Mexico Travel Guide › Best Areas to Stay in Cancun
Updated: August 5, 2020
Located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the Caribbean Sea, Cancun is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Mexico. There are many reasons it is the most visited tourism location in Mexico including its miles of whitesand beaches, year-round warm tropical weather, the beautiful Caribbean Sea, snorkeling and scuba diving, a wide variety of resorts and all-inclusive hotels, shopping and lot’s of nightlife options.
Cancun’s claim to fame are the gorgeous beaches, mega-resorts with mega-pools and a vibrant nightlife. Many of the resorts are like a cruise on land and most offer all-inclusive options, activities throughout the day and numerous restaurants.
Cancun is also a great starting point to explore the Yucatan Peninsula including nearby islands, cenotes, Mayan ruins, theme parks and colonial towns such as Mérida and Valladolid. The Yucatan Peninsula contains three states: Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo. The state of Yucatán is where you will find the famous ruins of Chichen Itza as well as Ek Balam. Whereas, the ruins at Tulum and Coba are in the same state as Cancun, which is Quintana Roo.
Nearby resort areas include Playa Mujeres and Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen and you’ll also find several islands to visit including Cozumel, Isla Holbox, and Isla Mujeres.
Cancun offers hotel options for families as well as those looking for a romantic getaway and has also become a popular destination for spring breakers as well as snowbirds.
There are over 30,000 hotel rooms in Cancun and they range from small boutique hotels to mega luxury resorts and choices from budget to extreme luxury.
The hotel zone (Zona Hoteler) is where you will find a 14-mile beachfront strip of high-rise hotels, resorts, nightclubs, shops, a marina and restaurants. The Hotel Zone is where the majority of lodging options are located in Cancun and it runs mostly along Boulevard Kukulkan and is shaped like a number 7.
The Hotel Zone is divided into three areas and each has slight differences; the North section has the softest sand and calmer surf and is closest to the nightlife and clubs. The Middle of the Hotel Zone (great beaches, near nightlife and aquatic activities), and South (quietest beaches, furthest from the nightlife and bars).
The downtown area, known as El Centro also has hotel options, which mostly fall into the budget category. In downtown there is shopping, restaurants and the biggest draw is the outdoor market; Mercado 28.
Cancun truly has options for every type of traveler and every budget. One thing to be aware of is that many hotel operators have more than one hotel property in Cancun. You’ll find the Park Royal Cancun and the Grand Park Royal Hotel for example. Double check as you are making your reservations and doing your research as you want to make sure to end up at the correct hotel. In general, hotels that have more than one location will name the higher-end brand with “Grand”. You will also find that some hotel operators have a location in Cancun as well as Riviera Maya, so again double check hotel location before booking.
The town of Cancun is easy to navigate by bus, taxi or Uber. If you want to head out of Cancun to visit the cenotes, Mayan ruins, theme parks or colonial towns such as Mérida and Valladolid renting a car or taking an organized tour are your best options. The roads are very good on the Yucatan Peninsula and easy to navigate. If driving in a foreign country is out of your comfort zone, there are many tours available and most hotels have a desk for booking directly.
If you are interested in visiting some of the nearby islands; Isla Mujeres is the closest option. There is a ferry dock in Puerto Juarez, which is located in the Hotel Zone, and the boat departs throughout the day and takes about 20 minutes to navigate to the island. http://www.isla-mujeres.net/getting-to-isla-mujeres.html Visiting Cozumel, or Holbox require a rental car, shuttle or tour.
Rainy season is from May to October and dry season from November to April. Cancun’s average annual temperature is 80 degrees and there are over 240 sunny days.
The Best Places To Stay in Cancun
Best Luxury Hotels in Cancun
Senator Riviera Cancun Spa Resort • Royalton Suites • The Ritz-Carlton
Best Hotel Pools in Cancun
Hyatt Ziva • Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach • Sandos Cancun Lifestyle Resort
Best Family Friendly Resorts in Cancun
Grand Fiesta Americana • Grand Park Royal Cancún • The Grand at Moon Palace • Krystal Cancun • Royal Islander
Best All-Inclusive Resorts in Cancun
Le Blanc Spa Resort All Inclusive • Excellence Playa Mujeres • La Valencia Hotel and Spa
Best Adult-Only Hotels in Cancun
Le Blanc Spa Resort All Inclusive • Turquoize at Hyatt Ziva Cancun • Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun • Secrets The Vine Cancun • Beloved Playa Mujeres
Best Boutique Hotels in Cancun
La Villa du Golf à Cancun Hotel Boutique • Hotel Boutique Casa Mallorca • Oleo Cancun Playa Boutique Resort
Best Cheap Hotels in Cancun
Crown Paradise Club All Inclusive Resort • La Villa du Golf à Cancun • Hotel Boutique Hotel Boutique Casa Mallorca
Best Hostels in Cancun
Hostel Ka’beh Cancun • Fiesta Party Hostel Hotel • NYX Cancun Hotel • Flamingo Cancun Resort
Best Neighborhood in Cancun to Stay for First Timer: Hotel Zone
Cancun really only offers two locations for accommodations within the town; the Hotel Zone and Downtown. The Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone) is the perfect place for first-timers in Cancun. The zone offers a multitude of hotels and resorts ranging from budget to luxury and all-inclusive. There are beautiful beaches, cool clubs, restaurants, a shopping center and a ferris wheel – it’s pretty much everything tourists need or want. If your goal is to hang poolside and enjoy every minute of your resort stay, location within the hotel zone doesn’t really matter. If you want some walkability, staying in the middle of the zone at a hotel such as Park Royal Cancun, will give you easy access to La Isla shopping center with lots of stores, restaurants and the Ferris Wheel. If you are interested in the Cancun party scene, you’ll want to stay towards the top of the Hotel Zone (elbow of the 7) at the Hard Rock Hotel or other nearby resorts. If you are looking for a family friendly experience, budget experience or luxury experience; it will be more about choosing a resort than a section of the zone. Two other stretches of beach offering plenty of hotel and resort options are Playa Mujeres, which is about 30 minutes north of town and the Riviera Maya which includes the town of Playa del Carmen which is about an hour south of Cancun.
