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When you picture visiting Cancun, a perfect beach day lounging on the sand with the ocean stretching before you comes to mind. I absolutely adore Cancun ever since I came here with my family as a little kid and first got the desire to travel! I’ve been lucky enough to return many times, and Mexico is one of my favorite countries in the world.
Beach days here are incredible, but with so many beautiful beaches in Mexico, it can be hard to know where to start. Cancun is literally lined with beaches, and it’s the main reason people come here – imagine that white sand beach and turquoise water view. It’s that view you picture when you’re stuck in the middle of winter, craving some sunshine!
While you can always stick close to the beaches nearby where you’re staying in the Cancun Hotel Zone, I think it’s totally worth it to venture a bit further too. There are so many incredible beaches in the Cancun area. You’re not short on choices! Some of these beaches may even be within walking distance or a short bus or taxi ride away, and you don’t want to miss out since a beach day (or week!) is a must-do activity while you’re in Mexico.
There are beaches with calm waves perfect for families with kids, incredible beaches where you can swim with sea turtles or go snorkeling with tons of fish, and some hidden gems to escape the crowds.
Check out this list of the 15 best beaches in Cancun to help give you some ideas. While you don’t have to visit them all (although if you can, you totally should!), this should help you narrow down where to start. Then pick your favorites, book a plane ticket, and you’ll be relaxing on one of these incredible beaches before you know it!
The Best Beaches in Cancun
1. Playa Delfines
First on the list is one of the most popular beaches in Cancun, and it’s easy to see why. The bright turquoise water, white sand, and incredible view make Playa Delfines a gem for beachgoers and one of the best spots to visit in Cancun. You won’t believe the color of the water until you see it in person!
This beach is a favorite among locals as well as tourists for the soft sand, gorgeous views, and no hotels near this stretch of beach. It’s a little piece of paradise in Cancun! The name translates to “Dolphin Beach,” and if you’re lucky, the best place to spot a pod of dolphins is from the platform overlooking the beach called El Mirador. That spot also has a huge Cancun sign that’s a fun place to pose for photos.
Getting here is relatively simple as Playa Delfines is right off the main road with a large, free parking lot and nearby bus stops. There’s a staircase leading down to the beach once you arrive.
I recommend getting here early in the morning to grab one of the free palapas (thatch-roof umbrellas) set up on the beach. This is the only way to get shade on the beach, and you’ll want it if you’re planning to be here for a few hours! If you do come later and all the free umbrellas are occupied, you can rent an umbrella and chairs for around 200 pesos ($10 USD).
If you plan to swim here, there are lifeguards on duty. Depending on the day, the undertow can be strong, so make sure to watch out for any red flags posted on the beach.
You can buy drinks and snacks from vendors here or wander just down the street to the local convenience store to pick up whatever you might need. Stock up for a beach day here and lose track of time watching the waves roll in.
Related Read: If you need transport to Cancun, make sure you read our tips on booking a ride from the Cancun Airport to the Hotel Zone. You’ll want to pre-book a Cancun Airport Shuttle to avoid getting scammed by overpriced taxis!
2. Playa Marlín
For a quieter beach with lots of space, head to Playa Marlin in the center of Cancun’s eastern strip. This beach looks like something right off of a postcard! The beach is well-taken care of, and the water is clear and warm.
The beach is easy to get to behind Plaza Kukulcán, but be aware that free parking on the street does fill up quickly. I recommend arriving early in the morning to guarantee a spot. If you’re here on a weekday morning, you’ll likely have a huge chunk of beach to yourself – perfect for relaxing with a good book or just listening to the sound of the waves.
There are hotels along here, but the beach is public. Just don’t use one of the hotel’s sunbeds unless you’re a guest.
Playa Marlin is known for having bigger waves, especially on windy days. You may not be able to go too far into the water, depending on the day.
If you do come on a weekend or a busier time, try walking in either direction to find a quieter spot. I find the center area of the beach always fills up the fastest.
3. Playa Gaviota Azul
For calm waves perfect for swimming and playing in, Playa Gaviota Azul is a great choice. This beach is curved and at the end of the bay with stunning blue waters and soft, powdery sand. Head to the public beach entrance next to the Mandala Beach Club to get here.
