar with lounge, temazcal and large yoga and meditation practice space. Villas are large and private, with semi-outdoor showers and splash pools. Hotel phone: +52 984 807 1433 Review • Check prices for Bardo
Mexico City is an endlessly amazing metropolis. Expect a thrilling visit.
The largest city in the Western Hemisphere, Mexico City has to be experienced to be believed.
This vast metropolis of over 21 million people occupies a bowl-shaped valley sitting between two Sierra Madre mountain ranges, and even at its lowest point, Mexico City will take your breath away (it’s located at an altitude of 2,250m).
Built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the great city of the Aztecs, Mexico City can be a little bewildering, made up as it is of dozens of distinctive colonias. From the residential enclaves of the well-heeled, shiny business districts and emerging arty enclaves to traditional neighborhoods where time seems to stand still, gritty working-class barrios and crime-afflicted urban slums.
There is no place in Mexico quite like it, and you could spend a lifetime exploring it.
The good news is, the most interesting neighborhoods can be explored within days, and many attractions are confined to two or three key areas.
The city is easy enough to navigate, with an excellent metro system and inexpensive and prolific taxis.
The heart of the Mexico City is the Centro Histórico, a very walkable grid of streets surrounding the Zócalo, the main square, overlooked by the Grand Cathedral and the Palacio Nacional with its government offices. Besides the handsome colonial architecture, great street food, excellent traditional Mexican restaurants and two good markets on its western fringes – the Mercado de San Juan (for food) and the Mercado Artesanías (for crafts), this neighborhood is rich in cultural attractions. One not to be missed, particularly if you’re into art, include the Museo Mural Diego Rivera and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Accommodations in the center tend to fall mostly into the budget and midrange categories.
Adjoining the Centro Histórico to the west is compact, wedge-shaped Juárez, largely residential, with a good mix of young hipster population, and traditional Mexican cantinas and businesses, as well as contemporary restaurants and cafes. Its northern part is the famous, gay-friendly Zona Rosa – one of the city’s biggest nightlife districts, dotted with bars and nightclubs. Hotels are mostly mid-range, with some boutique options.
Just north of the Zona Rosa, across the busy Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, is Cuahtémoc, a triangle-shaped, skyscraper-studded neighborhood whose lifeblood is commerce and business. An outdoor art gallery and a historic mansion-museum aside, there are few sights to speak of, but the international dining scene here is excellent and the bars here are popular with office workers. Here you’ll find a good concentration of international hotel chains, largely aimed at business travellers.
Adjoining Cuahtémoc to the north are two largely residential, arty neighborhoods with a very local feel: San Rafael and Santa Maria La Ribera, separated from San Rafael by the Avenida Ribera de San Cosme. Both are very walkable, and dotted with an interesting mix of fin de siècle mansions and modernist apartment buildings. Between them, the two neighborhoods have the lion’s share of contemporary art galleries, and San Rafael is dotted with vintage theatres. Street food is terrific here, and accommodations consist largely of small boutique and midrange hotels.
South of Juárez, across the main Avenida Chapultepec, is Roma, a large neighborhood divided into Roma Norte and Roma Sur. Rapidly gentrifying, it’s a curious mix of traditional Mexican life and youth culture, reflected both in its architecture and mix of low-key and gourmet dining and contemporary art galleries. Roma Norte in particular is easily walkable both to the Centro Histórico, to the northeast, and to the city’s best museum in the Bosque de Chapultepec, just to the west, making it a popular neighborhood for tourists.
Adjoining Roma to the west is Condesa, one of Mexico City’s more upscale residential neighborhoods. It’s compact, quiet, walkable, has a good international dining scene, and is also close to the Bosque de Chapultepec and its stellar museums. Boutique hotels dominate its accommodations.
Bordering Condesa to the west is San Miguel Chapultepec, a small, triangle-shaped residential neighborhood with a contemporary art gallery, very low-key dining scene and just a handful of budget accommodations. Its main attraction is its proximality to the Bosque de Chapultepec, the huge urban forest it adjoins – not just Mexico City’s most popular green space, but also home to the country’s best anthropology museum and a handful of other, family-friendly attractions.