Best Neighborhood in Cancun for Sightseeing: Middle Hotel Zone
When it comes to sightseeing, staying in the middle of the Hotel Zone allows for easy access to La Isla Shopping center. Cancun is very easy to navigate by bus, taxi or Uber. So, really anywhere you stay in the Hotel Zone is just a short ride. Whether you want to take the Puerto Juarez ferry to Isla Mujeres, visit the Mayan Archaeological museum or the Cancun Underwater Museum it’s not more than a 10 minute drive.
Best Neighborhood in Cancun for Nightlife: Punta Cancun Section of Hotel Zone
The heart of Cancun’s nightlife is found in the Punta Cancun section of the Hotel Zone. The Hotel Zone is shaped like the number seven and the party zone is the elbow section of the 7. Popular bars and nightclubs include Coco Bongo, Mandala, and Senor Frog, La Vaquita, The City and Congo Bar. Especially during spring break, the clubs can be very crowded with long lines to gain entrance. If club hopping is on the agenda, it’s best to arrive at your first club close to the time it opens to have enough time to hit several of the clubs. Most resorts have their own nightclubs as well, but if you are truly interested in the Cancun party scene, you’ll want to think of staying at the Hard Rock Hotel or Grand Oasis Cancun.
Best Neighborhood in Cancun for Food and Restaurants: Hotel Zone & Downtown
Cancun is known for its resorts and it’s abundance of all-inclusive options. In fact, it’s more common to find yourself at an all-inclusive hotel than not. If you aren’t opting for the all-inclusive plan or want to head outside of the resort for a few meals, there are hundreds, if not thousands of options if you include all of the other hotel restaurants. Head downtown for a more authentic experience to restaurants such as La Parrilla which is considered the most traditional restaurant in Cancun and known for their gigantic Margaritas, Mariachi music and fun atmosphere. Chef Cristian Morales’ restaurant Cocina de Autor focuses on Argentinean – Pre-hispanic Mexican dishes and is thought to be one of the best restaurants in town. La Habichuela is the best known restaurant in Cancun and has been serving top notch cuisine for over 30 years. The restaurant’s signature dish is Cocobichuela; a mixture of lobster, shrimp, rice, curry sauce and tropical fruits that is served in a coconut shell. Restaurants in the hotel zone known for quality food and a good mariachi show are Hacienda El Mortero and Restaurante Mextreme.
Best Neighborhood in Cancun for Families: Hotel Zone Family Friendly Hotels
Cancun is a very family friendly destination with a variety of activities to keep children of all ages entertained. There isn’t necessarily a particular section of the hotel zone that offers the most family-friendly hotels. Instead search out hotels that are known to be family friendly such as Grand Park Royal Cancún and The Grand at Moon Palace. Many hotels and resorts have kids clubs for all ages including babies and teens. Most resorts have a variety of pools and play areas; some geared towards little ones and some adult only. The main pool at many resorts offer water games such as pool volleyball or pool basketball. When researching hotels and resorts look for the amount of pools, waterslides, water parks, as well as activity schedules and kids clubs. Some of the resorts also offer evening kids club movies so parents can enjoy a romantic night at one of the restaurants on property. One of the newest family friendly hotels is the 5-star Senator Riviera Cancun Spa Resort complex with 1,044 rooms. The property includes a water park, more than 4,000 square meters of swimming pools, 10 restaurants and an exclusive area for adults.
Most Romantic Neighborhood in Cancun: Hotel Zone Romantic Hotels
Cancun is a top destination for honeymooners and a very romantic destination. Strolling on the beach at sunset, taking a ferry to Isla Mujeres and simply lounging poolside make for a relaxing and stress-free holiday. There isn’t necessarily a particular section of the hotel zone that offers the most romantic hotels. Many resorts do offer adult only pools. There are also adult-only hotels such as Le Blanc Spa Resort All Inclusive, Turquoize at Hyatt Ziva Cancun, Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun, Secrets The Vine Cancun and Beloved Playa Mujeres.