Not only are the gentle waves fun to play in (especially for kids!), but on calm days, the snorkeling here is good too. The man-made sea barrier called the Cubos is made of giant concrete cubes, and it’s a neat spot to explore and grab some unique photos! Rent a kayak to head out past the rock wall, and there are schools of tropical fish swimming around.
The beach can be pretty busy with club music and parties from the nearby beach clubs, which can be fun if you want that party atmosphere! If you’re hoping for a calmer beach day, walk further down the beach, closer to the Hyatt Hotel, for a calmer experience.
4. Playa Chac Mool
Playa Chac Mool is easily one of the nicest beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s right along Kukulkan Boulevard, which is the main road through Cancun’s Hotel Zone. While it is located in the prime tourist district, this tends to be a quieter beach, especially in the mornings. It’s also a really nice spot to watch sunrise or sunset as pastel colors fill the sky.
Free parking spots here are few and far between, so best to take a bus, taxi, or walk if you’re staying nearby. The buses from Cancun actually drop off passengers right in front of the entrance to the beach, so it’s super convenient. You can expect about a 20-minute bus ride from downtown Cancun. Once you’re here, there are lifeguards until 5 pm as well as access to public washrooms and showers.
If you’re hoping to catch a few waves while you’re in Cancun, Playa Chac Mool is a popular surfing spot. The waves are typically gentle enough here for beginners. Head to Good Vibes Surf School, which you can get to right on the beach between Playa Chac Mool and Playa Forum. Group lessons with them are $50 USD per person, and once you have the hang of it, you can rent a board for three hours for only $20 USD.
Related Read: Cancun and it’s beaches make for one of the best day trips from Tulum – read about the others!
5. Playa Caracol
This small beach on the northern edge of Cancun has shallower water to enjoy, which is typically calmer than the east side. Playa Caracol itself is bordered by two docks and has the beautiful blue water Cancun is known for. Walking out on the docks at sunset is a great photo op!
Playa Caracol doesn’t have a lot of free parking, so you’ll need to take the bus or pay to park nearby. There are hotels along here that put up lots of sun loungers, but you can usually rent your own if needed. Sometimes certain areas of the beach may be blocked for hotel guests, but this is still a public beach with areas for anyone to go.
The location makes it easy to grab snacks and drinks from one of the nearby shops to enjoy a picnic on the beach!
6. Playa Tortugas
Head to the beautiful Playa Tortugas for calm waters that are shallow and perfect for families and a bustling beach with lots to do. There tends to be more of a party vibe here. There are also fun activities here, like beach volleyball, jumping off the pier, and bungee jumping. The beach is on the northern tip of Cancun along the Hotel Zone and is really popular with locals!
For a truly memorable tour in Cancun, bungee jump off an 82-foot (25 meters) platform with Bungee in Cancun! The view from the top is pretty sweet (if you’re not too nervous to look around!), and it’s a way to really level up your typical beach day. Jump times are offered every 15 minutes from 11 am to 6 pm every day except Sundays.
If relaxing with a cocktail is more your speed, there are beachfront restaurants along here to enjoy. You can also snorkel or swim here with a coral reef nearby. If you’re looking for a day trip to Isla Mujeres (see the next beach in our guide!), there’s a ferry that leaves from Playa Tortugas you can catch.
Related Read: If bungee jumping sounds amazing, go even higher and try skydiving! Our guide to skydiving in Puerto Vallarta has everything you need to know to take the leap.
7. Playa Norte – Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte is not only one of the best beaches near Cancun, but it’s also ranked among the top 10 beaches in the world! This dreamy beach is located on the tiny tropical island of Isla Mujeres, just off the shore of Cancun. You’ll find a huge stretch of white sand beach with turquoise water that is really shallow to start. This makes it perfect for families, and the calm waves make for excellent swimming too.
To get here, you’ll want to take a catamaran cruise from Cancun or you’ll need to take a ferry like the Ultramar for the 30-minute journey across the water. There are three points where the ferry departs – either from this point in Cancun’s Hotel Zone or this spot from Puerto Juarez, which is about 10 minutes from the center of Cancun, or this point near Playa Tortugas. From any of these spots, you’re looking at about $25-$30 USD for a roundtrip ferry ticket. Ferries typically depart every half hour from 5:30 am to 11 pm but check the schedule online first.