Just north of the Bosque de Chapultepec is Polanco, Mexico City’s most exclusive neighborhood, complete with the best fine dining (including several Michelin-starred restaurants), designer boutiques, and the city’s biggest concentration of 5-star hotels.
Coyoacán, far to the south of the city, is a very traditional residential neighborhood, complete with colonial architecture, cobbled streets and attractive twin plazas. It’s pretty far from the city’s other attractions, but great for experiencing a slice of local life. There are low-key accommodations in the form of family-run guesthouses and small boutique hotels, and equally low-key dining, as well as one massive attraction – the Frida Kahlo Museum, and one smaller one – the Leon Trotsky House-Museum.
Other neighborhoods worth mentioning include the edgy, working-class enclave of Xochimilco, also to the south of the city, with its centuries-old canals that go back to Aztec rule. Foodies may wish to check out the taco stands of Colonia Navarte, to the south of Roma Sur, and the Mercado La Merced in Merced, adjoining the Centro Histórico to the east. Finally, sketchy Colonia Doctores, just south of the Centro Histórico, is home to the lucha libre (Mexican freestyle wrestling).
Best Neighborhoods in Mexico City to Stay for First Timers: Centro Histórico, Polanco
If you want to get a real sense of the city, its history, its architecture, its culture and traditional (street) food, then the historic center is the best place to start. Plus, you’ll be within easy walking distance of several heavyweight attractions and markets, and near excellent public transportation connections to other parts of the city. If you have your heart set on Mexico City’s best dining (bear in mind that the Michelin-starred restaurants need to be booked weeks in advance), then glitzy Polanco is your best bet. As a bonus, Polanco is also within walking distance of the Bosque de Chapultepec and its stellar Museo Arqueológico – by far the best museum in the country, devoted to Mexico’s Pre-Columbian cultures.
Best Neighborhoods in Mexico City for Sightseeing: Centro Histórico, San Miguel Chapultepec, Coyoacán, Teotihuacan, San Rafael, Santa Maria La Ribera
The Centro Histórico is studded with historical sights, as well as some of the city’s most important art museums. San Miguel Chapultepec (or, more specifically, the Bosque de Chapultepec) is home to the best archaeological museum in the whole country. If you’re interested in pre-Columbian history, then a day trip to the archaeological site of Teotihuacan is an absolute must; ditto: a visit to Xochimilco and its Aztec-era canals. Coyoacán in the place to head to if you’re a fan of Frida Kahlo and her art, whereas if it’s contemporary art that you’re after, then your visit to Mexico City isn’t really complete without checking out the contemporary art galleries in San Rafael and Santa Maria La Ribera.
Best Neighborhoods in Mexico City for nightlife: Juárez, Polanco, Centro Histórico, Roma, La Condesa
There is something in Mexico City to sate every taste, and it’s no different when it comes to nightlife. The Zona Rosa in Juárez is famous for its LGBT-friendly nightclubs and bars; Polanco has a more exclusive clubbing scene and upscale wine and cocktail bars; Roma is the epicentre of hipster culture, with some of the most cutting-edge bars and clubs in town; La Condesa’s scene is more mellow, and popular with young professionals, and ranges from craft beer pubs and whiskey bars to rooftop cocktail patios and traditional cantinas. Centro Histórico has some wonderful bars with a view, as well as dedicated mezcalerias (mezcal bars) for serious connoisseurs of mezcal.
Best Neighborhoods in Mexico City for Food and Restaurants: Centro Histórico, Polanco, Roma, La Condesa, Chapultepec, Juárez, San Rafael, Santa Maria La Ribera, Colonia Narvarte
The Centro Histórico is known for its decades-old restaurants specialising in traditional Mexican food, as well as its street food. Speaking of street food, it’s a genre than both San Rafael and Santa Maria La Ribera excel at, whereas Colonia Narvarte is particularly renowned for its taco stalls. Chapultepec and Juárez are both good bets for international dining, and so are Roma, La Condesa and Polanco, with the latter particularly well known for its high-end dining and proliferation of Michelin-starred restaurants, and the former two dotted with trendy cafes.