Best Neighborhood in Cancun for a Local Vibe: Downtown
There are no residential areas in the Hotel Zone. If you hope to meet locals in Cancun, head downtown and visit neighborhood bars such as Hokie’s BBQ Bar & Grill or one the local favorite restaurants such as La Playita Restaurante Bar, or Checándole. You can also visit Parque Kabah or Parque Las Palapas for a chance to see and meet locals.
Best Neighborhood in Cancun for Walking: The Beach
If you are staying in the Hotel Zone, simply head to the beach at your hotel and walk in either direction. There are more than 14 miles of beaches you can access.
Safest Areas of Cancun
Cancun’s safest area is on property at the resorts. The Hotel Zone, as a whole including La Isla shopping area is also safe, but standard precautions apply as they do for all major tourist locations. Watch your bags and purse, don’t walk alone at night, and stay on main streets with good lighting.
Unsafe Areas of Cancun
As a whole, Cancun is a fairly safe city, but you are in Mexico. If you are heading downtown for dinner, don’t stroll around much. It’s best to take a taxi to and from the restaurant. If you do explore, don’t go beyond Plaza Dos Mil (Plaza 2000). After that you might run into some petty crime.
The 5 Best Neighborhoods in Cancún for Tourists
1. Zona Hotelera
The best area to stay in Cancún is the Hotel Zone, or “Zona Hotelera”. This is a strip of hotels situated on a narrow peninsula with a beautiful beach and access to wonderful diving, snorkelling and watersports. The main strip is located between the Caribbean Sea on one side and Nichupte Lagoon on the other. The zone is actually considered an island and connected to the mainland by two small bridges at each end. Cancun is known for its resorts and it’s abundance of all-inclusive options. In fact, it’s more common to find yourself at an all-inclusive hotel than not. If you are looking for a family friendly experience, budget experience or luxury experience; it will be more about choosing a resort than a section of the zone. That being said, there is a distinctive section in the zone where you’ll find most of the nightclubs; which is towards the top of the Hotel Zone (elbow of the 7).
Best Hotels: Royalton Suites | The Ritz-Carlton | Le Blanc Spa Resort All Inclusive
Best Moderate Hotels: Hotel NYX Cancun | Hotel Flamingo Cancun Resort
2. Downtown Cancun (El Centro)
El Centro is where you’ll find the most affordable accommodations. Downtown Cancun is the place where the locals live and where you’ll find lots of authentic restaurants, bars, local shopping and mercados. This part of the city has everything from budget hostels and guests houses to boutique hotels and apartments. This part of town is especially good for backpackers, budget travelers, foodies, and those who like a local experience.
Best Hotels: Kabah Boutique Hotel | Four Points by Sheraton Cancun Centro
Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Hostel Ka’beh Cancun | Fiesta Party Hostel Hotel | Krystal Urban Cancún Centro
3. Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is the closest island to visit from Cancun. It is located directly across from Playa Mujeres and there is a ferry dock in Puerto Juarez (in the Hotel Zone) with boats that depart throughout the day. The journey to the island takes about 20 minutes. On the island you will find about 25 hotels ranging from budget to luxury. One of the most fun things to do on the island is to rent a golf cart and explore. If you are looking for a bit more adventure, check out Garrafon Park which has a course of Zip-lines, a swimming pool, snorkeling, and kayaking You’ll also find many tour companies on the island offering swimming with whale sharks, snorkeling trips and deep sea fishing.
Best Hotel (Horton Plaza) : Zoëtry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun | Mia Reef Isla Mujeres
Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Casa Cural y Galeria Isla | Hotel Secreto
4. Play Mujeres
Playa Mujeres is a newer tourist development and is located about 40 minutes north of Cancun’s airport and about a 30 minute drive from the Cancun hotel zone. Playa Mujeres is located directly across the water from the picturesque Isla Mujeres. It’s more remote and a bit more of a sleepy section as there isn’t much to do outside of the resorts. For tennis fans, you’ll find the only Rafa Nadal Tennis Center in North America at the Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa. The area is known for excellent scuba diving and sailing excursions.
Best Hotel: Inspira by Atelier Playa Mujeres | Excellence Playa Mujeres | Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa
Best Cheap/Moderate Hotel: All Ritmo Cancun Resort & Waterpark
5. Playa del Carmen & Riviera Maya
Hugging the coast where the Caribbean Sea meets the Yucatan jungle, Playa Del Carmen and the whole of Riviera Maya offer great beaches and many of the most luxurious mega-resorts. The Riviera has many nearby family attractions such as Xcaret; an ecotourism theme park and it’s fairly close to the Tulum and Coba ruins as well as many cenotes (underground or sunken swim holes). If you want to explore the area, you’ll need a car or book a tour. Taxi’s aren’t as available here as they are in Cancun. Most hotels do offer shuttle service to and from the airport as it’s about an hour to the Riviera from the airport and town of Cancun.
Best Hotel: Humphreys Senator Riviera Cancun Spa Resort | Grand Velas Riviera Maya
Best Cheap/Moderate Hotel: The Reef Playacar Resort & Spa | Aspira Hotel & Beach Club