Once the ferry drops you off, it’s about a 10-minute walk to Playa Norte. You can also rent a taxi here or a golf cart if you’re planning to spend the day. It’s a fun and easy way to get around!
Once you arrive at this beach, you’re not going to want to leave! Spread out your beach blanket on the super-soft sand or rent a lounger and relax. What’s great about taking the ferry over early in the morning is you can spend the whole day here and grab a spot on the beach before it gets busy in the later morning and afternoon. But to truly enjoy some beach days here, I recommend staying a night or two right on the island.
You can also visit the island and its stunning beaches by joining a tour of Isla Mujeres from Cancun!
Where to stay
For a luxurious stay in a hotel within walking distance to Playa Norte (about a minute away!), Hotel Privilege Aluxes is our pick. This all-inclusive resort is adults-only and is known for its large rooms, exclusive beach clubs, and stellar location. Expect to pay around $200-350 USD per night.
For a more mid-range option, check out the Hotel Playa La Media Luna where rooms are around $150 USD a night. It’s only a 2-3 minute walk to Playa Norte, but this hotel also has its own little cove and white sand beach to enjoy! It’s also so close to shopping and some great restaurants. It’s perfect for a little getaway to explore the island.
8. Playa Akumal
This beach offers the magical experience of swimming with sea turtles! If you’ve never had a chance to see these creatures up close, Playa Akumal is one of the best beaches near Cancun for this! In fact, the name of the beach translates to “Place of the Turtles” – which is exactly what you can expect here!
Getting here does require a bit of planning as it’s a 1.5-hour drive from Cancun. You’ll be traveling along Highway 307 – the main road along the coastline. You can take a rental car (renting a car in Cancun is not a bad idea, honestly) or a bus. Just ask your driver to drop you off at the entrance to Akumal Beach. After that, it’s about a 10-minute walk straight ahead to the beach.
Once you’re here, you will have to pay an entrance fee of 100 pesos ($5 USD). Make sure you ONLY pay this fee at the main entrance gate, as sometimes people may try to stop you and ask for payment before you arrive at the main gate.
Another fee you’ll need to pay if you want to see the turtles is hiring a professional guide with snorkel equipment for about $20 USD per person. This can be done right on the beach. There are specially marked-off areas where the turtles like to swim that you can only access with a guide.
Once you have a guide, this is when you’ll get the chance to swim with turtles! Glide through the clear, turquoise waters as you admire these peaceful creatures. While you can get really close, make sure not to touch them.
A great way to see the turtles and not worry about the logistics of transportation and the various fees required is to book a half-day turtle-watching tour like this one. For $89 USD per person, you’ll be transported from your hotel in Cancun to Playa Akumal, where a turtle sighting is guaranteed. You’ll also have the bonus experience of exploring the Xtun Caverns – a series of caves with an underground river system. You’ll get to swim and snorkel here too!
Related Read: See some other amazing creatures in Mexico by taking a whale watching tour. It’s one of the best things to do near Bucerias!
9. Playa Ancha
This beach is located right in the heart of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, so it might even be within walking distance, depending on where you are staying. Playa Ancha is on the smaller side and tends to have calmer waters. It also doesn’t typically get as crowded as some of the more popular beaches in the area.
A great advantage of visiting Playa Ancha is all the shopping and Cancun restaurants right across the street. It’s an easy beach to pop into before lunch and then get some shopping and exploring done after. Or come to watch the sunset here and then head to one of the nightclubs along Kukulkan Boulevard.
10. Playa El Niño
One of the nice beaches in Cancun for kids is Playa El Niño. It’s extremely popular with locals – typically, locals far outnumber tourists. The water is shallow, and there are fun swings and play structures for the kids to climb on. The locals here compare Playa El Niño to a pool. It’s so calm!
The beach is located about 15 minutes northeast of the center of Cancun and because it’s a jaunt from the busy Hotel Zone, most tourists don’t make the trip out here. It does get busier with locals on weekends, so come here during the week if you want more room. You can take the bus here or grab a taxi.