Best Neighborhoods in Mexico City for Families: Polanco, Juárez, Cuahtemoc, La Condesa
If you’re travelling with kids and looking to minimise culture shock, then Polanco is a good neighborhood to base yourself; its advantages include its proliferation of family-friendly high end hotels and an international dining scene and its proximity to the Bosque de Chapultepec with its family-friendly attractions, such as the zoo, Children’s Museum and Natural History Museum. Juárez and Cuahtemoc also have the advantage of numerous international dining options, and high-end and mid-range hotels with ample facilities, and are also close to Bosque de Chapultepec, as is Condesa. While Condesa leans more towards boutique lodgings with fewer family-friendly facilities, it does have an attractive park of its own, popular with local families.
Most Romantic Neighborhoods in Mexico City: Centro Histórico, Polanco, Coyoacán
It’s hard to beat the historic center, with its beautiful colonial architecture, intimate boutique hotels and white-linen traditional dining if you’re on a romantic vacation. If you’re looking for something more upscale, the 5-star hotels in Michelin-star dining in Polanco may be just the ticket. Or perhaps you prefer the idea of wandering the subtly-lit cobbled streets and checking out the art of Frida Kahlo in historic Coyoacán before returning to a snug boutique guesthouse.
Best Neighborhood in Mexico City for a Local Vibe: San Rafael, Santa Maria La Ribera, Roma, Coyoacán, Xochimilco
It rather depends what you’re looking for. If you want to stay in a refreshingly untouristy neighborhood with terrific street food, unpretentious mom-and-pop restaurants, and an interesting mix of architecture, then both San Rafael and Santa Maria La Ribera fit the bill. If you’re looking for something with more of a hipster edge, then Roma is a great place to stay, with its unique vibe, plenty going on, and a melange of traditional and contemporary Mexican culture. Coyoacán is less convenient in terms of proximity to the city center, but it’s a unique neighborhood with striking colonial buildings, cobbled streets and very local dining scene. Finally Xochimilco is a place to visit rather than to stay, but its tiny alleyways and ancient canals distinguish it from dozens of neighborhoods that make up Mexico City.
Best Neighborhoods in Mexico City for Shopping: Centro Histórico, Polanco, San Rafael, Roma, Coyoacán, Cuauhtemoc
If you’re looking for quality handicrafts from all over Mexico, the Mercado Artesanias la Ciutadella on the western fringes of the Centro Histórico is an excellent place to start. The nearby Mercado San Jose sells an excellent range of Mexican cooking ingredients, including those hard to find back home, while Fábrica Social works with several women’s collectives across the country and sells textiles of excellent quality. For fashion by international and Mexican designers and concept shopping, look no further than the boutiques along Avenida President Masaryk in Polanco. Contemporary art for sale can be found in the small art galleries of San Rafael. In Roma, Chic by Accident is a good source of 20th century Mexican design items, while Casa de Luna in Coyoacán is a fair trade store specialising in jewellery, ceramics and textiles. Finally, FONART in Cuauhtemoc specialises in folk art from various indigenous communities across the country.
Safest Areas of Mexico City
While Mexico City may have a bit of a sketchy reputation, the neighborhoods frequented by visitors are generally safe, though it pays to be aware of your surroundings and be cautious after dark. Safest neighborhoods include Polanco, Condesa, Roma, Juárez, Zona Rosa, Coyoacán, San Rafael and Centro Histórico. That said, opportunistic pickpocketing does happen, particularly in the downtown area around the Zócalo, the markets, etc. Standard precautions apply: avoid using your easily accessible pockets for phone or valuables, don’t flash lots of cash, expensive jewellery or electronic gear, and avoid deserted, poorly-lit streets at night; take a taxi back to your hotel if you’ve stayed out till late.