There are lots of street vendors here selling everything from great tacos in Cancun to sweet treats like candy. The beach also has lots of small restaurants nearby to grab some lunch or supper while you’re here for the day.
11. Isla Blanca Beach
The secluded Isla Blanca Beach is a hidden paradise far from the beaches packed with tourists but still close enough for an adventurous day trip. It’s at the northern tip of Cancun, about 45 minutes from downtown, and it’s an unspoiled, natural piece of paradise. It’s sometimes called a secret or hidden beach because of its remote location. Once you’re here with the ocean on one side and a peaceful lagoon on the other, you’ll feel in on “the secret” and may not want to tell your friends about it!
To get here, you’ll need to rent a car and preferably an SUV, as the road can get a bit rough at the end. The drive here isn’t complicated, as you’ll drive from downtown along Avenida Bonampak until it turns into the highway. You’ll follow that until the road ends and you’ve arrived! The last few miles tend to be bumpy with lots of potholes, so that’s where having an SUV comes in handy. Don’t take a taxi out here as it will be pricey, and there aren’t any taxis waiting here when you want to go home!
While you’re at this beach, you’re likely to spot a few kitesurfers. The lagoon area here is shallow, and the winds pick up here enough to send them soaring – particularly when the steady winds blow from November to June. If you fancy a go yourself, there are some kitesurfing schools right in the area, like Ikarus Kiteboarding Center. You can book a two-hour group lesson for $165 USD per person. The lesson price includes all the equipment you need, an instructor, and boat or Waverunner support.
12. Playa Publica Puerto Morelos
The center of the tiny town of Puerto Morelos is its beach – the Playa Publica Puerto Morelos. About 40 minutes from downtown or the Hotel Zone in Cancun, this tranquil beach at the seaside village is a nice escape from the city. It has calm waters, soft sand, and excellent snorkeling!
The beach is easy to get to, and it’s lined with little shops and restaurants, so you can have that margarita with a beach view. Come here in the middle of the week, and you’re in for a quiet and relaxing beach day. It does get busier on the weekends and holidays, but that’s normal for all beaches in Mexico.
Bring your snorkel or rent some gear, as the reef here is about 500 meters (1,650 feet) from the shore. While you can swim out on your own to explore the reef, it’s handy to hire one of the local tour operators to give you a boat ride (and gear if you need it) to the best snorkel areas around Cancun.
Related Read: Learn about our very favorite tours to Chichen Itza from Cancun!
13. Playa San Miguelito
Tucked in-between hotels, Playa San Miguelito is a hidden gem perfect for watching the sunrise. You may have almost the entire beach to yourself in the early, early morning!
To get here, it’s about an eight-minute drive from the Hotel Zone. The entrance is unmarked, but there’s a narrow path to the beach area. The waves tend to be higher here, so it’s often too rough for swimming. But you can still wade in to cool off or dip your toes in.
Make sure you bring everything you need as there aren’t any food or drink vendors and there are no services on the beach like bathrooms or chair rentals. Just bring a towel and some snacks and watch the sunrise – a pretty great way to start the day!
14. Playa Forum
In the heart of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, you’ll find Playa Forum on the north side between Playa Gaviota Azul and Playa Chac Mool. The location is a huge plus to this beach as it’s among restaurants, close to shopping at the nearby Forum by the Sea shopping mall, and right by well-known party spots like Coco Bongo and Mandala Beach Club.
Getting here by walking or taking the bus or taxi is your best bet as parking is limited in this area. Playa Forum is a lively party beach with fun music playing from the beachside restaurants and clubs, especially in the evenings. A lot of restaurants here even have beachside service, so you can order food right to your lounge chair!
To escape the crowd, come here in the early morning and come before noon for sure on weekends to ensure you can snag a spot on the sand.
15. Playa Xcalacoco – Playa del Carmen
If you’re planning a stay in Playa del Carmen or are up for a day trip, Playa Xcalacoco is a fantastic destination and one of the best places to visit in Playa del Carmen. It’s about an hour from Cancun and only 15 minutes from the center of Playa del Carmen.
The beach here isn’t as busy as some of the others in Playa del Carmen, so you can escape the crowds while exploring a different part of Mexico. Parking is extremely limited, with a tiny stretch of road that only fits a dozen or so cars, so you may need to park a bit further away and walk.
The water is gentle here, and there are rocky sections and reefs. Because of the rocks and courser sand, make sure you take extra care when walking or swimming. Also, keep an eye out as teeny tiny fish and crabs like to live in the rocks. If you want a closer look at the marine life around here, locals are often on the beach offering snorkeling or boat tours.
There is a lifeguard here, but other services are limited, so bring any towels, loungers, and snacks you might need. There are restaurants along the beach to grab a meal at when you need a break from the sun.
Other Activities to do While You’re in Cancun
While a beach day (or two or three) is pretty much a guarantee, there’s plenty more to do and see in Cancun! I’ve been coming to Cancun since I was a kid and I never get tired of visiting. So if you’re looking for even more activities, check out some of my favorites below!
- Tour an underwater museum – Whether you’re snorkeling or scuba diving in Cancun, a visit to MUSA (Underwater Museum of Art) is a must. There are hundreds of sculptures down here and it feels like visiting the Lost City of Atlantis! This snorkeling tour takes you to MUSA along with visits to a shipwreck and a cenote!
- Eat, eat eat! – Calories don’t count on vacation right? The restaurants in Cancun deliver on amazing food – especially the Mexican restaurants of course. Mextreme has the best tacos and I always order the Aztec soup! If you want to try a bunch of different dishes in an evening – this taco and beer food tour will take you to five popular spots for a fun night you’ll want to arrive hungry for!
- See Mayan ruins – Right in Cancun you can step back in time with visits to El Meco Ruins or the San Miguelito Ruins. Of course, to see some of the most famous Mayan ruins in Mexico, you’ll want to visit Chichen Itza from Cancun. We took this tour of the ruins that included a guide, a stop at a cenote, and lunch!
- Cancun Scenic Tower – As if Cancun wasn’t scenic enough, there’s another way to enjoy the views here! The Cancun Scenic Tower gives you amazing views of the Caribbean! The entire viewing deck lifts up, so you won’t even need to climb any stairs to get this view.
- Swim with whale sharks – For a totally unique and memorable experience, jump in the water to swim with whale sharks near Cancun! These gentle giants feast on plankton and fish, so you can relax on this whale shark tour and just admire these giant fish (they aren’t actually sharks!). Whale shark season is from May to September, so if you’re here at a different time of year, this half-day sailing trip is another way to get out on the water and cruise the beautiful ocean!
Where to Stay in Cancun
Cancun is the land of hotels, and there certainly is no shortage of fantastic places to stay. I myself have stayed at a huge variety of hotels both in the hotel zone and in downtown Cancun. To be honest, I prefer the hotel zone for a beach holiday!
For budget travelers, the Selina Cancun Laguna Hotel Zone is a great choice. It doesn’t have the greatest reviews, but I really enjoyed my stay and for the price and fun atmosphere, you can’t go wrong! You can book this hostel on Hostelword or Booking.com.
If you prefer something a little nicer, I love the JW Marriott Cancun Resort. It’s not all-inclusive, which I enjoy because there are so many delicious restaurants in Cancun! The hotel is located right on the beach and has a huge pool. Rooms are typically $300-$500 USD depending on the time of year.
Of course, we all love a luxury all-inclusive stay and for that, I always book either the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun or the Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun Adults Only. Both are not cheap but are equally as luxurious with fantastic oceanfront locations, delicious food, quality alcohol, and more. They are both some of the best resorts in Cancun!
Renting a Car in Mexico
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car.
I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Cancun in 2019, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically.
I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend.
The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too.
Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit.
Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your rental will be much cheaper!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
If you’re planning a beach vacation to Cancun, you can’t go wrong. This area of Mexico has some of the most spectacular beaches in the country and the world. I hope this list has inspired you to check out a few new beaches while you’re traveling in the area. All that’s left to do now is pack your beach bag!
If you have any questions about the beaches in Cancun, feel free to comment or send us a message. We can help you decide which beach is best for your upcoming trip!
If you liked this blog and want more Mexican travel inspiration, take a peek at our other Mexico blogs!