Unsafe Areas of Mexico City
As a rule of thumb, steer clear of neighborhoods to the very north or very south of Mexico City, particularly after dark. Avoid dicey Tepito, Mexico City’s black market area just north of Centro, Iztapalpa, a huge southern neighborhood with high assault rates, and Ciudad Neza, a large urban sprawl to the east of the airport with high levels of poverty and violent crime. Then there are neighborhoods that are okay during the day, as long as you take standard precautions. Explore Mercado La Sonora in the Merced neighborhood adjoining Centro, but watch out for pickpockets, both there and around the Centro Histórico. If you go to Colonia Doctores’ Arena México to watch a lucha libre (costumed fight), don’t hang around afterwards, and take a taxi back. Avoid Tlalpan, Xochimilco and Tlatelolco after dark.
The Best Neighborhoods in Mexico City for Tourists
Staying in Centro Histórico
A great neighborhood for first-timers to Mexico City. Built upon the ruins of the Mexica city of Tenochtitlan, the oldest part of present-day Mexico City is the expansive Centro Histórico – the closest Mexico City comes to having a downtown. It’s centered on the large, historic Zócalo square, busy with souvenir sellers and street performers. The surrounding grid of streets is lined with handsome colonial architecture dating from the 16th century onwards, a number of must-see landmarks, such as the Museo Nacional de Arte, Casa de los Azulejos, Palacio de Bellas Artes, and Templo Mayor, as well as some excellent restaurants, specialising in traditional Mexican cuisine. Good public transport connections via the Zócalo and Allende metro stations.
Mexico City’s most affluent neighborhood, upscale Polanco is where you’ll find the bulk of the city’s luxury hotels, as well as Presidente Masaryk, the city’s answer to Rodeo Drive, lined with designer boutiques. The smart, well-kept streets are also home to the city’s best fine dining; this is where you’ll find Michelin-starred Pujol – one of the world’s top restaurants, among other stellar options. The heavyweight museums of the Bosque de Chapultepec are an easy walk south of Polanco. Polanco is the only metro stop in the neighborhood. (Along with Centro Histórico, Polanco is the best area of Mexico City for first time visitors.)
In the southwest of the city, this compact neighborhood used to be a quiet, residential, middle-class enclave. While it’s still largely residential, it’s rather upscale, with appealing art deco and modern buildings, and has one of the best dining scenes, with global cuisines and Mexican fine dining well represented. One of the most popular neighborhoods for tourists, as it minimizes the culture shock, it’s adjoined by the vast Bosque de Chapultepec Park and has a beautiful park of its own, Parque Mexico, complete with street food vendors and promenading families. While it’s light on attractions, Condesa makes a good base for exploring the city. Chapultepec and Juanacatlán are the closest metro stops.
This large neighborhood, divided into Roma Norte and Roma Sur, has also been mostly residential for most of its existence. Still gritty around the edges, a bit down-at-heel compared to neighboring Condesa, and with a reputation as a bohemian enclave, Roma has been undergoing gentrification in recent years. It’s one of the most interesting parts of the city, with a mix of old-time residents and youth culture, reflected in its melange of 19th century mansions, quirky art galleries, busy markets and hip cocktail bars and specialty coffee shops. It’s a walkable neighborhood, and a popular base for tourists due to its relative proximity to attractions in nearby parts of the city, plus good transport connections. Chapultepec, Sevilla and Cuahtémoc are Roma Norte’s metro stops, while Roma Sur is served by Chilpacingo and Centro Médico.
This compact, triangle-shaped neighborhood was one of Mexico City’s most exclusive before WWII; afterwards, many of the beautiful buildings were left in a state of genteel decay until a young, bohemian population injected some new life into the place after being forced out by rising rent prices in Roma and Condesa. The result is a neat collection of quiet, tree-lined streets dotted with fin de siècle mansions, with a small-town feel to the place and multiple generations of traditional Mexican families mixing with young hipsters amidst vintage luncheonettes, buzzy cafes and speakeasys serving cocktails. The northern fringe of Juárez is where you’ll find a decent concentration of bars and nightclubs, collectively known as the Zona Rosa, as well as a few boutique hotels. Juárez is well-located for the exploration of Roma, Centro Histórico, Chapultepec, La Condesa and Cuauhtémoc on foot, and connected to the rest of the city via the Sevilla and Cuauhtémoc metro stops.
Another arty neighborhood in the making, triangle-shaped San Miguel Chapultepec sits next to the Bosque de Chapultepec, a vast urban forest with running and cycling paths. Bosque de Chapultepec is home to Mexico’s City most important museums, including the show-stopping Museo National de Antropología, devoted to the wealth of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic cultures, plus a zoo, a Children’s Museum, and a Museum of Natural History, also popular with families. The neighborhood itself is pretty low-key, with a contemporary art gallery, a handful of unpretentious eateries and several inexpensive accommodations. Constituyentes, Tacubaya and Juanacatlán are the metro stops here.
There’s some spillover from Zona Rosa to the south, with a few bars found in this wedge-shaped neighborhood, across the main Avenida Paseo de la Reforma. Largely an office and commerce district, Cuauhtémoc benefits from a lively international dining scene, its restaurants spanning the globe and located mostly along Calle Rio Lerma and the parallel Calle Panuco.
Before Mexico City expanded and incorporated outlying settlements into one big whole, Coyoacán was a colonial-era town and remains a rather quiet and traditional part of the city, far to the south. It’s centred on the twin squares od Jardín Centenario and Plaza Hidalgo, popular with local families on weekends, while its cobbled streets and vintage architecture are a pleasure to explore, as is the Mercado de Coyoacán with its food stalls. The neighborhood is best known as the birthplace of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, and her childhood-home-turned-museum attracts massive crowds of visitors. Nearby is another offbeat attraction: the Leon Trotsky House Museum where the Soviet revolutionary leader lived in exile and was assassinated by one of Stalin’s assassins. Dining is a mix of traditional Mexican restaurants and stalls, and a few international options, and accommodations mostly consist of family-run guesthouses and a few boutique hotels. Coyoacán is the nearest metro stop.
If you’re looking for a largely untouristy experience while being within walking distance of Centro Histórico’s attractions, the artsy residential neighborhood of San Rafael has much to recommend it. The university campus gives San Rafael a youthful vibe, and the streets are dotted with vintage theatres, late 19th century houses, and small mom-and-pop restaurants. You won’t find gourmet cuisine here or much of a nightlife here, but you will find lots of excellent street food, particularly around Mercado San Cosme. There are a couple of art galleries worth your time, including the contemporary art museum, Museo Experimental el Eco. Gentrification is slowly creeping in in the form of specialty coffee shops, but overall San Rafael feels like a refreshingly ‘local’ part of the city. San Cosme is the main metro stop.
This compact, mostly residential neighborhood bordering San Rafael is centred on a tree-lined plaza, the Alameda, surrounded by food stalls with a loyal local following. The architecture is an interesting mix of down-at-heel, fin de siècle mansions, and modernist and art deco apartment blocks. It’s an arty, up-and-coming place with a unique vibe. Low-key attractions include a geology/dinosaur museum and the National University’s El Chopo Museum that showcases edgy installations by local artists. Other sights include small contemporary arts galleries and the Kiosko Morisco – a Moorish-style gazebo that hosts everything from rock gigs and poetry slams to ballroom dancing. Buenavista and San Cosme metro stops connect Santa Maria la Ribera to the rest of the city, and Centro’s attractions are within walking distance.
There are several outlying neighborhoods in Mexico City that are worth a daytime visit but can be sketchy at night or not worth staying overnight in. To the northeast of Mexico City (though not technically part of the city) is the vast archaeological complex of Teotihuacan, one of the county’s top Pre-Hispanic sights, complete with intact pyramids; it’s well worth setting a day aside to go and see. At the very south of the city, head for Xochimilco, a gritty working-class neighborhood with a village feel and tiny alleyways, to take a flat-bottomed boat tour of the centuries-old canals, once used by the Aztecs as a means of transportation. South of Roma Sur, the residential Colonia Narvarte is known for its superb street food – particularly its taco stands. Adjacent to the southern border of the Centro Histórico, Colonia Doctores has a bit of a bad rep, but its Arena México is well worth a visit if you want to attend a lucha libre – Mexican freestyle wrestling – a unique and very local pastime. Mercado La Merced, just to the east of the Centro Histórico, is Mexico City’s largest produce market for traditional food; it’s also a red light district later on in the day.